Heads of Nigeria’s army, navy and air force sacked as criticism grows over resurgence of Islamist group since Muhammadu Buhari’s election.
Muhammadu Buhari, the Nigerian president, has sacked the country’s army, air force and naval chiefs after allegations of widespread human rights abuses by troops and a surge in violence by Boko Haram insurgents in the north of the country.
Mr Buhari, a former military dictator who ran Nigeria
with an iron fist in the 1980s, had pledged in his inauguration speech in May to reform the armed forces but criticism of his failure to fulfil the pledge after almost two months in office was starting to grow.
The president has also moved Nigeria’s defence command centre to Maiduguri, the birthplace of Boko Haram, and has been pushing for the rapid deployment of a new, regional military force to combat the jihadi sect.
The sackings come a month after Amnesty International accused Nigeria’s military
of systemic human rights abuses and the deaths of 8,000 prisoners by starvation, torture and summary execution under the guise of tackling Boko Haram’s six year insurgency, which itself has claimed thousands of lives and displaced more than a million people. Amnesty also identified several top military officials it accused of complicity in war crimes, including Air Marshal Alex Badeh, the Chief of Defence Staff, and Major General Kenneth Minimah, the Chief of Army Staff, both of whom were sacked on Monday. The campaign group has called for the military chiefs to be referred to the International Criminal Court for prosecution. Solomon Sacco, its senior legal adviser, applauded the sackings but called for them to be followed up with potential prosecutions to end a “cycle of violence”. “While President Buhari seems to be sacking these officials because they have failed to stop Boko Haram from carrying out attacks on civilians, we believe that this is also an opportunity for the Nigerian government to confirm its commitment to investigate abuses committed by the army,” he said. The military has repeatedly been accused of complicity, corruption and incompetence that has hamstrung attempts to crack down on Boko Haram, and Mr Buhari’s predecessor Goodluck Jonathan was perceived to be unwilling or unable to intervene. International focus intensified on Nigeria’s efforts to quell the insurgency in April 2014 after the group kidnapped 219 schoolgirls from the northern village of Chibok. The case was picked up by Michelle Obama, the American first lady, and spawned a global social media campaign under the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. Further embarrassment for the military came during a series of operations to quell Boko Haram in the run-up to the general election earlier this year when unnamed senior commanders claimed several times to have “found” the Chibok girls, only for the claims to later be retracted. Mr Buhari promised in his inauguration speech in May to “overhaul the rules of engagement to avoid human rights violations in operations and improve operational and legal mechanisms so that disciplinary steps are taken against proven human rights violations by the armed forces”. Two weeks ago, the United Nations’ human rights chief called for the president to make good his pledge and “rebuild trust” between the authorities and populations terrorised by Boko Haram. “It is time to give proper consideration to the need for a profound policy response that is grounded in the need for accountability and reconciliation, with measures to promote socio-economic rights and improve governance,” Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said. At least 550 people have been killed since Mr Buhari’s inauguration and recent days have seen a string of suicide bombings
. Ryan Cummings, chief Africa analyst with South Africa-based Red 24, a crisis management firm, said Mr Buhari’s “positive” move was likely to have been a response to the Amnesty call to action as well as to growing criticism at home. “The concern had been that because of his role as a former military commander, he might be more tolerant of the Nigerian military or have a more vested interest,” he said. “This move shows he is willing to make tough decisions where they have to be made that might be controversial or make him unpopular. It must be followed by top to bottom reform.”