Monday Column by Emmanuel Yawe
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The most topical issue on the lips of Nigerians as the 2015 election approached was our National Security.
Nigeria was held hostage by Boko Haram, the terrorist group that emerged as a small social irritant but gradually graduated to become the biggest threat to our sovereignty since the civil war of the 1960’s.
The group overrun a substantial part of the North East zone and declared it – the conquered territory – an independent Caliphate. Frequent incursions into other parts of the north, suicide bombings in the major towns – including the federal capital Abuja – and the sheer horror of their barbarous ways of killing their victims brought insecurity and fear to every home in Nigeria.
President Goodluck Jonathan was helpless, seemingly, against their aggressive and daring advance. More than anything else, the state of insecurity in Nigeria accounted for his defeat at the 2015 presidential poll.
His major challenger, General Muhammadu Buhari, a stern looking retired General who had earlier ruled Nigeria in a no nonsense style presented attractive credentials as an alternative. His victory did not come as a surprise.
The President gave a good account of himself in the first few months in office as commander-in chief. His new field commanders gave the insurgents a bloody nose. For the first time, Boko Haram was not only on the defensive but in retreat. He reached out to the neighbouring countries that had provided succor to the insurgents, freed a substantial number of the school girls that were held captive and after seven months in office, he told the BBC proudly on December 24 2015 that Boko Haram was “technically defeated.”
But four years on from 2015, Nigerians are getting weary of the government’s inability to totally annihilate and not technically defeat Boko Haram. This feeling of despondency is aggravated by the new security challenges of cattle rustling, kidnappings and senseless mass killings which have driven the country to an aggravated state of insecurity. There is need to fashion out new approaches to our ever widening scope of insecurity.
What comes to my immediate attention is the office of the National Security Adviser to the President. Borrowed from the USA system where we have also borrowed our constitution, the job description of both the American and Nigerian National Security Advisor is the same, word per word. In both countries, the National Security Advisor is appointed by the President and does not require Senate confirmation. In both countries too, the National Security Advisor participates in the National Security Council and briefs the President on the outcomes. In both cases, the NSA works closely with the President and because of that proximity exerts a lot of influence on him.
There is however a significant difference between the profiles of those who occupy the office in the USA and Nigeria. Just take a look at the careers of those who have been National Security Advisors in Nigeria between 1999 and today. They are:
Aliyu Mohammed Gusau a He held the position during most of the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidency 1999-2003. Again appointed by President Goodluck Jonathan on 8 March 201.
Abdullahi Sarki Mukhtar retired Major General, National security adviser to the president of Nigeria under Obasanjo and Yar adua (2006-2010).
Lateef Kayode Are a retired Nigerian Army Colonel briefly served as National Security Adviser in 2010. .
Owoye Andrew Azazi a retired senior Nigerian security officer served as National Security Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan.
Sambo Dasuki a retired Nigerian Army Colonel and former National Security Adviser (NSA) to the President Goodluck Jonathan.
Mohammed Babagana Monguno a retired Nigerian Army Major General and current National Security Adviser appointed on July 13, 2015 by President Muhammadu Buhai.
I have conducted a diligent search on the careers of those appointed into the office of the NSA in the USA from 1953 when Robert Cutler was appointed by Dwight Eisenhower up to September 2019 when Donald Trump appointed Robert O’ Brien and I do not find a preponderance of retired Generals on the list as is the case with Nigeria. Evidently, in Nigeria, we consider that job as an exclusive preserve for the military.
Nothing could be more wrong than this. National security issues are broader in scope in the world we live in today and should not be limited to those who are trained to use the gun alone. This is not a job for hunters after all.
President Muhammadu Buhari came to office with loads of military experience, competence and a patriotic zeal. As the only Nigerian news reporter on his trail when he embarked on his “hot pursuit” action against Chadian renegade soldiers who invaded Nigeria in 1983, I can testify to this.
Under the security circumstances we find ourselves today, he needs a different approach. I am of the considered opinion that he is poorly served by his present National Security Adviser. It may not be his fault. His profile does not just fit the challenges at hand.
We need an NSA with a wider intellectual stretch, a deeper understanding of our socio political reality and an even deeper knowledge of the dynamics of current international politics. I am persuaded that such a Nigerian exists and is available for service. President Buhari doesn’t even need to look too far.
I solemnly recommend Babagana Kingibe who earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in international relations at the University of Sussex where he was mates with Thabo Mbeki, the former South African President. He returned to Nigeria and started work as a Research and Planning Officer at Ahmadu Bello University Zaria. From there he moved to the Broadcasting Corporation of Northern Nigeria as the head of Features and Current Affairs. In 1972, he joined the Nigerian Foreign Service where he started work as a senior counselor and later became the head of the political desk at the Nigerian High Commission in London.
During the Obasanjo administration in the late 1970s, Kingibe worked in the political department as principal secretary and was involved in the government’s return to civil rule programme, states creation and boundary adjustment, local government reforms and the constitutional drafting committee. In 1981, at age 36, he was appointed the Nigerian ambassador to Greece and later the country’s representative in Pakistan.
Kingibe entered Nigerian political scene during the beginning of the Third Republic and later emerged in the SDP as the national chairman of the party. Following the twists and turns of that transition program, Kingibe put himself forward as a presidential candidate. He lost the keenly contested primary but was selected by the winner, MKO Abiola as Vice Presidential running mate. They won the election which was annulled by the military.
From 1993 to 1995 Kingibe was made Foreign Minister by Sani Abacha. He also served as Minister of Internal Affairs, Minister of Power and Steel, Amb. Baba Gana Kingibe also served from October 2002 to September 2006 as AU Special Envoy to Sudan and subsequently Special Representative of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission and head of the AU Mission in Sudan (AMIS) and Darfur.
In June 2007, he was appointed Secretary to the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
As the President embarks on the last four years of his presidency, he needs a man with Kingibe’s kind of profile to run that office. The struggle for the presidency in 2023 will be rough, calling to test the political skills of those around the President to nip in the bud a political fallout that will threaten our national security. Somebody like Kingibe who has stepped on many explosives, the most deadly being June 12, will be needed to navigate all of us to safety.
Additionally, as an old school journalist, I often tumble on information which suggest that the service chiefs hold the current holder of that office in contempt. Some are even wary of attending his meetings. As a former Minister of Interior, top flight intelligence officer, Kingibe has the clout to overcome all these hurdles.
Given his sound academic background, his work experience in the university, the media, the civil service, the intelligence and the diplomatic services, not to talk of his deep and wide political contacts, Babagana Kingibe is highly favored – in my opinion – as our National Security Adviser.