Monday Column By Emmanuel Yawe
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The National Security Adviser, NSA, Retired Major- General Babagana Monguno made big news late last week. It was brought to my attention by a diligent reporter who called me to know the reaction of the Arewa Consultative Forum to his statement of the day. I work as the National Publicity Secretary of the Forum. Since I had not heard the pronouncements, I asked him to send the news link before I could respond. He was generous enough to forward a link which carried the BBC news dispatch:
“Nigeria’s National Security Adviser, Major-General Babagana Monguno has said a huge amount of money approved for the purchase of weapons under President Muhammadu Buhari cannot be accounted for.
“He said when the newly appointed Service Chiefs assumed office, they did not find the weapons their predecessors ought to have purchased.”
I made two quick observations from the news dispatch by the BBC. First the BBC is not a news organization that carries fake news. I can say that without any fear of contradiction because I am a news reporter who has been on the job since graduating from the university over forty years ago. I was sure the news was authentic. If it was, what could have prompted Major-General Monguno into granting such an interview? His immediate past predecessor in office was clamped into detention for a long spell over the kind of expenditures he was complaining of to the BBC.
When I could not find an immediate answer to these questions, I remembered the widely circulated newspaper article written by Dr. Reuben Abati, the Media Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan. In the said article, he claimed that the Presidential Villa was full of “witches” which perpetually haunted those who occupied it, although Femi Adesina, his successor objected to the “witches” claim in an article he later wrote apparently in a reaction. I then concluded that the NSA must have become the latest victim to the “witches” lurking around in the dark corners of the Villa.
No officer of Monguno’s status in government, I reasoned, should allow a credible news organization like the BBC to quote him making the comments attributed to him.
As if he was reading my mind, the NSA immediately issued a statement the same day complaining that he was quoted by Nigerian media organizations out of context. That he never meant that the money voted by the Buhari government to fight insurgency was stolen by the last set of Service Chiefs who left office recently. That what he meant was that the ordered arms had not arrived. What started as Monguno versus the others suddenly became Monguno versus Monguno.
Defense contracts in Nigeria are always shrouded in secrecy. Everybody involved in such contracts as purchase of arms always carries the badge of National Security to shield himself and his office from the inquisitive eyes of the media. Why did Monguno break the tradition? Garba Shehu, the presidential spokesman also tried to come to the defense of the NSA by offering his own explanation. I have known Garba Shehu since the early 80s when we worked for the Kano State government. I am hoping that the “witches” claimed to be in the Villa spare him, if they indeed exist. He is a good man and I pray for him regularly.
The danger of a free-talking NSA to the society is that everybody listens and pays attention to his words – Boko Haram, bandits, researchers, foreign and local military strategists, in fact everybody interested in Nigeria’s security. It is unheard of for the NSA to start telling the media what we have and what we don’t have in the armory. These are classified data meant only for the Commander-in-Chief. Unfortunately, even in his rejoinder where he said that he was quoted by Nigerian media out of context, the NSA somehow suggested that our military is ill-equipped for the tasks of insurgency and banditry. This does not seem appropriate.
We saw this trend emerge – where classified matters were freely discussed in the market square – right from the beginning of the Buhari presidency. The President decided in his own right to appoint Ibrahim Magu as the substantive chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission EFCC, a notch up from his acting capacity. The 1999 Constitution demands that the appointment must have the blessing of the Senate. At the Senate, Magu needed a certificate of good conduct from security agencies, notably the Directorate of State Security DSS. The then Director of DSS fired a report to the Senate saying Magu was not fit for the job. The Senate based on that report rejected Magu. The President resent the name for yet another round of screening. This may have angered the Director of DSS who wrote a more damning report, literally calling Magu a quack, unfit for the job the President wanted to give him. Later, we saw Daura the DSS Director and the author of all those negative reports that derailed President Buhari’s requests to the Senate and Magu the victim of vicious attacks from the DSS left the government in circumstances that provoked concerns.
Some of us whose record of service in government has always been on the periphery always assumed that the President as the Commander-in-Chief, Buhari should not have allowed Daura to openly contradict him that way. When we operated the Second Republic, there was no way any of the officers subordinate to Shehu Shagari would defy the President, Commander-in-Chief the way Daura defied Buhari his Commander in Chief and got away with it. The old saying goes that the Leper you offer to shake hands with today will one day demand an embrace. If Daura could openly defy the President like that and get away with it, what stops Monguno from doling out the details of our armory with foreign journalists?
Our presidential system of government is said to have been modeled after that of the United States of America. In operation however, we differ on every count. Look at the office of the National Security Adviser, NSA. Everybody we have appointed in that office is a retired military general. While in the United States, they look for intellectuals well versed in global strategic studies, in Nigeria we break away from that tradition in search of who to serve as NSA. We must accept that the world has gone past that stage where the position of NSA is narrowed down to retired military officers only. Perhaps the only exception is that of my next door neighbor in my Dogire Jimeta, GRA house. He was Alhaji Gambo Jimeta who served President Ibrahim Babangida as NSA. Even Gambo Jimeta was a retired policeman. Which means we still have a long, long way to go.