Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1255, (23 - 29 July 2015)
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1255, (23 - 29 July 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Nigeria reshuffles top brass

Despite counter-insurgency offensives, Boko Haram attacks continue in Nigeria, spurring the country’s president to shake up the military, reports Haytham Nouri

Al-Ahram Weekly

Determined to defeat the seven-year insurgence by the ultra-radical group Boko Haram,Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari sacked his top army chiefs, replacing them with men who are better acquainted with the various conflict zones in the country.

The move came after a bus driver detonated a bomb at a military checkpoint in Maiduguri, killing at least one civilian and injuring three others, the Nigerian military said, on 13 July.

Hours after the attack, Buhari sacked his chiefs of the army, navy and air force. The new men selected to head the military include three from the Muslim north: Chief of Staff Major General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, National Security Adviser Major General Babagana Monguno and Air Force Air Vice Marshal Sadique Abubakar.

Christians from the south also took top posts. They are Defence Minister Major General Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin and Navy Chief Rear Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas. The new military intelligence chief, Air Vice Marshal Morgan Monday Riku, is from Nigeria’s ethnically diverse central region.

Analysts say that the choice of top brass shows Buhari’s determination to fight Boko Haram with an army that is well attuned to regional needs. The new military commanders are expected to lead the fight against Boko Haram from the army headquarters in Maiduguri, the very city from which Boko Haram started the insurgence seven years ago.

The decision is expected to shorten the chain of command, ensure rapid reaction and raise morale among the army’s rank and file. For the past few months, the Nigerian press has accused the army of failing to provide its soldiers with the right supplies to fight the insurgents.

Both the BBC and AFP cited local press on a shortage of arms and ammunition in crucial locations. In December 2014, a Nigerian military court sentenced 54 soldiers to death for failure to fight Boko Haram. During their trial, the soldiers claimed that they lacked the necessary weapons to combat the well-armed militants.

In September 2014, another military court sentenced 12 soldiers to death for mutinying against a local commander whom they said put their lives in unnecessary danger. In June 2015, Amnesty International accused the Nigerian army of human rights violations, saying that nearly 8,000 prisoners had died in military prisons.

Buhari, who is eager to receive US military aid, promised to investigate the report. US laws prevent the US administration offering military aid to any army accused of human rights violations.

The new army commanders are expected to coordinate closely with the military of Niger, Chad and Cameroon. These three countries, which deployed 8,500 troops against Boko Haram, have also been targets of attacks by the ultra-radical group.

In the first half of this month, almost 300 people were killed in attacks attributed to Boko Haram in various countries bordering Lake Chad. In one of the attacks, a man dressed in a woman’s chador blew himself up, killing 15 people in the Chadian capital of N’Djamena.

The Chadian president, Idriss Deby, has since banned women from wearing chadors. Only the traditional woman’s dress, known as tob, or Western attire are now permissible in Chad.

Deby has repeatedly promised to stamp out Boko Haram, but Chadians are still wary of the prolonged fight, and some fear that their country may slip into the same scenario previously seen in Somalia or Liberia.

In nearby Niger, 16 villagers were killed near the Nigerian border, perhaps in retaliation for the death of 32 Boko Haram militants in clashes with the army from 15 to 17 July. In Cameroon, two women suicide attackers blew themselves up in a market near the border with Chad last week, killing ten civilians and one soldier.

The Cameroonian president, Paul Biya, has ordered a change in school curricula to discourage extremism.

Boko Haram and like-minded groups in Somalia, Libya, Algeria and Egypt have vowed allegiance to the Islamic State, the militant group that has wreaked havoc in Iraq and Syria for more than a year.

Boko Haram has killed almost 15,000 civilians and army personnel in various attacks; abducted hundreds, including children; and forced nearly 1.5 million people to flee their homes.

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