President Goodluck Jonathan may this week announce major changes in the nation’s defence structure following the impending retirement of the incumbent Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Air Chief Marshal Oluseyi Petinrin.
Petinrin will bow out in a few days after over 35 years of service.
THISDAY gathered that as a prelude to the changes, the president has scheduled a dinner within the next 48 hours with all the service chiefs – Lt. Gen. Onyeabo Azubuike Ihejirika, Nigerian Army; Air Marshal Mohammed Dikko Umar, Nigerian Air Force; Vice-Admiral Ola Sa’ad Ibrahim, Nigerian Navy; and the incumbent CDS, during which he is likely to unveil his decision on their appointments.
Pentirin, born on 19 January 1955 at Ipetu-Ijesa in Ori-Ade Local Government Area of Osun State, enlisted into the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) in 1974 as a member of Regular Course 16, and was commissioned pilot officer on January 3, 1977.
Jonathan had in September last year extended Petinrin’s tenure by one year and again, extended it by another one month this September. The extension ends this week but it was not clear as at press time if the CDS will be given another extension by the president.
If he does not get the extension, Jonathan will be faced with the onerous task of either appointing a replacement from the corps of the current service chiefs or exercising his prerogative picking a replacement from outside the service chiefs.
Apart from the CDS, who is in course 16 of the NDA, Ibrahim of the Nigerian Navy is next in seniority as a Course 17 officer. The Naval chief is followed by Ihejirika, Course 18 and Umar of the Nigerian Air Force, Course 20.
Military pundits explained Sunday night that the president also has the option of beaming his searchlight outside the current service chiefs to pick Petinrin’s successor.
However, the implication of the latter action, according to them, will be a mass retirement of several senior officers across the three services and the Defence Headquarters and its tri-service units or organisations who belong to courses 17, 18 and 20 of the NDA.
Another option open to the president, THISDAY gathered Sunday night, may be the promotion of the most senior service chief to the office of CDS.
The source said: “If this happens, the president will have a balancing act to do as he will have to pick another officer from the service that produces the CDS and make him the service chief.”
However, expressing concern about the looming changes, the source said: “I feel strongly that this is not the most appropriate time to change all the service chiefs because the military seems to be winning the fight against insurgency in the country. This must be credited to the commitment of the various services and their leadership.”
Jonathan had in September extended the tenure of the three service chiefs by one month, which expires this week, in a step pundits argued was taken to allow him enough time to consult on the choice of Petinrin’s successor or on the appointment of fresh hands to lead the various services.
The most senior service chief, Ibrahim, was born on June 15, 1955. A graduate of NDA Course 17 and the Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Jaji, he has also received extensive training with the British Royal and Indian navies.
He is a navigation and direction specialist and wears the command at sea badge for successful command at sea on various Nigerian Naval Ships. He also holds a Bachelor of Law degree from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.
Ihejirika, next in seniority, was born on February 13, 1956 in Ovim, Isuikwuato Local Government Area, Abia State.
He was commissioned into the Nigerian Army on December 17, 1977 as a member of the NDA 18th regular combatant course.
Prior to being appointed the Chief of Air Staff (COAS), he was the Chief of Defence Logistics at Defence Headquarters. He was also the former General Officer Commanding (GOC), 81 Division in Lagos, and a former Director of Engineering at Defence Headquarters.
Umar was born in Kano on June 20, 1955 and hails from Municipal Local Government Area of Kano State. He began his early education at Victory College Cairo, Egypt, in 1963.
He later attended Sardauna Memorial College Kaduna from 1969 to 1973 and graduated at Pivotal Teachers College Kano in 1975. Umar, a graduate of Course 20, has attended several courses at home and abroad since he joined the Nigerian Air Force.