DAKAR, SENEGAL - President Muhammadu Buhari, faced with growing public discontent over the threat of Islamist Boko Haram militants, sacked Nigeria’s much-criticized military leadership on Monday and appointed his own officers.
The shake-up came nearly seven weeks after President Buhari’s May inauguration, amid a rising tide of violence by the insurgent group. The army has long been seen as ineffective at stopping the militants.
Boko Haram managed to overrun a chunk of Nigeria the size of Belgium, before losing much of that territory earlier this year in an offensive by soldiers from Nigeria and its neighbors, along with foreign mercenaries.
But since Buhari took office, the terrorist group has resumed attacks in force. Deadly bombings and shootings are reported almost daily across Nigeria’s north.
Senior research fellow at the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa, David Zounmenou, says the new leadership gives Buhari an opportunity to reform one of the continent’s largest armies.
“Now, the door’s open for him to put new structures in place, new individuals in place and create the synergy that is needed domestically to really help give sense to the national strategy to fight general insecurity,” Zounmenou said.
Analyst Yan St. Pierre of the Berlin-based security firm MOSECON says the shake-up shows how Buhari plans to focus on Borno, the vast northeastern state where Boko Haram got its start and where it has been launching attacks regularly.
New army chief, Major-General T.Y. Buratai, and new National Security Adviser, retired Major-General Babagana Monguno are from Borno. The president also moved the military command to the state capital, Maiduguri, soon after taking office.
“He is regionalizing the army’s strategy. He has Borno men to conduct a Borno policy to ensure that it is becoming more of a local strategy, adapted to the needs of the area,” said St. Pierre.
Nigeria’s armed forces have lately been dogged by mutinies, allegations of corruption and human rights abuses, along with lingering questions about its inability to defeat the insurgency. St. Pierre says the new leadership shows Buhari expects things to change.
“[General] Buratai is a highly respected man, [General] Monguno as well. They have what appears to be a strong, incorruptible reputation,” said St. Pierre.
The new leadership will also be responsible for guiding Nigeria’s role in a five-nation task force that is expected to deploy at the end of the month. Its target: Boko Haram.