July 13, 2015 / 4:53 PM / in 2 years

Nigeria's president purges defense top brass to take on Boko Haram

ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari sacked his army, navy, air force and defense chiefs on Monday in a widely expected move to boost the fight against Boko Haram militants who have killed hundreds of people in the past few weeks.

President Muhammadu Buhari addresses members of the National Working Committee during the meeting of the All Progressives Congress (APC) party at the headquarters of the party in Abuja, Nigeria July 3, 2015. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

Buhari, a former general, swiftly replaced all four men and named a new national security adviser in the latest of a series of moves to end the six-year-old jihadist insurgency.

Major-General Abayomi Gabriel Olonishakin, previously head of army training, was named Chief of Defence Staff. The new Chief of Army Staff, T.Y. Buratai, comes from Borno state, one of those worst hit by Boko Haram attacks, and was previously in charge of a multinational joint task force against the insurgents.

“I think it will have a positive impact on the military offensive in the northeast over the next few months because the military from mid-level and up have been awaiting a change in leadership,” said Thomas Hansen, an analyst at consultancy Control Risks.

“That has created a ‘wait and see’ situation, which has caused decision-making to suffer. It has likely been one source of distraction for the military.”

Since his inauguration in May, Buhari has moved Nigeria’s defense command center to Maiduguri, the birthplace of the jihadi sect, and is setting up the headquarters of the multinational force in Chad’s capital N‘Djamena.

In June, Amnesty International accused Nigeria’s military of systemic human rights abuses and the deaths of 8,000 prisoners and called for an investigation into many top military officials including the army and air force chiefs.

Former President Goodluck Jonathan was heavily criticized for his inability to crush Boko Haram and rescue some 200 schoolgirls abducted by the group in April 2014.

The militants, operating mainly in the northeast of Africa’s biggest oil producer, have killed thousands of people and displaced around 1.5 million.

Army morale hit an all time low under Jonathan and it was not until the start of 2015 that the militants were finally pushed out of most areas with the help of foreign mercenaries, troops from neighboring countries and new equipment.

But Nigerians saw Jonathan’s victories as too little, too late.

Buhari also named a new chief of defense intelligence, Air Vice Marshal Riku Morgan, and a national security adviser, Major General Babagana Monguno.

Reporting by Felix Onuah, Alexis Akwagyiram and Julia Payne; Editing by Mark Trevelyan

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