By: Okanga Agila
Every nation in the world strives for peace. A country at war with itself consciously and conspicuously plots its own ruination. It is the singular reason a leader of any nation hold the protection of lives and property of citizens very sacrosanct. The multiplicity of security agencies, even in Nigeria attests to the seriousness attached to security issues. A peaceful and serene nation-state differentiates it as a habitable human environment from the jungles populated by wild beasts.
Insecurity problems of a nation erupts naturally and unexpectedly because of the innate capacity of mankind to deliberately stir trouble or instigate crisis. But the state has the enormous powers to contain it, because it is empowered by laws.
However, what has remained an insurmountable problem is the ability of leaders of nations to put the right persons with the requisite experience to head and pilot the affairs of sensitive security outfits. Often, inordinate influences blindfold the leader, who picks his security chiefs without consideration to merit and competence.
But one could confidently say, Nigeria is a dozen times luckier with President Muhammedu Buhari on the saddle. He foraged the mass of officers in the Nigerian military and independently opted for the best crop of officers to head the different arms of the Nigerian Armed Forces. That President Buhari is able to contain the precarious and already exploded insecurity situation he inherited in Nigeria is a reward for his handing over the jobs to military experts, celebrated for their inclination and attachment to success or victorious actions.
The pedigree of all of President Buhari’s Service Chiefs smacks of a team packaged to deliver on assigned mandates. And one glaring such epitome of the Buhari leadership instincts for excellence is the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Gen. Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin.
Perceptively, his office is not only large and saddled with enormous responsibilities, but it can be rightly qualified as the mother of all the Armed Forces of Nigeria. He is what novelist Jeffery Archer would theatrically describe as the “First Among Equals,’ but has never been consumed by the aura and paraphernalia of his office. His mission and focus from the outset was how to serve his fatherland land perfectly, by bringing out the best in available material and human resources at his disposal to curb the numbing insecurity threats in Nigeria.
Commissioned into Nigerian Army (NA) Signal Corps as 2nd Lieutenant Signal Corps in 1981, Gen. Olonisakin demonstrated his passion for the Army in the various positions of responsibility he held before his elevation to the position of CDS. An officer who consistently adorns himself in friendly, youngish and inviting outlooks was appointed CDS by President Buhari in July 2015. Before this time, he served as Commander, Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Nigerian Army and also, Commander, Nigerian Army Corps of Signals. Superintending on these two sensitive positions in the Army was testimony of his express understanding of military ethos and his choice was endorsed naturally by President Buhari.
An African proverb says, “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” Much as his appointment satisfied his inner yearning of reaching the zenith of his profession, it also came with a heavy burden. He was saddled with the task of coordinating Nigerian Armed Forces in the era of unprecedented insecurity threats in virtually all parts of the country. But as an indefatigable professional soldier, who is not given to failure he set out to work in alliance with other Service Chiefs.
Gen. Olonisakin was confronted with a military that had a serious assignment, but was held down by debilitating inadequacies. Lack of weapons to battle Boko Haram insurgency or other acts of terrorism and pending salaries and allowances combined to dampen the morale of troops. While Nigerians groaned in pains, the military reneged helplessly in containing the situation. He vowed that the narrative must change.
He first ensured his Commander-In-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces, President Buhari secures weaponry for the armed forces. The CDS also inspected military formations across the country and instantly knew that pending salaries and allowances must be cleared and the tempo of prompt payment of entitlements sustained thereafter.
A team player to a fault, Gen. Olonisakin’s postured himself before the other Service Chiefs as fraternal brothers battling the same cause in the service of humanity, rather than his subordinates’. He never barked orders, but devoted time to explain to men and officers of the Armed Forces new policies or the essence and benefits of alternative measures, as military presence in Nigerian communities soared.
The CDS had just one refrain, he constantly repeated whenever he officially addresses troops on special assignments. He preached observance of professionalism, discipline and transparency in Nigerian military’s engagement with the civil populace.
What astounded his subordinates infinitely was his flexibility and eagerness to accept worthwhile suggestions, reforms or innovations that were capable of improving the Nigerian military, from officers heading the various arms without hesitation. He is not bossy by nature and orientation and could even discard his own idea to embrace a superior argument during security meetings.
His was a stamp of what is good as against the authoritative seal of bosses. It has been the pillar of his success in effectively superintending on the land, air and sea operations of the Nigerian military without hitches. It has posted the pleasant positive results whether in quelling Boko Haram insurgency; militancy in the Niger Delta; armed banditry or violent herders and farmers clashes in Nigeria.
Through this outstanding exhibition of leadership qualities, he earned the trust and confidence of his subordinates heading the different arms of the Nigerian military, who freely sought his counsels on any issue and ensured his directives are implemented to the fullest.
Gen. Olonisakin’s patriotic leadership began to rob positively on Service Chiefs in African countries, especially the West African sub-region, who occasionally also craved for his proverbial wise counsels to surmount insecurity problems in their countries.
The CDS does not need to blow his trumpet, but most Nigerians have come to adjudge him as the best CDS Nigeria has ever produced in recent times. Men of substance are known by their performance in tough times. His flouting knowledge of military strategies and subordination to civil authority has earned him amazing international clout, which he has harnessed for the benefit of Nigeria. ECOWAS Defence Chiefs and indeed, in Africa look unto him as a revered role model .
Elsewhere on the international front, Gen. Olonisakin’s influence is deepening as even the United States which before his assumption of duties imposed several embargos on the Nigerian military has promised to work towards assisting Nigeria in the special areas of training, intelligence sharing, capacity building and hardware. This was revealed by the Commander of the United States African Command (AFRICOM), General Thomas Waldhauser during a recent visit to the CDS in Abuja.
It is a confirmation of his professionally honest, truthful, accountable and progressively excellent leadership of the Nigerian military. And the accolades have kept pouring in from scores of countries around the world. Thus, Gen. Olonisakin is a proud member of the few in the league of drivers of the “change mantra” of the President Buhari administration. He is truly a shining Nigeria’s defence “gateman.”
Okanga writes from Agila, Benue State.