By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde
Boko Haram has claimed its most important victim yet last weekend: The National Security Adviser, A. O. Azazi. For an avowed enemy of the nation’s security apparatus and political system, only the ultimate target remains: the President. If it can manufacture his downfall or the end of his regime, the group would boast that it has proved its mettle.
The fall of Azazi must have surprised many Nigerians. Ah, so the ‘clueless’ and ‘weak’ Jonathan can also bite, they would exclaim. Beyond that, biting his Ijaw brother was least expected. Many people think Azazi did not expect his sudden fall. He has since his resumption as NSA walked firmly on the presidential turf with a mien that was informed by the confidence of an insider and the assurance of a kinsman.
As the weakness in the President became clearer, the arrogance of Azazi as his untouchable protector and indispensable ally was increasing by the day. His display of power reached its peak last week when his contempt for the president was reported online. Somewhere the idea of declaring the state of emergency in Kaduna State was discussed and it was agreed that it was a good idea. To seal its fate however, the former NSA employed a sarcasm that portrayed his level of disdain for his boss, the President. “Where is the president to declare it”, was his reported remark, as if Jonathan was missing in Bermuda Triangle or he has abandoned the hot seat for a mere trivial summit in Brazil.
Azazi left office with the same demeaning impression for the President. After receiving the news of his sacking, his spokesman issued some statements that did not hide his long-standing poor rating of Jonathan’s courage to face challenges squarely. The spokesman said when Azazi suggested that Buhari and some top northerners be invited for ‘questioning’, Jonathan refused and accused the NSA of trying to “scuttle his government.”
As a tribute, I feel compelled to attest that Azazi was different from former NSAs in his relationship with the Nigerian public. Two months ago, he declared the ruling party and the northern presidential aspirants guilty of precipitating the present security crisis in the country. Right or wrong, the public felt that such statements should not have come from a person so close to the President and his NSA for that matter – a Freudian slip, you can say.
The tradition of the NSA in Nigeria as cut by his predecessors is complete silence. They understood that the strength of any security apparatus lies in its secrecy, through leaving the public guessing about its opinion and what it onows about any security issue. Even if Azazi shared that philosophy, the politician in him was not comfortable with it. He preferred activism to mystery. Under him, even the secretive SSS went public, appointing a spokesperson, issuing press statements, parading suspects and holding press conferences. The public could easily discern from these development that there was a competition for its recognition between the SSS and the police in any success, no matter how small, which was recorded in the fight against Boko Haram.
Azazi might have usurped the functions of the police and demystified the office of the NSA. But if it were not for his approach, we would not have been able to read the mind of the administration regarding crucial issues like its perception of the causes of the Boko Haram insurgency. To the delight of journalists, commentators and the opposition, Azazi was always there to let the cat out of the bag.
Well he is gone, for whatever reason and for whatever sin he committed. He is the latest victim of Boko Haram. He is familiar with sackings though, having suffered one as the Chief of Defence Staff under Yar’adua when he was indicted by an army security report on the theft of weapons from his 1 DIV by a Niger Delta militant syndicate. Perhaps, that was the first time he established relationship with Jonathan, who the report fell short of naming as one of the financiers of the gun running activities of the syndicate.
Azazi’s return as NSA might be a reward for his ethnic chauvinism. Our own, an Ijaw, possibly, my partner in the illegal arms deal is now the President, Azazi must have calculated rightly when Jonathan became the President. Jonathan too might have wondered if he could trust anyone better than the devil he knows. And on the NSA seat, we saw all sorts of sumptuous security contracts awarded to Niger Deta militants, the latest being the concession of our maritime security to them by the Jonathan administration. We also witnessed the largest allocation of our budget to national security in our history.
Azazi may now be bitter for losing the top security job but he can still keep himself busy by paying full attention to the execution of those security contracts that were fronted for him by Tampolo and other Niger Delta militants. With his departure, the dream of Niger Delta republic has suffered a serious setback. It is clear that Nigeria is bigger than his dream. Safe journey, sir.
At his heels comes Sambo Dasuki, a lesser known person from the Sokoto royal family. Compared to General Azazi, Sambo is a dwarf: a junior officer who retired almost two decades ago as a colonel. Politically, the highest position he held in the army was the ADC to President Babangida. He was nowhere close to commanding a division or becoming Nigeria’s chief of defence staff. Likewise, I doubt if he ever dreamt of becoming the NSA.
Now, if the NSA job has put his predecessor general to shame during these trying times, how did the President got convinced that Sambo would succeed in disabling the bombs of Boko Haram and silencing their guns? Look at the gamble: apart from his political appointment as the Managing Director of Nigeria Security Printing and Minting Corporation, the new NSA has nothing in hand to prove that he is competent in heading the security apparatus of country as it is today. At its face value, one is tempted to think that the appointment of Sambo is one of the most stupid things that Jonathan ever did as the President. So are we heading for the rocks, again?
Hold your breath. we are not. The President is not stupid. Come with me.
The reason is simple. Some things we get by birth. Many others we get by hard work. Few we get by association. Sambo Dasuki, I am tempted to believe, got this appointment by his marital link to the longest serving NSA, General Aliyu Gusau (rtd). Gusau is married to Sambo’s sister, the wife of late Aliyu Dasuki, may God have mercy on him.
In the past few months, there have been reports that Gusau was resisting the pressure to return to the NSA office. Gusau might have calculated the cool reception that Nigerians would accord him if he were to return for the simple fact that he has been there three times before. Man is hardly excited with the familiar. Also, he might have been hindered morally by his contest for the PDP presidential ticket against Jonathan under whom he last served as NSA. The idea of a proxy is therefore apt. Sambo would sit in as the figurehead NSA, definitely, while Gusau would ably determine the security operations of the country.
From his position at the top, Jonathan must have perceived that Boko Haram is inching closer and closer to him. It has caused the sacking of all categories of police and security chiefs. With some clerics warning him of an impending war, the President must have realized that he could be the next victim. The nation has, with distinctions, fulfilled all the requirements for a coup d’etat. The condition is so critical that he will not hesitate to call for the assistance of anyone perceived to be capable of making a difference between democracy and military rule.
It is easy to see the idea of involving Gusau as based purely on the merit of the former NSA. However, it surely goes beyond that. I do not also believe that it is a gesture made to appeal Northerners to dismiss the notion that the inability of the government to handle the situation is not a conspiracy to destroy the North.
In my humble opinion that the return of Gusau was due to two reasons. One, from what Azazi said two months ago – that violating the principle of zoning in PDP was responsible for the present security challenges in the country and that no one expects that those aggrieved would fail to respond by creating difficulties for the Jonathan administration – it is clear that he meant that Boko Haram is recruited by those who lost the ticket to Jonathan. So they must know the secret behind it.
Nobody expects that Azazi will make such serious accusations without any support from the hundreds of files he has treated on the matter. Jonathan, according Azazi’s spokesman yesterday, has resisted the fomer NSA’s advice that such people be called for questioning. Gusau, being one of those aspirants, must have made it to Azazi’s list conspirators.
Jonathan here took a directly opposite route. If he cannot invite Gusau for questioning, it would not be a bad idea to saddle him with the challenge of restoring security to the country.
The second reason is that possibly few people, if any, in our security domain would know about Boko Haram than Gusau. It was under the tenure of Obasanjo that Boko Haram was conceived, hatched and nourished to full growth. The first we heard about the group was when it called itself the “Nigerian Taliban” after it clashed with the police in Yobe in the early 2000s. Many of the arrests made then turned out to be sons of influential people in the old Borno State. The suspects were eventually released. From there, the group moved its headquarters to Maiduguri and enjoyed the support of people like Governor Sheriff. Perhaps few people knew that it would turn so dangerous. But the SSS director then, Gadzama, has raised sufficient alarms which, for unknown reasons, were not heeded to. It took the vacation of Obasanjo from that office, along with NSA Gusau, before the authorities could provoke a violent engagement with the group resulting in the present crisis.
Why was the group not stopped from blooming and fruition during Obasanjo still remains a mystery to many of us. But it will not be a mistake to assume that the person at the helm of our security structure during the formative years of the group clearly knows its dynamics and the forces behind it. Who else is then best qualified for the job than him?
So from whichever angle one looks at it, appointing a proxy to Gusau would make a lot of sense for a scared Jonathan who is presently confined by the terror to the Villa. By appointing Sambo Dasuki, Jonathan might have bought some time, but only a little. How far he can run before the monster that caught up with those immediately below him also catches up with him is a distance known only to his destiny.
Finally, I would like to put this question to my readers. Should the new NSA fail to meet the expectations of Jonathan and Nigeria precariously attains a tipping point, would the country be ready to sacrifice Jonathan in order to avert the impending disaster or would it prefer to go into an indefinable civil war and dismemberment simply to maintain him as the President of a democratic Nigeria?
Jonathan would be keen to know your answers. But he must be under no illusions as to what they would be. Nigerians have answered such questions each time the country reaches the brink in the past. And consistently, the answers have never been in favour of the presidents. This one too will not be different, I suppose.