It is with deep sense of gratitude to the Almighty God that I make this valedictory speech today, on the occasion of my pulling out from the Nigerian Armed Forces. When I commenced my career in the Nigerian Air Force as a cadet in the Nigerian Defence Academy about 38 years ago, little did I know that destiny will take me not only to the pinnacle of my Service as the 18th Chief of Air Staff, but also to the position of the 15th Chief of Defence Staff of the Armed Forces of Nigeria. Looking back at how God lifted me from my very humble beginnings, through the various ranks and appointments to the pinnacle of my career, I can only say a very big thank you to the Almighty God who directed my steps, protected and empowered me to serve my beloved country. Like the saying goes, “whatever has a beginning must surely have an end”. My journey in the Service of my fatherland as a member of the Armed Forces of Nigeria which began on the 3rd of January 1977 in the Nigerian Defence Academy has finally come to an end. Accordingly as I bow out today, I look forward to a deserved and happy retirement.
When I joined the Armed Forces of Nigeria, I resolved to put in my very best in whatever assignment I was given, in the service of my fatherland. Furthermore, I purposed within me to be dedicated, loyal and committed to making a difference in whatever task I was given to undertake. That resolve had remained with me throughout my years in Service such that as I reflect on the past, I rest in the firm conviction that I have given my best in the service of my fatherland. That to me, is the least one could do in appreciation to God and to a nation that has invested heavily in my development as a military officer and as a human being.
Occasions such as this, usually affords one the opportunity to reflect on the past, share experiences, as well as project into the future. Looking back at the years I spent in Service, I can only say I’ve had the most exciting life anyone could wish for. My life in the Service has been full of excitement, opportunities as well as challenges. The opportunities I had to be trained as a pilot and to have flown to all the continents of the world as well as working in various capacities with some of the best and most patriotic members of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, are memories that I will always cherish for the rest of my life. As an Instructor Pilot, I had the awesome privilege of contributing to the production of numerous pilots for the Nigerian Air Force, some of whom are today occupying very important positions in the Nigerian military. Also, the opportunity I had to serve as a Directing Staff and ultimately as the Director National Military Strategy in the National Defence College, afforded me the opportunity to contribute to the development of strategic leaders for the Nigerian Armed Forces. Furthermore, the opportunities I had to serve as Chief of the Air Staff and Chief of Defence Staff have exposed me to the challenges of managing a national institution like the military, in a very complex society like Nigeria where divergent interests coupled with political, religious and tribal affiliations often conflict with national interest. Despite the challenges however, we remained focused to the tasks at hand, as a result of which we were able to record some modest achievements.
On assumption of office as the 18th Chief of the Air Staff, I determined to consolidate on the achievements of my predecessors in office, while taking steps to advance the Service beyond where I met it. Accordingly, I re-appraised the management procedures of the Service and re-focused it to exploit the innovative potentials of the highly trained personnel of the Nigerian Air Force, towards ensuring some level of self- sufficiency. We laid emphasis on home-grown initiatives and innovative technology in order to ensure that the Service gradually reduced its dependence on foreign supplies of critically needed tools and equipment. The emphasis on home-grown initiatives for self-reliance was borne out of the challenges we did encounter, of total dependence on foreign partners to meet our critical defence requirements. There is no gain saying the fact that no nation can exercise freedom of action in meeting its security aspirations while totally dependent on foreign sources of supply for its arms and equipment. Therefore, we looked inwards to harness available human capital towards kick-starting our march to self-reliance. In that regard, we mobilised some of the officers with Masters degrees and Phds in various fields of aerospace vehicle design, avionics and armament specialisations from the Cranfield University in the UK and formed them into the Optimising Local Engineering (OLE) Teams 1 and 2. The teams were tasked to focus on developing an indigenous Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) as well as finding workable local solutions to the various challenges the Service had with respect to weapons systems and munitions that were incompatible with some of the platforms we were operating. The highpoint of these home-grown initiatives was the production of the GULMA 1 UAV, which was unveiled by former President Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR. Additionally, we embarked upon the local training of UAV pilots, which saved the nation huge resources that would have been spent were they to be trained overseas. I am particularly proud to state at this juncture, that the UAV pilots we trained are currently the ones flying the Nigerian Air Force UAV’s in the ongoing war against terror in the North East. Also, our team of armament engineers were able to locally fabricate certain aircraft components in addition to adapting hitherto abandoned rockets for use on some of our platforms. These modest efforts helped to save the nation huge funds that would have been spent to buy the components and munitions overseas. In addition, aggressive R&D efforts were embarked upon in all NAF units, where personnel were given opportunities to showcase their talents. The culminating point of our R&D efforts was the first NAF R&D exhibition, which was held in the NAF Base Abuja and drew participants from many universities and research institutes in the country. Furthermore, the NAF signed MOUs with 12 Nigerian universities and research institutes, to give impetus to the Services R&D efforts.
In areas of Human resource development, we embarked on aggressive training innovations to produce highly skilled technical personnel and pilots to ensure operational effectiveness of the Service. A major challenge we inherited in the area of human resource development, was the huge pilot generational gap that existed as a result of the lack of pilots among the members of five Nigerian Defence Academy courses some of whom were already Sqn Ldrs and Wg Cdrs. Faced with this challenge, I projected into the future and found out to our dismay that the NAF was going to be faced with problems of deploying these categories of officers to key leadership positions which have been designated for pilots by establishment. In other to solve this problem, I approved the training of some of the officers who had been carefully screened and selected. As it is with such decisions, I faced lots of oppositions. However I remained undaunted and today, most of these officers have completed pilot training and are deployed to some of our flying units. That singular determination to aggressively pursue the training of pilots has solved the problem of generational gap for pilots in the Nigerian Air Force.
As Chief of Air Staff, fleet enhancement and infrastructural development were key drivers of my vision. Accordingly, we laid emphasis on aggressive fleet maintenance of particularly the MI-35 attack helicopters and Alpha-jet airplanes that formed the backbone of our attack capability in the war against terror. We devoted huge resources to reactivate and maintain this fleet of planes, such that even with the losses we had due to enemy action, we were still able to conduct air operations in support of the army unhindered. Furthermore, we embarked upon and completed various projects in all our operational units. Among other things, we constructed a befitting hangar for the NAF at Yola airport, in addition to constructing link roads which connected the hangar/apron with the runway. We also constructed weapons storage facilities, crew room for pilots and technicians, various categories of accommodation for officers and men as well as the Air Force Comprehensive School, Yola. The aggressive development of infrastructure at the 75 Strike Group in Yola during my tenure as CAS, restored life to a base that was literally comatose before I took over, to one that it is today, the hub of all NAF operations in the war against terror. Other NAF units were also not left out in our drive to improve infrastructure in the NAF. We continued from where my predecessor left, by building aircraft shelters and storage facilities in many of our operational units, while various categories of accommodation for officers and men, as well as worship centres were built. Overall, our modest achievements helped to reposition the NAF for better service delivery.
On assumption of duty as the CDS on 4 Feb 2014, I envisioned a Defence Headquarters that would ensure effective co-ordination of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, in order to meet the security aspirations of a united democratic Nigeria. This became necessary in view of my desire to galvanise the entire Armed Forces of Nigeria in support of Operation ZAMAN LAFIYA, which was, and still is mainly an army operation. Accordingly, we set to work, and with the excellent co-operation I received from the Service Chiefs and Heads of other security and Para-military organisations, we were able to record some notable successes.
Notwithstanding the modest successes we recorded in the fight against terror, I must say that the task of co-ordinating the military and other security agencies in the fight against the insurgents is perhaps the most complex and challenging assignment I have had in my over 38 years in Service. For the first time, I was head of a military that lacked the relevant equipment and motivation to fight an enemy that was invisible and embedded with the local populace. Added to this, was the exploitation of a serious national security issue by a section of the press and the political class to gain political mileage. Furthermore, the activities of fifth columnists in the military and other security agencies who leaked operational plans and other sensitive military information to the terrorist, combined to make the fight against the insurgents particularly difficult. The activities of these unpatriotic members of the military not only blunted the effectiveness of the fight, but also led to the needless deaths of numerous officers and men who unwittingly fell into ambushes prepared by terrorists who had advance warnings of the approach of such troops. The decision by certain countries to deny us weapons to prosecute the war also added to the challenges we faced.
Despite these challenges, I am glad to note that a lot was achieved during our time in the fight against terror. The achievements recorded are largely due to the commitment, patriotism and fighting spirit of our men and women in uniform who saw the fight against terror as a task that must be accomplished no matter the odds and inspite of the campaign of calumny against the military by a section of the media with their foreign collaborators. The support of our teeming populace who have continued to stand behind their military has been quite encouraging. Also, our true friends who stood by us in our time of need and provided us the weapons we are now using to conduct the operations will always have a special place in our hearts. I must also mention the support and co-operation we have continued to enjoy from our neighbouring countries, which have enabled us to present a united front against a common enemy. The great support we have continued to receive and the determination of our patriotic troops to defeat this enemy of our nation, has not only helped us to remain focused, but to also embark on other projects for the armed forces.
In the area of infrastructural development, I am happy to state that we were able to record some achievements. On a routine tour of DHQ complex on assumption of duty, I observed that the working condition in most of the offices left much to be desired. Accordingly, I embarked on the construction of the DHQ extension complex, to include a befitting Joint Operations Room, a conference hall, the CDS office, offices for other categories of officers as well as a Pent House where important visitors to the DHQ are received by the CDS. I am happy to note that the extension block has been successfully completed, furnished and fully in use.
A major challenge we faced during my tenure was the negative media coverage of the activities of the Armed Forces in the ongoing war against terror in the North East. We therefore resolved to have a medium through which we can tell our own side of the story in an objective and accurate manner. This gave birth to the establishment of the Armed Forces Radio, broadcasting on 107.7 FM from the Mogadishu Cantonment. Also we were able to complete and commission the Armed Forces DNA Laboratory in Mogadishu Cantonment.
As part of our efforts to reposition the Armed Forces of Nigeria to better exploit science and technology for enhanced operational effectiveness, we established the Defence Space Agency and appointed a Chief of Defence Space Agency to oversee and co-ordinate the activities of the Agency. I am happy to state that the agency has since commenced work and recorded some progress in its activities. However, because of the classified nature of the activities of the Defence Space Agency, I am not at liberty to reveal some of their achievement. These modest achievements are in addition to over thirty other projects we have initiated and completed that time will not allow me to enumerate.
All these achievements would not have been possible without the effective support of His Excellency, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan GCFR, the former president and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria who appointed me first as the 18th CAS and thereafter as the 15th CDS. I therefore use this opportunity to deeply appreciate him for the privilege to have served my country in these capacities. Furthermore, I want to thank President Muhammadu Buhari GCFR for the opportunity given me to serve under him for at least 6 weeks and his dogged determination to re-equip and reposition the AFN to enable it perform its constitutional role of effectively defending Nigeria’s territory.
This address will not be complete without a special mention of the excellent working relationship I had with my team, the immediate past Service Chiefs. I therefore thank them for making my job as CDS very easy by virtue of their co-operation. I must not also forget all the officers, soldiers, ratings, airmen/airwomen and civilian staff that I worked with in various areas. Thank you for all your support and co-operation.
To my dear wife, Mrs Mary Iyah Badeh, children and family members, I say thank you for standing by me through the joys and pains of my service to our country. You provided a refuge of safety in the midst of very turbulent times.
Above all, I deeply appreciate the Almighty God who helped me, guided me and protected me throughout my career. If it had not been the Almighty God who was on my side, I wonder where I would have been today.
As I finally disengage, I have this final message for my country men/women and the Armed Forces of Nigeria. I want to state emphatically that no nation can achieve its full security potentials by totally depending on other nations for its defence needs. The lessons of the civil war and the ongoing war against terror where certain countries frustrated our attempts to procure much needed weapons are very instructive. Again, as I have always said, when a nation is at war, it is not the military alone that is at war, it is the entire nation. Accordingly, every segment of society must see itself contributing to the overall war effort, by presenting a united front against a common enemy. Therefore, I appeal to the relevant agencies of government to mobilise the huge human and material resources we have in this country towards the development of a vibrant Defence Industrial Complex that would contribute to meeting our critical arms and equipment needs. This is crucial if we must reduce our total dependence on foreign sources of supply for critically needed arms.
That is the only way we can retain our dignity as a nation in order to have freedom of action in international affairs.
Permit me to also add here, that nation’s militaries are equipped and trained in peace time, for the conflicts they expect to confront in the future. Unfortunately that has not been our experience as a nation. Over the years, the military was neglected and underequipped to ensure the survival of certain regimes, while other regimes, based on advice from some foreign nations, deliberately reduced the size of the military and underfunded it. Unfortunately, our past leaders accepted such recommendations without appreciating our peculiarities as a third world military, which does not have the technological advantage that could serve as force multipliers and compensate for reduced strength. Accordingly when faced with the crises in the North East and other parts of the country, the military was overstretched and had to embark on emergency recruitments and trainings, which were not adequate to prepare troops for the kind of situation we found ourselves in. It is important therefore for the government to decide on the kind of military force it needs, by carrying out a comprehensive review of the nation’s military force structure to determine the size, capability and equipment holding required to effectively defend the nation and provide needed security. This is based on the fact that without security, there cannot be sustainable development. The huge cost that would be required to rebuild the North East and other trouble spots in the country could have been avoided if the military had been adequately equipped and prepared to contain the on going insurgency before it escalated to where it is today.
As I conclude, I want to leave the current leadership and the entire members of the Armed Forces of Nigeria with my very best wishes.
Thank you all and God bless.