The politics of national security

May 3, 2012
4 mins read

DP got it wrong from the beginning. The party started by saying Mr. A can rule, and Mr. B cannot rule, according to PDP conventions, rules and regulations are not according to the constitution. That created a climate for what is happening or manifesting itself in the country.

Is it possible that somebody was thinking that only Mr. A could win, and if he did not win, he could cause problem in the society. Let’s examine all these issues to see whether the level of violence in the North East just escalated because Boko Haram suddenly became better trained, better equipped and better funded, or something else was responsible”- Andrew OwoyeAzazi, National Security Adviser (NSA).

Against the backdrop of the tragic bombings of the THISDAY newspaper offices in Abuja and Kaduna and the BUK Kano Sunday prayer service, the South-South Economic Summit held last week has taken an even more poignant place, in the context of the various developments in our country.

It is instructive, that security and related issues became the most important item of the Summit, giving a greater illustration to the depth of the crisis which faces our country today, as well as bringing into sharper focus, the National Security State as the central proposition of Nigeria’s democratic process. These are the worst of times in Nigeria in so many ways, but if properly handled they can provide the platform for a search for the best of times, to paraphrase Charles Dickens!

But the most important outcome of the South-South conclave must be the speech given by Andrew Owoye Azazi, President Goodluck Jonathan’s National Security Adviser (NSA). It is noteworthy that while other sections of the country like the North and the Southwest have held various summits in recent times; these were ignored by the NSA. It is interesting that he chose to attend the Summit held by governors from the region of Nigeria he comes from.

We may never know whether he was invited or not, to the meetings in the North and the Southwest, but at least by attending a meeting held in his region, we caught a whiff of his thoughts about the security threats which face the country today!

To that extent, I think the NSA must be applauded for the courage of his conviction, even if in so frankly stating the issues as only a master spook can, he opened a political can of worms, with reverberations going up to the highest levels of governance in the country!

Drinking from poisoned chalice

Owoye Azazi holds the most difficult job in Nigeria at the moment; he literally is drinking from a poisoned chalice! The security situation in the country has worsened with the emboldened attacks by the Islamist group, Boko Haram, which seem to regularly wrong foot the security apparatus, despite the huge sums of money allocated for ‘security’ in the 2012 budget. The greater the audacity of action of the insurgency, the more untenable the NSA’s position has increasingly become.

It might be easy to conclude, that given the depth of relationship Azazi has with the President, his position is secure no matter what; but an increasingly exasperated country will look in the direction of the President and wonder why the NSA remains in place! But security is far more complex than an ordinary citizen can sometimes fathom. That is why Azazi’s speech at the Summit makes for very close reading and contextual interpretation.

By indicting the ruling party, the NSA has taken analysis to heights most unusual, at the topmost levels of the Nigerian perch. But a close reading of the words of the NSA will also reveal embedded ambiguities; it is almost like the proverbial ladies’ skirt: long enough to cover the essentials but short enough to titillate the suggestive mind.

General Azazi was in effect reminding the ruling party that it had planted booby traps from the beginning with its policy of zoning, which he believe was the central reason for the deepening of the problem of insurgency in the country today. The decision by the President to jettison the party’s zoning policy, from the NSA’s perspective, became the trigger of discontent which led to the heightened activities of the Islamist sect.

In stating what was plausibly acceptable as one of the many factors for insurgency, the NSA ruffled the feathers of the ruling PDP and the President himself seemed to have been flustered, when interrogated by reporters, that such a fundamental assessment was made by the nation’s leading spymaster.

Reinforcing conspiracy theories

But those who have been angry with the NSA, especially within the ruling party, miss the whole point. Azazi, in my view has not been harsh against his principal, President Goodluck Jonathan; he has in fact, reinforced the conspiracy theories which centrally state that the Boko Haram group is being used against the President for certain political advantages, especially by the Northern political elite.

What is most fundamental is the acceptance by the NSA that other points must be taken into account to understand the raging insurgency: “I must also be quick to point out that today, even if all the leaders that we know in Boko Haram are arrested, I don’t think the problem would end, because there are tentacles.

I don’t think that people would be satisfied, because the situations that created the problems are not just about religion, poverty or the desire to rule Nigeria. I think it’s a combination of everything. Except you address all those things comprehensively, it would not work…

You must look at what structures you need to put in place to address the problem holistically. There are economic problems in the North, which are not the exclusive prerogative of the Northerners. We must solve our problems as a country”.

Readingbetween the lines, the NSA has tried to move away from a gung-ho approach to a more nuanced and ‘holistic’ appreciation of the issues around security in our country today.

He similarly took the nationalist position of stating that the Boko Haram insurgency is “not the exclusive prerogative of the Northerners”. He went further to add that “we must solve our problems as a country”! I have been critical of the positions of Andrew OwoyeAzazi; but unlike most interpreters of his recent statement, I detect a fundamental shift, which must be encouraged.

I think for too long, many people around President Jonathan, including the NSA, have approached the Boko Haram insurgency from the tunnel vision of conspiracy theories; i.e. the insurgency has been let loose by those unhappy with the ascendancy of President Jonathan; especially the Northern political elite (and he retains such an allusion in his speech!). With such a mindset, it is no wonder that the emphasis has been on a military approach to ending the insurgency.

Frankly, that has not taken us far; on the contrary, communities in many of the Northern states have become increasingly alienated, while the military became recruiting sergeants for the insurgency. If OwoyeAzazi’s speech at the South-South Summit signals a different approach to the Boko Haram insurgency, then Nigeria might just see rays of light out the exasperating tunnel of insurgency!


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