Within the rank structure of the Nigerian Army there exists, for reasons which shall soon be made known, a very exclusive level of generalship where few have so far been privileged to rise to. These are the lofty ranks of Lieutenant General and General.
The first-ever pair of Nigerian Army officers to be directly promoted to and serve on the rank of lieutenant general were the duo of Olusegun Obasanjo and Theophilus Danjuma. This happened in January 1976. Altogether,twenty five(26) officers have attained the rank of Lieutenant General since the inception of the Nigerian Army nearly 150 years ago. Five of these lieutenant generals have thereafter been promoted to the rank of four-star general.
In 1979, Julius Alani Akinrinnade rose to the rank of lieutenant general upon his elevation to the command of the Nigerian Army. His successor, Gibson Jalo followed suit in 1980 when he also took his turn as Chief of Army Staff. Shortly after that and with Jalo’s appointment as Chief of the Defence Staff, his successor as army chief, Mohammed Wushishi also rose to the rank of lieutenant general. It was not until 1 October 1987 that the duo of Major Generals Domkat Bali and Mohammed Sani Abacha, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff and Chief of army Staff respectively, filed out for the Independence Day parade wearing their new ranks of Lieutenant General.
By the end of 1992, very senior officers such as Garba Duba, Jeremiah Timbut Useni, Mohammed Balarabe Haladu,Donaldson Oladipo Diya, Joshua Nimyel Dogonyaro, Salihu Ibrahim and Aliyu Mohammed Gusau were in active service and wore the substantive rank of lieutenant general.
Between 1993 and 1999, only the pair of Rufus Modupe Kupolati and Ishaya Rizi Bamaiyi attained the rank of lieutenant general and in the post-1999 era, Samuel Victor Malu, Alexander Ogomudia, Martin-Luther Agwai, Andrew Owoye Azazi, Abel Akale, Joseph Owonibi, Chikadibia Isaac Obiakor, Luka Nyeh Yusuf and Abdulrahman Bello Dambazau have risen to the rank of lieutenant general.
Of the total of twenty-five officers who have attained the rank of lieutenant general since 1976, five officers (Bali, Abacha, Ogomudia, Agwai and Azazi)all of whom have been either Chief of Defence Staff and/or Chief of Army Staff have risen to the rank of four-star general and without skipping any rank during the course of their rise to the very top of the professional ladder.
Eight of the said twenty five officers who attained the rank of lieutenant general(Obasanjo,Useni,Duba,Haladu,Kupolati,Owonibi,Akale and Obiakor) did so without having served as Chief of Army Staff or Chief of Defence Staff.
Of all the officers commissioned prior to the attainment of Nigerian political independence in 1960 and who underwent their preliminary officer training at the British West Africa-owned Regular Officers Special Training School (ROSTS)at Teshie in Ghana, only Olusegun Obasanjo and Gibson Jalo attained the rank of lieutenant general by direct promotion to same. In April 1979, he was promoted to the rank of four-star general.
The Regular Course 1 intake(RC1) of the Nigerian Defence Academy(NDA) which enlisted in March 1964 produced a record of four lieutenant generals(Ibrahim, Diya,Dogonyaro,Gusau).
Officers of the 1960 to 1963-era Nigerian Military Training College (NMTC)intakes produced a total of seven lieutenant generals namely Danjuma,Akinrinnade(1960), Bali(1961), Duba, Useni(1962) and Haladu(1963) while officers who enlisted through the post-1963 NDA-era intakes account for the rest of the members of this very exclusive group.
Ishaya Rizi Bamaiyi who enlisted the Short Service Combatant Course(SSC) intakes and who was commissioned during the heat of the Nigerian Civil War in October 1968 remains the only SSC officer to have attained the rank of lieutenant general till date.
Five of the said twenty-five lieutenant generals thus far produced by the Nigerian Army(Useni, Haladu, Kupolati, Agwai, Akale) never served as General Officer Commanding any of the army divisions before they attained the said rank.
In all, the Nigerian army has produced a total of ten four-star generals throughout its long history. These are Yakubu Gowon, Murtala Muhammed, Olusegun Obasanjo,Ibrahim Babangida, Domkat Yah Bali, Mohammed Sani Abacha, Abdulsalami Abubakar, Alexander Ogomudia, Martin Luther Agwai and Andrew Owoye Azazi. Of the lot, six officers (Gowon,Muhammed,Obasanjo,Babangida,Abacha and Abubakar) have served as Nigerian military Heads of State.
Only Sani Abacha ever rose to became military Head of State whilst he was on the substantive rank of four-star general. Murtala Muhammed got promoted from the rank of brigadier to general, or from one-star to four-star generalship in one hop while Gowon, Babangida and Abubakar all got promoted to the rank of four-star general from the rank of major general.
In all cases where the said four-star generals either served as military Heads of State and Commander-in-Chief or held office as Chiefs of Defence Staff, the attainment of the rank of four-star general was predicated on the need to establish their seniority over all officers of the Nigerian Armed Forces.
As of today (27 April 2010), there are only two lieutenant generals in active service with the 90, 000-strong Nigerian Army. One is the incumbent Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Abdulrahman Bello Dambazau while the other is the incumbent United Nations Military Adviser, Lieutenant General Chikadibia Isaac Obiakor. Obiakor, a Regular Course 10 officer enlisted in June 1971 while Dambazau, a Regular Course 16 officer enlisted in June 1974
PS: In September 2010, Major General Azubike Ihejirika was appointed Chief of Army Staff and promoted to the next rank. He thus became the 26th officer to wear the rank insignia of a Lieutenant General.