Nigeria’s worse kept secret over the past four years is that the security chiefs have been factionalised, fractionized and different sections therein have been tied to feuding groups seeking dominance in the Buhari Administration. I recall that I was at the security summit organized by the 8th Senate when former head of DSS. Lawal Daura lamented that it would be difficult to improve national security as long as feuding continues to define the relationship between the security chiefs, some of whom were not even on talking terms. In other words, throughout the life of the Buhari Administration, there has been no cohesion in the security team and that has been a factor, not the only one, in making it difficult to address the numerous security challenges facing the country.
I suspect that at the root of the crisis is the lack of a clear hierarchy between the security chiefs. At the top, the Commander-in-Chief is in charge. Below him, I wonder what the roles of the National Security Adviser, Minister of Defence, Chief of Defence Staff and Chief of Army Staff are in terms of the pecking order. It’s a complicated situation as the Chief of Army Staff for example should be the lowest on the above list but is he so in practice after all he is the principal actor fighting the war? How does he relate to the other service chiefs? I will avoid going into the rumours circulating but suffice it to say the question of hierarchy and the chain of command is important in building cohesion.
Under the Jonathan Administration, there was a clear power centre through which the Commander-in-Chief was issuing orders and passing on resources. It was Col. Sambo Dasuki, the then National Security Adviser, who it turns out was also the nerve centre of corruption in that Administration as we were to find out when he was charged to court in 2015. Maybe the President grew a dislike of the office because his own NSA, Major General Babagana Mungono, did not appear to outsiders like me to have the vast powers associated with Col. Dasuki. In fact, he appeared to be quite marginal and isolated in the scheme of things and was seldom seen hovering around the President. It will be recalled that in 2016, General Monguno became locked in a fierce rift with Lawal Daura, the former Director-General of the Directorate of State Security (DSS).
Technically, Lawal Daura was a subordinate to Monguno in his capacity as the overall coordinator of national security, yet for several years the duo rarely interacted with one another. The battle lasted until Mr Daura was dismissed from office in August 2018, sources said. It was clear that at that time, the powerful one in the first phase of the Administration was indeed Lawal Daura, until he crossed a red line and lost the job. As nature abhors a vacuum, someone had to step in to provide leadership. It was at this level that the bombshell emerged this week that the power centre had moved from NSA to DSS and finally to the civilian Chief of Staff to the President, my good friend Abba Kyari.
According to a leaked letter released by Premium Times, NSA Babagana Monguno, has accused President Muhammadu Buhari’s Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, of undue and dangerous interference on matters bordering on national security. General Monguno sent a memo to all service chiefs warning them to desist from taking further directives from Abba Kyari. He alleged that Kyari’s directives to service chiefs were sometimes issued without the knowledge, much less approval of the president, a practice he said has added to the government’s inability to contain insecurity. He stated categorically that the Chief of staff to the president is not a presiding head of security, neither is he sworn to an oath of defending the country.
He complained bitterly about unprofessional practices such as presiding over meetings with service chiefs and heads of security organisations as well as ambassadors and high commissioners to the exclusion of the NSA and/or supervising ministers are a violation of the Constitution and directly undermine the authority of Mr President. He concluded that: “Such acts and continues meddlesomeness by chief of staff have not only ruptured our security and defence efforts, but have slowed down any meaningful gain that Mr President has sought to achieve.” These are serious allegations to which the Chief of Staff is yet to respond to.
These allegations pose directly the question of institutional development as if they are true, the implication would be that security institutions have been emptied of the constitutional powers and persons without powers to act on security matters have taken over the mantle. These reports might indicate obsequiousness of service chiefs to an officer without authority over them for purposes of keeping their jobs in a context in which the President has apparently got great confidence in his chief of staff. Over the past few weeks, the National Assembly and the public in general have turned against the service chiefs but the President has been very clear that he continues to have confidence in them. The most important topic of conversation over the past few years has been the mega powers of the cabal around President Buhari and Abba Kyari is always cited as a key player in the said cabal. Even the First Lady has publicly complained about the powers of the cabal. My own attitude is that if the President is ruling through his cabal who he has confidence in, then it’s the President’s rule. If, however the cabal exercise presidential powers without going through competent institutions then it becomes a problem of the abuse of rule of law.
Premium Times subsequently released more allegations from General Monguno about the interference of Abba Kyari in procurement related to security provisioning. At the beginning of his presidency in 2015, President Buhari had complained bitterly about security procurement that bypassed due process mechanisms. It would be tragic if the same thing is happening under his watch. I believe these allegations are serious enough to warrant an immediate public response from Abba Kyari.
Moving forward, the Commander-in-Chief needs to stop the drift into chaos. First, he needs to urgently address the matter of hierarchy, chain of command and reporting/pecking order within the security sector. His security chiefs must work in harmony and synergy. This means he must end the factional feuds in the security sector even if it means removing those he considers to have low performance and siding with the high-performance actors. If this is too complicated, he might want to simply support the faction he likes and get rid of the one he likes less. Secondly, security institutions should be respected and allowed to function NORMALLY. Thirdly, the welfare of our troops is very important and authorities should ensure that they are well equipped and that they receive their full complement of allowances. Finally, there is great fear in the country that security agencies have themselves entered into a self-serving war economy in which primitive accumulation of wealth has overtaken commitment to ending the war. If this is not reversed, we are doomed. It is therefore urgent that security related procurement should be formalised and cleaned-up.