Who really is our President? Azazi or Jonathan?

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OVER the weekend, Nigerian newspapers reproduced the interview given to the Financial Times (FT) of London, by Andrew Owoye Azazi, President Goodluck Jonathan’s National Security Adviser (NSA).

In that interview, Azazi re-iterated a position he has long canvassed about the Boko Haram insurgency; that the group has received professional training and it has links with militant organizations abroad.

Azazi told his interviewers that Nigerian security forces recovered training manuals “written in Arabic,” training videos and “martyr videos recorded by Boko Haram bombers (assertions obviously made to resonate with the experiences of British and Western readers!)” Azazi added that: “I watched videos of their weapons training, which is very professional. They are also innovative in making IEDS (improvised explosive devises)”.

Furthermore, the NSA pursued the line that runs through practically all his recent statements about the insurgency; that of an international link: “I want to believe very strongly that there is outside assistance. We are thinking of al-Qaeda in the Maghreb.” Azazi gave as reason for the so far, incompetent handling of the Boko Haram insurgency, the fact that “crimes we were used to are armed robbery and car snatching (obviously various acts of banditry by criminal gangs in the Niger Delta do not approximate to ‘crimes we are used to’!)

Suicide bombers

But Boko Haram has suicide bombers with explosives”.  Andrew Azazi’s real intention for the interview was clear: there was not going to be any dialogue with Boko Haram. As he told FT, he forecloses any dialogue with Boko Haram, because the group ‘is still faceless’. Azazi gave his FT interview on February 10, 2012, much after PresidentGoodluck Jonathan’s interview with Reuters, on January 26, 2012.

President Jonathan had unambiguously stated, that his administration was willing to dialogue with Boko Haram: “If they clearly identify themselves now and say this is the reason why we are resisting, this is the reason why we are confronting government or this is the reason why we are destroying some innocent people and their properties…then there will be a basis for a dialogue…

We will dialogue, let us know your problems and we will solve your problem but if they don’t identify themselves, who will you dialogue with?” President Jonathan also saw the need to go beyond the strong-armed tactics of the military in the bid to resolve the crisis: “military confrontation alone will not eliminate terror attacks;” an “enabling environment for young people to find jobs”, is also needed. The president added that: “our commitment is to make sure our irrigation programmes are all revitalised so most of these young people are engaged in productive agriculture and…will not be free for them to recruit.”

These are the words of an elected president, attempting to appreciate the deeper issues latent to the rebellion. A Reuters’ report on Monday, February 13, 2012, corroborated Jonathan’s more nuanced position. It said poverty in Nigeria is rising with almost 100 million people living on less than $1 a day; in 2010 60.9 per cent of Nigerians live in absolute poverty, compared with 54.7 percent in 2004, quoting the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS. The NBS estimates the trend may have increased further, in 2011.  The Report added that the North is poorest, feeding the Boko Haram insurgency.

What is frightening is the fact that an unelected National Security Adviser, Andrew Azazi, seemed to be countermanding the Commander-in-Chief! The president stretches a hand of dialogue in an interview with Reuters on January 26, while Azazi in FT on February 10 forecloses dialogue. Now who is the boss here, Jonathan or Azazi?

This question is not altogether a flight of fancy, because it follows a pattern of behaviour by the NSA. On January 2nd, 2011, the long-time Nigeria watcher, American Professor Jean Heskovits, wrote an article for the famous New York Times newspaper, warning the United States government against getting sucked into a Nigerian variant of the controversial “War on Terror”, for a host of reasons; chiefly, the professor had argued that “the root cause of violence and anger in both the north and south of Nigeria is endemic poverty and hopelessness”.

Two days later, on January 4, Andrew Azazi, chose the rightwing rag, Washington Times, to stoke hysteria in America, arguing that “terrorists from Nigeria have again turned the joyful celebrations of Christmas into a D-Day for premeditated mass murder…America is at risk from this type of violence”. He subsequently sought for a “strategic security relationship” with the Americans; a euphemism for AFRICOM, which is essentially an American imperialist platform to secure oil and fight Islam!

What might explain Azazi’s tendency to push a security doomsday scenario in almost frontal opposition to President Jonathan’s desire for dialogue? What is the basis of his temerity to countermand the president of our country as he has clearly done, with the FT interview? In the first place, as I have argued in an earlier piece on this page (“Between Herskovits, Azazi and Jonathan” on January 12, 2012), Azazi as NSA must continuously justify the near-trillion Naira that the regime in power allocated for security in the 2012 budget.

He sits atop the security apparatus that is set to consume that huge pile of money! Therefore, it is not in his interest for the dialogue, which the president seems to increasingly prefer, to get started or succeed. There is a lot of money for international security contractors and their Nigerian collaborators to cream off, so the party of war and security will not be happy with a movement for dialogue and reconciliation. Andrew Azazi is the head of this unelected clan of securicratsand his position has been influenced within this general context.

Conspiracy theories

There is also the fear, especially in many circles in Northern Nigeria, that Andrew Azazi has a strong anti-North and anti-Islam bias. That explains why conspiracy theories have emerged, that there is a Fifth Column, with links to the security apparatus, which is responsible for a number of the bombings; especially those that appear to target non-Muslim communities, because of a hidden agenda to set the nation’s different groups against each other.

The gung-ho position the NSA has consistently taken against dialogue, merely deepens suspicions about what his exact intentions are. But it must be made clear that the final authority in these matters must be the president and commander-in-chief! If President Goodluck Jonathan has clearly stated preference for dialogue, then it becomes unacceptable for an unelected Andrew Azazi to give another interview “foreclosing” dialogue with Boko Haram. He is not our president and cannot be the final word in such matters.

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