Nigerian leader fires all military commanders

AP News
Posted: Jan 16, 2014 9:12 AM
Nigerian leader fires all military commanders

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — In a major shakeup of the high command of Nigeria's military which is battling Islamic insurgents, President Goodluck Jonathan fired all his service chiefs Thursday and appointed an air force officer from the troubled northeast as the top military commander.

Officials in neighboring Cameroon, meanwhile, said Nigerian jets dropped bombs that exploded around a Cameroonian border post on Wednesday, as Cameroonian forces were pulled into fighting between Nigerian troops and Islamic extremists. At least one woman on Cameroonian soil was killed by stray bullets and five other civilians were wounded, said Col. Francis Tatang, a military police commander in northern Cameroon.

Air Marshal Alex S. Badeh, 57, has the top job as chief of defense staff and services, with immediate effect, according to a statement from presidential adviser Reuben Abati. Badeh had been chief of air services since 2012. He replaces Adm. Ola Sa'ad Ibrahim, who had headed the military since 2012.

Maj. Gen. Kenneth Tobiah Jacob Minimah is the new chief of army staff. Rear Adm. Usman O. Jibrin takes over the navy and the new chief of air staff is Vice Marshal Adesola Nunayon Amosu.

Abati confirmed that the old commander and army and navy service chiefs have been fired. Several other senior army officers got new assignments last month.

Badeh's home state of Adamawa as well as neighboring Borno and Yobe states have been under a state of emergency since May. Thousands of security forces deployed to the area quickly drove Boko Haram insurgents out of major urban centers but there has been a resurgence in attacks recently.

Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation and one of its biggest oil producers, is battling Islamic extremists in the northeast and there are fears the rebellion could spread beyond Nigeria's porous borders. On Wednesday, the violence affected neighboring Cameroon, which has felt fallout from the conflict before.

"Three bombs fell in Limani around a Cameroon customs post ... and two vehicles were destroyed," Tatang said Thursday.

Tatang said the Nigerians called the airstrike after extremists followed civilians who fled the Nigerian town of Banki across the border amid heavy gunfire. Cameroonian forces responded to repel the insurgents, he said.

A trader at the Cameroonian border town of Amchide, Salleh Kasoum, told the AP, "In the midst of the chaos, some of the Boko Haram fighters armed with Kalashnikovs and Jeeps fitted with machine guns managed to shoot their way into Cameroonian territory and began firing back at the Nigerian soldiers."

Scores of people including suspected members of Nigeria's Boko Haram terrorist network have been arrested, Tatang said.

Nigerian officials have complained that Cameroonian security forces are not doing enough to stop the insurgents from using Cameroon as a safe haven to launch attacks in Nigeria. Nigeria's military has said that fighters from Cameroon, Chad and Niger have been found fighting alongside Boko Haram.

The shakeup of Nigeria's military comes amid recent high-profile attacks by Boko Haram.

In Nigeria on Tuesday, a car bomb exploded in a busy commercial center of Maiduguri, the Borno state capital that is the birthplace of Boko Haram. At least 43 people were killed, according to a mortuary official who said some bodies were burned beyond recognition.

On Dec. 2, hundreds of Boko Haram fighters in trucks and a stolen armored personnel carrier attacked an air force base and a separate army barracks on the outskirts of Maiduguri in one of the insurgent group's most daring attacks. Two helicopters and three military aircraft were set ablaze and destroyed.

Such embarrassments to the military have raised questions about possible collusion. Jonathan himself has charged that there are Boko Haram sympathizers in his government and among security forces.

A U.S. travel advisory issued earlier in January said, "Late 2013 saw an increase in Boko Haram attacks and clashes with Nigerian government security forces in northern Nigeria. ... Boko Haram is known to descend on whole towns, robbing banks and businesses, attacking police and military installations, and setting fire to private homes."

Thousands of people have been killed since the uprising that began in 2009. It has become the biggest threat to the security and cohesion of Nigeria, which has more than 160 million people. The extremists say they want to impose Islamic Shariah law across all of Nigeria, which has about equal numbers of Muslims who dominate the north and Christians who live mainly in the south.

In the group's highest-profile attack, a Boko Haram member detonated a car bomb at the U.N. headquarters in Nigeria's capital, Abuja, on Aug. 26, 2011, killing 25 people and wounding more than 100. The United States last year designated Boko Haram a terrorist organization.


Associated Press writer Divine Ntaryike contributed to this report from Douala, Cameroon.