On security warnings and absentee leaders

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Factual Pursuit of Truth for Progress

By Wale Oloko

Dateline: October 23, 2022 – The Embassy of the United States of America in Nigeria released a security notice of elevated terror attacks in Nigeria, specifically in Abuja. It therefore warned American citizens of actions to take, avoiding non-essential travels and crowds among others. The United Kingdom High Commission followed suit shortly after. It is the standard policy of the American government to warn its citizens of impending danger. This particular one wasn’t the first in Nigeria and will definitely not be the last. One would have thought that it was a simple and routine message to American citizens that should not create unnecessary uproar and swift reaction from the host authorities but that was not to be. Reactions are still coming days after.

October 24 – The DSS in a statement “calls for calm as it works with other law enforcement agencies and stakeholders to maintain peace and order in and beyond Abuja”.

October 25 – the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed condemned the US and UK security notices, insisting that Nigeria, including Abuja was safe. Drawing a comparison with the gun attacks in the United States, the Minister denounced the alert and more like saying first remove the log in thine eyes before seeing at ours. Let us give the Minister a thumbs up for the reaction. He has to defend the country even if what he said might not be entirely correct as he was making false equivalency. It is no secret that the United States is a gun dominated society. Only if you have such a scenario in Nigeria can anyone reasonably conclude that US is also unsafe. It is no secret that the US reacts differently to terrorist threats or attacks than gun shots in malls and schools. Moreover, Nigeria can take a cue from the Americans and direct the four Nigerian Missions in the US to start issuing security notices. Ours will be more effective since US has two Missions in Nigeria, even with her population and economic strength.

October 29 – The Inspector General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba said the security alert was not true, urging members of the public to go about their lawful business. He thereafter released several phone numbers that the panic stricken citizens should call in case of need. Although, it is curious that the IG had to wait for the terror alert to release the telephone lines, but it is better late than never. Thank you Mr IG.

Surprisingly, the Defence Headquarters on this occasion did not issue a press statement. Perhaps it was deliberate since the coordinating official advising the president on national security was out of the country and in this case, more statements from different government institutions cannot be merrier.

October 28 – The President returned to the country and a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) was scheduled for October 31st, 2022. Meanwhile, when all the above detailed scenarios were going on, the president was in the South Korean capital of Seoul on official duty. Among those on his delegation were the Minister of Foreign Affairs, (HMFA) Geoffrey Onyeama, Director General of National Intelligence Agency (DGNIA), Ambassador Ahmed Rufai Abubakar and the National Security Adviser (NSA), Major General (Rtd.) Babagana Monguno.

October 31 – After the NSC meeting at Aso Villa in Abuja, HMFA, NSA, DGNIA and the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Leo Irabor addressed the State House Press Corps. The top security officials dispelled the anxiety caused by the security alert issued by US, saying the terror alert was not true. Specifically, the NSA said “it is irresponsible for anyone to give that signal”.

It is pertinent to note that it was only after three (3) key members of the NSC returned to the country that the meeting was called to brief the President on the security situation. Under normal circumstances, where there is the policy of delegation of responsibility, and where NSA is not a travelling party, it would have been expedient for the Vice President to take charge and call such an important meeting to assure Nigerians, rather than wait for the president to return to the country. While it may be the policy and style of the present administration that top security officials accompany the president on foreign trips, it is important to state that it is inexpedient and inauspicious to have both NSA and DGNIA on each trip. While the DGNIA has the responsibility for the security of the President and the country outside Nigeria, it is yet to be reasoned while the NSA will have to be on every foreign trip of the president. In case of occasional trips, yes but not on every trip. This has never been the style of past presidents. Besides all there is the cost of every foreign travel to the lean purse of the country.

In December 2022, the President will be heading to US for the US-Africa Summit, and as usual HMFA, NSA and DGNIA will accompany the president, so if there is another terror alert or any incident, the country will have to wait for his return before any firm government response on such incident is seen or heard. This does not need to happen.

Even in normal times, the NSA has more than enough to occupy him in Nigeria, not to talk of the present unusual situation where almost all the geo-political zones are experiencing one form of insecurity or the other, and where Nigeria is losing almost 700,000 barrels of crude oil on daily basis, thus necessitating the award of contract to a non-state actor to identify and detect the criminals involved in the oil theft and police the pipelines. In addition to the above security challenges, the NSA also directly and indirectly coordinates and supervises the activities of the over seventeen national agencies listed in the National Security Strategy (NSS) of 2019. The Americans just released the 2022 National Security Strategy detailing the security problems confronting the country and those emerging ones and in it active measures designed to tackle same. These measures are clearly missing in our own NSS, thus requiring much needed review and NSA’s attention.

Meanwhile, the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), the National Centre for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons (NCCSALW) are among the numerous offices that are domiciled in the Office of the NSA. Each one of these institutions is enough responsibility of its own not to talk of the various activities of other statutory bodies that the NSA is the chairman. There is more than enough for the NSA to do than accompanying the president on every foreign trip. While it is obvious the current administration will not depart from the subsisting operating procedure, there is hope that all will likely end in May 2023. The message is therefore for the new president, whoever that is going to be among the eighteen (18) presidential candidates to ensure that the security architecture is rearranged and in that process ensure that the NSA stops accompanying the president and amend the acts establishing the semi-autonomous institutions to become independent.

The fact that nothing has happened since the alert should not be taken as if there was no threat. There is no smoke without fire. It is very possible that it was the overwhelming reaction to the threat that ensured that the danger was neutralised. It is also probable that the alert was released due to the difficulty the Missions encountered in getting to talk to the right quarters. Whatever may be the case, Nigerians have been spared the agony of the supposed attacks or so it seems at least for now. Even if the Americans have superior surveillance technology and dominant military firepower, it would still have been impossible to deploy same within the country without the concurrence of the Nigerian authorities and perhaps only the NSA who was away in South Korea would have been able to coordinate and communicate such to the President for necessary approvals.

While the NSA is doing his best to assist the president to secure the country, he will do better by staying at home when the president is out of the country.

Wale Oloko, a Policy Analyst writes from strategicassociatesolk@gmail.com

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