BusinessDay

Nigeria at war under an absent commander-in-chief (1)

Nigeria’s National Security Strategy, curated by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) in 2019, said the country faces a diverse range of threats that are multifaceted, including “terrorism and violent extremism, armed banditry, kidnapping, militancy and separatist agitations”.

These challenges, the strategy suggests, “call for a robust, dynamic and proactive national security framework and infrastructure capable of dealing with these growing threats in real time”.

Babagana Monguno, President Muhammadu Buhari’s national security adviser, said the National Security Strategy 2019 “aims at ensuring that Nigeria’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interests, the well-being of the people and the country’s institutions are preserved, protected and enhanced”.

He defined the National Security Strategy as one “that orients state action towards current and perceived future challenges by using available resources flexibly and efficiently”.

The Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) has in recent days clearly advertised the incapacity of state action, represented by the cornucopia of security and military establishments in the country, to curtail their aptitude for ruthless killings, kidnappings and unimpeded attacks on Nigeria’s military and government facilities.

In a span of two months, ISWAP has attacked and killed soldiers in Madalla and Bwari in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), as well as in Kainji, Niger State, where more than 40 security personnel were killed.

In early July, the terrorists displayed their sheer disdain for the President’s capacity to confront them when they launched an assault on his advance convoy in Katsina. That same week, ISWAP spent over two hours attacking and ransacking the medium security prison at Kuje in the FCT, where they freed some 800 inmates. They have also attacked Owo in Ondo State, and there are legitimate fears of impending attacks in Kwara, Lagos and the South-West.

The troops killed in Bwari were elements of the 7 Guards Battalion of the elite Brigade of Guards, the military unit responsible for protecting the President. The attack, which left many soldiers killed and injured, was described by Monguno as nothing less than “decimation”.

Decimation, in military terms, refers to the elimination of a large number of troops occasioned by a military defeat.

Off the back of a security council meeting hurriedly summoned by President Buhari, on the heels of threats by a section of the National Assembly to begin impeachment proceedings against him, over his observable failure to put an end to the devastating security situation in the country, Monguno gave a press conference, where he acknowledged that Nigerians were tired of the country’s worsening insecurity and were gravitating towards self-help.

“It is true that the local people are averse,” he said, “They’re scared, they’re worried and there’s no confidence.”

The ONSA is the central body for coordination, control, and supervision of national security in Nigeria. It manages national security on behalf of the President through the National Security Council (NSC), the Joint Intelligence Board (JIB) and the Intelligence Community Committee. The National Security Adviser is the principal officer of the National Security Council and advises the President on national security issues.

Monguno, a retired major-general, came to limelight when Babagana Kingibe, the powerful secretary of the government of the federation under President Umaru Yar’adua, had him selected as Commander of the Brigade of Guards in 2007.

He was later appointed as the Chief of Defence Intelligence in 2009. He has been widely ridiculed for his failure to design and implement effective risk mitigating strategies to end terrorism and violent extremism in the country. There have been recurring calls for his dismissal for ineffectiveness.

“I know people are weary, people are tired, people are beginning to gravitate to other places for self-help. The truth is that help is rooted in everyone working for the other person,” he had said.

The statement, while obviously inventoried to telegraph the government’s empathy with Nigerians who are increasingly perplexed at the growing boldness and brutality of ISWAP and Boko Haram terrorists, more than revealed the apparent helplessness of the Buhari administration to secure Nigerians.

At the end of last month, the government hastily ordered the immediate closure of private schools in Abuja over the increased security threats by terrorist in the FCT. The closure, according to a retired senior military officer, “is essentially a retreat, the government and military giving up on defending places it cannot hold”.

“I think it is beginning to sink in: that Abuja can indeed fall,” a security expert said. “Don’t forget that all the roads into the city are besieged from 60km in and the army has shown itself incapable of dealing with a mobile distributed force with asymmetrical capacity, not just at the distant theatres of war but right at the heart of the military core in Kaduna and Abuja.”

“What this administration doesn’t seem to realise,” a retired intelligence officer who had served in the past as a director in ONSA, said “is that the terrorists do not have to take over the Aso Rock Villa for Abuja to fall. Once Abuja falls, then the entity we know as Nigeria is all but over. What we will likely see evolving are pockets of strongmen emerging in different communities in the country. It will be no different from Somalia, only larger and more vicious.”

Read also: Insecurity: Why does Buhari pamper failures?

In late July, the terrorists who attacked the Abuja-Kaduna train on March 28, killing eight and kidnapping no fewer than 61 passengers, vowed to abduct Buhari and Nasir El-Rufai, governor of Kaduna State. Days after the kidnap threat, El-Rufai was to alert a flummoxed nation that the President had been uninformed and oblivious of the threat.

“One is hard put explaining away the seeming inattention or indifference to the nation’s pervading security concerns by both the NSA and Mr President,” a former director at the nation’s military intelligence service complained.

“From our interactions during the Obasanjo administration as members of the JIB, with the NSA, it was a well-known fact that the NSA briefs the President on developing security concerns every morning. Aside from the JIB monthly meetings, the NSA also calls for an emergency security meeting of the JIB to discuss security developments that need the attention of the President.

One now wonders: does the JIB still meet monthly or as required to discuss the security situation in the country to brief the President? What happened to the daily presidential security briefs by the NSA or has it been stopped? Someone should be held responsible for the state of insecurity in Nigeria either the NSA or President; one of them must be called to answer for this security blundering.”

…concludes tomorrow

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