President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday met with the new service chiefs, urging them to concentrate their efforts on helping his administration to deliver on its electoral pledge to make Nigeria a safer place for citizens to live.
A statement by the president’s media adviser, Mr. Femi Adesina, quoted Buhari as congratulating the new appointees, and telling them that their job is well cut out for them given the insecurity wracking the nation.
The president’s maiden meeting with the new service chiefs, however, coincided with rising criticism of the presidential appointment without a request for confirmation by the National Assembly as required by law.
But the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) has urged Buhari to hold the new service chiefs accountable for the success or failure of the war against insecurity even as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate the tenure of the immediate past service chiefs for alleged atrocities and crimes against humanity committed by security operatives under their command.
The president said: “We are in a state of emergency. Be patriotic, serve the country well, as your loyalty is to the country.
“There’s nothing I can tell you about the service because you are in it.
“I was also in it and I will pray for you. I also assure you that whatever I can do as Commander-in-Chief will be done, so that the people will appreciate your efforts.
“You know the stage we were in 2015, you know the stage we are now, and the undertakings we made. We promised to secure the country, revive the economy, and fight corruption. None has been easy, but we have certainly made progress.”
Buhari also charged the service chiefs to be concerned about the morale of their officers and men, saying they should be made to feel physically and professionally secure. He pledged that the federal government will do its best in providing equipment and logistics to make them win the war against insecurity.
The service chiefs, who were led to the meeting by the Minister of Defence, Major-General Bashir Magashi (rtd), are: Chief of Defence Staff, Major General Lucky Irabor;
Chief of Army Staff, Major-General I. Attahiru; Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral A. Gambo and Chief of Air Staff, Air Vice Marshal I. O. Amao.
Irabor told reporters after the closed-door meeting that the president challenged them to be alive to their responsibilities.
He said: “The message from the president is that knowing the current security environment, we must do everything possible to add value to the security disposition and the expectations are high and that we are quite mindful of the expectations. So, we collectively, will work to achieve that.”
According to him, the new service chiefs will work to ensure security of lives and property.
He said: “We have just seen Mr. President and we are mindful of the demands. We can only at this stage pledge our utmost best to bring safety and security to lives and property across the country.”
The CDS assured Nigerians that they will add value to their lives by battling insecurity.
“On behalf of the service chiefs, I am assuring the nation of peace and security. We believe there will be value that will be added to the security disposition of the nation.”
As the service chiefs were meeting with Buhari, videos of soldiers and naval ratings celebrating the exit of the former service chiefs went viral on the social media.
Though the videos could not be verified, it showed soldiers and naval ratings jubilating and shooting into the air.
Hold new appointees accountable, NEF tells president Northern elders on Wednesday urged Nigerians to moderate their expectations on the the performance of the new service chiefs, saying that they should not to be misled into thinking that the insecurity ravaging the country will dramatically end with the change of guard.
They stated that the service chiefs can only be successful if they are inspired by Buhari.
The NEF also urged the president to hold the service chiefs and senior commanders accountable for successes and failures.
NEF Director of Publicity and Advocacy, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, in a statement yesterday, noted that with the current circumstances where the nation is being swamped by old and new security challenges, a change of leadership in the armed forces should signal that the president accepts the need for major changes in his disposition to tackling the problem.
It stated that Nigerians would hope that these changes, even though belated, are intended as a response to the persistent demands for changes at leadership level as part of the requirements to improve professionalism, morale and integrity of command structures of the armed forces.
It said: “The new service chiefs will be a lot more effective if they are inspired by a Commander-In-Chief who adopts an involved and active interest in their conduct, records and performances.
“President Buhari must therefore reduce his distance from defence and security matters, and hold service chiefs and senior commanders accountable for successes and failures.
“The new service chiefs have been part of the military that has been severely challenged in the fight against a decade-old insurgency and many other threats.”
According to the forum, the only way the service chiefs can retain the confidence of Nigerians is to improve on the records of their predecessors.
It called on the new service chiefs to focus on improving professional standards and morale of troops as well as fighting corruption within the armed forces.
It added that it is important for the service chiefs to lead a military with high standards of respect for rules of engagement.
The appointment of the service chiefs without first sending their names to the Senate for confirmation is causing ripples in some quarters, THISDAY learnt on Wednesday.
The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Ajibola Basiru, told THISDAY that the Senate has the statutory right to confirm the appointment of the new service chiefs.
“I know there are provisions in the Armed Forces Act prescribing confirmation of appointment of service chiefs- see section 18(1) of the Armed Forces Act of 1993,” he said.
He, however, added that he was not sure if the names of the new service chiefs had been forwarded to the Senate for confirmation.
“I don’t know yet if the list of the service chiefs has been sent to the Senate for confirmation. Such correspondence, if any, will be read at the plenary,” he stated.
However, analysts said under the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended, and the provisions of the Armed Forces Act, the president, acting alone, cannot appoint new service chiefs without the prior confirmation, by the National Assembly of his nominees.
They wondered why the presidency did not indicate in its press statement announcing the appointment of the service chiefs if they were appointed in acting capacity or substantive.
They wondered why the president did not followed the process it took in 2015 when he sent the names of the outgone service chiefs to the Senate for confirmation.
Those who spoke to THISDAY expressed concern about what they perceived as attempts to circumvent the process.
Human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), urged the service chiefs not to consider themselves appointed until they have been confirmed by the Senate.
He called on Buhari to forward their names to the National Assembly for confirmation of their appointments, based on the judgment of the Federal High Court.
“On Tuesday, President Buhari was reported to have appointed new service chiefs for the armed forces. Upon a critical review of the law on the subject matter the members of the Alliance on Surviving COVID-19 and Beyond (ASCAB) have found that the appointments remain inchoate as Buhari has not forwarded the names of the proposed service chiefs to the National Assembly for approval in strict compliance with the relevant provisions of the constitution and the Armed Forces Act,” he said in a statement.
Falana stated that the appointment of the service chiefs without the concurrence of the National Assembly is incomplete.
A Federal High Court, sitting in Abuja, had on July 1, 2013 ruled that any appointment of service chiefs by the president without approval of the National Assembly was unconstitutional and illegal.
Justice Adamu Bello declared the appointments of the service chiefs without National Assembly’s approval as null and void because they did not conform to Section 18 (1) and (2) of the Armed Forces Act, Cap. A20, Laws of the Federation.
The case, instituted by Lagos lawyer, Mr. Festus Keyamo, now Minister of State for Labour and Employment, had challenged the practice of appointing military chiefs by the president without seeking the approval of the National Assembly.
Based on the judgment, which has not been appealed till date, former President Goodluck Jonathan sought and got the approval of the National Assembly in January 2014 when he appointed Alex Badeh as Chief of Defence Staff, Kenneth Minimah as Chief of Army Staff, Usman Jibrin as Chief of Naval Staff and Adesola Amosu as Chief of Air Staff.
The procedure was also followed in 2015 by Buhari when he appointed the then Major General Abayomi Gabriel Olonishakin as Chief of Defence Staff; Major General T.Y. Buratai as Chief of Army Staff; Rear Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas as Chief of Naval Staff and Air Vice Marshal Sadique Abubakar as Chief of Air Staff.
“Currently, we do not know the status of the service chiefs. Are they in acting capacity or substantive? Why did the statement announcing their appointments not mention it emphatically that they are in acting capacity?
“The presidency has to clear the air on this quickly before we begin to accuse them of breaking the law again,” one of the analysts told THISDAY.
Davidson Iriekpen, Deji Elumoye, Chuks Okocha, Adedayo Akinwale