During his speech at the Regimental Dinner Night 4 days ago, President Muhammdau Buhari while acknowledging the military for “ all your sacrifices and commitments in tackling the myriad of security challenges….” also underlined that “However, until the issue of insecurity is surmounted, much more is still desired from the Armed Forces of Nigeria”. In other words , the incoming President and CinC would inherit insecurity and he must push to get “much more “ from the Armed Forces (and of course other security and intelligence agencies). One very important appointment towards ending insecurity is that of the Minister of Defence.
Defence is important because through defence, we will protect our people, territories, values and interests at home and overseas, through strong armed forces and in partnership with allies, to ensure our security, support our national interests and safeguard our prosperity. The armed forces of Nigeria constitute the most powerful security institution and can influence reform in other areas. For this reason , the choice of Minister of Defence with the right qualities is very important.
As my own humble , unsolicited contribution, permit me to give my thoughts on the next Minister of Defence drawing from our recent experience and also making some international comparisons .
AN EX-MILITARY MAN OR A CIVILIAN? A Defence Minister’s prior experience can greatly affect their performance in the role. A Defence Minister with a background in military or defence issues can bring several advantages to the role. For example, they may have experience working with the armed forces, which can help them better understand the challenges facing military personnel and the broader defence establishment. They may also have a deep understanding of military strategy and tactics, which can be particularly valuable in times of crisis or conflict . It is for this reason that often (not always) an ex military man is often preferred for the position and it is most probable the incoming President will tap an ex-military man. Certainly, a Defence Minister with prior military experience, such as having served in the armed forces, may have a deeper understanding of military operations and strategy, as well as the needs and concerns of military personnel. The ideal Defence Minister should have a deep understanding of military strategy and tactics, as well as the ability to make clear and decisive decisions This can be particularly useful in making informed decisions regarding defence policy, procurement, and personnel matters. But there are a few cons to an ex military being Minister of Defence . While the job demands that the appointee sees himself as a civilian head of the military and a representative of the government, ex-military men have tendency of seeing themselves as still being part of the military and not part of government with the result that military interests may be prioritized over government/national interests. At the other extreme, a retired officer may start micro management, which is also not desired. He should also not become a super CO or Commander and get involved in running of the military . He is required to manage it. There are also some few pros and cons for a civilian Minister of Defence. While a civilian Defence Minister may be able to bring a fresh perspective to the role and may be better equipped to navigate the complex political landscape that often surrounds defence issues and is free of any single service bias , he may be bamboozled by military chiefs with technical military terminologies towards ends that do not serve national interests.
However, it is worth noting that while I said prior military experience is preferred, it is neither necessarily a requirement for the role of Defence Minister, nor a guarantee for an effective minister of defence. We may look at the performances of past civilian ministers of defencee (Ribadu, Akanbi Oniyangi, Kwankwaso, Yayale) and compare it with the immediate past 2 ex military ministers and we may return that the civilians were as good or even better than some, of their ex military successors.
Despite the fact that the 2 most recent past appointees to the office of Minister of Defence did not make a good case for ex-military men however , (my opinion), I will still lean that the Defence Minister should be from a military background. Not only defence, all Ministers must have basic knowledge about their ministries because if the Minister has no knowledge of the subject and has to perforce depend 100% on the opinions of entrenched interest groups, the best result may not be obtained.
Yes, defence has big money and security of the country is involved. The Armed Forces are getting more technical. Battles are no longer ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’. They need constant updates of information, knowledge, communication, weaponry and human resource management. The Ministry should not be left to the general only to run. Defence is no longer an administrative task but amalgamation of strategy, technology and diplomacy. Therefore, we need someone who is better qualified, to understand what he and others under him are doing. In most of our Ministries there is a battle within, for control. We must come out of Departmental thinking and think big at national level. The job of Defence Minister is, not to be a super General , but add this experience to the office of managing the military . He has to be part of the Govt, not part of the military and must be capable of thinking beyond borders, at a larger horizon.
Ultimately, the effectiveness of a Defence Minister whether he is a civilian or an ex military, will depend on a wide range of factors, including their personal qualities, firmness, integrity, their experience and expertise, and the political context in which they are operating. Some of the key qualities that are likely to be important for a successful Defence Minister include strong leadership skills, effective communication skills, political acumen, and the ability to work well under pressure. They must also be able to balance the needs of the military and the broader defence establishment with the demands of the political process, while always keeping the best interests of the country and its citizens in mind.
Should the incoming President opt for an ex-military man as his Minister of Defence as recommended here , there are two important caveats arising from the immediate past 2 previous appointments. 1. The appointee should not be a recently retired officer whose mates or seniors by entry are still in Service (as we saw in the Minister of 2015-2019). Military personnel hold rigidly to tehir seniority by entry and an average Nigerian military officer would kick or push back if his erstwhile junior is made Minister of Defence and it would be difficult in such a scenario to forge the senior-subordinate relationship needed between Minister and Service Chiefs.
2. The appointee should not be one that has left the military decades ago with several generations between him and the Service Chiefs and thus unable to grasp the current completely changed military environment.
OTHER QUALITIES REQUIRED
Prior military service apart, the Minister should also have strong leadership skills, be able to work well under pressure, and be able to effectively communicate with both military and civilian leaders. Additionally, he should have a strong commitment to upholding the principles of national security and the protection of citizens. In addition, because there is a lot of “unchecked” money within the Services (not necessarily within the MOD) an ideal Defence Minister should also possess a high level of integrity and be committed to acting in the best interests of the country especially in the judicious utilization of defence funds by the military.
The Defence Minister should also be very knowledgeable about the geopolitical landscape , Revolutions in Military Affairs RMA and the various threats that the country may face, including conventional military threats, cyber attacks, and terrorism. Even if an ex-military man, and because defence and military matters is a very wide area which no single person can hope to master, the Defence Minister should be an avid reader. He should be able to assess threats accurately and develop effective strategies for mitigating them.
An ideal Defence Minister should also possess strong management and administrative skills, as they will be responsible for overseeing the operations and budget of the military (which could be as high as 45% of the national budget). He should be a person conversant with the concept the Gun vs Butter debate by being able to balance the needs of the military with the available resources other competing needs of government, in order to ensure that the military is properly equipped and trained to defend the country and that the Services but without wasting resources in frivolous ego driven projects that add nothing to operational capacity (there are many such projects currently). Finally, an ideal Defence Minister should be able to adapt to changing circumstances and be willing to learn from both successes and failures of his predecessors. He should be willing to take calculated risks and make tough decisions when necessary, but also be able to learn from mistakes and make adjustments to his approach as needed.
A Defence Minister typically has a wide range of responsibilities, including overseeing the armed forces, developing defence policy, managing defence budgets, and maintaining relationships with other countries’ defence agencies. Therefore, an ideal Defence Minister should possess a broad range of skills and qualities.
Another important quality is strong leadership skills. The Defence Minister should be able to inspire and motivate their subordinates to achieve common goals, and should be able to effectively communicate expectations and priorities. They should also be able to manage and resolve inter-service , or CDS vs Service Chiefs conflicts that may arise within the military or with other government security /intelligence agencies. (The unconfirmed story of DSS wanting to arrest Emefiele while soldiers were mobilized to defend him shouldn’t happen with an effective Minister of Defence)
One major area needing improvement for the next minister of defence is how to ensure the effective management of the financial and human resources of the military and there are several ways the incoming Defence Minister can effectively manage the resources and personnel under their command:
Develop a clear and comprehensive strategy: Work with military leaders to develop a clear and comprehensive strategy that outlines the goals, priorities, and resources required to achieve the country’s defence objectives with specific timelines. (How many military personnel in total are needed, how many officers by rank bracket, how many NCOs by rank bracket etc) This strategy should be regularly reviewed and updated as necessary to ensure that it remains relevant and effective.
Allocate resources effectively: Once a strategy is in place, allocate resources effectively to ensure that they are being used in the most efficient and effective way possible. Every defence Naira must have a name attached to it leaving no loose money for frivolities. This may involve making difficult decisions about where to allocate funding and personnel, but it is essential to ensure that resources are being used in a way that supports the overall strategy and objectives and that tax payers get the best return for every Naira.
Foster a culture of accountability: A Defence Minister should work to foster a culture of accountability within the military, where Service Chiefs are held responsible for their actions and decisions. This can help to ensure that resources are being used effectively and efficiently, and that personnel are focused on achieving the country’s defence objectives.
Invest in training and development: A Defence Minister should invest in training and development programs for military personnel to ensure that they have the skills and knowledge necessary to carry out their duties effectively. This may involve providing opportunities for advanced training or education, as well as investing in new technologies and equipment to enhance military capabilities. Training and operations is probably the biggest subhead in the military budget but unless it is tracked you may find that very little training is done .
Build strong relationships with military leaders: Build strong relationships with military leaders to ensure that there is clear communication and collaboration between the political leadership and the military through the Minister. For this to happen the President CinC must allow the Minster of Defence more slack in the management of the military than is currently the case by minimizing direct communication with the Service Chiefs .If the President routinely by passes the Minister and deals directly with the Service Chiefs, the Minister soon becomes a lame duck . Empowering the defence minister can help to ensure that the Defence Minister is aware of any potential issues or concerns, and can work with military leaders to address them in a timely and effective manner, while freeing the President to attend to other issues since defence is not his only concern.
The incoming Defence Minister may face several political challenges during their tenure. Here are a few examples:
Balancing the needs of the military with budget constraints: He may face pressure to cut defence spending or allocate resources to other areas of the government, need to reduce the excessively high number of generals to free funds for recruitment . They must balance these demands with the need to maintain a strong, capable military.
Navigating political divisions: Defence issues and the deployment of the military especially in internal security operations can be highly politicized, and a Defence Minister may need to navigate political /ethnic/regional/religious divisions within the country, as well as with opposition parties and other stakeholders.
Managing relationships with allies and partners: A Defence Minister may need to navigate complex relationships with other countries, including allies and partners. This can involve negotiating defence agreements, sharing intelligence, and coordinating military operations. He would also need to be able to respond effectively to the recurring allegations against the military by foreign partners, allies and other international organizations.
Responding to crises: A Defence Minister may be called upon to respond to crises such as natural disasters, terrorist attacks, or military conflicts. They must be able to make quick, effective decisions under pressure and communicate these decisions to the public and other stakeholders.
Addressing public concerns: Defence issues can be a source of concern for the public, particularly in the context of issues such as national security, military deployments, recruitments, promotions, retirements. A Defence Minister may need to address public concerns and provide reassurance about the government’s approach to defence issues and how the military recruits, promotes and retires its personnel.
An Unreformed Defence Sector. The incoming Minister of Defence will meet an unreformed defence sector that is ineffective, inefficient, unaffordable which if not reformed scarce funds will continue tobe misdirected. He however has a complete and comprehensive untouched report on the reform of the MOD and the military complete with implementation strategies.
These are just a few examples of the political challenges that a Defence Minister may face specific challenges will depend on the the political context, and the particular issues facing the defence establishment at any given time.
TOWARDS AN EMPOWERED MINISTER OF DEFENCE
International comparisons, and even national comparisons between different governments in Nigeria (military or civilian) reveal that the role of the Defence Minister can vary somewhat from country to country, depending on factors such as the size and structure of the military and the political system in place. However, in general, the Defence Minister should be responsible for overseeing the military and ensuring that it is able to carry out its duties effectively. In Nigeria we should see the Minister taking more responsibility for setting military policy and strategy than is currently the case where the Service are left on their own. We should also aim at seeing the Minister exercise more direct authority over the military, as opposed to the military left largely independent. Overall, while the role of Defence Minister may differ somewhat from country to country, we should move more to having the duties of a Defence Minister in ensuring national security enshrined to include :
Developing and implementing military strategy: The Defence Minister is responsible for developing and implementing military strategy to protect the country against potential threats. This may involve working with military leaders to identify areas of weakness in the country’s defences and developing plans to address them.
Allocating resources: The Defence Minister is responsible for allocating resources to the military, including funding for equipment, training, and personnel. They must ensure that the military has the resources necessary to carry out its duties effectively. Current (bad) practice is the Services control their own resources and decide whatever they want to do.
Maintaining readiness: The Defence Minister is responsible for ensuring that the military is always ready to respond to potential threats. This may involve conducting regular training exercises and drills, as well as ensuring that equipment and supplies are maintained and ready for use.
Providing intelligence: The Defence Minister may be responsible for gathering and analyzing intelligence to identify potential threats to national security. They must work closely with intelligence agencies to ensure that the military is prepared to respond to any potential threats.
Coordinating with other countries: The Defence Minister may also be responsible for coordinating with other countries to ensure regional and global stability. This may involve developing relationships with other countries’ defence leadership and working together to address shared threats.
Overall, the Defence Minister plays a critical role in ensuring national security by overseeing the military and ensuring that it is prepared to respond to potential threats to the country.The President elect and Commsnder in Chief , especially with him not being a military man must choose wisely as from our recent experience not just any ex military man could be an effective Minister of Defence. After choising well he must empower the appointee by clearly putting the Service Chiefs under the Minister. We shouldn’t be having the tail (the Service Chiefs) wagging the dog(the Minister of Defence).
Group Captain Shehu (rtd) is a security consultant and member of the APC PCC.