Dasuki as NSA: Issues below the Surface, By Garba Shehu

In the euphoria that normally accompanies public appointments, people tend to lose their heads and consequently overlook other factors below the surface. No doubt, the appointment of Colonel Sambo Dasuki (retired) is bound to create excitement among the North-west politicians and disappointment among the Niger Delta people who may feel that one of their own has been humiliated out of office.

Officially, President Goodluck Jonathan explained on his media chat on the NTA network that General Andrew Oweye Azazi, the National Security Adviser and Defence Minister, Dr. Bello Halliru Mohammed were fired because they kept using the same strategies (that didn’t work) at a time the tactics of Boko Haram militants were changing. That presupposes that they lost grip with the challenges of security and they had to go. In fact, they were blamed for giving the President an over-optimistic assessment of the security situation, which led the Commander-in-Chief’s declaration that Boko Haram attacks would end in June (this month). On the contrary, we have witnessed a dangerous escalation with attacks on Churches for two weeks running, leading to fears of a religious war. 

There is a school of thought that holds that the appointment of Col. Dasuki was essentially an appeasement gesture towards the North because Boko Haram is largely a northern security challenge. Another school of thought even questions the wisdom of appointing an army officer who is not remarkably steeped in core intelligence activities in his military career to be a National Security Adviser. Dasuki has had a distinguished career in the army artillery corps. 

By the time he was removed last week, it was clear to many that the former NSA had found the shoes too big for his foot. He was apparently overwhelmed by his predecessor, General Gusau’s larger than life image not only in Nigeria but in global security circles. Going by the type of ethnical, religious and media battles he fought, it was thought by many that Azazi had become obsessed with the office of the NSA and was apparently doing more to protect himself in office than the job for which he was hired. The direct consequence of this is that from a gang engaged in street fights with security operatives in Maiduguri township, the Ahlus-Sunnah group (Boko Haram) has, under Bello’s and Azazi’s watch grown to become as potent and formidable as Al-Shabab in North Africa and the Al-Qaeda in some of its formations.

Let us examine the strengths and weaknesses of the pros and cons of Dasuki’s appointment as NSA. If indeed, the appointment of Dasuki is an appeasement policy towards the North, then it may produce the direct opposite result. The Boko Haram terror movement is dominated by Kanuri boys, despite the recruitment of volunteers from areas outside Borno and Yobe States. The appointment ignored the historical rivalries between the Kanuris and the North-west or more directly, the Fulani hegemony. The old Borno Empire, now made up largely of Borno and Yobe States in Nigeria and parts of Niger, Cameroon and Chad Republics was never really conquered by the Fulani jihadist movement. These areas, not only take pride in this, but also the fact that they contacted Islam much earlier than what is today’s North-West geo-political region in Nigeria.

Can a scion of the Fulani royalty, even though a Northerner cultivate the trust and confidence of the Kanuri boys against the background of these historical rivalries? Can a Fulani Northern National Security Adviser conduct negotiations for disarmament with Boko Haram in the face of these historical rivalries? This may be Sambo Dasuki’s biggest challenge. His perception as Generals Babangida and Gusau’s protégé also creates the feeling that President Jonathan is reaching out to Northern politicians as a pacification gesture through Col. Dasuki’s appointment as National Security Adviser.

It is argued that the Jonathan administration is lopsided with his Ijaw kinsmen dominating key appointments, including the office of the National Security Adviser. With Dasuki’s appointment as Azazi’s successor, how far can the President fight off that perception effectively?

Whatever theories may have developed around Sambo’s appointment, the Kanuri factor in the appeasement policy should not be ignored. No confidence building strategy can succeed which ignores the undercurrents of historical rivalries between the Kanuris and the Hausa/Fulani of the north.

It is doubtful if the North-East or Borno State in particular, lacks credible retired army officers who can do the job. Former GOC Third Armoured Corps in Jos, Retired Major General Maina and the former Commander of the Brigade of Guards, Brigadier Monguno are among the officers the government could have appointed for the office of the National Security Adviser. Now that this position has gone to Col. Dasuki, government can still remedy itself by naming a new defense minister from the North-East or specifically the Kanuri. General Munguno in particular has had a career that was unblemished by scandal, controversy or partisan affiliations. He commanded the Guards Brigade and headed the most sensitive of this country’s defense and intelligence departments. In these men, the President has a good pick for defense minister.

Lest one misunderstood, there is no begrudging Col. Dauski with his new position. We should not however, ignore complex issues below the surface. Psychologically, even in the United Nations code of humanitarian negotiations, terror groups tend to deal with persons or parties they can trust. Another worry is that Dasuki’s appointment may produce a sting in its tail. If his tenure produces de-escalation in terrorist violence or attacks, it may produce new theories about why the security situation is improving.

His success may play into the hands of those who believe that Northern leaders have blackmailed Jonathan into submission and that, with security situation returning to normal, these Northern leaders must have real connection to the terror groups. Col. Dasuki cannot run away from this scenario if it does happen in the end. It is a real catch-22 situation for the former ADC to General Babangida.


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