29 June 2012

Nigeria: Task Before NSA Sambo Dasuki

A week ago today, President Goodluck Jonathan announced the sacking of General Andrew Owoeye Azazi from the post of National Security Adviser (NSA). He also relieved Dr Bello Haliru Mohammed of his cabinet position of Minster of Defence.

In the same announcement, retired army colonel, Alhaji Sambo Dasuki, was named as the new NSA to replace Azazi; Dr Mohammed's replacement is yet to be nominated.

The changes at the top hierarchy of the nation's security apparatus come at a time of serious security challenges in the country. Sambo Dasuki has his work cut out for him.

The Boko Haram challenge is perhaps, in political terms, the greatest single threat to the corporate existence of the country. Since 2009, the sect's nascent opposition to constituted authority has metamorphosed into a raging insurgency that has got the international community alarmed at the prospect of Nigeria becoming a haven for terrorist activities. Only earlier this week, the U.S. State Department labelled three prominent members of Boko Haram as terrorists. The ramifications of such a classification for the country and Nigerians in general are immense. But the Boko Haram menace is by no means the only one that threatens internal harmony among Nigerians and also puts a wedge in the relationship between Nigeria and other countries.

The crime of kidnapping for ransom in mostly southern parts of the country is still a festering issue, and seems to defy official attempts to put an end to it. The problem is especially endemic in the Niger Delta region, where the principal motive is extortion. In some cases, the victims end up dead, even after ransom is paid.

Armed robbery is another serious security issue in the country. Of recent, the security breaches involved in armed robbery operations have been misleadingly conflated with Boko Haram activities, sometimes presenting a false picture of the actual threat that the sect posed in given states, particularly in the North.

Perhaps the greatest area of criminal activity is in illegal oil bunkering, in which the country has continued to haemorrhage from massive thefts of crude oil. The concentration of these activities, not surprisingly, is in the oil-producing areas of the Niger Delta region.

The oil majors, including Shell, have reported astonishingly high levels of criminal thefts of Nigeria's crude. Some estimates put the level at about 400,000 barrels of crude being stolen each day.

The import of these revelations is that despite the presence, individually of the nation's security services and, jointly in concert through the military Joint Task Force that operate principally to deter such thefts, thieves brazenly still manage to corner , sell and earn billions of dollars annually in probable collusion with the security services. Put in perspectives therefore, the challenges that Sambo Dasuki faces are enormous and multifaceted, in the economic and political spheres, and not limited to the bloody conduct of Boko Haram.

Dasuki would do well to acquaint himself with the complexity of the Nigerian society and the conditions that make the emergence of such anti-social activities possible and prosper. There are problems that have roots in politics, others in social deprivations. Most of them however are purely criminal acts. Each will require a different remedy; understanding their genesis would make appropriate remedies easier to fashion.

Dasuki should also learn from Azazi's mistakes, chief of which was the provincial attitude he brought in applying himself to his duty as NSA. During his tenure, Azazi's outlook and reach was limited, seen at meetings and attending to security matters only if the venue was in the South-South. He cultivated and fostered a sense that the security problem is a case of the rest of the country versus the North, elevating the Boko Haram as the principal, if not the only threat to the Jonathan presidency by loosely named 'northern politicians and retired generals'.

There is no record that Azazi ever went to flashpoints in the North, particularly Damaturu in Yobe State and Maiduguri, Borno State, since the spate of bombings began there some two years ago to see things for himself and at least have a firsthand idea of what the challenge is all about. By going to these places yesterday, Dasuki has signalled that he would buck that unfortunate trend. He should also go south, see the trouble spots there and make a personal assessment before he settles down to a most challenging task without getting embroiled in needless controversies.

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