Complex Hurdles for Nigeria’s New Service Chiefs

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Nigeria’s new service chiefs are coming into office at a time soldiers are facing a complex mix of conflicts: Overstretched and underfunded.

President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday appointed Major-General Lucky Irabor as Chief of Defence Staff; Major-General Ibrahim Attahiru as Chief of Army Staff; Rear Admiral A.Z Gambo as Chief of Naval Staff; and Air-Vice Marshal I.O Amao as Chief of Air Staff in a seeming bid to breathe new life into the top military ranks.

With the development, President Buhari tactically retired Chief of Defence Staff, General Abayomi Olonisakin; Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen. Tukur Buratai; Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok Ekwe Ibas; and Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, from service.

Truth is, the North-East axis of the bleeding Nigeria is not the only challenge the new military chiefs will be facing. In President Buhari’s home front, the North-West, bandits have been terrorising communities since 2015, abducting, raping and pillaging.

In a national embarrassment, gunmen abducted 340 school students in Buhari’s home state, Katsina, while he was visiting the area. The students were later released but the incident sparked outrage.

 In the Middle-Belt region, long-standing rivalry between the nomadic Fulani herdsmen Muslim herders and farmers still keeps fueling inter-communal conflict.

In Eastern Nigeria, Biafra agitators are gaining momentum, and igniting tensions between the local population and security forces in an area with a history of attempts to carve out independence for the Igbo people.

And, in oil-polluted Niger Delta, escalating poverty and corruption are throwing up fresh militant groups that are also demanding for a greater share of petroleum wealth.

Late last November, a new coalition of 36 militant groups, Continuous Emancipation of Niger Delta, which attacked gas and crude oil pipelines in Bayelsa State, reeled out six demands for Abuja which they said should be quickly handled to avert continued “destructive attacks” on oil and gas facilities in the country.

General Officer Commanding the coalition, River Lord (aka Adaka Bor), in a statement said they stand by all the seven-point demands of South-South governors and leaders presented to the Federal Government in Port-Harcourt, Rivers State capital.

The only addition is their demand for Abuja to pay the 13 per cent derivation directly to oil and gas producing communities. They are also calling for the relocation of the headquarters of all oil and gas companies operating in the Niger Delta to the region, as well as the demilitarisation of the entire Niger Delta, and for fiscal and true federalism.

In the coalition are Supreme Egbesu Resource Fighters, Niger Delta Resource Control Force, Emancipation of Niger Delta, Reformed Movement for Emancipation of the Niger Delta, Niger Delta Adaka Boro Force for Resource Control, and Niger Delta Joint Task Force.

“We are prepared to carry out our threats to the letter without any iota of fear as we have the capacity to bring the oil and gas facilities in the Niger Delta to rubbles if our demands are not met’’, the militants said, pointing out that there will be series of attacks on oil facilities.

Some armed gangs have even turned to piracy, launching attacks on commercial vessels in the Gulf of Guinea, kidnapping sailors and holding them for ransom in camps in the Niger Delta.

Last year, the Gulf of Guinea accounted for 95 percent of all hostages taken in 22 separate attacks on vessels, according to the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre.

“Nigeria will be required to make some fairly significant strategic choices around where its priorities lie”, Munro Anderson, partner at Dryad Global, a maritime security risk management firm, told AFP.

“With 80 percent of Nigerian trade conducted in the maritime domain, Nigeria, at both a political and security level, faces a tough choice between the securitization of its vital trade routes or the securitisation of the northern political heartland.”

However, Irabor and Attahiru are experienced field commanders whose successes or failures as military high commanders could have wide-reaching consequences. Insecurity across the fractured country means that businesses are highly concentrated in Lagos, the economic hub, further deepening inequality.

Most people have no choice but to live in areas that are unsafe.

Boko Haram and the Islamic State affiliate ISWAP still control large rural areas and roads in the North-East, where they kidnap and kill soldiers, civilians, and humanitarian workers.

Idayat Hassan of Centre for Democracy and Development, an Abuja-based think tank says, “there is need for a complete review of the counter-insurgency strategy.”

 Last November, four Chinese-made Wing Loong II combat drones have reportedly arrived in Nigeria to take part in ongoing counter-insurgency and anti-banditry operations in the country’s restive northwest region. 

They came a month after former air chief, Abubakar, reportedly revealed that the country had concluded the purchase of eight armed, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) from China.

Wing Loong II, designed and manufactured by Chengdu Aircraft Design & Research Institute, was primarily developed for China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force for surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

However, it can also be armed with a variety of weapons including laser-guided bombs and missiles such as the AKD-10 air-to-surface anti-tank missile, BRMI-90 90mm guided rocket, FT-7/130 small 130kg bomb with planar wing, and FT-9/50 50kg bombs.

“Nigeria has joined China and UAE as the only countries operating the WingLoong II Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle,” said Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola in a tweet. The Wing Loong II can remain airborne for 31 hours in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance mode, and for 26 hours in offensive mode, the official added.

The Nigerian armed forces are currently conducting operation Hadarin Daji against armed bandits in Zamfara state.

A mineral-rich state, Zamfara has attracted illegal mining and groups of armed bandits who steal livestock and other essentials from villagers in the area.

Thousands of people have fled the region and hundreds have lost their lives.

The drones are based in Zamfara’s capital, Gusau, where a new runway and ancillary facilities are being constructed to support its operations.

The aircraft’s area of operation will cover several states including Zamfara, Sokoto, Kebbi, Kastina, and some parts of Kaduna state.

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