By Hamid Hendrix
Considering the barrage of media criticism targeting the Office of the National Security Adviser in recent times, it is pertinent to focus on certain matters arising in an effort to, as it were, read between the lines and decipher some concealed codes. In the first place, that the NSA’s office is the target of media criticism is a novel development in the history of this normally unseen and unheard but important department of state. Most Nigerians only knew of the existence of the office from the “mystique” and political profile of the previous occupants of the office, especially General Aliyu Gusau, now Defence Minister, whose repeated appointment and re-appointment to the office spanned 1986 to 2010. As a fall-out, the NSA’s office and functions have been shrouded by the withdrawn and sombre personality of its main occupant such that it was rarely referenced in public discourse or even factored into implementation of the nation’s security policy. It was off the media radar!
Under radically-changed circumstances, the current NSA, Col. Sambo Dasuki, was practically ushered into office by heightened public concern and media interest as a result of the sharp deterioration in the security situation on local and national levels that cast a shadow of dysfunction on the office. This was a result of the steady increase in security challenges with origins several years prior to his appointment as well as the tragic turn of the more recent threat of guerrilla terrorism aka Boko Haram, which erupted in 2009. It was like taking over command of a war at its very peak! In the normal trend of public discourse especially under the charged atmosphere of political partisanship and electioneering however, no respite came the way of the embattled new NSA who now had to face the daring outlaws as well as the squadrons of public and media critics unwilling to grant the newcomer a breather.
Dasuki has brought his military mien to bear on the very hostile reception of his appointment by adopting the calculated approach on the two fronts with the aim of overcoming the immediate as well as the ultimateobjectives of resolving the public perception issues and reversing the escalating security challenges. The sustained severity of terrorist attacks seemed to doom his determination to succeed initially but the innovative strategies hitherto alien to workings of the NSA office, comprising the acclaimed “soft approach” to check the enabling factors of rising terrorism and the ferocious affirmation of superiority and sovereignty in the robust and strategized deployment of defence forces, spoke louder to endorse the competence and effectiveness of the new NSA. Today almost miraculously both cynical critics and ruthless terrorists have been subdued by the steady and decisiveconquests of the gallant defence forces on the few remaining fronts while a growing number of vulnerable constituents in endangered areas are being given a sense of belonging and higher hopes to shun terror overtures.
Against all known and hidden odds and strengthened by the special grace of God Almighty, Col. Dasuki has immensely enhanced the credibility, functionality and profile of the Office of the NSA and with it salvaged the sagging morale of Nigerians, troops and civilians alike. Few if any Nigerians will want to deny him the benefit of sharing the glory for the rapid restoration of an effectively safe and secure security situation in the besieged north east in appreciation of the fundamental reforms and innovative initiatives his appointment achieved. But this is not to say that these sterling qualities can shield him from the vendetta of the vengeful and the vindictive whose existence sustains the “pull him down syndrome” of the Nigerian factor.
Without prejudice to the established facts of the so-called arms purchase episode now being manipulated to distract attention or totally rubbish the remarkable record of performance of the NSA in the larger context still manifesting, it is of interest to note the deliberate targeting of one out of a handful of defence and diplomatic agencies known to be involved in any purchase of weapons for the country’s army. In particular it is pertinent to emphasise that despite this biased focus, the NSA in fact is only responsible for the issuance of end-user certificates meant to authenticate the destined end-user (ie Nigerian Government) in accordance with international best practices and local due process.It is practically the last stage in the established bureaucratic procedure involving agencies with constitutionally charged responsibilities relevant to the subject matter. This has been the practice since the days of Aliyu Gusau and was implemented by Sambo Dasuki’s predecessors.
The prominence of the NSA’s Office in the South African arms purchase affair stems directly from being the first agency to respond discreetly and subsequently assertively to issue clarifications that somewhat dampened the seemingly ceaseless criticism of the Presidency by the partisan propagandists that capitalized on the incidents for petty political advantage. The ministry of defence which is even more central to the purchase of arms remained mute even as wild allegations and sensational insinuations impinging on the reputation of the ministry were bandied around the media. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said nothing either.
It was therefore the initial briefings of some media managers by the NSA’s officials that helped to put issues in their proper perspectives and debunk all the dangerous ethno-religious dimensions being propagated to instigate crisis mischievously. Significant was the clear emphasis on the compelling circumstances of betrayal of agreements by the US to support Nigeria’s war against Boko Haram just when such support was in dire need asnecessitating factor for recourse to unconventional channels to secure the withheld weapons on emergency terms. To date, the US has not convincingly discharged this heavy burden of indictment which now looms larger in public consternation than the overblown seizures of less than twenty million dollars for mere administrative not criminal lapses.
Obviously, the US has a vested interest in scuttling any alternative arrangement hurriedly made by a desperate Nigerian government eager to sustain the tempo of overwhelming routing of terrorists and would keep an eye on every move to achieve its sinister sabotage scheme as exposure of its interception of arms in transit from Nigeria’s alternative suppliers in eastern countries in informed press reports recently confirms. The prompt leaking of the first incident and subsequent persistentcoverage of developments underscores the pre-meditated planning behind the media exposure in continuation of the sabotage of Nigeria’s frantic efforts to overcome the US embargo. In this context also comes the expected connivance of local disgruntled elements even within the intelligence communitywith overt and covert axes to grind, ranging from those unsettled by the new dynamism in the hitherto frigid and fossilised office of the NSA and those who lost out in the highly competitive arms purchase market. These are more than enough to launch the sort of hostile activities and media propaganda against the NSA and his emerging revamped office being unleashed.
While these scenarios prevail, it should not have been necessary to remind the Defence Minister to be more alive to the defensive demands of his portfolio even if just to counter the US offensives already taking toll directly and indirectly on the nation’s territorial and international integrity. But it is worthwhile that the Defence Ministry lend its voice to not only.