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*National Assembly, presidency and service chiefs

Published by The Nation on Sat, 08 Aug 2020

UndertowLast Tuesday, by a resolution, the senate once again, virtually passed a vote of no confidence in Nigerias security chiefs. In late January, they had passed a similar resolution when killings and banditry threatened to overwhelm the country. Now, just as then, presidential spokesmen have poured scorn on the legislative advisory motion to arrest the drift. The service chiefs, the spokesmen declared, still enjoyed the confidence of the president whose prerogative it is to ask them to stay in office or leave. By some estimates, between February and June, nearly four thousand people had been killed as a result of internal crisis and insurgency. Rather than abate, the problem has intensified, leading to the senate resolutions a few days ago and last January.In January, the presiding officers of the National Assembly even met the president on the matter, following an animated debate in both chambers that led to the call on the service chiefs to resign or be sacked. This time around, the presiding officers have learnt their lesson, and are unlikely to seek audience with the president on the subject matter. It is enough for them that they have adopted a resolution asking the security chiefs to step aside. It seems also enough for them that the legislators have demonstrated to the electorate that they care about the security nightmare every Nigerian is facing. It must surprise the lawmakers and the public, however, that the presidency does not seem as agitated by the growing insecurity in the country, at least not enough to compel them to sit up or contemplate urgent remedies.Nigerians recall in January how the senate president and speaker of the lower chamber talked tough before meeting the president. They had been egged on by the vociferous clamour of their colleagues and countrymen, many of whom were incensed by the seeming lethargy over insecurity, and had consequently voiced their apprehensions and dismay. The meeting was expected to be stormy and decisive. No one till today has volunteered the details of what the presiding officers discussed with the president, but by the time they came out of the meeting, the lips of the lawmakers had begun to quiver, and their initial resolve to coax the president to quit prevaricating over the delicate issue had weakened into conciliatory or even dilatory tones. Speaking to the press after meeting the president, they suggested placidly that the security agencies needed to be equipped and encouraged to do much more than they were doing.Nearly six months after, and despite softening down considerably from their initial tough stand, the National Assembly, in this case through a senate resolution, observed with consternation the worsening insecurity in the country. It was, therefore, not hard for them, after a few hours of deliberation, to amend and pass the motion sponsored by Ali Ndume (Senate, APC Borno South). The puzzle agitating many lawmakers and citizens is how to reconciled the presidencys misconstruction (or feigning ignorance) of the seriousness of the subject matter with how for five years the president has stuck adamantly to a formula that showed initial promise but has now petered out into almost nothingness. Everyone but the president is worried. Perhaps he knows something that others dont know.Just as they did in January after adopting the resolution to ask the service chiefs to step aside, senators have begun to waffle again. They agreed with presidential spokesmans interpretation of the prerogative of the president to keep or sack the security chiefs, as if that needed any corroboration, and added that they had nothing against the chiefs except to ensure that insecurity was tackled adequately. After six months of quibbling over the same issue, they should finally be able to call a spade a spade. They want the service chiefs replaced, if the word sack is too injurious. Surely, in many evasive words they have been able to communicate that message to the president. If the president has done nothing about it, but prefers occasionally to growl at those who want to teach him his job, the lawmakers should not be fazed at all.The greater tragedy is, however, not that the national lawmakers are showing the president a way out of his self-inflicted cul-de-sac, but that the president could not tie the growing insecurity to the declining efficiency of his security chiefs. Even if it is conceded that insurgents and bandits have become more sophisticated, imaginative and brilliant, security chiefs have an obligation to be also flexible and to possess the requisite professional skills to respond subliminally. If they are not able to muster that transcendental response to defeat the enemy, it becomes the responsibility of the president to draw the right conclusions and make the right and sensible call. There is, alas, little to suggest that the response to banditry and insurgency has been adequate and exemplary on the part of the security chiefs, and there is even less to indicate that the presidency has made the right assessment of where the problem lies, not to say muster the political will to proffer the right solution, including but not limited to sacking the security chiefs.But it is also possible that the president is in fact absolutely convinced that the problem is neither the competence or assiduity of the security chiefs, nor that given more time the bandits and warmongers could not be overcome. If that is so, the president at least owes the groaning and increasingly restive public an explanation as to how he hopes to deploy and manage his security organs and material assets to defeat the criminals. That explanation, unfortunately, has not been tendered before the public who voted the government into office. But it must be tendered in order to quieten the agitations that are giving the government a bad name. Moreover, this state of what is often referred to as suspended animation should be ended, and the country, particularly the highways and countryside, be returned to normality. So far, all the public see is increasing insecurity that could upend the entire country. All they see is the evil spectre of bandits and insurgents creating a stalemate with the security forces, embarrassing them in battles, and opening the possibility of a worst-case scenario of balkanising and destroying the country.There is even a more damaging prospect. Because the controversy over whether the service chiefs should be sacked or retained has dragged on for far too long than is reasonable, it has taken the shine off their sterling contributions to the countrys progress and stability. It is evident that when they were appointed the country was in dire straits, particularly with regards to the insurgency operations in the Northeast. After swift counterattacks, territory after territory were eventually reclaimed from the insurgents, and a new lease of life was felt in that troubled region. But a few years after what has now become an illusion of victory, the insurgents bounced back under new tactics in which they no longer placed a premium on taking and retaining control over territories, even if they wished to. Worse, because insurgency has lasted for nearly a decade, the inability of the government to tame the problem and curb the proliferation of light weapons have combined to spawn and spur a new kind of insecurity manifesting as banditry cum kidnapping. Both new manifestations are very profitable to the criminals.Unable to resign their commissions, and impotent to respond to the criticisms of Nigerians who decry their failings in the face of morphing security challenges, the service chiefs have been left dead in the water, vulnerable and diminished in public esteem. The presidency has no business leaving the situation unresolved for so long. It damages public estimation of the competence of the government, and also damages, almost irretrievably, the image of the service chiefs. Now, everybody is blaming them, even describing them as a spent force. These criticisms are uncharitable, for they do not do justice to the fighting and administrative skills of the service chiefs; but they are deserving. Banditry and insurgency will continue for the foreseeable future in the face of increasing lack of government resolve and initiative to combat the malaise. Correspondingly, the attacks on the image and competence of the service chiefs will also continue stridently and become even more reinforced.Replacing the service chiefs have become both inevitable and desirable. It is time the president stopped dithering over the matter. The longer he fails to act, the worse it becomes for the image of both the government and the service chiefs. The presidency is accused of loyalty to the service chiefs above loyalty to the country, with clear insinuations of deferring to marabout sophistry in explaining national and regime security. On the other hand, the service chiefs are accused of abandoning their primary responsibilities to feather their own nests of securing the establishment of public universities in their constituencies, an extrabudgetary misadventure that in no way contributes to the efficiency or financial prudence of the military. The sooner the presidency takes responsibility to resolve the murky situation, the better for everyone. No one wants to hear the drivel about presidential prerogative, since no one is debating the constitutional truism of who has the right to appoint or sack service chiefs anyway. What everyone is waiting for is a decision to restore peace and normality in the country.* First published on July 25, 2020
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