Claim: Multiple sources have portrayed Nigeria’s new Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Major-General Faruk Yahaya, as the 26th, but the Nigerian Army claims he is the 22nd.

Verdict: The claim that the new COAS is the 26th is false as findings show that the nomenclature (COAS) only came into existence in 1975, thus making Lieutenant-General TY Danjuma the first COAS and General Yahaya the 22nd.

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On Thursday, May 27, 2021, Major-General Yahaya assumed office as Nigeria’s new COAS after the demise of Lieutenant-General Ibrahim Attahiru. He died on May 21, 2021, in an air crash in Kaduna, alongside 10 military officers and crew.

The Nigerian Army had issued a statement by its Director, Army Public Relations, Brigadier-General Mohammed Yerima, announcing the passing away of General Attahiru, explaining that he was en route Kaduna from Abuja when the unfortunate incident happened.

The Chief of Army Staff is the highest officer of the Nigerian Army, and the position is often occupied by a senior commissioned officer, who is appointed by the president.

President Muhammadu Buhari appointed Major-General Yahaya on May 27. Until his appointment, General Yahaya was the theatre commander, Operation Hadin Kai, which is responsible for counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations in the North-East of Nigeria.

Some online media outlets, such as Fast News, Opera News and Society Gazette, as well as Nigerians on the social media, had portrayed General Yahaya as the 26th COAS, but the Nigerian Army, on May 28, 2021, announced that he assumed command as the 22nd at the Army Headquarters (AHQ) in Abuja. However, controversy arose as to whether the present COAS is the 22nd or 26th to hold the office and serve as Nigerian Army’s most senior officer.

The same designation was replicated on social media. A user on Twitter, Angela Davis (@angeldaviesblog) wrote: “How Major-General Faruk Yahaya became Nigeria’s 26th COAS.”

Angela Davis’ tweet

 

Another user, 774NGR[6] (@774_ngr) also wrote on  Twitter: “There is now a new man at the helm of affairs in the Nigerian Army. He is Major-General Faruk Yahaya, and he is the 26th Chief of Army Staff since the military first got a taste of political power back in January 1966.”

On the website of the Nigerian Army, under the office of the COAS, the profile of the immediate past COAS, General Attahiru, had him addressed as the 20th, and in another instance as the 21st COAS, further complicating the issue. This has left many Nigerians wondering what number the present COAS is.

Nigerian Army portraying the immediate past COAS as the 20th and the 21st

Verification

In our quest to verify the various claims, it became important to start with the history of the Nigerian Army, which dates back to 1863 with Lieutenant John Glover’s local force, which became known as the “Glover Hausas” and later the “Hausa Constabulary.” It later became the “Lagos Constabulary,” and on incorporation into the West Africa Frontier Force (WAFF) in 1901, became known as the “Lagos Battalion.”

According to the Nigerian Army website, the British government had already included the Royal Niger Company (RNC) Constabulary Force in northern Nigeria in 1886 and the Oil Rivers irregular in 1891 into the WAFF. The WAFF led to the merger of all units into regiments in each of the dependencies, and this produced the Northern Nigerian Regiment and Southern Nigerian Regiment.

The 1914 amalgamation of Nigeria, which brought the Northern and Southern Protectorates together, also unified the northern and southern regiments to become the Nigerian Regiment.

However, the Nigerian Regiment was renamed the Queen’s Own Nigerian Regiment (QONR) in 1956 during the visit of Queen Elizabeth II, and in the same year, the regionalisation of the WAFF came into existence and each military force became independent of the other. According to the Nigerian Army, the QONR became the Nigerian Military Force (NMF), and by June 1, 1958, the British Army Council in London relinquished the control of the NMF to the Nigerian government, while in 1960 when Nigeria became independent, the NMF became known as the Royal Nigerian Army (RNA). The RNA changed to the Nigerian Army in 1963 when Nigeria became a republic.

Past GOCs/COAS

Several online records have portrayed Kenneth G. Exham as Nigeria’s first General Officer Commanding (GOC), followed by Major-General Norman Foster, then Major-General Christopher Welby-Everard and Major-General Aguyi-Ironsi, who was the first indigenous GOC. This is also corroborated by a report published by The Premium Times in 2014, titled, “General Minimah, his Opobo ancestry and the burden of history,” written by Eric Teniola.

Based on the report, Nigeria at that time had 28 COAS, including the early British GOCs. The report portrayed Lieutenant-Colonel Yakubu Gowon as the first COAS, followed by Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Akahan; Major-General Hassan Usman Katsina; Major-General David Ejoor; Lieutenant- General Theophilus Danjuma; Lieutenant-General Ipoola Alani Akinrinade; Lieutenant-General Gibson Jalo; Lieutenant-General Mohammed Inuwa Wushishi; Major General Ibrahim Babangida; Lieutenant-General Sani Abacha; Lieutenant-General Salihu Ibrahim and Lieutenant-General Aliyu Gusau Mohammed.

Others are Major-General Chris Alli; Major-General Alwali Kazir; Lieutenant-General Ishaya Bamaiyi; Lieutenant-General Victor Malu; Lieutenant-General Alexander Ogomudia; Lieutenant-General Martin Luther Agwai; Lieutenant-General Owoeye Andrew Azazi; Lieutenant-General Luka Yusuf; Lieutenant-General Abdulrahman Bello Dambazau; Lieutenant-General Onyabor Azubuike Ihejirika, as well as Major-General Kenneth Tobiah Minimah.

Lieutenant-General Tukur Buratai also held the position before he was replaced in January 2021 by Lieutenant-General Ibrahim Attahiru, who has now been succeeded by Major-General Faruk Yahaya, making the list 31.

Other online documents show that it was not until 1966 under then Lieutenant- Colonel Yakubu Gowon that the official designation of Chief of Army Staff came into existence, therefore, referring to Gowon as Nigeria’s first COAS. With this, between 1966 and 2021, it can be verified that Nigeria has had 26 Chiefs of Army Staff (COAS) with the late Ibrahim Attahiru as the 25th and Major-General Faruk Yahaya as the 26th.

Using oral records from senior military officers of the Nigerian Army, as well as archival records, however, it was verified that what is today referred to as the Nigerian Army officially came into existence in 1963 after it changed from the Royal Nigerian Army. Within that period, Major-General Christopher Welby-Everard became the first GOC of the Nigerian Army between 1963 and 1965. He was replaced on February 9, 1965, by General Aguyi-Ironsi, who served as the GOC until January 16, 1966.

However, further verification revealed that General Gowon, who took over in 1966 from General Ironsi, was not referred to as GOC or COAS; instead, he was referred to as Chief of Staff Army (CSA). “Gowon, Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Akahan, Major-General Hassan Usman Katsina and Major-General David Ejoor were each referred to as CSA, not COAS,” the Director, Army Public Relations, Brigadier-General Mohammed Yerima said when contacted.

Chronicle of the Nigerian Army Command from the 2021 diary

A chronicle of the Nigerian Army Command published in the 2021 diary of the Nigerian Army corroborates this. This makes Lieutenant-General T.Y Danjuma the first COAS. Between Danjuma and Attahiru, there have been 21 COAS, making Major-General Faruk Yahaya Nigeria’s 22nd COAS.

Conclusion

The claim that the new COAS is the 26th is incorrect as the nomenclature, COAS only came into existence in 1975 during the administration of General Ramat Murtala Mohammed when he appointed General T.Y Danjuma to be the first COAS. Therefore, General Yahaya is the 22nd COAS as findings have shown.

The researcher produced this fact-check in collaboration with the Dubawa 2020 Fellowship partnership with Daily Trust newspapers to facilitate the ethos of truth in journalism and enhance media literacy in the country.

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