Remains of Azazi
Segun James, in Yenagoa, writes that Azazi had a blunt and activist side to his personality that was often at odds with his public persona
General Andrew Owoye Azazi was a military officer to the core. He was highly taciturn, and a man who chose his words carefully, knowing that every word carries weight and implication. It was not surprising when as the National Security Adviser to the President, during the South-south states economic forum in Asaba, he made bold to say that some elements within the ruling Peoples Democratic were behind the activities of the Boko Haram Islamic terrorist group.
That was the first time that the nation would be told the thinking of the federal government about the group that is fast becoming a scourge in the country. In fact, an alarmed Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, the host governor, had to run to him to complain and intimate him about the implication of his statement.
“That is your problem,” The General had returned. “You manage the political fallout. I have said mine.”
A Man of Few Words
The few public statements Azazi made on terrorism matters as the national security adviser tended to be cautious and nuanced. He appeared to prefer allowing the foreign ministry and the judiciary to make definitive statements to the public, which led some critics to allege that he had not been attentive to counterterrorism matters.
That was the quintessential Azazi, a soldier to the core and a man who brooked no nonsense. He was often misunderstood and sometimes misrepresented. This must have been the reason he hardly talked.
When Azazi was born in Peretorugbene, a community in the deep mangrove rain forests of the Niger Delta, on February 1, 1952, his parents might have assumed for him a life as a fisher-folk or at best, a teacher. This was the highest position most people in their immediate vicinity had ever attained. But at his death, Azazi was one of the nation’s most decorated military officers and the fastest rising general. He rose from Major General to Lieutenant General and, then, General, before leaving active service.
But as a child of destiny, he passed through primary and secondary schools so quickly that by the age of 16 he had graduated from the Government College, Bomadi, in flying colours. This was unusual for any village boy in those days.
Before long, he joined the Nigerian Defence Academy, Regular Combatant Cadet Course in 1972 as a 20-year-old. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant on December 14, 1974. At the end of the combined training, he won the bronze medal for coming first in Art subjects.
Azazy had served as Brigade Intelligence Officer, Divisional Intelligence Officer, and Colonel Coordination, Headquarters, Directorate of Military Intelligence. He was assistant Defence Attaché at the Embassy of Nigeria, Washington DC, United States, for three years. He served as a member of the Directing Staff of the Command and Staff College from where he was posted to Lagos Garrison Command as the Intelligence Officer and, subsequently, to the Directorate of Military Intelligence as Colonel Coordination. He was later posted to the Training and Doctrine Command as Colonel Research and Development and then Director of Training.
On graduation from the War College, he was appointed Colonel General Staff, 81 Division of the Nigerian Army, and later Deputy Chief of Defence Intelligence, Defence Intelligence Agency.
Azazi also served as a member of the Directing Staff of the National War College, Abuja, rising later to become its Principal Staff Officer Coordination. He was appointed Director of Military Intelligence in 2003.
He was appointed General Officer Commanding (GOC) 1 Division, Nigerian Army, in January 2005, and subsequently appointed Chief of Army Staff (COAS) in June 2006.
On August 20, 2008, then President Umaru Yar’Adua replaced Azazi with Paul Dike as Chief of Defence Staff and announced Azazi’s retirement from military service.
Azazi had for some time had one of the fastest growing military careers in the present day democratic Nigeria. Between May 2006 and June 2007 he had worn the ranks of Major General, Lieutenant General and General.
Appointment as NSA
On October 4, 2010 he was appointed National Security Adviser by President Goodluck Jonathan and put in charge of foreign contractors to benefit from the diplomatic Immunity Payment.
Azazi emerged from retirement to assume the NSA post. He inherited a range of challenges from armed groups, including the militant Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) in his native region and the rise of a new violent Islamist group, Boko Haram, which first emerged in 2009.
As NSA, Azazi worked with other countries, notably, African neighbours, European countries and the United States, towards developing a new security and counterterrorism strategy.
In contrast to his public persona, Azazi was reported to be aggressive behind the scenes. The State Security Service (SSS), which reported to Azazi, took what observers considered an unusual step in November 2011 by arresting a federal senator and charging him with aiding Boko Haram. The senator, Mohammed Ali Ndume, had switched political affiliations to become a member of Jonathan’s own party, PDP.
After Ndume’s arrest, a federal court in December 2011 ordered his detention in expectation of a trial in the next year.
Since retirement, Azazi had been frequenting his home state of Bayelsa where he never served during his days as a soldier and political appointee. Because of his commitment to the state and the people, Azazi accepted to be the chairman of the post-flood management committee set up by Governor Seriake Dickson.
The former NSA was to be announced the chairman of the Bayelsa Development Corporation, an investment development agency set up by the state government to drive the development goals of the state, when he died in a helicopter crash at Okoroba, Bayelsa State, on December 15.