Growing up in old Kano State in the 1970s, one of the many virtues instilled in me by my grandfather of blessed memory was the sanctity of teamwork to achieve collective results. He would always remind me and my siblings that united we stand, divided we fall.
Seeing the altercation (permit me to describe it as that) between the Chief of Staff to the President, Malam Abba Kyari, and the National Security Adviser (NSA), Major-General Babagana Monguno, and knowing the things I very well do, one is amazed that one man’s gross inability to do his work properly is fast threatening cohesion in the highest echelon of the nation’s security apparatus, thereby rubbishing the unprecedented gains recorded by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration in the war against terrorism and insurgency.
In the course of my career as a journalist, I have come across Malam Abba Kyari, and have once written on these pages about his penchant for teamwork, and using that to achieve great results. He is also a man possessing unalloyed loyalty to his friends and bosses alike. In a similar vein, though I have never met Major-General Monguno, I have under-studied the man since his appointment as NSA, trying for years to figure out his personality, especially why, under his watch, the negatives are threatening to outweigh the positives.
I also have the good fortune of encountering at least one NSA, and saw first-hand how he leveraged on relationships to crack some of the most difficult security situations of the time. Permit me to cite this important example to drive home the point I am trying to make.
Almost eight years ago, I was very busy in my office as a title editor of one of the national newspapers when I got a call from a strange number. I picked rather reluctantly, and the caller introduced himself as General Andrew Azazi, the NSA of the time. The date was Wednesday, May 9, 2012.
My heart sank a bit! Why in this world was the NSA calling me at this time of the day? I asked myself. But he was direct and straight to the point: “Editor,” he said, “I have informed your MD that I want to see you in my office. How soon could you make it?” It was then my turn to ask the question, and I asked whether something was wrong, but the General assured me that nothing was amiss. I told him it was the heat of production when every editor worth the name could hardly venture out of the newsroom. I, therefore, sought for an appointment for the next day, which he obliged.
At the scheduled time the following day, I realised I was not the only editor invited to the meeting. There were three others, all of them of northern origin serving as title editors of different, prominent national newspapers. After the exchange of pleasantries, the General welcomed us and said he called us to seek a partnership with us individually and collectively, knowing that, since we hailed from the North, it was possible that we knew more than the intelligence services did, about the inner workings of Boko Haram, the terror group that was just spreading its tentacles beyond Borno State. Three months earlier, the group had launched into Kano with coordinated bomb attacks that cost tens of innocent lives. And security reports were indicative of the fact that the group’s ambition was to take over the entire geographical space called northern Nigeria and convert it to a caliphate under its brutal rule.
Just when we were wondering whether the man was up to some mischief, Azazi made himself clearer, saying he was not in the least accusing us of having a hand in the activities of Boko Haram but that, since we were also purveyors of information, there could be pieces that they in the intelligence services could have missed but which could be very significant in the unraveling of some of the activities of the terror group. We rose from that meeting, assuring the NSA that we were going to do our best for him.
A few days later, Abu Qaqa, the spokesman of Boko Haram, called me on phone and issued all kinds of threats, directing me to stop describing members of the group as terrorists. It was the first of many calls to be made by Qaqa, before he was killed by the army at a checkpoint along Kano Western Bypass. But each time I received such calls, I would always inform Azazi, and he would later call to tell me the location of the caller. Other colleagues that attended the meeting were also contributing in their own way, and we collectively helped in no small way in the counter-insurgency efforts of that time.
Up to the time Azazi was strangely removed as NSA by President Goodluck Jonathan, he was always in contact with us, and we were always obliging him with very sensitive information on national security. I maintained a deep personal relationship with the man, up to December 15, 2012, when he died along with Governor Patrick Yakowa of Kaduna State in a naval helicopter crash in Okoroba village of Bayelsa State, while on their way back to Port Harcourt airport, from the funeral of the father of Chief Oronto Douglas, a prominent presidential aide of the time.
I did not have even one minute’s relationship with Colonel Sambo Dasuki throughout the time he served as NSA, but even then, the man was smart enough to engage many journalist colleagues, though I am not in a position to assess the impact of that collaboration, more so in the light of the financial scandal that trailed his tenure.
So, when Buhari became President, with a promise to deal with terrorism and insurgency, and appointed Major-General Monguno as NSA, one expected the man to also engage the media and civil society in the fight. Sadly, he chose to go it alone.
I served at the highest level in the profession of journalism in Nigeria, becoming the deputy president of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, a position I voluntarily relinquished nine months ago. With that position, I became the highest ranking editor in northern Nigeria. But not even for one moment did Monguno look for me or seek my guidance or assistance on anything. Of course, it was not compulsory that he had to relate with me as a person, but I have since found out that he also did not care to seek any of our colleagues, either from the North or the South. In matters to do with the media, he was said to be dealing with someone who knew next to nobody in the top echelon of the profession.
A major part of the responsibilities of the NSA is media engagement, to ensure the government of the day, as much as possible, receives good mention in the press, as constant bashing by the media is deemed to have potential for distracting the country’s President and his team.
To the best of my knowledge, the current NSA has failed woefully in that direction. Little surprise, therefore, that the Buhari Administration, a government that was voted on the crest of deep popularity, is presently receiving some of the worst bashing in the history of the Nigerian media.
Courtesy of Monguno, reporters and editors are more often than not left to speculate on matters of security, as there was no coordination on the part of the NSA to supply needed information that will facilitate support for government’s efforts against terrorism and insurgency, especially on the part of the media and civil society organisations.
If there was one NSA that did his best in media coordination, it was Dasuki, even if, as I said, some of us played no role whatsoever. Of course, that doesn’t matter since he was able to make some success out of it. It was to his credit that spokespersons of all security organisations were composed in a major committee that was meeting every day to appraise the situation and issue press statements, giving updates to Nigerians about the security situation in the country.
Obviously, one of the key reasons President Buhari appointed General Monguno as NSA was because, having hailed from Borno State, the man had deep knowledge of Boko Haram and its inner workings, including those who still shield Boko Haram members in Maiduguri, the birthplace of the terror group.
Though the Chief of Army Staff is also from Borno State, a major responsibility of the NSA is intelligence gathering, and, to those who know, one of the major reasons why the terrorists are intensifying their attacks of late has to do with the failure of the NSA to ensure credible intelligence gathering that would have helped the armed forces crush them totally.
Unfortunately, the man is mostly busy picking needless fights with the service chiefs that he was suppose to work in full harmony with. He was always happy writing memos and issuing directives, and calling the service chiefs to meetings even when they were busy fighting alongside the troops in the theatre of war. When they sent representatives, the man would feel offended. In no time, he lost it all, seeing everyone as an enemy. To make matters worse, widespread allegations were made that the NSA, rather than helping the service chiefs, was busy sponsoring negative propaganda against some of them.
With too much distraction occasioned by poor handling of national security by the NSA, it was little surprising that setbacks started manifesting in the war against terror and insurgency. It was at that instance, when the whole inaction was getting too much, and sensing that the administration in which he was a key part was being rubbished, that the Chief of Staff to the President started intervening.
Now, if, as the NSA said in a leaked memo that has since gone viral, Chief of Staff Abba Kyari was not a trained security expert whose brief included national security, and that he had no reason having anything to do with security management, what of President Buhari who rose to the high rank of Major-General of the Nigerian Army, and is now Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria? If Monguno could not properly coordinate national security, did he expect everyone to fold their arms and allow the country to be endangered?
In my over two decades of career as a journalist, I have resigned my jobs in situations where I felt I could no longer fit in properly. Rather than destroy the system or throw the baby with the bath water, it is better one takes his leave and try one’s luck elsewhere. Sadly, with all due respect to the man, it may not aggregate to an exaggeration to say Monguno’s main interest is the high, sensitive office he occupies, not the work expected of that office.
If the NSA cannot work in peace and harmony with all his colleagues at the highest levels of our national security, and is more interested in needless ego fights, would it amount to asking for too much if he is asked to resign to allow a more competent person to take over as NSA?
Surely Nigeria cannot continue to be endangered because of the antics of one man.
Bayelsa: Archbishop Winning Willy Bunting as the man who saw tomorrow
I knew him only 24 days ago, but he remains one Nigerian I hold in the highest esteem. His name is Commanding Archbishop Winning Willy, an Ijawman of Bayelsa origin, a true man of God whose prophesies have always come to pass. But then he is publicity shy, the very reason he may not be a household name across Nigeria.
In 2012, Hon. Seriake Dickson was contesting for the governorship of Bayelsa State for the first time. He was a member of the House of Representatives at the time, and I was editing a national newspaper. It so happened that my group politics editor, a fine guy called Francis Agbo, was very close to Dickson, and he sought my support to promote the man free of charge, convincing me of Dickson’s agenda aimed at lifting tens of thousands of the people of Bayelsa out of poverty.
The people of the state, which prides itself as the glory of all lands, supported Dickson, and he won the election handsomely to become the fourth democratically elected governor of the state. I did not seek Dickson until three years later, in August 2015, when he hosted the Nigerian Guild of Editors to its annual conference in Yenagoa, the state capital. After the conference, I kept my distance, and there was no communication between me and the immediate past governor of Bayelsa State, until a few days to his handover of power, having rounded off two consecutive terms of four years each.
I was in the residence of a good friend, another illustrious son of Bayelsa, when he announced to me that a great man of God was visiting him the following day, and that I should strive to be around to meet the man. Though I am a Muslim, I readily welcomed the idea, and off to the residence of my friend I went, at the appointed time the following day.
Less than 10 minutes after, Commanding Archbishop Winning settled down in my friend’s sitting room, he asked whether I knew Senator Duoye Diri, the person who contested the governorship election under the PDP in November last year. I answered in the negative. He then asked whether I would be interested in meeting the man who would be sworn in as Governor of Bayelsa State on February 14 instantly. I corrected him by saying that the man that would be sworn in was Chief David Lyon, but the man of God interjected by telling me Lyon was not going to be governor; that he saw the crown well settled on the head of Duoye Diri. I found the whole thing very strange.
Less than an hour later, we were in the residence of Senator Diri. We met him all alone with his wife and son. I was introduced by the archbishop as a journalist and a friend. After a brief prayer session, the man asked Senator Diri to fully get set to succeed Hon. Seriake Dickson.
In my life, I have heard all sorts of prophesies, with most of them failing to come to pass. And, in my heart, I thought that this man oozing decency and integrity at their highest was taking a big risk, as February 14 was only a few days away.
From that day, however, I became quite close to Senator Diri, so much so that I also took the risk of predicting his victory in the Supreme Court, in this column of January 31, 2020. I wrote as follows:
“Whereas the PDP is complaining of injustice, it is very possible they will benefit from a future pronouncement of the same Supreme Court, in respect of its candidate in Bayelsa State that was unjustly edged out. That was an election that is openly known to have been marred with irregularities…”
I wrote these lines on the strength of my meeting with Archbishop Winning only three days earlier. Within a few days, I came to find in Senator Diri a man of unimpeachable integrity, of deep intellect, a man who has a clear vision and is also desirous of lifting the state to unprecedented, higher realms. Owing to my friendship with Senator Diri, I became like a family member, meeting with him every day and discussing his case at the Supreme Court.
Senator Diri clearly had a very solid case, but then this was Nigeria, and Diri’s opponent was a member of the political party ruling at the centre. So, for me and many other supporters of the senator, we were only at best cautiously optimistic.
But whenever we tried giving vent to despair, Archbishop Winning would whip us back into line, insisting Diri, not Lyon, was going to be the next governor.
Then the D-Day came. And off to the Supreme Court we went. And when the judges took a long break after hearing arguments from lawyers of both sides, I sent a note to the Commanding Archbishop expressing fear that Diri was going to lose. But he replied immediately insisting the senator was going to win. And he won. Justice took its course when the apex court found that the running mate to Lyon was engaging in unwholesome practices with his name.
I learnt that as far back as days to the PDP primary election in Bayelsa, Archbishop Winning had predicted Senator Diri’s victory, and also went on to add that the man was going to take over from Dickson as governor. All that has now come to pass. And what is more, the man of God is not a politician. He only says it as it truly is. He doesn’t manipulate any vision, as some are won’t to do.
With Diri now as governor, better days are assuredly ahead for the whole of Bayelsa.