The National Security Adviser's Ministerial Briefing

Monday, April 26, 2010

By Reuben Abati
Something most unusual but significant for its implications occurred in the past week, and it has been almost overlooked; it should be recalled and analysed: it is the public reporting of a security awareness seminar that the National Security Adviser had with the newly appointed Ministers, and what he said. His statements at that meeting were made public by his Chief Press Secretary which means that the leakage of the encounter was deliberate and premeditated. But why would the office of the National Security Adviser release the details of a Ministerial Security briefing? This is not standard practice particularly here where the security agencies are not only sworn to an oath of secrecy, but are required to conduct their affairs away from the prying eyes of the public and the "offensive tongues" of public commentators. What exactly does the NSA seek to achieve with the weighty statements he made at that meeting? Was he setting a tone for something? That his office is sending a clear message is clear enough, for it would be an ultimate breach of national security for that office to engage in frivolous dancing in the market place. What the National Security Adviser has done most unusually is to offer a critique of the Nigerian system. He tells us matter of factly that the Nigerian state is failing and in urgent need of rescue. Coming out of his reported statement is the declaration that Nigeria faces a human development crisis and that the quality of human development has serious implications for national security. He is right.

He laments what we all know already: the poor state of the health and education sectors, Nigeria's poor rating in the UN Human Development Index, the spread of poverty, the menace of unemployment, the failure of Nigeria's education system, other distortions within the system which promote instability and insecurity, including the low value that Nigerians place on human lives. If we take this as a national security report, it can be assumed that the Nigerian National Security Adviser was directly telling his immediate audience and other Nigerians that our country is not working. His review of the situation is an open and unapologetic indictment of the governance system in the country: a subtle and not so subtle way of saying that from a security perspective, the Yar'Adua administration has failed Nigeria. Beyond him, the Obasanjo administration has also failed Nigeria! The country needs to start afresh. This is quite a political statement coming from a National Security Adviser. But again, he is right. This country is in a mess. Lt. General Aliyu Gusau may have confirmed what we all know, based on security findings, even if the evidence is there for all to see, but we should all be frightened that our condition may be worse, and that the full security dilemma facing this country has not been brought to the open.

However, the proper linkage that the NSA established between the performance of the sectors of the economy and the human development index is apposite. It reflects the spirit of Chapter Two of the Nigerian Constitution where security is considered not only a matter of physical security, but also economic and social security. As General Gusau pointed out, Nigeria faces a serious crisis of human security. And if by any chance at all, he was speaking with the approval of the Acting President, he was thereby defining for the Ministers, their primary assignment. In attendance most instructively was the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Yayale Ahmed and the Head of Service, Steve Oronsaye both of whom served as moderators at the meeting.

But it is not enough to define the problem. Since a security profile of the Nigerian crisis has been formulated, we expect that this will serve as guideline for service delivery. And so Alhaji Gusau told the Ministers that their job is to ensure that government policies and their implementation help to promote the security of all Nigerians. This much should have been obvious to anyone who has been offered a Ministerial appointment and has accepted to serve. But the good faith of the new Ministers cannot be taken for granted. We have seen over the years, public office holders for whom the privilege of public office is considered an opportunity to address the challenges of personal security. Since the appointment of this new set of Ministers, there have been speculations that some of them are in government to amass wealth towards the 2011 general elections or to promote the interests of their Godfathers. In case anyone of them is in any doubt, they should be advised to take the meeting with the National Security Adviser as a warning and a threat. The sub text of that meeting is a reminder that they are being watched closely: "beware, we are watching you!" The Security establishment has perhaps stumbled on some disturbing details about some of the appointees and the Nigerian public has been brought into the know just so that nobody complains about a Minister from his or her village being victimized when such particular Minister is found with his or her hands in the cookie jar. And if truly a veiled threat was being issued, in no way should it be an idle threat.

If human security must become a cardinal objective of the governance process, then government must take more seriously the national integrity framework. Thieving Ministers who are only interested in their own pockets pose a threat to the survival of other Nigerians. The Jonathan administration has been making a lot of statements about fighting corruption; if it fails on this score when a review is attempted a few months hence, the people will be in a sure position to dismiss the Acting President's statements at the inauguration of his cabinet, and during his visit to the United States, his administration's re-invigoration of the EFCC and the ICPC and the National Security Adviser's meeting with the Ministers and the heads of government as nothing but hypocritical.

I do not consider it an accident that about the same period that the National Security Adviser held a seminar for the new ministers, there was a sudden re-awakening at the anti-corruption agencies, ICPC and EFCC, with both agencies descending on two men who may ordinarily be considered very powerful: that is former Governor of Delta State, James Ibori and Chairman of the PDP, the ruling party, Vincent Ogbulafor. A few months ago, with the jailing of former PDP strongman Commodore Olabode George, the point had been established afresh that no man is above the laws of the land. But Aliyu Gusau has indicated that there should be more persons behind bars. He dismissed the anti-corruption campaign as ineffective, selective and unreliable, noting that the leaders of the two agencies are guilty of "wrong doings".

He also descended on the crime prevention machinery and the judiciary, noting that both promote criminality through negligence and inefficiency. His words were strong and specific: "very little attention is paid to the prevention of crime. Proactive security measures assist to prevent crimes. Good laws and efficient penal system will deter criminals and reduce crimes. It seems our current legal system promotes crimes...This is because it penalizes a few unfortunate individuals while society sees many they consider guilty enjoying their loot in freedom. Some of the agencies involved in anti-corruption have credibility problems, their leaders being accused of wrong doings." Such words coming from the National Security Adviser is the equivalent of the CIA boss in the United States indicting senior officials of state. In plain language, the Nigerian National Security Adviser was directly accusing top officials of state of "wrong doing."

He didn't have to spell it all out; he managed to send a strong signal. Could it be that the President is planning to remove the heads of the anti-corruption agencies, and the police and make some changes in the judiciary? Within 48 hours after the NSA's statement was reported, all the indicted agencies sprang into action. On April 21, the newspapers were already reporting: "ICPC charges Ogbulafor, four others with fraud." The Police headquarters also sent its men to go and arrest Chief James Ibori. So important did the Ibori matter suddenly become that a combined team of all the security agencies in the land stormed Delta state to arrest the former Governor. So far, they have been successfully resisted by militant youths: an obvious confirmation of Aliyu Gusau's disclosures about inefficiency and the ridiculous nature of national security. Again, the same charge of being selective and partial would still apply. The law enforcement agencies should not crank to life like bad engines only when one mechanic comes along to offer a necessary spark: the import of Gusau's statement should again be the urgent need to rebuild the institutions of state. For the question may be asked: are the security chiefs having been indicted by the office of the NSA struggling to keep their jobs, by following a script or they really mean business?

The NSA didn't spare the Governor of the Central Bank either. Without mincing words, he accused the Lamido Sanusi CBN of sabotaging the Nigerian economy with policies that promote instability. Aliyu Gusau was not on the soap box looking for votes. He was speaking as National Security Adviser. And we can for that reason alone still assume that he was speaking seriously. And that he has the authority of the Acting President backing him. If I were Lamido Sanusi, I would seek a security interpretation of the NSA's statement. Well, it is clear enough isn't it? It is a serious charge indeed for a country's National Security Adviser to dismiss the CBN as a saboteur institution. The NSA wasn't talking economics or banking but security.

And according to him, the current interventions by the Central Bank of Nigeria "seemed to have damaged economic activity in the banking sector to the detriment of the larger society." Charge no 2: "the travails of the banking sector reflect the double standards critics perceive in the administration of justice; what every bank seems to be doing, yet only a few banks were penalized." The bank chiefs who were indicted by Sanusi's CBN must be clinking glasses. The Renaissance Professionals, the mouthpiece of the anti-Sanusi lobby must be dancing. But it is surprising that there has been no statement yet from the CBN defending itself against the damning verdict from the National Security Advise, for there are contradictions of logic in the NSA's position on corruption and how to fight it which the CBN should be able to identify. For example, against what benchmark is the NSA comparing Sanusi's CBN? Is there an alternative blueprint which nobody is aware of? And is the NSA not aware that he invariably heats up the polity and sends the wrong signals to investors when he publicly dismisses critical institutions of state? However, if Gusau was speaking the mind of the Acting President in all of these matters, then the stage may have been prepared for some critical personnel changes in the days ahead.

But is it really progress that they seek or greater control of the levers of state? The NSA has indicted the anti-corruption agencies, the police, the judiciary, the Central Bank of Nigeria and he has offered a candid review of national woes identifying them correctly as issues of security. He left out the intelligence agencies which he oversees. Those agencies are just as inefficient and as unreliable as all the others that have been adjudged guilty of "wrong doings." He talked about the carnage in Jos and the Boko Haram killings, and the need for proactive measures in the prevention of crime. How do we prevent crime if the intelligence agencies and the security advisers cannot manage open intelligence? The rot is widespread and it is all encapsulating and there is work for the Jonathan team. Analysis of the dilemma in the corridors of power is useful but what Nigerians really need is change and progress and concrete assurance that the new drivers are willing to serve and make a difference.

The buck stops at the Acting President's table. He must draw a fine line between mere posturing, political rhetoric and actual performance. It is unfortunate that so early in the day, some characters are already on the streets of Abuja campaigning for Jonathan to be president in 2011. Jonathan's minders should not tell us that these are fifth columnists at work. Such campaigners and their sponsors pose a threat to national security; they are just as guilty of wrong doing.

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