hard case

Can Nigeria’s new chief of defence staff crush insecurity at home?

By Ben Ezeamalu

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Posted on June 27, 2023 12:09

Nigerian Major General Christopher Musa attends an event in Ngarannam in Nigeria
Nigerian Major General Christopher Musa attends an event in Ngarannam in Nigeria, October 22, 2022. To match Special Report NIGERIA-MILITARY/CHILDREN REUTERS/Christophe Van Der Perre

Security was a key failure of Nigeria’s former general turned President Buhari. Will new leader Bola Tinubu improve things? His appointment for the new chief of of defence staff certainly sparked jubilation in villages in southern Kaduna, in Nigeria’s north-west. Can Christopher Musa crush the bandits and militia who kill and kidnap in his home region?

Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu named Musa, a major-general, as the new chief of defence staff on 19 June, replacing Lucky Irabor, a general who had occupied the position for two and half years.

The announcement sent jubilation across his home town in southern Kaduna, an area that continues to experience violent attacks by armed bandits and herdsmen. Although he was born in Sokoto, Musa’s parents hail from Zangon Kataf.

Musa grew up and pursued his early education in Sokoto. At 19, he began his military training at the Nigerian Defence Academy. Five years later, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant into the Infantry Corps of the Nigerian Army, as part of the 38th Regular Course.

“His appointment is a very serious plus for us, he won’t say he doesn’t know the terrain,” a Catholic priest in southern Kaduna tells The Africa Report, echoing the renewed optimism felt by most of the inhabitants.

However, security experts say while such optimism is natural, it is unlikely to play any role in how he discharges his duties.

“Given his appointment as chief of defence staff, he is for everybody, for every part of the country,” Sani Usman, a retired general and former army spokesperson, tells The Africa Report.

“He is there as the commander, mind you, not the commander in chief, he is coordinating the activities – operational, administrative, logistic – of the armed forces.

“Even though they have their respective chiefs, he acts as an interface between the commander in chief, the ministry of defence, and the armed forces of Nigeria.”

Analysts say the shake up in the military leadership is expected to bring a much needed positive result in the fight against insecurity across the country. In addition to Musa’s appointment, the president, who sacked all the service chiefs, appointed their replacements immediately.

Violent attacks

As Nigerians headed to the polls to elect a new president, governors, and parliamentarians, there appeared to be a lull in deadly attacks by armed non-state actors around the country.

After the elections, the killings resumed.

On 21 June, gunmen attacked a village in the north-western state of Plateau, and burnt 11 people to death.

More than 120 people have died from gun violence since President Tinubu’s inauguration on 29 May, according to Amnesty International. The group says the failure of authorities to protect Nigerians is gradually becoming the ‘norm’ in the country.

Despite significant government investment in counter-insurgency and anti-terrorism, Nigeria has continued to be a hotbed of insecurity, usually in the forms of terrorism, banditry, and farmers-herders clashes. Those three largely contributed to the death of more than 60,000 persons across the country since 2015.

In northern Nigeria, where the attacks were initially mostly restricted to the north-east with the Boko Haram insurgency, insecurity has swiftly spread to the north-west and north-central regions.

Insecurity has gone from bad to worse. For our own people, appointing General Musa was a surprise.

In 2020, between January and August, over 1,000 persons were killed in the north-western region, according to a report by Nigeria Mourns. The killings were perpetrated mostly by suspected armed bandits, Boko Haram/ISWAP, and herdsmen with Kaduna, Katsina, and Zamfara states accounting for 90 per cent of the victims.

Kaduna alone accounted for over 40%.

Inhabitants of southern Kaduna where majority of the killings occurred often cite marginalisation as the reason for the failure of the government to protect them.

John Isaac, the youth leader of Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU), says they have been short-changed for the past eight years. Musa’s two predecessors had been from the southern part of Nigeria.

“They never expected anybody to be appointed from that area,” Isaac tells The Africa Report.

“Insecurity has gone from bad to worse. For our own people, appointing General Musa was a surprise. That’s why we are very happy.”

The infantry man

A highly decorated officer, Musa, 55, served as the commander of the Nigerian Army Infantry Corps until his elevation as the defence chief.

Infantry is regarded as the foremost corps of the Nigerian army, followed by artillery, armour, engineers, and others. It is often described as the pivot around which the soldiering profession, particularly the army, revolves.

Nigeria’s past four chiefs of army staff had all come from the infantry corps, which accounts for about 70% of the Nigerian army composition. The current one, Taoreed Lagbaja, is also from the infantry corps.

Soldiers of the infantry corps have been deployed in several military operational areas in the northeast, northwest, and northcentral. They are involved in counter terrorism operations, counter insurgency, as well as internal security operations.

Usman says the new defence chief’s wealth of experience and knowledge of the Nigerian society and its security challenges would aid in dealing with insecurity.

“He will bring that to bear to coordinate the activities of the armed forces based on the strategic directives that will be given from time to time from the president/commander in chief,” he says.

‘Measured expectations’

Isaac says although the locals in southern Kaduna are jubilant over Musa’s appointment, their expectation should be measured.

“I don’t expect him to work simply because he’s from southern Kaduna, I expect all the service chiefs to work so that the killings will be stopped,” says Isaac.

John-Joseph Hayab, the chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Kaduna, says the simultaneous appointment of Lagbaja as the chief of army staff would greatly boost the fight against insecurity in Kaduna.

He says Lagbaja is knowledgeable about the security situation in the state.

“When he served as the GOC, One Mechanised Division [in Kaduna], he actually took the fight to the bandits and they started running,” Hayab tells The Africa Report. “We didn’t know what happened, they took him away.”

In southern Kaduna, the locals often accuse the security agencies of looking away while bandits and militia unleash terror on them.

However, Usman says such allegations are misplaced, adding that the military has always been a neutral arbiter.

He says the new defence chief will need the cooperation of not just the service chiefs and the understanding of higher authorities – the ministry of defence and the president/commander in chief, but also the Nigerian society.

While the women in the villages cheered and danced at the news of Musa’s appointment, on social media, several southern Kaduna platforms quickly updated their display photos with that of the new defence chief.

Hayab says they are praying for the new defence chief to flush out ‘evil people’ and restore sanity to communities across the country.

“If he does not perform well, the celebration we are having today will turn to sorrow.”

Musa’s previous appointments

  • Platoon Commander at 192 Bn in 1991;

  • Intelligence Officer at 192 Bn from 1993 to 1994;

  • Administrative Officer at 2 Div Camp (Garrison) from 1995 to 1999;

  • Pioneer Adjutant 195 Bn – 2000;

  • Operations Officer – NIBATT 8 UNAMSIL between 2001 to 2002;

  • 2ic 195 Bn  from 2002 to 2003; 149 Bn he also served as 2ic from  2005 to 2006;

  • General Staff Officer 1 Training/Operations at HQ 81 Division 2006 to 2007;

  • Commanding Officer 73 Bn  from 2007 to 2009;

  • Assistant Director Operational Requirement at Department of Army Policy and Plans from 2009 to 2011;

  • Infantry Representative/Member Training Team at HQ Nigerian Army Armour Corps – 2011 to  2012;

  • Deputy Chief of Staff Training and Operations at HQ Infantry Centre and  Corp – 2013 to 2014;

  • Chief of Staff at HQ 2 Division – 2014 to 2015;

  • Commandant Depot Nigerian Army – 2015 to 2017; Principal Staff Officer (Combat Arms) at Army HQ Department of Projects and Programmes – 2017;

  • Pioneer Executive Director Nigerian Army Farms and Ranches Ltd – 2017;

  • Commander 82 Division Task Force Brigade OP LAST HOLD in the North East – 2018;

  • Commander Sector 3 OP LAFIYA DOLE – 2019; Comd Sect 3 Multinational Joint Task Force in the Lake Chad Region – 2019;

  • Chief of General Duties TRADOC – 2019 to 2020; Director Campaign Planning AHQ DATOPs – 2020;

  • Director Training AHQ-DATOPs – 2020; Senior Research Fellow, Nigerian Army Research Centre – 2021;

  • Theatre Comd JTF (NE) Op HADIN KAI – 2021

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