His powers challenged by military commanders he believed he was appointed to supervise, Nigeria’s Defence minister, Aliyu Gusau, on Tuesday sent a letter to President Goodluck Jonathan threatening to quit if the Commander-in-Chief failed to rein in chiefs of defence, army, navy and airforce, according to new details of a row that climaxed Wednesday in a dramatic resignation claim.
In the letter, Mr. Gusau accused the chief of defence staff, Air Vice Marshal Alex Badeh, of being “rude”, officials knowledgeable about the communication said.
Mr. Gusau and the presidency have denied the minister was leaving office barely a week after he was appointed as part of Mr. Jonathan’s new effort at curbing a bloody insurgency by the extremist Boko Haram sect.
Earlier reports said the minister submitted a resignation letter citing insubordination after Air Chief Marshal Badeh disparaged Mr. Gusau and the minister of state for defence, Musiliu Obanikoro, for criticizing his failure to arrange a meeting between the new ministers and the service chiefs.
But several officials who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES narrated a troubling power tussle between the ministers and service chiefs with far-reaching implications on the administration’s war against Boko Haram which the government has largely failed to stem.
Government insiders said while the retired general did not expressly submit a resignation letter, he made it clear to the president he will not work with military officials he considered “insubordinate”.
The officials said since his swearing-in, Mr. Gusau made repeated efforts for a meeting with the service chiefs, but failed to secure one.
When AVM Badeh met with Mr. Gusau on Monday, he explained that the minister lacked the powers to summon the service chiefs to meetings without his (Badeh’s) knowledge.
Mr. Badeh also reportedly insisted that it was not the place of the defence minister to directly issue directives to the heads of the army, navy and air force, without routing same through the office of the defence chief.
Under the Nigerian constitution, and the Armed Forces Act, Mr. Badeh explained, only the president has the powers to so direct the service chiefs as Mr. Gusau, a retired soldier, sought to do. Even so, he added, the president, with all his powers, hardly breaches the chain of command.
Largely, Mr. Badeh was right. Under Section 217 of the constitution, and Section 7 of the Armed Forces Act, only the president has such powers. Were he to delegate them, the minister of defence, is not included in the chain of command.
Still, a potentially contentious subject, analysts also point to the constitutional provision allowing the president to delegate his powers to the ministers.
Officials said those were the explanations Mr. Badeh gave, which infuriated the minister.
After sending a letter of complaint to the President on Tuesday, Mr. Gusau failed to show up on Wednesday at the Federal Executive Council meeting, triggering speculations he had quit the cabinet in anger.
Presidency sources said Mr. Jonathan is working to resolve the crisis and has tapped the National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, President of the Senate, David Mark and former Military President, Ibrahim Babangida, for help.