Late General Azazi
By Michael Awe who worked with the late National Security Adviser as a media consultant
Life is good but death is inevitable. Opulence is desirable but good health and longevity are divine gifts. That is why the Holy Bible states in Psalm 39: 5, 6 & 11 that: “Indeed You have made my days as handbredths, and my age is as nothing before You; certainly every man at his best state is but a vapour. Surely every man walks about like a shadow; surely they busy themselves in vain; he heaps up riches, and does not know who will gather them. ...You make his beauty melt away like a moth; surely every man is vapour.” (NKJV).
It is in confirmation and conformity with this truth that many people die in fearsome and tragic circumstances that reflect quick disappearance of vapour into the air. Hence, death is an irretrievable loss of human lives just like vapour cannot be retrieved from the air. The fact remains that no tragic event is ever anticipated or welcomed; but one of the most shocking of such bad occurrences in 2012 was the air mishap that claimed the lives of immediate-past National Security Adviser General Andrew Owoye Azazi, amiable Kaduna State Governor Patrick Ibrahim Yakowa and four others on Saturday, December 22, 2012 in Bayelsa home state of Azazi.
Azazi’s death, like that of Yakowa or any other tragic incident, still remains a nightmare especially to those who are close to him through official and personal relationships. He was a complete gentleman. He related very warmly with people not on account of their status or the level of intimacy with him but as a lifestyle. He treated and addressed people with humility, respect and candour.
He was a congenial person to work with. Azazi had never for once made his staff or subordinates felt that he was the boss but a team leader. Even as a topmost army officer when he was Chief of Army Staff, those who knew him intimately maintained that he was “very civil and fair minded in all his dealings...too gentlemanly that some people could not believe that we still have his ilk in the military.”
Azazi’s disposition to issues had never been hinged on any other factor than merits and facts; unlike some other ‘big bosses’ whose mood often dictate their reactions. He was a good listener and a meticulous decision-maker. Regardless of who was offering an idea, the late army general usually respected, accepted and applied superior views, arguments and ideas. He enjoyed engaging his aides in sound intellectual debate as a norm towards taking feasible and defensible decisions.
Azazi was very desirous of good governance, peace and credible public administration while in office as the NSA that he willingly offered help and co-operation to a few MDAs not only in the area of security but in some ways of enhancing their operations. Information Minister Labaran Maku had in a live telecast in January 2012 acknowledged this co-operation offered to his ministry by the office of the NSA.
Poor information management was a major but often ignored problem of government. Azazi believed that if your employers (Nigerian people) are not getting the correct assessment of your performance, it would give them the reason to give your tenure a poor rating. This, he believed had been the major channel often appropriated for misinforming the public and blackmailing the government. Hence, Azazi nurtured a robust relationship with the media through which occasional interactive sessions were held with media executives.
Azazi changed the cult-like administration of national security. He believed that Nigerians should be adequately and regularly informed about their security situation; whereas withholding information for too long often encourage foreign media to inundate Nigerians with distorted facts of security stories. Consequently, Nigerians were already insinuating that those manning their security administration were either incompetent or compromised.
He was a patriot of the highest order. He would stop at nothing to defend the corporate interest and integrity of Nigeria whenever the need arose. One of such instances was when the United States alerted its citizens, nay, Nigerians that some designated spots and hotels had been marked for attack by a terrorist group. Hours after the announcement, Abuja, indeed, most parts of Nigeria were tensely struck with fear as vocal Nigerians were asking what the security chiefs were doing if information like this could elude their notice.
Azazi was miffed not at the piece of information but at the needless sensation and panic the announcement generated. Explaining to some media executives at an interactive session barely a week after, he said the information was not new. “We had been on top this situation since we got wind of this plot. In fact, we alerted our security collaborators and the management of the facilities concerned to step up security checks and surveillance. Thus we moved security personnel into the marked areas to void the plot.
“But when we asked the US officials (after the announcement) if there was any development on this information other than what we already know, they said none. But in the US, security alerts flow in torrents per minutes yet they won’t send such panicky alerts to their public. All you will notice is the swarming presence of security agents, gadgets and dogs within the affected areas. They won’t throw their people into needless panic or fear like they often do to us.” The beauty of it was that the US officials did not only apologise but also reversed the statement less than 48 hours later.
The perennial bombing of public and worship edifices and movie-like killing of innocent people by an extremist Islamic terror group, Boko Haram, characterised most of General Azazi’s tenure in office as NSA. In fact, the activities of the ruthless sect eventually led to his removal and a few others from office. Explaining the reason for his abrupt sack, President Goodluck Jonathan said Azazi and others had been quite efficient at fighting the terror upsurge, but their removal was a way of responding to the security challenge as a change of government’s tactics.
While maintaining the norm of working behind the scene to ensure adequate security, his prognostic approach to information flow with astute military intelligence had been the pivot upon which the national security network had been sustained. He supported the idea of dialogue with the sect leaders. He strongly believed that government could use the ‘carrot and stick’ method. While dialoguing with the terror group, military force would be used to counter its insurgency. “We will not fold our arms because we are discussing with Boko Haram and allow them to keep killing people. We will of course repel and foil their planned onslaught, burst their hideouts and arrest their members while still appealing to them to embrace dialogue,” Azazi had said at another parley.
In proffering solution to the security challenge, Azazi was a proponent of state police option. I’m not sure if he ever made this public but he believed the tendency for abuse of the process by state chief executives could be taken care of with the provisions of the law. He also had a feasible idea on how to achieve effective policing. Meanwhile, Azazi had embarked on a strategic overhauling of national security network through which enhanced security system would be put in place. This laudable project, for which he desired to be remembered as NSA, could not be nurtured into fruition unfortunately because he didn’t stay long enough in office.
His Asaba (Delta State) statement, which traced the unabated upsurge of terror attacks in the country to the conflict of political interests in the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, was typical of Azazi’s candour. Even when I told him that President Jonathan seemed not to be on the same page with him over his statement, he said “I can’t join issues with Mr. President. He’s my Commander-in-Chief. I have simply expressed my mind and those concerned know very well what I’m talking about.”
Azazi’s life after his tenure of office was that of rest; this was evident in his fresh look. Also, he had more time for his family and private business. In August 30, 2012, he celebrated the wedding of one of his children in Lagos. The joyful event took place a few days after an on-line publication alleged that he bought a choice property in Abuja at a very costly amount. He wasn’t perturbed as he asked the authors to forward the details of their findings to any anti-graft agency. Unknown to many people, Azazi went into real estate business immediately after his retirement as Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) in August 2008. In fact, he was on his way to the airport on a business trip to the United States in October 2010 when President Jonathan invited him for the NSA job. He usually reacted to such spurious allegations with witty anecdotes, believing that cheap blackmail was a burden of leadership or success in our nebulous society.
As NSA, his duty primarily was to advise the President on security matters based on facts of information and intelligence reports at his disposal. While his office co-operate with that of the Inspector General of Police and other service chiefs, NSA’s office directly supervises the State Security Service, SSS, and the National Intelligence Agency, NIA. A very brilliant and consummate intelligence army chief, Azazi had for some time had one of the fastest growing military careers in the history of present day democratic Nigeria. Between May 2006 and June 2007, the late general had been decorated with the ranks of Major General, Lieutenant General and General.
Many of those who called or sent sms to express grief at his sudden exit described him as a “great man.” His ilks are few among the top echelon of the society. He had seen it all but not blinded by the spoils of office. He was philosophical about life; hence he said to me: “Whenever I was in a convoy with siren blaring ahead of us, I often asked myself ‘is this what life all about?’ Of course not. I see opulence and power as ephemeral and I was never excited about them. Though it was a privilege for me to experience this for a little while, making the best of every opportunity for humanity is enough satisfaction for me because I know there is more to life than all these.” This was the personal creed of General Azazi and he lived a noble life spurred by contentment, service to humanity and fear of God. Good night Azazi the Great.
• Awe wrote through: email@example.com