Minister Gusau Vs Service Chiefs: An avoidable friction, By Dele Agekameh
The embarrassment suffered by Gusau has again brought into focus the call for the formation of a “war cabinet”
A few weeks ago, precisely on Wednesday, March 5, 2014, under the headline: “Wanted: A war cabinet,” this column wrote: “ …The only way out of this quagmire in which the country has been enmeshed all this while is the urgent need for the President to form a war cabinet… A senior cabinet minister must coordinate the ‘war’. As things are now, it may be impossible for the National Security Adviser, NSA, the only person who probably performs the role of coordinating the military interventions in the Northeast, to summon any of the head of the services to a meeting – I mean summoning someone like the Chief of Army Staff or the Chief of Air Staff that are both involved in managing the crisis to a meeting – not to talk of the Chief of Defence Staff. They will just ignore him because the NSA is more or less a Staff Officer to the President. That is why there is the need to quickly put a war cabinet in place.”
This story was featured the very day new ministers were sworn in at the Federal Executive Council meeting in Abuja. And of course, among the new ministers was Lieutenant-General Aliyu Mohammed Gusau (retd), who was designated as Defence Minister. Gusau came in to occupy that position which had remained vacant for some time while the insurgency in the northeast of the country rages like harmattan wild fire. A week before, the Boko Haram terrorists had added a bestial dimension to the orgy of bloodletting and brigandage which they have unleashed on innocent Nigerians by massacring sleeping school children at the Federal Government College in Buni Yadi, Yobe State.
Not only that. The terrorists literarily went on a killing-spree in the three Nigeria’s northeast states of Yobe, Adamawa and Borno that have been under a state of emergency since May 16, 2013. Apart from the attack on FGC, Buni Yadi, where no fewer than 43 students were killed, they moved to Shuwa, in Magadali Local Government Area of Adamawa state, where a Teachers’ College, a secondary school and a Catholic Covenant were attacked. Next, it was the turn of Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, and epicentre of the terrorists’ attacks, where a twin-bomb explosion tore through the heart of the city, killing more than 50 people. Other adjoining villages, including Mainok, a village about 50 kilometres from Maiduguri, were not spared. More attacks had followed. It was the spate and ferocity of these attacks, which the terrorists carried out with ease as they moved in and out of hamlets unchallenged, leaving sorrow, tears and blood in their trail, that prompted the call for the formation of a war cabinet to help the government in the successful prosecution of the ‘war’ and bring an end to it with limited casualties.
Since the publication of the column coincided with the appointment of Gusau as Defence Minister, my thinking was that the government will take a cue from the unsolicited advise the Column gave to put things in the right perspective in order to checkmate the festering act of terrorism in that part of the country. But events last week, which allegedly infuriated Gusau, the Defence Minister, did not only confirm my fears about the absence of a centralised and coordinated command and control of the ongoing counter-terrorism operation in the Northeast, it has also exposed the lack of appropriate synergy in the whole operation. This is probably why the terrorists appear to be invisible to some extent as they kept on having a semblance of upper hand over the Nigerian security forces that appear to be outgunned, outmanned and overwhelmed.
The incident of last week also coincided with the day the terrorists had the audacity to mount an attack on Giwa Amu Barracks, a strategic military outpost in Maiduguri. Though the early morning attack proved costly and fatal for the terrorists, it is indeed a sign of the times. Reports have it that a Shilka Tank, a military artillery weapon that was strategically stationed to ward off attacks on the barracks, actually failed to fire when the terrorists attempted to swoop on the barracks ostensibly to pave way for the release of their comrades-in-crime numbering well over 250, who were detained at the military formation. The soldiers were said to have fallen back on other weapons to defend the barracks and subsequently repelled the invaders.
Though they were successfully driven back, the terrorists were said to have torched the MRS, the traditional medical facility within the barracks as well as the detention facility but no detainees were freed. The detention facility is believed to be holding some highly placed terrorists’ commanders and therefore, their colleagues will prefer them dead than volunteer useful information to the security agents. Besides, the terrorists’ camp is said to have been seriously depleted by recent military onslaughts on their hideouts and so, they are badly in need of replenishment to boost their dwindling fighting capabilities.
The temerity of the terrorists may have been halted for now, but the recent embarrassment suffered by Gusau so soon after assuming duty as well as the unrelenting terrorists’ campaign in the North-east has again brought into focus the call for the formation of a “war cabinet” to tackle the menace of these terrorists. There must be someone to bring everybody together. The present hierarchical arrangement, in which all the service chiefs have access to the President, is not helping matters. It must be properly structured. It is a good thing that Alex Badeh, an Air Marshal and Chief of Defence Staff, CDS, has quickly made up with Gusau, but the integral roles of the CDS and the service chiefs must be clearly defined to avoid any friction in the future. The Service Chiefs must be responsible to the CDS, while the CDS in turn is responsible to the Defence Minister; and the Defence Minister will then interface with the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.
Unfortunately, what has hitherto been in place is a wrong system whereby the Defence Minister was more or less sidelined in the scheme of things. Also, what had been in place is a figure-head CDS, who was supposed to coordinate the services on paper but nobody reports to him as even the President could summon any of the service chiefs without recourse to the CDS. This is wrong. For instance, the CDS does not know the budget of the defence. The common practice is that individual services – Army, Navy, Air Force – prepares their budgets and go ahead to the National Assembly to defend same without any iota of involvement by the CDS. The proper thing to do is that the CDS should present the budget and then go to the National Assembly to defend it. In other words, the CDS should coordinate the activities of the services and serve as a link between with the Defence Minister.
Furthermore, we could achieve a better result if the Defence Headquarters, DHQ, is merged with the Ministry of Defence, with a mixture of soldiers and civilians working together instead of the present situation where only civilians sit in the Defence Ministry and award all manners of contracts which are not even required by the DHQ. I have no doubt whatsoever that the present Defence Minister parades excellent credentials and experience to stir the country through this turbulent period if only the government can do the needful. It is exigent to have somebody in charge because, as it is, it is clear that the ongoing counter-terrorism campaign lacks proper coordination as a result of the absence of a synergy among the security agencies in the country. What easily come to mind are the United States’ Department of Homeland Security and the Counter-terrorism Strategy in the United Kingdom, two agencies that are solely devoted to checkmate terrorism and terrorists’ activities in both countries.
In the alternative, the government could appoint somebody in the mould of the coordinating Minister of Finance to coordinate this anti-terrorism war. If the government wishes, the person could be called Minister for Counter-terrorism or even Minister for Boko Haram.