Change of Defence and Security Chiefs: Some Thoughts

From Left: Chief Of Air Staff, Avm Sadique Abubakar; Chief Of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Iba; Chief Of Defence Staff, Maj.-Gen. Abayomi Olonisakin; Chief Of Defence Intelligence, Avm Morgan Riku And The National Security Adviser (NSA), Retired Maj.-Gen. Babagana Monguno. During their meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa in Abuja on Monday 13 July 2015. Image and caption: Premium Times.
On Monday, President Buhari sacked his Service Chiefs, Chief of Defence Intelligence and National Security Adviser. A widely expected and long overdue decision. The new individuals are:

National Security Adviser (NSA): Major General Babagana Monguno (rtd.). He is from Borno state. He was the Commandant, Nigerian Army Training and Doctrine Command, before his retirement from active service in September 2013. Major General Monguno (rtd.) replaces Colonel Sambo Dasuki (rtd.).

Chief of Defence Staff (CDS): Major General Abayomi Gabriel Olonishakin. He is from Ekiti state. Until this appointment he headed the Nigerian Army Training and Doctrine Command. Major General Olonishakin replaces Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh.

Chief of Army Staff (CoAS): Major General Tukur Y. Buratai. He is from Borno state. Until this appointment he had recently been appointed to head the soon to be established Multi National Joint Task Force; the five-nation anti-Boko Haram regional coalition. Major General Buratai replaces Lieutenant General Kenneth Minimah.

Chief of Air Staff (CAS): Air Vice Marshal Sadique Abubakar. He is from Bauchi state. Until this appointment he was the Chief of Administration, NAF Headquarters. AVM Abubakar replaces AVM Adeola Amosun.

Chief of Naval Staff (CNS): Rear Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe. He is from Cross River state. Until this appointment he was Chief Executive Officer of Navy Holdings Limited. Rear Admiral Ekwe replaces rear Admiral Usman Jibrin.

Chief of Defence Intelligence (CDI): Air Vice Marshal Monday Riku Morgan. He is from Benue state. Until this appointment he was the Air Officer Commanding, NAF Logistics Command. AVM Morgan replaces Rear Admiral Gabriel Okoi.

According to the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, “the new Service Chiefs will hold their appointments in an acting capacity until confirmed by the Senate” which will return from adjournment on July 21. Appointments of the NSA and CDI however are the exclusive prerogative of the President and so do not require Senatorial assent.

Some Thoughts


One major surprise is the emergence of Babagana Monguno as NSA. Lieutenant General Abdulrahman Dambazau (rtd.) had been widely tipped to get the post. Premium Times, citing “Presidency insiders”, says Dambazau had long lost the race to become NSA because President Buhari’s preference was for an individual with an intelligence background. Dambazau was in the military police. 

Furthermore, says the Premium Times report, Dambazau’s record as Army Chief from 2008-2010 cast a shadow on his ambition to become NSA as it was tainted by financial scandals and allegations of corruption. His tenure as Army Chief was also reportedly marred by allegations of ethnic bias, says Nnamdi Anekwe-Chive, a security analyst. If reports are to be believed however, Dambazau may yet still emerge as Minister of Defence.

Another major surprise, at least for me, was why a Minister of Defence was also not announced. The appointments were billed as a clean sweep of the country’s defence and security leadership. Given this, and given Boko Haram’s seeming resurgence, it is odd that such a vital post as Minister of Defence will still be kept vacant. And if the allegations of corruption and ethnic bias are true, then it will be surprising to see Dambazau emerge as Minister of Defence.


An interesting observation that has now been widely commented on is the fact that the NSA and CoAS are both from Borno state – the epicentre of the insurgency. As the CAS is from Bauchi state, this means three of the pivotal institutions at the heart of the counterinsurgency campaign are now headed by individuals from the northeast – the most badly affected region. 

By appointing individuals from the restive northeast to spearhead the counterinsurgency, this will hopefully inject a greater degree of seriousness and urgency to the war effort. It should also hopefully bring greater sensitivity about the plight of the civilian population in the warzone to the defence and security establishments.

One other observation is the timing of the appointments, particularly those of the Service Chiefs. The appointments could not have come a day sooner of course. But it seems to me the upcoming state visit to the US on July 20 possibly played a role in speeding up the filling of these important posts. Security assistance is expected to dominate President Buhari’s discussions with President Obama. 

The recent Amnesty International report which accused the Nigerian military of war crimes in the northeast recommended that the former CDS and CoAS, Alex Badeh and Kenneth Minimah respectively, be “investigated for their potential command responsibility”, as they either knew or should have known of the war crimes but “failed to take adequate action”. 

Given that the Nigerian military’s poor human rights record had badly strained security cooperation between Nigeria and the US in the past, it is reasonable to assume President Buhari wanted to clear any major stumbling blocks from negatively affecting discussions on closer security cooperation before his upcoming state visit. 

Why the Sackings

So far as I am concerned the CDS, CoAS, CAS, CDI, and NSA should have long been fired, even before the coming to power of President Buhari. Boko Haram mushroomed into an existential threat under their watch, and their tenure was filled with gaffes and disasters that would have sent security chiefs in other countries packing. 

Boko Haram’s seizure of vast swathes of territory, which required the hiring of mercenaries and the intervention of our small neighbours to reverse; the kidnapping of the Chibok girls and the many thousands of other nameless and unknown Nigerians; the “ceasefire” fiasco; the unforgivable denial of Wing Commander Chimda Hedima; the amateurish attempt to smuggle $9.3 million into South Africa to allegedly procure arms; the recurrent claims that frontline soldiers are frequently short-paid, under equipped, and poorly supplied; the comic Ali-esque easily verifiable lies that military spokesmen shamelessly tell or tweet. Any of these debacles should have been sufficient to sink the careers of our (in)security chiefs.

CDI Rear Admiral Gabriel Okoi’s disingenuous and thoroughly unconvincing response to a question put to him about corruption in the military at a March 11 presentation both he and Ambassador Ayodele Oke (Director-General, National Intelligence Agency) were invited to give at the Atlantic Council highlights one of the major problems with the military and security leadership thus far: ‘head in the sand’ syndrome. He basically blamed the entrenched corruption that has crippled the military’s combat power on the fact that the government had to buy weapons at inflated costs on the black market because the US refused to sell Nigeria weapons.

Competence of the New Men

So far the new appointments have been widely praised. The NSA and CoAS especially have been described as professional, competent, perfectionists etc. There is little I can add here except to say that for me the proof of the pudding is in the eating. For now, I will hold back on giving a firm opinion until I see what their reform agendas are for the military and security services. I remember the gallons of praise that were showered on Kenneth Minimah and Sambo Dasuki upon their appointments to the posts of CoAS and NSA respectively. Dasuki was widely described as urbane, suave, and Minimah’s background as an infantry paratrooper was glowingly referred to. Yet their performance turned out to be supremely disappointing. 

Good luck to the new men in their new appointments. Their success is Nigeria’s success. 

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