Nigeria replaces top military leadership

January 17, 2014 - 7:04:13 am

Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan leaves after a People’s Democratic Party (PDP) National Executive Council meeting in Abuja yesterday. 

ABUJA: Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan replaced his entire military leadership without explanation yesterday as he struggles with an Islamist insurgency and political crisis within his ruling party.

The presidency announced the removal of the chiefs of defence, army, navy and air force and named their successors. It gave no reason but the military has suffered a series of setbacks recently in fighting the Boko Haram sect, which is trying to create an Islamic state in northern Nigeria.

Boko Haram gunmen stormed the air force base and military barracks around the airport of the northeastern city of Maiduguri on December 2. The group was also suspected of being behind a car bomb in the city this week which killed 29 people and wounded dozens more.

“I think this is performance-related,” a security expert in Nigeria said. “The security teams haven’t had a glowing record recently. The air force base attack was shocking.”

Boko Haram has waged a four-year insurgency which has killed thousands in the religiously mixed country of 170 million, and has become the biggest security threat in Africa’s top oil exporter and second largest economy.

The Nigerian army had its own internal shake-up of senior and mid-level positions in December.

Jonathan ordered a state of emergency and an intensified military surge last May in the northeast, where the bulk of Boko Haram attacks take place. He was forced to extend emergency rule in November as troops struggled to contain the insurgents.

A presidency source said Jonathan was keen to score some visible successes against the insurgents before what are expected to be closely contested elections next year.

A senior officer said he had expected a change but “nothing this drastic”, although he was not hugely surprised. “He (Jonathan) thinks that ... the war against terrorism needs fresh ideas,” he said.

All the four newly appointed chiefs of staff are experienced military officials in their mid-50s.

Air Marshal Alex Badeh — who is from Adamawa state, one of three in the northeast under emergency rule — takes over from Admiral Ola Sa’ad Ibrahim as Chief of Defence staff, the presidency said in a statement.

The president is also facing a political crisis in his People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and mass defections to an increasingly powerful opposition. REUTERS

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