The remains of former security adviser, General Andrew Azazi, were committed to mother earth yesterday at Yenegoa, Bayelsa State. That was the last station of one of the chief players in the game of Nigeria’s national insecurity during the past decade.
I knew little about the late General before the publication of a Nigerian Army Intelligence Corp (NAIC) report that indicted him in the colossal theft of weapons from the military warehouses in Kaduna and Jaji when he was the General Officer Commanding, 1 Division of the Nigerian Army. The report was titled “Investigation Report into the Theft and Sale of Arms to Niger Delta Gunrunner by an Officer and Some Soldiers of the 1 Base Ordinance Depot Kaduna. It was submitted to the Chief of Army Staff (COAS).
The report was published first by Saharareporters in 2010 and on it I wrote one of my longest commentaries in 2010 (http://fridaydiscourse.blogspot.com/2010/11/discourse-340-nigeria-cannot-trust.html). It was really interesting reading that article and the comments that followed it. Two years after it was leaked, Nigerian authorities have to datenot denied anything about the report. Azazi was promptly sacked as the Chief of Army Staff and compulsorily retired from the army by late President Yar’adua based on his role in the theft of the weapons.
Let me re capture a paragraph that summarized the report from that article:
“Briefly, the NAIC report contains details of how close to 7000 assorted weapons were stolen between 2000 and 2007 from the ordinance depots in Kaduna and Jaji. The theft was masterminded by one Maj. SA Akubo, who sold them to Niger Delta militants through Sunday Okar, the junior brother of Henry Oka, the MEND leader. It started with the discovery of the Jaji incident in February 2007, which renewed another inquiry into the theft that has been taking place in Kaduna when Gen. Azazi was the GOC of 1 DIV. Investigations revealed that the two incidents were related. Maj Akubo, Sgt Mathias, LCpl Alexander, LCpl Moses and LCpl Nnamdi were the principal culprits in the incidents. The Kaduna theft was investigated and suppressed by SSS when Lt. KKK Are was its DG in collaboration with Azazi and one Maj Gen Adekhegba, then Director of Military Intelligence (DMI). Azazi continued to cover up the case, first in his capacity as GOC 1DIV, then later as COAS. It took the discovery of the Jaji theft in 2007 and the tenure of another DG of SSS to mount a conclusive investigation. None of the recommendations of the NAIC report were taken seriously except the court-martialling and jailing of Ma. Akubo and the soldiers involved. Sunday Okar was freed and presently aiding Jonathan in the case of the October 1 Bombings against this brother Henry.”
Payment for the stolen weapons were extracted from the state governors, James Ibori and DSP Alamieyeseigha, said the report. Since the activity continued well through Jonathan’s tenure as the Governor of Bayelsa state after Alamieyeseigha was impeached, it is safe to conclude that the caches of arms delivered during his tenure as governor were also paid by him. Only that the report fell short of mentioning his name since by the time it was submitted, he was already His Excellency, the Vice-President, but it strongly recommended that politicians involved in the scandal should be investigated to avoid a secessionist becoming the President of the country one day.
Yar’adua was not swift enough, as usual. Before he could decide to probe Jonathan and other Niger Delta governors that were involved in the scandal, his health deteriorated in a manner that remain secret. This time it was not his kidney, we were told by reports then. Rather, it was his lungs. Some alleged that he was poisoned through a microphone but the truth may never be known, as the details of his illness are yet to be declassified by the Nigerian and Saudi authorities.
What is known, however, is that the fear of the military panel that indicted Azazi came to pass, unfortunately for Nigeria. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan was sworn in as the President after the death of Yar’adua and the gates of the presidency and Nigerian security became automatically opened to General Azazi and his syndicate.
After General Aliyu Gusau (rtd) left the NSA office to unsuccessfully pursue his presidential ambition, Jonathan did not go fishing for an NSA. Azazi was already waiting. He appointed him the NSA in spite of the indictment, or precisely because of it. Who can be safer than the person who an Ijaw man shared the secrets of gun running activity before, the brain behind its militant struggle and the architect of its secessionist dream? And who could be a better choice of DG SSS? Guess: A Niger Delta loyalist, Ekpenyong.
The return of Azazi as the NSA witnessed the beginning of one the most violent phases of Nigerian history since after the civil war. First was the Independence Day bombings that were claimed by MEND. Despite the claim, the Jonathan political syndicate roped it on some northerners, principally Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, in a move that will start a series of security blackmails to undermine the North. The nation was entertained even before any investigation would commence with this unbelievably awkward drama of the criminal on the one hand confessing “we did it” and the President on the other defending him by saying, “no you didn’t”. Raymond Dokpesi, the person at the centre of the allegation, a Niger Deltan and chief manager of Babangida’s campaign, would later be settled with a handsome payment of some billions of naira to his media AIT outfit. All the tales of the phone calls linking him to the bombings was thrown into the dustbin.
Well, the office of the NSA, Azazi, took over the matter. Today, I cannot remember what became of it. It is one of the secrets that Azazi might have carried to his grave. But it might not be the only one sharing his grave. Along with this are those of several investigations involving illegal importation of weapons into the country and many ordinary matters that are within the jurisdiction of the police or the custom to handle which the NSA emasculated into his domain of influence.
Then came the goldmine. Boko Haram. Activities of the group resumed and took a very violent form. Bombs started exploding in various places; some claimed by Boko Haram, others still remaining a mystery. Among the mysterious is the 2010 Christmas eve bombing in Jos. From some eyewitness accounts, it is still doubtful whether Boko Haram carried out that attack. But like the findings of every attack would be kept secret, nobody would be able to conclusively say what the truth is.
What is certain is how the office of the NSA became the centre of the fight against Boko Haram. Together with DG SSS, the duo would hijack the entire security operations in the country with the SSS, this time, competing with the police in claiming for arrests of Boko Haram suspects. For the first time in the history of the country, we saw the SSS holding press conferences on matters that are essentially criminal.
The whole Boko Haram saga is seen in the North as a plan orchestrated to decimate the region, which actually informed the initial apathy of the Jonathan regime to the crisis until the group started to hit Abuja. Immediately that happened, the President panicked and obliged virtually to anything that Azazi would request. I think he only turned down the suggestion to arrest Buhari, for which Azazi scolded him. We saw security share in our budget hiked to a whopping one quarter, for example, of which the office of the NSA would have the lion’s share. While the SSS itself with thousands of its operatives and branches nationwide would be allocated only N15billion, the NSA office with not more than 100 staff, most of them on secondment from different security outfits in the country, cornered N150billion.
While as the NSA, Azazi has successfully caged the President in the Villa. Hardly would the President visit anywhere in the country. Azazi has also helped to raise the alarm that the North is not a safe place, causing a number of Ambassadors to relocate to Lagos. The manner in which markets are burnt, how the military goes about extra-judicial killings of suspects and even recent assassination of Mamman Shuwa clearly indicate that there is a hidden hand behind Boko Haram in addition to the yusufiya members that are known to the public. Many believe that Azazi is the anchor of Boko Haram, though the allegation cannot be substantiated beyond the angle of inference.
Azazi tried hard to get the Americans to settle in the Niger Delta as part of its secessionist agenda. His call for strategic alliance with the Americans was politely turned down by the superpower. Judging through their long term strategic interest in the region, the Americans understood that an independent Banana republic of Niger Delta would not be a better secured place for Nigerian oil nor would their presence in the Chad Basin add any value to its strategic interest at a time it is trying to extricate itself from Afghanistan and other areas that brings its troops into direct contact with terrorists. It even refused to list Boko Haram among terrorist organizations, preferring to declare only three of its top leaders as terrorists. America did not stop there in punching Azazi’s balloon. It blamed the crisis on how the north is becoming increasingly alienated in the political and economic schemes of the country. On its part, America opened a cultural centre in the old city of Kano as a confidence building measure after the February 20 attacks by Boko Haram.
By early this year, the way Azazi was messing up was becoming very evident. Jonathan came under pressure to sack him especially after he publicly accused the ruling PDP of causing the Boko Haram crisis. The President sought to reassure the North by appointing Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd) as the new NSA. I did not hide my reservations when I negatively commented on the appointment then. Now my point is clear because after his initial tour of the crises-ridden states of Borno, Yobe and Plateau, nothing is heard from the new NSA again.
The reason for the inaction of the new NSA had to do with the continuous presence of Azazi around the President. Until his death, Azazi was the de facto NSA; some would even say the de facto President. Jonathan could not extricate himself from him because of the elaborate network of Niger Delta terrorists and beneficiaries that have long held the President hostage. At the disposal of Azazi even after his sack were the privileges accorded every member of the President’s kitchen cabinet, a fact that became clear after the helicopter crash that terminated his life and security schemes. A retired person offered an executive governor a lift on a naval helicopter. Even with his demise, it is doubtful if the new NSA will have much say on the security of the country. The situation room of our internal security has long shifted from the NSA to the army headquarters.
Azazi has died as one of the richest generals in the country. He successfully made a number of leading militants his partners in multibillion-naira security contracts, including the concessioning of our maritime security. With his death too the allegations of his multibillion-naira properties in Abuja and elsewhere may be substantiated. Sadly, he did not live long to enjoy them.
He has also left behind the legacy of a conflict that only he understood. The Boko Haram insurgency will continue so long as it represents another tunnel through which our treasury would be looted massively, regardless of whom the bombs would kill – soldiers or civilians, Muslims or Christians. Despite its destructive nature, however, it can never break the North.
Azazi has also left behind a dream of building an independent Ijaw nation unaccomplished, though there still remains its army of ‘pardoned’ and ‘rehabilitated’ militants, many of whom received additional military training officially under the amnesty program only to abscond thereafter. His departure has undoubtedly created a vacuum that few Ijaw would fill, more so if the roadmap to the realization of that dream was only in the custody of his brain.
However, that is not the end of the story. He is leaving behind Nigeria – and the North that he worked so much to destroy. Both the country and the region have survived greater machinations in the past. Both of them will survive Boko Haram, the mutual hate induced crises in Plateau and Kaduna states, etc. The sun has set on Azazi but never will it set on this country the way some people think.
Azazi might have died a hero of his people, understandably. He was buried at Ijaw Heroes Park in Yenogoa. In the military and post-Jonathan Nigeria, however, little of him would be remembered better than his criminal record as an accomplice in Okar’s gunrunning activity that led to his compulsory retirement, his anchor of Niger Delta terrorism, his manipulation of Boko Haram, the unguarded utterances that led to his vacation of the NSA office, and then, his violent end in a helicopter crash.