I first met Major General Ibrahim Attahiru on Monday 4th February, 2013 when as a newly promoted Brigadier General, he was posted to the Directorate of Army Public Relations (DAPR) as Director. He had assumed office, and in his ringing broadcaster’s voice, made it clear to Defence Correspondents – I have an assignment to do here and will “do my best at all times, as required by my superiors. With your cooperation, my mandate will be delivered.”
He made his points clear and direct, no embellishments. It was a new terrain for him, an Infantry Corps Officer deployed to head DAPR. But in a short time, he assembled a crack team of officers and men of the Directorate that made immediate difference in how things used to be.
To ensure that Defence correspondents were abreast the activities of the Nigerian Army, he instituted a monthly Media Briefing, “clearing any doubt” and disseminating credible information on operations of the Army.
General Attahiru showed himself as a master of the nexus between military operations and the media and worked effortlessly towards improving the image of the Nigerian Army and the way it was perceived.
Leading by example, he showcased his diligence, reliability, discipline, consistency. Articulate, with piercing eyes, he acted more than he talked. There was no doubting where you stand with him. There were no court jesters telling stories around him or his office. His meetings were businesslike. The moment it is over, he beckons on you and moves to the next person, event or topic. Honest and decent in his dealings with journalists, it was such that even when you disagree with him on media issues, you are satisfied he did all with the best of intentions.
But just a year later, Tuesday, 7th January 2014, General Attahiru was gone. He continued on the journey that brought him to the exalted position as the 21st COAS on January 25, 2021. He moved on first to be Commanding Officer, 146 Battalion in the Bakassi Peninsula; Commander, 13 Brigade (Pulo Shield) in the Niger Delta; and General Officer Commanding, 82nd Division, Enugu.
He then moved to Operation Lafiya Dole as Commander, redeployed to Army Headquarters as Deputy Chief of Policy and Plans, then, Chief of Defence Transformation and Innovation, and Chief of Logistics, Defence Headquarters Abuja, before moving to the Army’s perceived pre-retirement base, Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) as Deputy Commander.
Already, Nigerians are expecting magic from the Service Chiefs especially General Attahiru. After all, the Army is the lead Service in the Armed Forces of Nigeria. But there is no magic wand anywhere. Yet, within the time General Attahiru and his fellow Service Chiefs would be in command, they have to, through sheer human ingenuity, change the narrative and operational fortunes in Nigeria’s fight against insecurity, especially terrorism and banditry.
Outside the sphere of public relations, the standing of the Armed Forces of Nigeria has been rubbished by perceived inefficiency and ineffectiveness in the face of terrorism and banditry. In the eyes of most Nigerians, this is not the Army whose giant strides, in conjunction with sister Services, was the most fearsome fighting force in West Africa, which enforced and restored peace in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The situation is not helped by the fact that the Service Chiefs came into office when insecurity seems unbearable and unmatched. No part of the country is spared. For example, the military is leading the fight against Boko Haram/Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) terrorists in the North East, banditry across North West and North Central regions, kidnappings across the country, farmers-herders conflict in the South fueling ethno-religious violent conflicts, piracy in the Niger Delta and other crimes.
With all these, the Armed Forces is overstretched, no doubt. Because of the nature of the Nigerian Police and weakness of the internal security structure, there is over-reliance on the Army to provide internal security. And so, the Army is deployed on internal security duties in virtually every state of the federation. Their involvement in guaranteeing peace and security has become so crucial and central to the survival of Nigeria.
That is why the impact of General Attahiru as COAS depends on his appointments.
And by the time he appoints the Commanders of 17 Corps Training Schools and an NA College of Logistics (NACOL) plus the nine divisions of the Nigerian Army including the leadership of Operation Lafiya Dole and the Brigade Commanders, he would have stamped his authority on the Army. The Army is endowed with abundance of talents and skills. He should scout out the best and position them effectively.
It doesn’t matter their positing right now. Some may be out of the mainstream but so long as they will add value to the war effort, they are game. The personal experience of the Service Chiefs would come handy here. They all came from supposed twilight appointments, where they were seen as long shots, to become Service Chiefs.For example, Major Generals Lucky Irabor and Ibrahim Attahiru were Commander and Deputy Commander at the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC Minna), derisively called the Army’s pre-retirement base. Rear Admiral Auwal Z. Gambo (Chief of Naval Staff) was Director of Procurement at Defence Space Administration (DSA) while Air Vice Marshal Isiaka Amao was Commandant Armed Forces Resettlement Centre, Oshodi, Lagos.
But God remembered them. Their professionalism made them the golden fishes. They should also remember those left behind in their Services who have contributions to make. They should not forget to enthrone meritocracy.
With the divisiveness inherent in partisan politics and the way the political class makes a mess of the nation’s institutions, the military holds the last hope of the nation as the last cohesive institution where meritocracy, integrity, diligence and honesty rules. And the burden of all Nigerians rests on the shoulders of General Attahiru, and the other Service Chiefs. In unison, the future health of the country rests on what they do, or don’t do. Their success is Nigeria’s success.
So, for the sake of Nigeria, the Armed Forces needs all our prayers and support. This is time for a new song of redemption for the Army, and the entire military. Enough of this seemingly intractable insecurity. And in doing so, the Army should refrain from dabbling into purely political fights or offering to be the lead agency in quelling riots or demonstrations. The Police must perform its duties. The Armed Forces already has its hands full.
Perhaps, Nigerians appreciate the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform as the military is not just like any institution of the State. As the former U.S. Union General, James Garfield, aptly captured: “For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.”
Added to this, the Army must start rebuilding its battered standing in the eyes of Nigerians. Perhaps, more than ever, the federal government, working with the political class, must seek broad support of Nigerians for the Armed Forces in its mandate to secure Nigeria. The war against terrorism, banditry and other crimes is not the Armed Forces of Nigeria’s fight alone. It is Nigeria’s fight. And all Nigerians should queue up.
As for General Attahiru, with the burden of his countrymen and women on his shoulders, his saving grace is that God has been so mindful of him, going by his trajectory of service in the Army. He should never forget this as he faces his job with all humility and sense of purpose, propelled by unmovable determination to do the best at all times. He should prompt and decisive, such that at the end of his tour of Command, Nigerians will stand up and say, ‘Here is a man.’
Madu Onuorah, veteran Defence Correspondent, is Publisher of Global Upfront Newspapers and member, Editorial Board of Daily Trust Newspapers