MONGUNO AS CONSCIENCE OF THE NATION

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Jackson Ugbechie urges the relevant authorities concerned with security issues to listen to the national security adviser

The National Security Adviser (NSA), Babagana Monguno, a retired Major General, has been a subject of deprecation by a few Nigerians. But to many others, the urbane NSA is the archetypal conscience of the nation, the voice of the people and a patriotic public servant who chose to act when others were numbed to morbid silence borne out of selective amnesia.

The subject matter was a recent chat he had with BBC Hausa Service in which he was quoted to have lamented the inability of Nigerian troops to contain insurgency due largely to inadequate arms and ammunition and other requisite military hardware. The BBC report had alluded that Monguno referenced misappropriated funds by former service chiefs.

But in a swift reaction, the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) issued an explainer and rebuttal, saying the NSA was quoted out of context. The statement explained that the NSA did not categorically say that funds meant for arms procurement were missing under the former Service Chiefs. Rather, the NSA only reiterated the federal government’s commitment to deal decisively with insecurity and stressed President Muhammadu Buhari’s continued commitment to provide all necessary support to the Armed Forces, including the provision of arms and equipment.

The ONSA also said that the NSA made it clear that Mr President has “provided enormous resources for arms procurement, but the orders were either inadequate or yet to be delivered and that did not imply that the funds were misappropriated under the former Service Chiefs.”

The NSA, according to the statement, also said that Mr President is following up on the procurement process as is usual with contracts relating to military equipment. The ONSA reiterated the position of Monguno that questions relating to Defence procurement should be channelled to the Ministry of Defence. This piece is not to apportion blame to Monguno or the ex-service chiefs. Rather, it’s to alert the nation to the synopsis and prognosis of the nation’s security which has made it difficult to defeat Boko Haram. It’s now too obvious that certain things are skewed within the military which are out of sync with modern techniques of combatting terror and allied crimes.

If we recall that the same Monguno had in February, last year, raised the alarm about an insidious misnomer in which former Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari practically usurped his duty as NSA and was holding security meetings with service chiefs; If we also recall that an unprecedented number of soldiers had applied to quit the army in a record mass resignation, then we’ll begin to get the picture of a beleaguered Nigerian military.

Any perceptive mind would see a pattern in the NSA saga. When he mustered the courage to blow the whistle on the late Abba Kyari’s amity with the service chiefs, he came under heavy media attacks, which as is now clear, were sponsored darts at his person. Yet, the subject matter of his concern – insurgency – is getting worse. More Nigerians are being killed. Students are being abducted right from schools at dizzying frequencies. Commuters are ambushed and abducted with abandon on highways and byways. The state of insecurity is getting messier and this hurts the socio-economic life of the nation. Yet, they don’t want the matter to be addressed or even get a mention. But it’s no longer the NSA that is showing concern. Other Nigerians of repute have found their voice and the courage to speak and ask questions on why insurgency has remained intractable.

Last year, in the wake of reported mass resignation, the House of Representatives resolved to investigate why about 365 soldiers from the Nigerian Army alone had applied for resignation. This resolution was sequel to a unanimous adoption of a motion of Matters of Urgent Public Importance by the Chief Whip of the House, Mohammed Monguno (APC-Borno), at the plenary.

Representative Monguno said that on June 22, 2020, a lance corporal in the Nigerian Army, Martin Idakpeni, in a video circulated on social media condemned the attitude of the then Chief of Army Staff towards the attacks and killings of innocent Nigerians and soldiers.

The lawmaker said that Idakpeni’s complaint bordered on untold hardship soldiers face while conducting combat operations in the north east. Rep Monguno on the floor of the House said that there had been cases of mutiny resulting in sporadic shootings and attempted lynching of senior officers by junior officers all because of low morale and frustration.

The lawmaker cited the case of Maj.-Gen. Olusegun Adeniyi, commander of Operation Lafiya Dole, Nigeria‘s Counter-Terrorism team, who was removed for his audacity in exposing the inferior fire power of the Nigerian military. Rep. Monguno also recalled the case of the General Officer Commanding 7 Division of the Nigeria Army in Maimalari, Major General Victor Ezegwu, who escaped being lynched by angry soldiers for leaving them with neither food nor water while fighting insurgents for two days.

There were several viral videos made by soldiers to voice their displeasure and apparent neglect as they battle in the frontline of the insurgency war. All of this should bother Nigerians. They are further expressed in the growing gyre of insecurity in a manner never before witnessed. Even President Buhari last year said he was shocked at the resilience of the Boko Haram terrorists whom at the early stage of his administration, he claimed had been technically defeated. This is the context in which Nigerians should consider the concerns of the NSA as a call to duty and the expressions of a patriot who wants to win both the battle and the war against terror.

Besides, the NSA is the typical professional intelligence officer. Never garrulous, never showy. He operates from the shadow, unobtrusive. Effective intelligence officers have this hallmark. They don’t throw themselves at the people. They’re self-effacing, taciturn and ghostly. Their strength is in their diffidence. Their taciturnity helps build a mystique around them. An effective intelligence officer is the one that rarely speaks. Monguno is in this category. Therefore, if for any reason, a Monguno as NSA voices his concern on an issue, it must be taken seriously.

Strangely, the guilty are already fawning in the media. They say that the NSA should not be visible in the media; that persons who occupy such positions ought to remain taciturn. Yes, I concur. But that’s only under normal circumstances. The circumstances we are dealing with are not normal. The level of insecurity in the country is both unprecedented and unbearable. The times are not normal and at such a time of acute uncertainty, someone has got to point the leadership to the flaws that have stymied and weakened national security. That’s exactly what the NSA has done: Alert the nation to the fact that whether as a whole-of-government or a whole-of-society approach, ensuring national security is a serious business which requires the input of all stakeholders including the media and the civil society.

Rather than vilify the NSA, the relevant authorities involved in the nation’s security architecture must self-examine their operations. All actors must act within the limits of their powers as prescribed by law. When a usually reticent Babagana Monguno breaks out from his shell to voice a concern, it can only be driven by patriotism and a genuine concern to save the nation from further danger. We must listen to him.

Ugbechie, public policy commentator, wrote from Lagos