The person needed for the job of President Tinubu’s NSA

By Yushau A. Shuaib

Names are being dropped, mostly in security and media circles, on the person likely to become appointed as Nigeria’s next National Security Adviser (NSA) by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

The current holder and longest-serving NSA in Nigeria, Babagana Monguno is a retired Military General.

Apart from the former Chief of Army Staff and Minister of Interior, Major General Abdulrahman Dambazau (rtd.) and retired police chief and pioneer Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, other serving security, as well as intelligence, chiefs are being touted as possible candidates for this very important position.

A major bone of contention has the debate on whether the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) is one essentially reserved for those with a military background and persons who are preferable in the rank of a General in the country’s armed forces, whether still serving or retired.

While most of the former and current holders of the position of NSA have been retired Army officers, national security issues are beyond the exclusive ken of the military, whose main task and mandate is defence of the territorial integrity of the state and its interests against external armed threats or aggression.

In response to the challenges of terrorism as faced by Nigeria, the Terrorism Prevention Act 2011, as amended in 2013, was signed into law by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. 

The Act designates the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) as the coordinating body for all the security and enforcement agencies of the government. This Act also gives the ONSA the mandates to “support and ensure the formulation and implementation of a comprehensive Counter Terrorism Strategy and build capacity for the effective discharge of the functions of relevant security, intelligence, law enforcement and military services.”

The following year, precisely on 18 March, 2014, the then National Security Adviser, Colonel Sambo Dasuki (rtd.) rolled-out Nigeria’s soft approach to countering terrorism through the National Counter Terrorism Strategy (NACTEST), developed through the concert and support of international partners, experienced academics and select non-state actors.

The NACTEST, according to Dasuki who was its facilitator and enabler, sought to act proactively by preventing violent attacks before they happened, while equally anticipating and neutralising the factors that lead people to becoming terrorists in the first place.

The soft approach to countering violent extremism (CVE) comprises a vertical programme involving the three tiers of government – from the federal to the state and then local – alongside a horizontal programme that engages with the civil society, academics, and traditional, religious and community leaders, towards stemming the tide of radicalism.

The soft approach to countering terrorism, as identified by the Dasuki-led ONSA, provided Nigeria with a framework outlining the roles and responsibilities of every segment of the society with regard to job creation, poverty alleviation and economic development.

In a nutshell, the Office of the National Security Adviser pulls together and encompasses different major professional capabilities, including those of the military, law enforcement, intelligence services, international relations, financial controls, in addition to bilateral and multilateral engagements.

In its role of offering advisories to the president, the ONSA considers what could be the appropriate approach to dealing with terrorism and other security threats, which is either hard or soft powers. While the hard power usually entails a very physical manner of dealing with issues, which involves the threat or use of military force, the soft power is one that responds to concerns through the utilisation of economic and cultural influence in persuading others from negative inclinations like unbecoming acts. This is the antithesis of the use of force in achieving a, possibly, more sustainable and wholesome outcome.

It is necessary to point out that there are all sorts of security challenges embedded within the notion of “national security.” These include economic security, energy security, cybersecurity, environmental security, health security and food security, which all seek to neutralise different threats and deleterious situations.

In his book National Security Strategies, Mukhtar Yau Madobi, a first-class graduate and defence researcher, states that, “national security does not only entail the protection of lives and properties of people but also goes in a wider dimension. It includes security in education, transportation, health, economy, infrastructure, environment, food and agriculture, politics, religion, culture, society among others.”

It is therefore not surprising that in the United States of America, where Nigeria adopted its brand presidential system from, they believe in non-military ideas of national security, which is evident in the calibre of people appointed as National Security Advisors. These are serious professionals from across the spectrum of academic, research and intelligence work etc., with solid and crosscutting knowledge bases on national security issues.

In the US, the appointment of persons with military backgrounds to the office of the National Security Advisor is usually the exception rather than the norm. Military persons who have functioned in the position of the NSA included General Collin Powell under President Ronald Reagan; Brent Scowcroft under President Gerald Ford and later President Bush (Snr); and James Jones, who served for a year in the first term of President Barack Obama.

Many of the appointed NSAs in the US have had no military background, while being well versed in national security matters. Whereas some of them were diplomats with intelligence backgrounds, others have been legal practitioners and academics, etc. Some of these NSAs have included George McBundy under President Kennedy; Walter Rostow under President Johnson; Henry Kissinger under President Nixon; Zbigniew Brzezinski under President Carter; Condoleezza Rice under President Bush (Jnr); Susan Rice under President Obama; Robert Charles O’Brien (Jnr) under President Donald Trump; and Jacob Jeremiah Sullivan under current President Joe Biden.

The NSA is not like any other political appointment that could be carried out to satisfy political patronage, as the officer to be so assigned is expected to be well-informed and extremely knowledgeable enough to provide serious and spot-on advisories, while effectively coordinating security matters of state, diplomatic efforts, being in tune with economic policy, and the intelligence services, towards a peaceful and prosperous country that is fully engaged in a holistic sense of national security.

While the offices of the Chief of Defence Staff and Minister of Defence are already reserved for serving and retired military officers respectively, yet there is nothing wrong if any of the personalities traditionally appointed into the foregoing positions are equally considered for the ONSA.

However and importantly too, President Ahmed Tinubu should not only reflect the federal character principle when appointing individuals to sensitive posts like that of the National Security Adviser, but he should also saliently consider the pedigree, courage, accomplishments, sincerity, and dispositions of the person to be so appointed. Such a person can also enhance harmonious inter-agency collaboration rather than the occasional rivalry witnessed in the recent past.

Yushau A. Shuiab

Author “An Encounter with the Spymaster and Crisis Communication Strategies

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