A news story published in the Vanguard newspaper on December 21, 2016, “Political maneuverings: Buhari extends Gen Olonisakin’s tenure by one year” has set the record for the absurd in the ongoing onslaught on common sense in Nigeria. The story took a neutral development, around a decision taken in the interest of the nation, and turned it into a circus. It sought to whip up division where non should exist.
For the news story, which read more like an opinion piece as opposed to factual reporting, it was “political manoeuvrings” that made President Muhammadu Buhari to ask the Chief of Defence Staff, General Gabriel Abayomi Olonisakin to stay on for an additional one year. This perception tallies perfectly with the pro-militant and insurgent supporting pieces that have been the staples of the Vanguard stable – a media platform that makes no efforts to hide its ethno-regional leanings while claiming to be a national publication.
The only redeeming feature in the concocted perspective pushed by the report was the acceptance that President Buhari acted within the law in asking the perfect gentleman that General Olonisakin’s is to stay on for another year. It does not matter that the legality of the act was tucked away somewhere in the story while it made so much out of ethnicity. Had this decision been illegal the militants for which the publication acts as a mouthpiece would have had a sidebar running beside the story.
Discerning would have made the average writer, who is not executing an imperial order of his employers, to address the real issues behind the extension of General Olanisakin’s tenure. Such objectivity would have acknowledged the giant steps made in decimating Boko Haram terrorists in the North-East of the country where troops at this very instance are chasing the terrorists into the desert. It would highlight how the military services, under the CDS, have successfully contained separatists and militants that had hoped to cash in on the Boko Haram insurgency as a cover for entrenching their own brand of terrorism.
To then infer that the CDS’ appointment was extended to ensure that “the two most powerful positions in the Military, that of the CDS and that of the Chief of Army Staff, remain in the core north” is bunkum and exposes to commit the kind of mischief that should not me attempted in a multicultural society like Nigeria. The laziest form of research, querying Google.com, would have led to the profile on http://defenceinfo.mil.ng/ that clearly states that “General Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin was born on the 2 Dec 61 in Kaduna, but hails from Gboyin Local Government Area of Ekiti State.” Except the Vanguard has somehow succeeded in enforcing “state of birth” over the current “state of origin” one would be hard pressed to come to terms with how the concept of a CDS from the north was arrived at.
The faux pas of designating General Olonisakin as a “northerner” is likely the result of the way he has integrated with and carried along Nigerians of all ethnicity and creed to the extent that he can be considered to be from any of the 36 states and the FCT. This is a plus for the general and a testament to the fact that he is not an ethnic jingoistic both in his personal life and the performance of his duties. It will also explain why he was able to gain the trust of the officers under his command.
A second possibility is that of sheer mischief as earlier mentioned. The militants in the Niger-Delta have not been able to unleash against the nation on a scale they had advertised and the opportunistic bombing of oil installations, while it might have impacted revenue, has not crippled the nation on the scale desired by saboteurs. Flying the kite that the tenure of a CDS from the north has been extended to keep the position in that geo-political region would provoke anger against the north in the other geo-political zones and deal a damaging blow to the incumbent government that has vowed to keep the country one. Only that they got the ethnic extraction of the CDS wrong. It is also wrong to think the incumbent government will pander to political correctness to shirk its responsibility of taking the right decisions for the country.
Furthermore, the story strongly underscores the need to make more efforts in preventing the politicisation of the military, the same way it must not be ethnic or subservient to religion. This is of course a further possibility of what the report was out to achieve – politicise the military to a point of dysfunctionality. The beneficiaries of such compromise of the military can best be imagine against the backdrop of those that stand to gain if the military can no longer safeguard the integrity of Nigeria because of ethno-political divisions within it.
It is therefore important, while condemning the irresponsible insinuations in the news report, to ask the publication to repent and desist from further attempting such sabotage. It should find a balance between running pro-militant propaganda and stoking the embers of division in the country on one hand and engaging in responsible journalism on the other.
On his part, General Olonisakin must see the one year extension of his tenure as a challenge to wipe out the last of the insurgent in the north-east while cleaning up the mess made by militants and separatists in the south-south and south-east in addition to conclusively confronting other breaches to Nigeria’s security. Such success will go a long way to convince the population to disregard the kind of hatea filled ethnic politics that trouble makers want for the nation.
Suleiman writes from Funtua, Katsina State.