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Close-Up: What We Know About Nigeria’s New Service Chiefs

Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, on Tuesday finally replaced the longest-serving set of military chiefs in the country since the return to democracy in 1999. 

Making the announcement, he said he had accepted “the immediate resignation” of the service chiefs and their retirement from service. 

“I thank them all for their overwhelming achievements in our efforts at bringing enduring peace to Nigeria, and wish them well in their future endeavours,” he added.

The President also disclosed the names of the new Tri-Service Chiefs who will be replacing the retired officers. Major-General Leo Irabor will take over as the new Chief of Defence Staff and head of the military while Major-General I. Attahiru assumes the roles of the Chief of Army Staff, Rear Admiral A.Z Gambo becomes the Chief of Naval Staff, and Air-Vice Marshal I.O Amao is the new Chief of Air Staff.

Here is what we know about the new sheriffs in town.

Maj. Gen. Lucky Irabor

The new Chief of Defence Staff, Major-General Lucky Irabor, is a member of the Nigerian Defence Academy Course 34 and Signals officer training. Irabor previously held the position of Force Commander of Lake Chad Basin, Multinational Joint Task Force in N’Djamena. 

He also served as one of the longest Commanders (March 2016 to May 2017) of Nigeria’s counter-insurgency operation, Lafiya Dole, after serving as Deputy of Operation with at the headquarters in Maiduguri, capital of Borno State.

Maj. Gen Attahiru 

Major-General I. Attahiru, the new Chief of Army Staff replaced Irabor as Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole. Attahiru, a member of Nigerian Defence Academy regular course 35, served as Deputy Chief of Policy and Plans, General Officer Commanding 82 Division Enugu, Directorate of Army Public Relations in 2013 and Commander 4 Brigade in Benin, Edo State.

A.Z. Gambo

Rear Admiral A.Z. Gambo, the Chief of Naval Staff, was formerly Director of Search and Rescue at the Defence Headquarters and Chief Staff Officer, Naval Training Command.

Air Vice-Marshal I.O. Amao

Air-Vice Marshal I.O. Amao, the new Chief of Air Staff, is a member of Nigerian Defence Academy Course 35. He is an alpha jet pilot by training and former Air Component commander, Operation Zaman Lafiya and Commander, 75 Strike Group, Yola.

Amao also served as Chief of Policy and Plans, Director of Training and Operation of the Nigerian Airforce at the Air Force headquarters and Air Officer Commanding Tactical, Air Command Makurdi, Benue State.

Outgoing Tri-Service Chiefs 

The former military chiefs, General Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin, Chief of Defence Staff; Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusufu Buratai, the Chief of Army Staff; Vice-Admiral Ibok-EteIkwe Ibas, the Chief of Naval Staff; and Air Marshal Sadique Baba Abubakar, the Chief of Air Staff, were appointed on July 13, 2015.

Upon completion of their initial two years, the president extended their tenures on December 18, 2017, for another two years to be completed in 2019. Retired Brig.-Gen. Mansur Dan Ali, the Defence Minister at the time, in a statement stated that the president had extended the tenures of the defence and service chiefs after “having carefully reviewed the on-going military operations across the country”.

All the service chiefs except Buratai joined the service in 1979 and spent at least 40 years in service. Buratai was the youngest of them, having spent 39 years in the service which he joined in 1981.

In December 2019, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Army, Sen. Ali Ndume,  said the president could not but retain the service chiefs because there was war, not only in the Northeast but all over the country.

Ever since their fate has been a matter of public discussion as a result of deteriorating security across the country. However, the president had maintained silence until Tuesday afternoon. 

The new military chiefs are coming at a time when the military is overstretched due to engagement in multiple theatres and security operations in all the six geopolitical zones.

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Murtala Abdullahi

Abdullahi Murtala is a researcher and reporter. His expertise is in conflict reporting, climate and environmental justice, and charting the security trends in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region. He founded the Goro Initiative and contributes to dialogues, publications and think-tanks that report on climate change and human security. He tweets via @murtalaibin

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