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The Task Ahead Of Yusuf Bichi

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Nigeria has just had an election that has put to test and continues to test the viability of state institutions and the separation of powers theory. These are not the best of times for the relationship between the executive and the judiciary arms of government. The last four years can also be seen as trying times when it comes to how the legislators and executive have got along.

But the tensions caused by the elections have also brought on a new kind of challenge. It has led to a loss confidence in the security agencies, particularly in the military and the police among a large number of Nigerians. Since 2014 when military officers were used to compromise the governorship election in Ekiti, there has been a debate on the use of the army during elections.

The Independent National Electoral Commission felt there weren’t enough security personnel to effectively man the elections, making the use of the military for election duty unavoidable. The army was supposed to be a neutral actor in the elections. And to a very large extent, it was. Yet, its actions in one state, Rivers, have raised needless controversies.

Truth be told, since the December 2016 leaked audio conversation of Rivers governor, Nyesom Wike, and the then governor of Ekiti, Ayo Fayose where they disparaged the Nigeria Army, the Rivers governor has been in the army’s black book. And in the 2019 general elections where Nigerians set a high standard for the processes, the army struggled to maintain its neutrality.

In the same way, the neutrality of the police during the elections has been called into question. INEC chairman, Mahmood Yakubu has himself said it was based on the recommendations of citizens that the decision was made to use unarmed police officers around the polling units. This decision has affected the image of the police as they could only stand and watch while armed men invaded polling units, snatching and destroying ballot boxes and other election materials.

To some observers, the police did this to the advantage of the ruling party. In effect, there is a crisis of confidence between a part of the electorate and some Nigerian institutions. For that reason, the account of the  Department of State Services (DSS) on what transpired during and after the elections will be of critical importance in rebuilding trust and bringing together all the country’s citizens on opposite political aisles.

One key outcome is that President Muhammadu Buhari has won an election. For it appears to have raised his profile on the African continent mostly because his re-election projects to the world, political stability in a country of 200 million.

With a fresh four-year mandate, Africa and the world would be unwise not to embrace Nigeria’s president. It was important that key institutions and the men who led them on Buhari’s behalf approach the elections as a cohesive force. In reality, however, stability has not been a hallmark of the Buhari-led government, at least in its first three years in power.

Personal and inter-agency rivalries that got in the way of professionalism were threatening both the government and the country. And one institution, maybe even one individual, was central to the chaos.

To add to the chaos, as the election was approaching, old foes and new ones were encircling the President all in the name of democracy. The full story behind the unceremonious removal of Lawal Daura, the former director general of the State Security Service from office may never be disclosed to the public. Even less likely to be discussed in the open is the in-house rivalries that shaped the first three years of the Muhammadu Buhari administration.

But the public did get a glimpse of the war within early in 2018 after a standoff between the president’s Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari and his National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno.

It is not completely unheard of for top officials within the same government to be at loggerheads with each other.

During the tenure of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, his Chief of Staff, Abdullahi Muhammad, and NSA, Aliyu Gusau, were engaged in a quiet war of attrition. The difference was they were both professionals and hardly allowed their differences get in the way of the job.

Of course, Gusau didn’t have an antagonistic DG of DSS as a subordinate. The same kind of rivalry also existed in the Goodluck Jonathan administration, only it was between his last NSA and the minister of defence,  and news of it at times spilled into the press. It could be said that there was a critical breakdown in communications and trust between the presidency, security institutions and the political party. An even wider communication gap opened up between the state and the electorate. For those reasons and more, the most important security and political operatives in the Jonathan government were never able to unite around a common purpose ahead of the 2015 elections, which they eventually lost.

All that appears to be in the past now. The rivalries in the Buhari government may still exist, but they no longer pose an existential threat to the political survival of the Buhari presidency. In a way, the catalyst for change and the sense of stability was brought on board by the man at the helm of affairs at the DSS, Yusuf Bichi.

He has his own challenges within the government and doesn’t necessarily see eye to eye with everyone else. It could simply have been a change in leadership style, but then building trust and a working relationship with principal actors within the government has probably been the singular most important factor that has brought stability to the Buhari government and allowed it to withstand the political challenge mounted by the opposition PDP at the presidential election.

With the elections over, there is still the legal challenge to the election results filed by the PDP to contend with. The party is not only trying to convince the tribunal that it was the true winner of the election, PDP is also trying to keep its supporters motivated and encouraging them to remain in resistance mode.

In that sense, the role the DSS can play is no longer about stitching together a fragmented government but giving an account of the elections to the Nigerian people. This it can do by making submissions to the president, through the courts or the representatives of the people in the National Assembly.

The governor of Kaduna, Nasir el-Rufai made a claim before the elections. Being in office has given him information that was previously out of reach. And according to available records, the PDP had never won elections in the state. Now, there is no way of verifying what the governor said. But if true, there could only have been one source for the information: security reports.

It is also most likely that the security reports came from the DSS who are known to have records of election results from every polling units in all the 774 local governments of the country. Unlike the army and the police, the role and successes recorded by DSS under Bichi during the elections have not been overshadowed by the disappointment of losing.

If anything at all, his role has gone largely unnoticed. How this could happen only means the agency remained relatively professional and neutral during the elections, gathering data, monitoring events and waiting to be of service to the nation. The DSS must maintain its professional posture, especially in the post-election phase when a new government will be formed.

–Shuaib, a former Editor of LEADERSHIP, wrote in from Abuja

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