If ever there was any doubt, the leaks of memos from the National Security Adviser confirm the long-running whispers of disarray, confusion and infighting within the Presidency and its negative impact on the country’s security. In the memos, whose authenticity has not been denied, the NSA, Babagana Monguno, painted a disturbing picture of interference in security and diplomatic matters by the President’s Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, inertia by the President, Maj. Gen Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), and a muddle in the reporting chain by security chiefs. To save the country from the unprecedented insecurity challenges, Buhari should take charge of his regime and restore order in the protection agencies.
While the leaks were damaging enough, the response or lack of it by Buhari besmirches the country’s image further and confirms public perception of the regime as rudderless and incompetent. Weeks after the development and allegations of abuse of his office by his CoS, alleged unprofessional conduct by service chiefs, there is no evidence in the public domain of decisive action by the President.
The implication of all this is grave. According to Monguno — in an unprecedented departure from due process — Kyari has inserted himself into the security chain of command and appears to have usurped the powers of the NSA to coordinate the system; and of the commander-in-chief, in whose name he allegedly acts. That the CoS summons meetings of security chiefs without the knowledge of the President or the NSA, if true, is alarming and dangerous.
Buhari is insufferably laid-back and indecisive. This attitude has impacted negatively on national cohesion, security and the economy. His regime is arguably the most dysfunctional since flag independence with regular displays of insubordination, impunity and inter-agency feuding bursting into the public glare. Amid all this, Buhari presents the figure of an oblivious and aloof helmsman. Pressure should be mounted and sustained to compel a return to global best practices by a regime that is driving the country into peril.
Just how perilous is clear. Monguno’s memos indicate that they were written December last year, meaning that two whole months passed without any action by Buhari to restore order. Second, they show that in responding to the NSA’s complaint that Kyari changed a presidential order in respect of a security contract, the President reportedly merely issued a verbal order reverting to his former instruction; there has been no punishment for the official who countermanded the instruction.
Similarly, there appears to be no sanction for the service chiefs for their alleged unprofessional conduct in allowing the CoS to preside over security meetings. Yet, the NSA’s memo, duly copied to the C-in-C, was unambiguous. It pointed to “…unprofessional practices such as presiding over meetings with service chiefs and heads of security organisations as well as ambassadors and high commissioners, to the exclusion of the NSA and/or supervising ministers”, which are deemed “a violation of the constitution and directly undermine the authority of Mr. President.”
Monguno’s conclusion that “such acts and continued meddlesomeness by the chief of staff have not only ruptured our security and defence efforts, but have slowed down any meaningful gain that Mr. President has sought to achieve” is weighty. The unprecedented level of insecurity in the country today and its toll on lives, property and the economy necessitate swift action by Buhari. Nigeria was ranked the 16th most dangerous country on the 2020 Global Peace Index; third most terrorised country on the Global Terrorism Index, while Boko Haram/ISWAP, Fulani militants and bandits are in the top five list of the world’s most deadly terror groups. Despite billions of naira appropriated for security, the country is more insecure today than any other time in its history.
Buhari is toying with Nigeria’s corporate existence by his distraction, indecision and surrender of governance to shadowy officials. He fails to act when directives by the vice-president are flouted by his favoured appointees. He was aloof when the then head of the State Security Service twice sabotaged his nominee’s Senate confirmation bid as head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. He condoned the forceful disruption of an EFCC operation by the renegade officer, tolerated defiance of ministerial authority by heads of agencies as it happened in the National Health Insurance Scheme and in the Nigeria Customs Service. When the CEO of the national oil company was accused by the former Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu, of undermining his authority, Buhari’s lame response was to admonish him to “go and work together”.
The President had no decisive response to the flouting of his order to the police IG to move to Benue State to contain mass murder by herdsmen. If true, the service chiefs betray their professional calling and honour by allowing an unqualified public official to summon and preside over security meetings, an embarrassment to the institution they represent. The CoS does not have the constitutional or legal authority to do so.
Extending this aloofness by Buhari to the security area is costly. Cries that he should replace the service chiefs to rejuvenate the flagging war against terrorism have fallen on deaf ears. In crisis periods, leaders do not hesitate to change generals who falter. During WW II, America replaced 16 divisional and five corps commanders, appointing younger talents like Dwight Eisenhower who eventually led the liberation of Europe. Yakubu Gowon replaced the three successful divisional commanders to give the final impetus to ending the Nigerian Civil War.
By his laxity, Buhari degrades the Presidency by allowing unelected appointees to run the administration. There is an adequate pool of competent persons to man the security agencies, the administration and the economy. He should stop abdicating his responsibility, investigate the allegations by the NSA and remove the service chiefs who have fairly played their part and need to give way for new hands and fresh thinking.