Recently, an online platform named National Update published an article titled: ‘Why Dambazau deserves to be next National Security Adviser (NSA) come 2023’. In the article, the said platform extolled former Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau, as the man fit to be NSA to whoever becomes Nigeria’s next president in 2023. The article also did its best to launder the Dambazau brand, both as an unblemished, fine soldier and as a victim of circumstance in the past.
The article alluded to Dambazau’s role as Co-Chair of the Security and Compliance sub-committee of the just-concluded All Progressives Congress’ (APC) national convention. It also recalled that the former COAS held a similar position as President Muhammadu Buhari’s campaign organisation’s head of security committee, prior to the 2015 presidential election, adding that, “All expectations then was that he would naturally get the appointment as NSA without much hassles but he lost out in the political power play then.”
Interestingly, an article by one Stanley Ebube published on another platform, Legit.ng, on June 16, 2022, a day before the Dambazau patronising article was published, called for caution in the way former service chiefs and other former high-ranking defence and intelligence officers get involved in partisanship. In the article, ‘Ex-Service chiefs and trend in partisanship’, the writer said, “While it is the inalienable right and freedom of former service chiefs and top security and intelligence personnel to associate politically, it is standard practice and ethical responsibility for such personalities to publicly function within certain codes which guide their post-retirement conducts.”
The writer went on to single out Dambazau and another former COAS, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai, for taking “politically exposing” roles in the activities that culminated in APC national convention where the party’s flag bearer for the 2023 presidential election was elected. “Before the primary election, Buratai was in the news openly soliciting delegates’ votes for former transport minister Rotimi Amaechi. On his part, Dambazau…was notably visible in his reflective jacket carrying out tasks many high-ranking officials in the defence and security circle believe are incongruous with his standing as former army chief,” the writer noted.
With the article published on National Update, Dambazau’s (and Buratai’s) motivation has become glaring. Their eyes are on the office of NSA come 2023, if their party wins the presidential election. But was “political power play” the real reason why Dambazau’s attempt to become Buhari’s NSA failed spectacularly in the first instance, or was it that Buhari sensed Dambazau’s desperation and, rather than make him NSA, sent him to the Ministry of Interior?
Contrary to widely held notion, the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) is neither a mere slot for political patronage nor reserved for former army chiefs. The president often appoints someone off the political radar and whose antecedents do not suggest exactly what Dambazau and Buratai are seen doing right now – lobbying. Every president wants an NSA with whom they maintain a relationship of trust and professionalism; someone who they believe is capable of doing the job. Once someone lobbies desperately for the position, they very often don’t get it.
But what is the attraction of these two former army chiefs to the NSA role?
Section 4 of the National Security Agencies Act, 1986, which disbanded the Nigerian Security Organization and created three security agencies in its place – the Defence Intelligence Agency, the National Intelligence Agency and the State Security Service – specifically empowered the President, as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, to appoint a Coordinator on National Security “for the purpose of coordinating the intelligence activities of the National Security Agencies set up under the Act”. By the amendment of the National Security Agencies Decree, 1986 (INSTRUMENT NO. NSA 2) signed in 1999, the Office of the National Security Adviser was established to replace the Office of the Coordinator on National Security.
During the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, ONSA did more than coordinating national security and became more or less like a military procurement arm of the government. Of course, the committee which investigated the Defence Arms and Equipment Procurement discovered total disregard for the Public Procurement Act in the award of contracts by ONSA under Col. Sambo Dasuki. In one report, over 300 companies were indicted, with over N50 billion either recovered or refunded.
It was not the first time that ONSA was used as a conduit pipe to siphon public funds. In one of his Verdicts in 2018, Segun Adeniyi documented how former NSA Ismaila Gwarzo kick started the use of the office for frivolous transactions. “As it would happen, that became the template for taking money directly from the treasury,” he wrote.
Since he became president, Buhari’s intention to refocus ONSA as a genuine security coordination and advisory office has been deliberate. ONSA, unlike what was obtained pre-2015, has focused much more on policy, strategy and coordination. This is particularly why it is laughable when the uninitiated or the mischievous heaps blames on the office whenever something goes wrong in the nation’s security system.
Perhaps those who desperately crave the office want a reverse to the old order; the era of business as usual when ONSA was a key to accessing immense resources. Nigeria’s next president should be weary of such people.
Also, it is important to note that the position of NSA is not exclusively reserved for former army chiefs. In fact, in the United States from where the idea of an NSA was fashioned, many appointees into the position often have diplomacy, policy and strategy backgrounds, not military. From Condoleezza Rice to Steven Hardly; Susan Rice to John Bolton and now Jake Sullivan – a lawyer and policy adviser who now serves as NSA under President Joe Biden, appointment into NSA points to policy and strategy, not politics and procurement.
Presidential aspirants and their advisers should be circumspect about the choice of desperate ex-army chiefs who have embraced partisanship like a cloak and who have – directly or indirectly – been fingered in allegations of poor performance, corruption and human rights abuse. They should not be coordinating national security in 2023 and beyond.