The Nigerian Army yesterday defended its recent promotions and deployments, saying they were based on merit. It warned critics not to politicise the institution, even as a panel indicted Gen. Mohammed Isa, the immediate past commander, Nigerian Army Corps of Infantry, Jaji, over last year's bombing.
A section of the media had been publishing stories of alleged ethnic and religious cleansing in the army. But the chief of army staff (COAS), Lt. Gen. Onyeabo Azubuike Ihejirika, yesterday faulted the critics by presenting figures that contradicted the stories and rumours flying around.
He said: "The Nigerian Army does not discriminate against any person or group of persons notwithstanding their ethnic callings. We focus on merit and that is the guiding principle. Make no mistake about it, there are very fine officers from each geopolitical zone of the federation. For the record, in the last Nigerian Army promotions and postings, there is no zone that was not represented by well-qualified senior officers.
"The Nigerian Army as a professional force has laid down procedures for recruitment, promotion and retirement. Amongst the important factors that are always considered in carrying out these annual exercises are the promotion regulations, federal character, harmonized armed forces terms and condition of service, promotion boards and Army Council. Each promotion is conducted by a board which has members reflecting geopolitical /ethnic divides. All the proceedings of the board have to go through the Army Council for ratification.
"The army does not promote or retire any officer without express approval of the Army Council which comprises the president, commander-in-chief represented by the honourable minister of defence, permanent secretary, ministry of defence, chief of defence staff and the chief of army staff. It behoves on any right-thinking individual to know that such procedures would require the final nod of the Army Council for important decisions to be carried out."
Gen. Ihejirika then went philosophical over the grievances over promotion, reminding the masterminds of the agitation that it was only those who are alive that could appreciate promotion and not those who have lost their lives in military operations.
"Military service is a selfless service. If an officer missed promotion and believes that Nigeria should burn, would such an officer give his life for the nation? If any soldier complains to a civilian that he was not promoted, such a person is not supposed to be a soldier. How many soldiers have we lost since the fight on counter-terrorism started? Postings in the military would be likened to selecting your first 11 in football. I will not take a disloyal and non-performing officer in my team. But for the first time in the army under me, general officers commanding (GOCs) were selected across the country.
"The new GOC 3 Division is Major General Ebiobowei Awala, while Major General Ahmed Jibrin becomes the new GOC 2 Division. The former commander, Nigerian Army Engineers, Major General Ashimiyu Olaniyi, is now the new GOC 82 Division.
"I want to assure you that the Nigerian Army of today is not the type that dragged the nation into war in the '60s. You might wish to note that in the recent postings I have Major Gen. Wahab in 1 Division, Major Gen. Ibrahim in 1 Brigade, Gen. Adam in 2 Brigade, and I sit here, and I am very comfortable with that posting. On Gen. Oshinowo, who happened to have been mentioned in the faceless story as one of those short-changed. It might interest you to know that Oshinowo had missed his promotion before I became the chief of army staff and he was promoted to the rank of major-general under my watch. I made reference to Gen. Oshinowo who was promoted and he later became GOC, 82 Division."
He then named all the five brigade commanders all of whom come from the north and are all Moslems. He said, "This is the division covering the south-east including my village." He further disclosed that, in 2011, of the 25 brigadier-generals promoted to major general, three of them came from Kano State. "It was a promotion based on merit. I could not drop any of them because they clearly deserved it."
Ihejirika used the opportunity to indict Major Gen. Mohammed Isa as one of those sponsoring the campaign of calumny against his leadership and narrated how the panel of enquiry that investigated the Jaji bombing indicted him for negligence of duty. He recalled how his retirement was postponed because the Army Council could not sit to ratify his retirement.
He said: "In the case of those that were not facing any promotion board like Major Gen. Isa that was in Jaji, he ought to have been retired but, that very month he was due, the Army Council did not sit. The Army Council does not sit every month and it does not sit on people's birthday; the Army Council sits quarterly, and, within that period that the Army Council sits, all those who are due for retirement would be notified. And we have not had serious problems with this.
"Unfortunately, Maj. Gen. Isah himself was the military secretary of the Nigerian Army. He gave notices of retirement to officers; he prepared memorandums that sought their retirements at the Army Council; he signed retirement letters -- those ones are in the records and he cannot deny. All he did was to apply for extension, in which he said that he had so much to contribute towards counter-terrorism if his service was extended. But it is the COAS or the service chiefs that have the prerogative to recommend an officer for extension. It is not for an officer to ask for such. I believe that has answered the issues on retirement."
Speaking on the indictment of Gen. Isa by the panel set up to probe Jaji bombing, the COAS said: "Incidentally, all these campaigns which he spearheaded started with his redeployment initially, based on the board of inquiry set up to investigate the Jaji bombing. We asked the military police to investigate further. And I can tell you that the report available to me showed he did not take an action expected of an officer in his position. The report that got to him about the impending attack also got to the GOC 1 Division a day before the attack. The GOC 1 Division had to cancel his engagements which included coming to Asaba for our annual conference. Isah did not give instruction to subordinates, he simply travelled for the conference and when I asked him, 'What are you doing here when your house is on fire?' he could not give a reasonable response. Investigation is still on to determine whether his attitude was just borne out of carelessness or whether there was much more issues to it."