There are indications that Major General Kenneth T.J. Minimah is on his way to becoming the Chief of Army Staff, following mass retirements affecting his seniors and mates. Minimah, an indigene of Cross River State, is now the General Officer Commanding the 81 Division of the Nigerian Army in Lagos.
A source close to the Military told Daily Trust that the recent retirements of 51 Army officers was a "first step" in a plan to appoint him as Army chief.
More officers who could be potential contenders for the Army chief's position will be weeded out this year so as to clear the coast for Minimah, the source added.
Minimah is a member of the Regular Cadet Course 25 of the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), and was commissioned into the Nigerian Army on December 18, 1981.
He was posted to Lagos as GOC 81 Division in September 2010, and until then he was the Brigade Commander of the 1 Brigade, Sokoto. An infantry officer, he was promoted to the rank of Major General in January 2011.
A source told Daily Trust also that the surprise retention of Lt-General Azubuike Ihejirika as Army chief when his colleagues in the Air Force, Navy as well as the Chief of Defence Staff were replaced last year is a cover for Minimah to mature and eventually get appointed into the COAS job.
"The plan is to allow Ihejirika to stay for one more year or so to enable Minimah rise in rank and also to weed out his seniors and clear the way for him. Every general who is a potential contender for the post of Army chief would have been retired by then," the source said.
"That is why Major General MD Isa was quickly removed as commandant of Jaji after the blast without any board of inquiry. The same with General Joseph Soboiki of the 1 Mechanised Division. Both have now been retired."
Late last month, Army spokesman Major General Koleoso denied any undertones in the retirement of 51 officers. He also said 17 officers were forced to retire because they failed to go voluntarily when they were due as required by the established procedure.
The compulsory retirement is enforced under the 'Harmonised Terms and Conditions of Service for Nigeria Armed Forces Officers 2007 (Revised)', based on which major generals have to go at age 56, brigadier generals at age 54 and colonels 52.
Major General Mohammed D. Isa, whose name featured among the likely contenders for the Army chief's post, was among those compulsorily retired.
The post of Army chief is the most important in the Military, as it is the strongest force and by far outnumbers the other branches of the armed forces. The Army also has the highest number of military personnel deployed for law and order situations, including during elections.
Ihejirika was appointed in September 2010, and his elevation led to the retirements of many officers.
There are still many officers senior to Minimah from Course 24, and even if they remain in service to the point when he is elevated, they will then have to go in line with Military tradition.
They include GOC of the 1 Mechanised Division Major General Garba Wahab, Major General Monguno of the Defence Headquarters, Major General Emeka of the Nigerian Defence Academy, Major General Ngubani of the Army Headquarters, Major General J.O Nwaogbo, Major General MB Ibrahim, Major General Emmanuel Bassey, and Director of Defence Intelligence Major General SY Audu.