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Azazi, National Security and the Road Ahead

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I used to think that security is the responsibility of either the state or someone else. All that changed   in 2009,   when I woke up and peeped through the window and noticed that my car had been removed by thieves.   We had a neighbourhood security which I

contributed to and believed that they were watching over us in the night while we slept. However when we asked them about my car, they had no clue as to what happened. I was jolted as I suddenly woke up   to the reality that   I was solely in charge of my own security.   As things stand in Nigeria today, it is no longer   news that every citizen must go out of their way to eavesdrop on   any conversation going on about security.    Let me be clearer, to every Nigerian whether from the North or the South, security has become the single most important subject of the moment.   Ignore it at your own peril. That is why the removal of the retired General Andrew Owoye Azazi (rtd) has naturally attracted comments, speculations and indeed some   jubilation .   Many commentators had called for the head of the former national security adviser, when at the last South South Economic Summit in Asaba, he made a speech which implied that the insecurity situation in Nigeria worsened after the controversy in the ruling People's Democratic Party exacerbated around the debate interpretations of the zoning policy in determining their Presidential candidate. Was Azazi wrong?   Or put in another way, could an intelligence officer of his stature have prepared a speech for a conference on a live television when he was not sure of his facts?   Could it be that he is out rightly incompetent?   What were the reasons put forward by those opposed to Azazi's person and style? Has the post of the NSA been unwittingly zoned to a particular region of the country? Where does security end and politics begin in an ethno-religiously charged country like our own?   Will the removal of Gen Azazi become the magic decision that will lead to the automatic cessation of hostilities in the Northern part of Nigeria?   Are we ready as a country to confront the issues or shall we continue in denial and dubious blame game?

I do not have automatic answers to these questions. However I want to explore some possibilities with you while we search for explanations based on facts available. I will share only a few   of my   thoughts on the subject and allow you to freely make your own conclusions.

Let me say that in the course of this piece, I had to look at the curriculum vitae of the former NSA.   Even as a civilian, I reckon that the fact that Gen Azazi (rtd) served as Director of Military Intelligence apart from other similar positions made him eminently qualified for the job of NSA, at least militarily and strategically.   There are those who argue that qualification can be separated from performance. They may have a point, but for me, qualification is the first place to start. There are those who argue that the coincidental fact that the former NSA shares the same state of origin with the President could have assisted with his emergence- again that could be part of it but suffice to say that Gen Azazi(rtd) had the basics that could equip anyone to deliver in such a position.

One thing I also did was to double check on the speech credited to the NSA and attempt to review the attendant outrage that accompanied it. Shall we examine the content of the former NSA's controversial speech in Asaba   to see if he added any fresh evidence to what we know already? As I peruse at least five national dailies every day I hear many Nigerians re-echo the same thing Gen Azazi said. Let us be candid, did he say anything new?   In the same venue where Azazi spoke, Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka vociferously accused politicians for being behind the insecurity in the country. The latest on this was allegedly contained in an interview granted by former Sokoto State Governor Attahiru Bafarawa to BBC Hausa Service last week and quoted by ''The situation in Northern Nigeria is not caused by anybody but we the politicians in the region and of course our failure to address our challenges.   And the solution to address the challenge is with us' Looking at this statement and many others, one wonders why some people were apparently jolted by the statement made by Azazi. Or could it be he was more specific by pointing to a specific political party?   When the calls for the removal of Azazi started renting the air I began to wonder how a pure security statement which should have been taken seriously became unduly politicised. Could it be that some people wanted to call the chicken a bad name because the festival is approaching?

Another related issue is the presumption that the inability of Azazi to combat the security situation in the Northern part of Nigeria could have led to his sack. No one can dismiss the fact that the worsening security situation should become a matter of urgent concern to any responsive government; however the manifestation of the insurgence appears, at least from the view of many observers as deserving a more comprehensive scrutiny before evolving an effective response. Security experts say that a major part of the job involves security tactics and intelligence etc, and another   part (at least from the speech of Bafarawa and Soyinka) that requires a deliberate politics of tolerance and equanimity. That is why many of us pause before we   join the frenzy of blaming the security agencies and the former NSA only for security lapses.

One other issue bogging the mind of many Nigerians is the distasteful speculation in some quarters that the office of the NSA might have been unwittingly 'zoned' to a particular region of the country. Other observers believe the fact that the position has been frequently held by professionals from a particular region is a mere coincidence rather than a deliberate pattern.   Really? How come? Regardless of the side you belong, national security ought to be seen as a patriotic duty for professional only- simple. Anyone who has the requisite qualification can hold the position.   Tribe and religion have nothing to do with it. Any contrary insinuation could lead to a despondent citizenry and a dangerous politicization of one of the most sensitive offices in our country.

So much about the past!   Looking at the future, I think that the admirable qualifications of the new National Security Adviser, Colonel Mohammed Sambo Dasuki (rtd), provide reasons for optimism in the minds of many. He comes across as an officer with considerable civility and finesse. Furthermore he has got a lot going for him in terms of heritage and experience. No one can overlook what he brings on the table as former Aide de Camp to former President Babangida.   Shall we now say that his appointment could potentially force the insurgents to a retreat?   Could this even translate to additional impetus for troublemaking as speculated by some quarters? Is it safe to simply adopt a wait- and -see attitude as events unfold or does the President need to still overhaul and professionalize the entire national security apparatus? When shall the peace we are used to in Nigeria return? How do we regain the fragile freedom and harmony we are used to in Nigeria?  

The magnitude of   the national loss we have incurred due to the current violence is currently unquantifiable and it is the wish of many of us that these hostilities will come to an end soon. We are now a red spot in the map of the world. At all international airports in the world, Nigerians have now become daily objects of suspicion, harassment and intimidation.   However, let me say by way of conclusion that   General Azazi (rtd) might have made his mistakes- like any appointee in very trying times, but one clear lesson from the persistent hostilities during his tenure is that   military responses alone are necessary but insufficient to bring such an amorphous warfare to an end.   It is my hope that the new NSA is equipped with all it will take to think outside the box and use innovative approaches to halt these disturbances once and for all. Only time will tell.

Uche Igwe is a governance expert based at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex. He wrote in via