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Nigeria's Buhari cleans house in bid to reboot battle against Boko Haram

Six weeks into his term, President Buhari has replaced his military service chiefs and appointed a new national security adviser. Critics have attacked what they see as his slow pace in making appointments.

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    Maj.-Gen. Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin, Chief of Defense Staff, looked on during the inauguration of new service chiefs at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, Nigeria Tuesday.
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Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari has fired his top military brass in a move seen as rebooting his battle against Boko Haram militants.

The house-cleaning comes six weeks into Mr. Buhari’s first term, during which time attacks by the militant group have ticked upward. Buhari appointed a new chief of Defense Staff, Navy chief, security adviser, Army chief of staff, chief of defense intelligence, and chief of Air Staff. 

Addressing his new hires right after their appointments, Buhari told them that they had earned their positions based on merit and charged them to help him rebuild the Nigerian Army’s reputation.

“Your records gave you the job,” he said, adding that: “Save for the new chief of staff whom I briefly met at his Command at the Multi-National Joint Task Force, in Chad, I don’t know any of you."

Boko Haram captured a large swath of territory in Nigeria’s northeast last year but had since been beaten back by multinational forces. In March, it became the Islamic State's West African affiliate.

In recent weeks, however, the group has made a deadly resurgence with suicide bombings in Nigeria, Chad, and Cameroon. On Saturday, 15 people died in the main market in Chad's capital, N'Djamena, when a suicide bomber blew himself up. At least 12 died in a similar attack in Cameroon on Sunday, the BBC reports.

The old military guard were handpicked by former President Goodluck Jonathan in January 2014 after he also fired his military team due to failures to curb the Islamist militant group. Mr. Jonathan was criticized then for a lack of regional diversity within his top brass, with only one appointee hailing from the north. Buhari’s new team is evenly split between southerners, northerners, and the middle belt of Nigeria.

Buhari has faced criticism for the slow pace at which he is selecting his cabinet, especially his top military commanders, Foreign Policy reports.

 …. Nigerians find themselves trapped in a maddening guessing game. Buhari has yet to name a single minister. He has not selected his chief of staff or any policy aides. He has finally replaced the military top brass — but there is no defense minister to oversee them.

Without a government in place, Buhari has resorted to bringing advisors without official titles on his trips outside the country — to Niger and Chad, Nigeria’s allies against Boko Haram; to Germany for a G-7 summit; and to South Africa for an African Union meeting. When Buhari meets with President Obama in Washington, D.C. on July 20, it is unclear who will travel in his delegation to meet U.S. officials, or in what capacity.

Just like in the United States, it can take some time in Nigeria to appoint a full cabinet and for Parliament to confirm its members. But the vacancies at all positions, even on the president’s own policy team — the equivalent of White House aides — have left even savvy observers scratching their heads.

 During his inauguration speech, Buhari promised to make defeating Boko Haram his top priority. He has since moved Nigeria's security command center to Maiduguri, the birthplace of of Boko Haram, and is setting up the headquarters of the multinational force in the Chadian capital of N'Djamena. He also visited Chad and Niger, both key players in the multinational counterterrorism strategy, in his first week on office.

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