The appointment of Sambo Dasuki, a retired colonel, as the National Security Adviser, is seen by some as a move to pacify the northern oligarchy, while there are those who argue that his background and social status may turn out to be an albatross in his new assignment
He was literally welcomed into office with ‘guns and bombs salute.’ As he assumed duties in Abuja as the national security adviser, NSA, last week Tuesday, Sambo Dasuki, a retired colonel and former aide de camp, ADC, to General Ibrahim Babangida former head of state, was practically received with the booming sound of guns and bombs coming from Kano, the North’s commercial city and Damaturu, the Yobe State capital.
As it is customary in the military, gun salutes are used to welcome dignitaries or mark an auspicious occasion. But this was not the type that Dasuki received. Far from being friendly, these were sounds that signify the difficult yet insurmountable task ahead of the new NSA. The reasons he got the job in the first place may yet be the reasons he may keep or lose it depending on how things play out in the days, months and years ahead.
On his first day at work, Dasuki went into a meeting with Namadi Sambo, vice president, at about 4.30pm. The meeting lasted only 30 minutes after which he also met with Mike Oghiadomhe, chief of staff to the President. By the time the two meetings ended, Dasuki declined to speak with journalists who had gathered to interview him. He simply said, “You want to talk to me? Not now, not now.” And he sure had good reasons not to talk. His predecessor, Andrew Azazi, a retired general, had been accused of talking too much. He talked himself into trouble when he identified internal wrangling in the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, as the cause of the current security crisis bedevilling the country.
Beyond that, Dasuki also knew that the task ahead of him was not only daunting, but intimidating and urgent. Just after his meeting with the vice president at about 5pm, some gunmen suspected to be members of the Islamist sect, Boko Haram, launched an attack on Goron Dutse police station and a prison yard in Dala Local Government area of Kano city in Kano State. The gunmen set off explosives and fired gunshots sporadically. In the same fashion, they attacked a Mobile Police formation in the Challawa Area of Kano city. By the time the dust generated by the attacks settled, at least five persons including a police officer and four suspected Boko Haram members were confirmed dead.
About 30 minutes after the Kano incident, a similar scenario started playing out in Damaturu, Yobe State when gunmen suspected to be members of Boko Haram launched an attack on the city. Patrick Egbuniwe, the state commissioner of police said, “the battle was fierce and scary.” Eyewitnesses said thunderous blasts and sporadic gunshots resonated across the city sending cold shivers down the spines of residents. Egbuniwe said loud explosions were heard near the Federal Polytechnic, Damaturu but the assailants were repelled by the police and men of the Joint Military Taskforce, JTF, in the state. On Thursday, June 21, students of the polytechnic had been asked to vacate the campus until further notice following a previous attack on the city. Last week’s attack came barely 24 hours after the state government relaxed an 18-hour curfew it had earlier imposed.
These incidents will appear to lend credence, even if prematurely, to the argument of those who have opined that the retired colonel may not necessarily hold the magical key to solving the Boko Haram conundrum. Dasuki whose uncle, Muhammad Abubakar III, is the current Sultan of Sokoto and head of the Islamic community in Nigeria is certainly well connected within the northern oligarchy by reasons of his birth and association.
He is believed to be an asset in government’s effort to curb the excesses of Boko Haram, a group that has claimed responsibility for the wanton bombings, leading to killings of people and destruction of property in many states of the North and Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, since 2009. The group is largely believed to have the tacit support of some northern elite who see it as the northern version of the Niger Delta militants.
Some analysts also see Dasuki’s appointment as a form of political compromise between President Goodluck Jonathan and some groups that had been opposed to his emergence first as PDP presidential standardbearer and later as President. Much as Dasuki’s royal background and social class may be an asset, there are those who also see it as an albatross in his current assignment. Garba Shehu, a media consultant and spokesperson for Atiku Abubakar, former vice president, is one of such persons. “If indeed, the appointment of Dasuki is an appeasement policy towards the North, then it may produce the direct opposite result,” Shehu said.
He is of the view that the Boko Haram terror movement is largely dominated by Kanuri people, despite the recruitment of volunteers from areas outside Borno and Yobe states. In view of this, he said, “the appointment of Dasuki as NSA simply ignored the historical rivalries between the Kanuris and the North-west or more directly, the Fulani hegemony.” The rivalry Shehu is referring to is traceable to the fact that the old Borno Empire, now made up largely of Borno and Yobe states and some parts of Republic of Niger, Cameroun and Chad Republic was never conquered by the Fulani jihadist movement. These areas, not only take pride in this fact of their history, but also the fact that they contacted Islam much earlier than the Hausa/Fulani currently occupying the area known as North-west geo-political region of Nigeria, Shehu said.
This background information therefore raises some fundamental questions: Can a scion of the Fulani royalty, even though a northerner cultivate the trust and confidence of the Kanuris against the background of these historical rivalries? Can a Fulani northern NSA conduct negotiations for disarmament with Boko Haram in the face of these historical rivalries? “This may be Dasuki’s biggest challenge,” says Shehu. He added that, “whatever theories may have developed around Dasuki’s appointment, the Kanuri factor in the appeasement policy should not be ignored. No confidence building strategy can succeed which ignores the undercurrents of historical rivalries between the Kanuris and the Hausa/Fulani of the North.”
As far as Shehu is concerned, the Kanuri people of the North-east geo-political zone also have credible retired military officers who could have been given the appointment. “Retired Major General Saleh Maina, former GOC, Third Armoured Corps in Jos and Major General Babagana Monguno, former commander of the Brigade of Guards, are among the officers the government could have appointed for the office of the national security adviser.” With such men, Shehu is of the view that the President Goodluck Jonathan administration may have achieved its aim more effectively since terror groups are known to feel more comfortable negotiating with persons they can trust.
Logical as this argument may sound, for some, Shehu’s views in this respect may simply be self-serving. Joseph Evah, coordinator of Ijaw National Congress, INC, is one of them. Evah argued that in the first place, President Goodluck Jonathan’s decision to replace Azazi with Dasuki was ill-advised. “Jonathan was wrongly advised. It is uncalled for; it is based on bad advice. By the action he took he has already exposed himself to danger. We are only praying to God Almighty to save his life,” he said. According to his conspiracy theory, the President’s decision to change his NSA was instigated by some northern power brokers who he argued are only out to build a ring around him for the purposes of getting him out of office.
It is possible to dismiss this as simplistic. But were it to happen it may yet spell dire consequences for the future of the country as various militant groups in the Niger Delta have threatened to stop crude oil production and blow-up all the pipelines if the President is forcefully removed, or seen to have been hounded out of office.
But Jonathan obviously does not see the removal of the two officials that way. As far as the President is concerned, Azazi and Haliru Bello, the immediate past minister of defence were relieved of their duties due to the need for the federal government to change its tactics in the fight against Boko Haram. “The interest of terrorists is to destabilise government. If they use one thing it doesn’t work, they want to use another thing. So you too will begin to change your personnel, change your style and change your strategy. I also thought it was time for some other hands to come in to do things slightly differently,” the President said. The President has even gone ahead to mandate the new NSA to ensure the end of bombings in the North before the beginning of the Ramadan – the Islamic holy month. Muslims are expected to fast during the period, which is likely to begin on July 20.
But Evah does not see Dasuki succeeding in the task of reining-in the Boko Haram insurgents. Whereas Evah is pessimistic, Gabriel Ajayi, a retired colonel and intelligence officer in the Nigerian Army is optimistic. Ajayi who has known the new NSA for not less than 30 years says Dasuki just like Azazi is competent for the job. He said both men were coursemates in the Nigerian Defence Academy, NDA, Regular Course 12 and were both artillery officers. As far as Ajayi is concerned, Azazi did his best as NSA but was only hampered by what he described as the Nigerian system. “The system did not allow Azazi to function. Azazi had a constraint. He came from the same place with the President. If he asserted so much they said he is the President’s brother. They would not be able to see Azazi as Azazi but as the President’s brother. Where he comes from would always be a factor in an assessment of the man. Because of where he comes from, there would be an element of distrust by some sections of the country,” Ajayi said.
This, as far as the retired intelligence officer is concerned, is perhaps the only factor that may separate Azazi from Dasuki as far as getting results in the fight against Boko Haram is concerned. Unlike Azazi, he says Dasuki is not likely to have the challenge of not being able to build trust with members of Boko Haram or other personnel involved in the fight against Boko Haram. “The Boko Haram people may find him a trustworthy person they can deal and discuss with. Trust is important in this kind of war. He will be able to bring that trust to that office unlike his predecessor whom they viewed with suspicion,” Ajayi said.
Ajayi’s assertions in this respect may already have started playing out. Last week Thursday, the NSA visited Yobe State where he met with religious and traditional leaders as well as Ibrahim Gaidam, the state governor. Speaking shortly after the meeting, Dasuki said, “When I went to Potiskum, I told the Mai Fika (traditional ruler of the town) that as royal fathers, they must take it as a challenge to reach out to our people who are responsible for this crisis.” He added that, “if there is a feeling of lack of trust, they cannot distrust the rulers because he will not betray them and I will not betray the traditional rulers. I am committed to this cause and whatever the agreement is, that is what I will implement.”
Gaidam on his part described Dasuki’s appointment as a clear sense of a new strategy in the fight against insecurity adding that this shows that there is hope. “There is an indication that our hope, pride and identity as citizens of this great country would be restored”, Gaidam said.
Such a development did not come as a surprise to Ajayi. He explained that Dasuki understands the psychology of his people better and he might not be a victim of blackmail like Azazi. Beyond that, Ajayi said, “I believe his father (the deposed Sultan) will be very handy in coming to his aid in that office for his success. Many people love him, so, Dasuki would get the support of a broad spectrum of the retired military officers or serving officers to make a success of that office. By now he must have been reaching out to those who matter on how to solve the problem because most of the retired senior officers are located in the various areas of crises and they are a very good resource to douse this tension.”
He described the new NSA as someone who was born into royalty but shunned the golden spoon to live a Spartan life in the military. Ajayi says Dasuki is “very brave and courageous. He was not an officer who could be pushed around. He is very simple and humble but very strict and firm, very sincere and honest. He has built a reservoir of enormous goodwill across this nation for a very long time. So he could tap from these connections to get the best for Nigeria.”
These attributes, he said, are some of the reasons Dasuki ran into problems with the administration of the late General Sani Abacha. He was accused of involvement in a phantom coup plot in 1995 and had to go on exile to the United States before quietly returning to the country during the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo. Upon his return to the country, Dasuki who holds a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations and Master of Arts in Security Policy Studies and had military trainings both locally and abroad was appointed managing director of the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company Limited.
As the NSA, Ajayi believes that the burden that Jonathan has laid on the shoulder of Dasuki is quite heavy. “It is not a burden that can be solved by qualification, experience, and knowledge. Dasuki is going to apply himself in an unorthodox way, not the normal book way of solving the problem. I expect to see him apply some unorthodox way to finding the solution. He fits the bill. He is conscientious, approachable and very simple”.
Ajayi said in approaching his new duty post, he would expect Dasuki to understand that anywhere this sort of insurgency exists there are hidden faces, those who beat the drums from behind. “These people (Boko Haram members) are like fish that swim in water, what to do is to dry the water and the fish is in trouble. As long as there is water for the fish to swim, it has no problem,” he said. What this means is that Dasuki must fish out the supporters and financiers of the insurgents and get them punished through appropriate legal means. This is one of the shortcomings of the Azazi era during which the presidency was made to give the initial impression that although it knew the faces behind Boko Haram, it was not prepared to expose them. The name of a former Borno State governor and that of a serving senator keep popping up in the media but the government seems unsure of the link between these politicians and the raving insurgents. Can the sponsors of the sect be exposed? Can Dasuki do it or get the President to do it?
Jeremiah Useni, a retired general and former minister of the Federal Capital Territory who is currently chairman, Board of Trustees, Arewa Consultative Forum had hinted that Boko Haram is a creation of the political leadership in the North. In an earlier interview with TELL, Useni said, “We took Boko Haram as child’s play, that is why it has grown to this level. It is the politicians who arm these youths because of politics and when elections are over what happens next? They are going to do something to fend for themselves.”
With such understanding, the job of the new NSA may have been made a little easier. Another advice that may help Dasuki succeed in his new assignment came from his father, Ibrahim the deposed Sultan of Sokoto. In an earlier interview with the magazine, the older Dasuki said the reason northern emirs have not been able to intervene in the process of solving the Boko Haram crisis is because they are being undermined. “There is always a rivalry between the emirs and the governors; there is an element of inferiority complex in the governors. It is the governor that signs for the emir to be appointed. But the emir is more influential with the people than the governor. So they find it difficult working with the emirs,” he said. Now that his son is the NSA, perhaps this scenario may be deliberately reversed with the traditional rulers getting more engaged in the process of resolving the Boko Haram challenge. The younger Dasuki may also get support from his former boss, Babangida who some believe is still influential in the politics of the North and indeed that of the nation.
As far as Ajayi is concerned, the solution to the Boko Haram challenge goes beyond the use of hard-hitting force. “This is a battle that has no frontline, no forward edge of battle area, has no start-line, no contact point, so it requires unorthodox means to fight an unorthodox battle. This battle cannot be fought conventionally. He will throw himself at this job and in the next few weeks you will start seeing results. That is the Dasuki I know,” Ajayi said.
But even if Dasuki succeeds, Shehu says this would still come at a cost. “His success may play into the hands of those who believe that northern leaders have blackmailed Jonathan into submission and that, with the security situation returning to normal, these northern leaders must have real connection to the terror groups. Col. Dasuki cannot run away from this scenario if it does happen in the end. It is a real Catch-22 situation for the former ADC to General Babangida,” Shehu said.
Additional reports by ANAYOCHUKWU AGBO, TAJUDEEN SULEIMAN and HELEN ENI