The Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, appears to have taken sides with Abba Kyari in the chief of staff’s raging battle against the national security adviser, Babagana Monguno, PREMIUM TIMES can report based on fresh documents and knowledgeable officials.
In a move decried within the national security circles as being aimed more at “cutting the NSA to size” than maximising personnel efficiency, Mr Buratai ordered the immediate withdrawal of top army officers attached to the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) earlier this month.
A few days after seven colonels and three army generals serving at the NSA were ordered to leave without being replaced on February 4, the remaining team of 13 army officers serving at the NSA were notified to report elsewhere on February 10, leaving the fortified ONSA facility without any army protection, according to security sources and the notice of deployment seen by PREMIUM TIMES.
Twenty-three army officers serving at the ONSA were posted out without being replaced in two batches on February 4 and 10, documents showed.
Mr Monguno was away from the country at the time of the postings, our sources said, but he rejected the entire exercise as a charade upon his return and ordered the personnel to disregard Mr Buratai’s directive and remain in place.
Yet, Mr Buratai himself has not rescinded his decision, over two weeks after the first letters of deployment went out.
Mr Buratai approved postings of about 137 army officers serving in over a dozen military departments and formations between February 4 and 10. Twenty-three army officers serving at the NSA were transferred out without being replaced, the largest redeployment from a single outpost.
The officers consist of two majors-general, one brigadier-general, seven colonels, seven lieutenant colonels, five captains and one lieutenant.
Those affected include Adeyinka Famadewa, a major-general and principal staff officer to the NSA, PREMIUM TIMES learnt. Ado Ibrahim, a colonel and military assistant to the NSA, was also transferred and given three days to report at his new posting in Jaji, home of the military infantry in Kaduna State.
Other than core intelligence analysts of non-uniform career, the NSA, which coordinates all intelligence and security agencies of the Nigerian government, has always been staffed largely by personnel from security and law enforcement agencies in the country, according to officials familiar with its personnel practice.
The Nigerian Army, Nigerian Air Force, Nigerian Navy, police, State Security Service, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the National Intelligence Agency, the civil defence, Nigeria Customs Service, Nigeria Immigration Service all have personnel at the NSA.
“Any federal law enforcement agency you could think has personnel at the NSA, but most of the directors there are military officers,” a former official of the agency told PREMIUM TIMES.
The former NSA official, who spoke under anonymity because he is still in service, said all the agencies have the powers to make changes to their respective personnel serving there.
“But it has to be in liaison with the NSA before officers could be changed or withdrawn,” the source said. “This is because it takes a cumbersome process to vet personnel before they are admitted at the NSA and some requirements have to be satisfied before they are posted out.”
National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno
Mr Monguno returned to the country in the middle of the postings between February 4 and 10. The first batch of the redeployment was reported by Daily Nigerian on February 7, but additional details like the second and total withdrawal of army officers and the lingering stand-off that emanated from it are just being uncovered by PREMIUM TIMES.
All the officers posted out of the NSA were ordered to report at their new posting within three days, failure of which they could face disciplinary action, the transfer memo said.
But Mr Monguno allegedly insisted the officers would not leave the NSA, dismissing their transfer as a vindictive measure taken by Mr Buratai to stand in solidarity with Mr Kyari, who is allegedly helping to keep the service chiefs in office despite public outcry and a resolution by both chambers of the National Assembly.
Army spokesperson Sagir Musa declined requests seeking comments over the crisis. The NSA does not have a spokesperson.
A rudderless team
Mr Buratai’s determination to cut army support to the ONSA and Mr Monguno’s decision to spurn it has resulted in a stand-off that could threaten the country’s stability, as military officers are caught between obeying their most-senior commander and another authority that supervises the entire military architecture, security experts said.
The confrontation marks one of the most damaging fallout of a ceaseless animosity between the NSA and Mr Kyari, a former journalist and banker now widely considered the most powerful associate of the president.
It came a few weeks after Mr Monguno, a retired army general who led the military intelligence for several years, wrote a series of memos to President Muhammadu Buhari and other members of national security framework, informing them of how Mr Kyari’s undue and dangerous “meddlesomeness” was frustrating efforts to address Nigeria’s acute insecurity.
Two of the NSA’s series of confidential circulars have now been obtained and published by PREMIUM TIMES earlier this week, sparking nationwide uproar and fresh calls for Mr Buhari to take charge of his government and abandon his arcane delegation of powers to close aides.
The published memos, both dated December 9 2019, contained Mr Monguno’s frustration with how Mr Kyari has been overriding key security decisions taken by the president. In some cases, the NSA said, Mr Kyari would summon security chiefs for meetings, a power he has no constitutional backing to wield.
Security sources told PREMIUM TIMES Mr Kyari has been the top State House official pushing for continued stay of service chiefs despite relentless calls for the president to remove them as security has worsened under their watch.
The service chiefs, which comprise the chief of army staff, chief of naval staff, chief of air staff and the chief of defence staff, were appointed shortly after Mr Buhari assumed office in 2015. They were all senior military officers nearing retirement at the time they were appointed in July 2015.
But when they were due for retirement after two years in July 2017, the president asked them to remain in office for another six months, a decision that caused many in the military to grumble about their uncertain career progression.
When the six months tenure elongation elapsed in December 2017, Mr Buhari again extended the tenure of the service chiefs, commending them for a great service and citing the need to maintain existing approach to tackling insecurity, especially the ongoing war against Boko Haram.
The president has continued to renew the tenure of the service chiefs, mostly biannually and sometimes without an official statement.
“The service chiefs now seem to believe they have been retained in office at the benevolence of the president’s chief of staff and not the president himself,” said security and political analyst Sola Olubanjo. “There is a serious danger in such a mindset.”
Mr Olubanjo said the hostility between the NSA and the chief of staff has already started throwing up issues whose implications may be too costly for the country.
“If it is true that we already have a situation in which military officers are unable to obey the chief of army staff because the NSA asked them not to, then we might not be able to comprehend where the country is headed,” the analyst added.
Ken Eluma Asogwa, a legal practitioner who chaired a political action committee that backed Mr Buhari at the last election, said it was bad enough that Mr Buratai ordered withdrawal of security chiefs from the ONSA.
“I am not privy to the information, but I know PREMIUM TIMES is credible enough and I will say that I am disappointed that we have this kind of situation,” Mr Eluma Asogwa said. ” It is bad enough that the chief of army staff ordered withdrawal of personnel from ONSA and even more unspeakable that they were unable to obey his directive.”
The analyst said Mr Buhari cannot afford to keep tolerating disastrous developments in his national security framework without mitigating them, especially at this time of national emergency on security.
“The NSA is the one who would be advising the president on security matters, either intelligence, training or exercise, and not the chief of staff,” he said. “The president should take charge now.”