By Simon Komolafe
President Muhammadu Buhari’s government is seriously challenged. That is the truth and nothing but the truth. We can choose to play the Ostrich and sink our heads deep in the sand but then our nakedness is obvious from the back. The impression I am getting is that the factionalisation, or is it the fractionalisation, of Aso Rock has become so deep that except something drastic is done now, the damage may last even beyond the life of this administration. In my young life, I have never seen a Nigerian government so openly divided against itself as this one. This is ironic because Buhari is assumed to be a strong leader, at least as a man with military background.
I will ignore the miscommunication that often comes out of the mouths of the various government spokespersons because, even though it is dangerous, I am able to admit that these things happen in life. The mismanagement of information on the health of the president is so chaotic I would be tempted to classify it as a national security threat but I will still resist any such temptation for now. We have been through this before, specifically in 2009 when President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua fell terminally ill and the nation went into a meltdown before commonsense prevailed. The president’s illness has been better managed this time around, but it still leaves much to be desired.
My prayer for Buhari is that God will quicken his recovery so that he can be back on his feet again. But even before he fell ill, his government was already in disarray before his very eyes. My focus today will be on his security team. It is an open secret that his men are fighting each other and trying to outdo each other, but the most shocking thing, I would say, is that Buhari has not called them to order. Calling them to order is not just about telling them off at a meeting — it could mean sending some of his appointees packing. We are talking about state security here, not personal security or even State House security.
We were recently treated to the spectacle of the Department of State Services (DSS) opposing the nomination of Magu as the EFCC chairman. Magu was nominated by the president. The DSS, which reports to the president, wrote to the National Assembly asking that Magu should not be confirmed because of integrity issues. I could not imagine President Goodluck Jonathan nominating Mallam Ibrahim Lamorde as EFCC chairman and Mr. Ita Ekpeyong, his DSS DG, asking the senate not to confirm him. Or President Olusegun Obasanjo’s nomination of Mallam Nuhu Ribadu being opposed by Col. Kayode Are, his DSS DG. Something has fallen apart in this government.
If anyone is still in doubt that Buhari’s government is internally challenged, the recent raid on a “safe house” of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) should provide the biggest evidence so far. From what we have heard so far, the NIA director-general, Ambassador Ayo Oke, rushed to the office of the EFCC chairman, Mr. Ibrahim Magu, asking him to abort the operation on the Ikoyi apartment. He was said to have told Magu the circumstances surrounding the “safe house” but his entreaties failed. We are still waiting to be told how much Buhari knew about the warehoused funds and the “clandestine” projects.
It is no secret in government circles that Mr. Lawan Daura, the DSS DG, and Maj. Gen. Babagana Monguno (rtd), the national security adviser, barely see eye-to-eye. There are essentially two factions, and those who don’t belong to either camp are often caught in the crossfire. Monguno and Magu are aligned. It is understood that it was Monguno that recommended Magu to be EFCC chairman. The second divide is of Lawan and the army chief, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai. In the Lawan corner, it is believed that all negative media reports about the chief of staff, Mallam Abba Kyari, Buratai, and Lawan himself are orchestrated from the Monguno-Magu axis.
The irony of ironies, though, is that Monguno, Magu, Kyari and Buratai are all from Borno state. Can you believe it? They are all Muslims. They also speak Hausa as lingua franca. Going by the way we normally analyse issues of ethnicity and religion in Nigeria, these men should ordinarily be the tightest of friends and colleagues. They should naturally have a sense of unity. When they are in the same room, they should be able to talk some sense to each other. Buhari, who is half Fulani and half Kanuri and would be considered their kith and kin, should also be able to get these grown men to bury their egos and work together. Yet this sore has been festering for so long.
The ordinary Nigerian may not know the implications of this in-fighting. How can the heads of security agencies not be on speaking terms? Someone said there is also rivalry between CIA and FBI in America, and there is nothing strange about what is happening in Nigeria. This is a mistake. The CIA/FBI case is an institutional rivalry, often over areas of jurisdiction. What we are witnessing in Nigeria is a clash of egos. It has nothing to do with jurisdiction or national security. We just have top officials in Buhari’s team who despise each other so much they cannot bring themselves to be under the same roof. And the tragedy is that all this is happening with Buhari doing nothing.
The NIA issue perfectly illustrates the consequences of this discord in Buhari’s security team. Monguno, as national security adviser, is the chief co-ordinator of all security agencies. Security reports should go through him to the president. In truth, that is not the situation on ground. Also, before any major raid or search is conducted by a security agency, the NSA should be in the know. From what we were told, Oke briefed Monguno (in writing) on the “clandestine” projects NIA is undertaking in various parts of the country. Oke also reportedly briefed Monguno on the amount of cash in its possession for the completion of these projects.
If the information is accurate, did the EFCC conduct a raid on NIA’s property without pre-informing the NSA? If Magu indeed pre-informed Monguno, did he still give Magu the go-ahead to raid the “safe house” despite being aware that it is NIA’s? Would he do that? On the other hand, could it be that there is suspicion that the NIA funds, which were released by former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015, were really meant for the elections and the Ikoyi recoveries were the leftovers? There is a precedent after all — didn’t some of the funds meant for Boko Haram operations end up in the PDP presidential campaign? Is that why the apartment was raided? Questions gallore!
The Osinbajo panel must tell Nigerians the truth and the whole truth about the Ikoyi affair. There are too many questions and insinuations that cannot be swept under the carpet. I understand that the sensitive nature of intelligence operations may make things a bit difficult for us. There are several details that cannot be made public in order not to compromise what is supposed to be a covert operation. However, we deserve to know the non-sensitive bits. I am particularly interested in how much of this fiasco was caused by the in-fighting in Buhari’s security department. This may be doing a grievous damage to Nigeria’s security architecture.
Again, I pray for Buhari’s speedy recovery. But shaking up his security team — and even his cabinet — should be his priority when he resumes work. Nigeria is a country of 180 million people and he cannot allow our security and welfare to be toyed with because some big egos are clashing. This has gone on for too long. It is either Buhari calls them to order by reading them the Riot Act or he overhauls his team in favour of those who are ready to put the lives of Nigerians above every other consideration. As for the Ikoyi billions, I eagerly await how the government will come out of this self-inflicted embarrassment. Dicey.