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Nigeria's President Just Fired Four Top Generals in Charge of Fighting Boko Haram

After a series of suicide bombings unleashed by the extremist groups in recent weeks, President Muhammadu Buhari relieved the commanders.

by Samuel Oakford
Jul 13 2015, 6:45pm

Photo by John MacDougall/EPA

Ahead of a meeting with his American counterpart next week, Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari has dismissed the country's army, air force, navy, and defense chiefs — members of the top brass that has overseen Nigeria's bungled response to Boko Haram.

Buhari, Nigeria's former military ruler who took office in May after elections two months prior, was expected by many to fire the commanders after his inauguration. His predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, was pilloried for the military's incapacity to stem the rise of Boko Haram in Nigeria's northeast, and Buhari's announced goal upon taking office was to overhaul the country's approach to tackling the insurgency.

According to a spokesperson for Buhari, the officers were Air Vice Marshal Adesolu Amosu, Air Marshal Alex Badeh, Major General Kenneth Minimah, and Rear Admiral Usman Hibrin.

Later on Monday, Buhari's office announced their replacements: Major General Abayomi Gabriel Olonishakin, who will be chief of defense; Major General T.Y. Burutai, who will be chief of the army; Rear Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas, who will be chief of the navy; and Air Vice Marshal Sadique Abubakar. Buhari also appointed a new chief of defense intelligence and national security advisor. 

After years of increased instability and growing death tolls in the northeast, Nigeria's military, along with a regional force, began making progress in the run-up to elections this March. It wasn't enough to keep Jonathan in office, but some thought the fact Buhari's did not to fire the commanders immediately meant they had been given time to further prove their tactics.

Recent weeks, however, have seen a rise in Boko Haram suicide bombings, both inside Nigeria and in neighboring Chad, which is part of the regional effort against the extremist Sunni group. On Saturday, a man wearing a veil detonated a suicide vest in the Chadian capital of N'Djamena, killing 15. On Monday, a vehicle exploded at a military checkpoint outside Maiduguri, the regional capital of Nigeria's Borno state. That attack killed at least one person.

Related: Male Suicide Bomber Disguised in Burka Kills 15 in Latest Attack on Chad's Capital

According to the Nigerian online news outlet Sahara Reports, a Boko Haram attack on the outskirts of Monguno, also in Borno State, claimed the lives of "more than 45 people" on Monday. Many villagers, it said, were shot to death. 

Ugo Nwokeji, the director of University of California, Berkeley's Center for African Studies, told VICE News that the threat of wholesale changes among the military's leadership may have begun weighing on the response.

"I expected that [Buhari] would have made these changes," Nwokeji said. "But it is also a fact that the military was making a lot of progress two months up until the handover. So when he left them, which was a surprise for me, I was thinking it was probably because they were making progress, and he wanted to give them more time. But then in recent weeks, Boko Haram has seemed to gather steam."

Watch VICE News' 'The War Against Boko Haram'

While Nigeria's security forces have been criticized domestically for a lack of results, they have increasingly found themselves the focus of international attention over alleged atrocities committed during the war with Boko Haram. In June, Amnesty International released a report that found more than 7,000 young men and boys had perished in military detention since early 2011. An additional 1,200 people had reportedly been killed unlawfully since February 2012. Investigators found that among the more than 20,000 people arrested since 2009, torture and denial of basic human rights were commonplace. Among those Amnesty held responsible for violations were Badeh and Minimah.

After the Amnesty findings were released, Chris Olukolade, a spokesperson for Nigeria's military, called the account "inaccurate and unfair."

"The misleading conclusions by Amnesty International could have been avoided if they had made meaningful efforts to verify the inciting allegations," Olukolade said.

Buhari, however, promised Amnesty that "your report will be looked into."

Next Monday, Buhari will arrive in Washington to meet with US President Barack Obama. According to the White House, the two leaders will discuss economic and political reforms, along with the "approach to combating Boko Haram."

Related: More Explosions in Nigeria End a Week That Has Left More Than 200 Dead

Nwokeji said next week's encounter might have pushed Buhari to finally decide how to proceed with the four generals.

"He needs to come with military chiefs," Nwokeji said. "Are you going to come with the military chiefs that you are going to relieve soon, or are you going to come with military chiefs that were just chosen?"

Follow Samuel Oakford on Twitter: @samueloakford