by Sabella Abidde
Other than the usual calamities wrought by Boko Haram, the simultaneous removal of the Minister of Defence, Dr. Haliru Bello, and the National Security Adviser, Gen. Owoye Azazi (retd.) last week by President Goodluck Jonathan immediately on arrival from his trip to Brazil for the United Nations Earth Summit has dominated the formal and informal news cycle. It is as if no one saw it coming. And especially in the case of Azazi, the common belief was that he was safe after several weeks of uncertainty that was brought about by his pronouncements vis-à-vis the ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party, and the state of insecurity in the country. After the third week, many believed that the President would not let his kinsman go.
Presidents, especially within the Nigerian context, usually appoint someone they can rely on. Someone they trust. Yes, experience, training and competence matter a whole lot, still, the President wants as his National Security Adviser, a man he can fully trust. In the case of Jonathan, Azazi was such a man: He was fully capable and wholly competent and also had the ear of the President. But in the end, these really didn’t matter. The state of anarchy and insecurity was simply too much for the President to justify his continued stay and that of Bello as the Minister of Defence.
My contention — my contention all along — has been that security will never improve in Nigeria if we continue to apply old and tired strategies. Indeed, in an earlier essay, Why security may never improve in Nigeria, I posited that “nothing else will truly matter or make a dent on the state of insecurity if the fundamentals of security and nationhood are not properly addressed. And even if the Nigerian government and her international partners pour financial and non-financial resources on the Nigerian security landscape, it still wouldn’t matter. The right things should be done. Not the easy stuff, but the right things!”
In the same essay, I wrote: “The problem, for the most part, is not the personnel who are currently manning the various security and intelligence outfits….These are very competent men…The problems, it seems to me, are (1) our national culture and attitude towards the nation-state; (2) the current domestic security structure; (3) the current national security paradigm; (4) the self-immolating governing system that is in place; (5) the inadequate constitution that currently guides us; and (6) our weak and fragmenting institutions.” These are internal problems no one but the Nigerian leadership can and should attend to.
I also posited that, “any nation that does not pay particular attention and then genuinely tackle issues of basic needs (human security), is very likely to have its security abridged and violated. Basic Needs or Human Security basically refers to the availability and the unhindered access to quality education, quality health care, potable water and nutritious food, personal safety, human rights, healthy ecology, and an enabling setting where the vast majority of the citizens can aspire to a life of happiness and wellbeing. If you don’t have these, then, nothing else matters.” It bears emphasising that if the aforelisted problems and challenges are not adequately addressed by the government, the changing of guards wouldn’t amount to anything.
And now that President Jonathan has removed both his NSA and defence minister, it will be left to be seen if security will improve. It is only likely to improve if two universally accepted suspicions are true: First, that Boko Haram is being sponsored by a section of the elite who are disgruntled and dissatisfied with Jonathan’s Presidency. This line of thinking posits that “the new National Security Adviser, Col. Mohammed Sambo Dasuki (retd), is being brought in just to appease the disgruntled.” In other words, bring in Dasuki and we will take care of Boko Haram. I personally do not buy this line of argument because Boko Haram predates the Jonathan Presidency. Second, the group has not discriminated in whom it kills and whose property it destroys as shown in recent attacks.
The second universally accepted suspicion has to do with the question of political power and economic control. The office of the National Security Adviser is perhaps, the second most important office in Nigeria. In fact, this office is believed to be more important than that of the Vice-President. Everybody — practically everybody — reports to the NSA. Many a times, you cannot see the President without the NSA’s permission. Essentially therefore, he is the gatekeeper. He knows and sees things long before the President knows and sees them. And everybody wants to please him, and labours to be in his good books. It is precisely for these reasons that the position of the NSA is well sought-after. And at times, feared!
And now that Nigerians of northern extraction occupy the offices of the Vice-President and the National Security Adviser, the argument goes, the North is back to controlling and ruling Nigeria. And the position has gone back to its ‘rightful’ owners given that Azazi is the first and only non-Northerner to have occupied it since its creation. Proponents of the two schools of thought now believe that the alleged sponsors and supporters of Boko Haram will signal the group to stop its violent agitations and activities having been placated. Again, I am inclined to reject this line of argument and reasoning. Long before Boko Haram, we’ve had all sorts of non-state actors bent on secession or sheer anarchy and terror. And why would any reasonable person or groups of person embark on a year-long campaign of evil and violence just to control the country?
Already, there are growing whispers regarding Sambo Dasuki’s pedigree, history, skills and training; and whether or not he is fit for the job. Frankly, these whispers are much ado about nothing. That he was not an intelligence officer, or that he is related to the deposed Sultan of Sokoto, is not a sound argument. That he was not an army general is also not a valid argument. Robert McFarlane retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in the US Marines, and was President Ronald Reagan’s national security adviser from 1983 through 1985. And some of the best NSAs the United States has ever had didn’t even have military background. Thomas E. Donilon, Stephen Hadley,Condoleezza Rice, and Samuel Berger are recent instances.
Dasuki, it’s been reported, attended the prestigious American University Washington D.C, and George Washington University where he obtained a BA in International Relations and a graduate degree in Security Policy Studies. In essence, he is an officer and learned man. It would be foolish to underrate or undermine him. Nonetheless, he is likely to be hampered by the same factors and forces that limited and hamstrung Azazi: the institutional, economic and political factors that make Nigeria one hell of a place to succeed. But for the sake of the peace and security of the country, I and other Nigerians wish the new NSA a world of luck. Put differently, and even comically, good luck to Dasuki!
* This piece was first published in The Punch