Civilians can man defence ministry, say ex-generals

Some retired generals have said it is not necessary for a retired serviceman to be appointed by the President to preside over the defence ministry, ministry of Interior or as the National Security Adviser.

This is as they added that the government was a democratic one, run fully by civilians, adding that the President had the freedom to choose whomever he wanted to man any ministry or government agency.

President Bola Tinubu had appointed a retired policeman and former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Nuhu Ribadu, as his NSA and  former Governor of Adamawa State, Mohammed Badaru, as Minister of Defence, while  former Zamfara State governor, Bello Matawalle, emerged as the Minister of State for Defence.

But the decision was greeted by criticisms from many citizens, including  a former Kaduna Central senator, Shehu Sani, who knocked Tinubu for appointing a politician as defence minister.

Sani noted that the position should have been given to a retired military officer with  records of accomplishments.

“In view of the security challenges faced by this country, I thought the defence minister should be a retired military officer with experience and records of accomplishments.

“That office shouldn’t be just political, especially at this time,” Sani had noted in a tweet.

Sanu’s argument may not be unconnected with the fact that Nigerians since 1999 are used to having retired military officers as  ministers of defence.

Apart from Rabiu Kwankwaso, who served as Minister of Defence under former President Olusegun Obasanjo; Labaran Maku, who was supervising Minster of Defence between September 2013 and March 2014; Mahmud Ahmed, who served as Minister of Defence under the late former President Umaru Yar’Adua, and a few others, the rest have had military backgrounds.

Speaking on the matter, a former Chief of Army Operations, Training and Plans, Maj Gen Ishola Williams (retd.), said the defence military was supposed to be under the political control of the civilians.

For him, it did not matter whether the ministry is manned by a civilian or an ex-serviceman.

He said, “It is high time we accepted that it is not necessary or obligatory for the President to appoint anyone from the military to be the Minister of Defence, Interior or National Security Adviser.

“The military or the security agencies are set up to protect public safety – which is the most essential – and defend the territorial integrity of Nigeria.

“When they fulfil that mandate and they retire, they can go into any of the sectors mentioned above. This means they can be chosen by the President if he decides to be a minister or any other political appointment.

“It appears to me that, even though our constitution allows the President to choose a person as a minister, he is also limited by the fact that he belongs to a political party that worked for him to become president. There are some important people – money bags and the like – who may want their candidate to be appointed.”

Also speaking, a former Military Intelligence Officer, Captain Aliyu Babangida (retd.), in an interview with Saturday PUNCH, said the military did not have a monopoly of ideas on how to solve the security issues in the country.

He said the country may just want to test fresh hands to see if they could solve the problem.

Babangida said, “If you look at where we are coming from security-wise and where we are, you would see that we have security challenges. I must, first and foremost, say that soldiers do not have a monopoly on solutions to our security challenges. If they did, they would have solved all of them.

“So, what the president has put together is left to be seen. But, if it is anything to go by, we are looking at the same brand, the All Progressives Congress. From where we are coming to where we are, if he knows what he is doing, or does not know what he is doing like his predecessor, Muhammdu Buhari, we would be finding out hopefully by December max.

“So, I urge us to take his list with a pinch of salt and let us not be too quick to draw conclusions, so they don’t say we did not give him a chance.”

Also commenting, a retired captain in the United States Army, Bishop Johnson said it did not matter who the President appointed to man the defence ministry.

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