Indications have emerged in Abuja that last Thursday’s announcement of new service chiefs followed last minute changes made by President Goodluck Jonathan to avert crisis within the Armed Forces if his original plan had been executed.
The new service chiefs include Vice Admiral Ola Ibrahim, Chief of Defence Staff; Rear Admiral Dele Ezeoba, Chief of Naval Staff; and Air Vice Marshal Alex Badeh, Chief of Air Staff, while Lt. General Azubuike Ihejirika, retained his position as Chief of Army Staff, COAS.
Presidency sources told Vanguard, weekend, that the President did not embark on sweeping retirements in the Armed Forces to prevent the Islamist sect, Boko Haram, from using it to win more converts and strengthen its attack machinery against the Federal Government.
The initial plan, according to the sources, was that the COAS, who had piloted the Army in an exemplary manner, especially in the face of the security situation in the country, was to become the Chief of Defence Staff. One of the GOCs was to be made Chief of Army Staff. The same plan was set down for the Navy and Airforce.
Had the President gone ahead with this initial plan, a sizeable majority of the next line of generals in the Army, Airforce and to a less extent Navy, with Northerners comprising over 50 percent of the personnel, would have been swept away from the Armed Forces, going by the terms and condition of service and seniority factor.
The President was said to have reasoned that retiring so many generals as a result of appointment of junior generals as Service Chiefs, with many of them from the North, and at a time when the Boko Haram menace was still ravaging parts of the country, may inadvertently provide highly trained specialists and personnel for Boko Haram.
It will be recalled that Jonathan had recently alleged that there were Boko Haram sympathisers in the military and the Presidency.
Already, the North is said to be seething with rage that the position of Chief of Army Staff and Chief of Defence Staff, CDS, has continued to elude them.
The chances of former Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Mohammed Umar, who hails from Kano State, of becoming CDS was hampered by his two predecessors, Paul Dike and Oluseyi Petinrin, and becoming CDS had been the stabilising factor for the North in the military hierarchy.
It was learnt that the decision to retain General Ihejirika, apart from the fact that he had taken the Army to the next level and the President wanting him to complete most of the transformational activities going on, was to ensure stability in the army and reorganise it in a manner that internal complaint would be addressed within the next six to nine months.
Expected fall-out If the initial plan had been effected in the Navy and Airforce, no less than 16 Rear Admirals and Air Vice Marshals would have been retired in their prime. The sources disclosed that this was what informed the change of mind in the Presidency.
The Army, Navy and Airforce had been directed to expand the new transformation and innovation departments in their services to create opportunities so that when these generals eventually retire from active services, they would still become useful and vital in research and improvement of operational tactics.
It was also alleged that the Presidency felt some of the personnel may fall prey to wealthy Nigerians and politicians, who may want to cash in on their availability and use their expertise in carrying out ventures that may put the safety, peace and stability of the nation in jeopardy.