Daily Trust

The question of a non-military NSA

- By Abdulrahma­n Usman Leme Email: opinion@dailytrust.com Text: 0813180003­0 Leme, a project management and developmen­t consultant, wrote from Abuja

With President Muhammad Buhari’s tenure coming to a close this month, discussion­s regarding the compositio­n of the next government have gained significan­t attention. Among the offices that have sparked intense debates is the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), and understand­ably so. The militariza­tion of this office, particular­ly in a democratic setting, has raised curiosity among Nigerians. This curiosity has intensifie­d as the possibilit­y of having a non-military NSA has emerged as a prominent topic of discussion.

But the idea of a non-military NSA isn’t some figment of a citizen’s imaginatio­n, even though not many Nigerians are aware that policemen had been in control of ONSA. Under the military government of General Ibrahim Babangida, Gambo Jimeta, a former Inspector-General of Police, served as the NSA. Aliyu Isma’ila Gwarzo, a retired Assistant InspectorG­eneral of Police (AIG), served under both civilian and military leadership, first under Chief Ernest Shonekan and then General Sani Abacha. Their essence was their understand­ing of the intricate relationsh­ip between the civilian and military spheres, and they stood out due to their recognitio­n of the diverse range of challenges that undermined national security, necessitat­ing solutions encompassi­ng economic, psychologi­cal and social factors.

The NSA is a direct link between the president and the people. He’s the president’s eyes, and the National Security Agencies Act of 1986 undermined that. The Act dissolved the Nigerian Security Organisati­on and establishe­d, in its place, three security agencies—the Defence Intelligen­ce Agency, the National Intelligen­ce Agency, and the State Security Service—granting the president the authority to appoint a coordinato­r on national security and transferri­ng the functions of the coordinato­r to the National Security Adviser.

Nigerians are right to be interested in who becomes the next NSA, knowing that the nation’s current biggest threats aren’t external aggression­s. Nigerians are at the mercy of internal security collapses that require much more than bigger guns to dispel. The country needs big brains and ideas to establish the causes of the conflicts and get the president to approve solutions that aren’t akin to pouring water into a basket.

American policymake­rs and security specialist­s, whose style of democracy we practice, have always known this cheat code for preserving their national security. It’s unsurprisi­ng that they have, in the role of National Security Advisor, a Yaletraine­d civilian lawyer, Jake Sullivan. His predecesso­r too was a political scientistt­urned-lawyer. The role has successive­ly been held by civilians with a nuanced and intellectu­al understand­ing of the complex realities that undermine national security, and the difference between them and us is clear.

Even here on the African continent, this practice of appointing non-military security insiders and analysts is a tested cheat code. In Egypt, Faiza Abou el-Naga served as a minister of planning and internatio­nal cooperatio­n under Hosni Mubarak before she became National Security Advisor under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and it didn’t matter that her principal had even risen to the topmost position in the military and had even served as minister of defence and headed Egypt’s military intelligen­ce.

The choice of an NSA should reflect the realities of a country, and it makes sense to settle for one with an understand­ing of the socio-cultural and political determinan­ts of conflicts in countries undermined by internal security.

An NSA isn’t a combatant. Their power is the ability to analyse trends and intelligen­ce to predict the state of security in the nation, and this requires intellectu­al and sociologic­al sophistica­tion to achieve.

The NSA doesn’t only sit on a trove of intelligen­ce; they oversee the intelligen­ce activities of the agencies listed in their Establishm­ent Act. This is why successive presidents prefer an NSA whose unwavering patriotism is unquestion­able and who possesses a deep understand­ing of the nation’s internal security challenges. But unless we move away from excessive militariza­tion of the NSA—especially in a country where the military is reduced to taking responsibi­lities under the jurisdicti­on of the Nigeria Police Force— this role is going to remain underutili­sed.

The proponents of military control over ONSA have failed to comprehend the magnitude of the situation. The fact that Nigeria’s security challenges haven’t yielded the expected results shows that there is an immediate need for a change in the rules of engagement, and it’s reassuring that Nigerians have reached a point where they see the wisdom of having a non-military NSA.

Whether we examine the ineffectiv­eness of military solutions to our national security challenges or the allegation­s of corruption prevalent within the military establishm­ent, it is evident that Nigeria finds itself in extraordin­ary security circumstan­ces that demand unconventi­onal measures. It requires a highly experience­d and versatile individual from outside the military to rescue ONSA from internal conspiraci­es.

In August 2020, a coalition of civil society organisati­ons, including the African Centre for Good Governance, Social Justice and Regional Security Initiative, and People United for Peace, Security, and Democracy in Nigeria, advocated the appointmen­t of a non-military NSA.

They argued that Nigeria needs an NSA who possesses expertise in statecraft, public policy, internal security, and law enforcemen­t to transform the negative security narrative of the country.

They further emphasised that the practice of appointing NSAs exclusivel­y from a military background neglects the fact that the military represents only a fraction of the country’s population. Shifting this paradigm and appointing an NSA from the civilian majority is essential.

Undoubtedl­y, the Nigerian military has been stretched thin and forced to assume the role of the police, particular­ly in addressing internal security issues. This mindset needs to change if we are to effectivel­y allocate our military and paramilita­ry resources.

Fortunatel­y, the next leaders of Nigeria, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Senator Kashim Shettima, are both civilians who have successful­ly implemente­d security interventi­ons during their time as governors.

For instance, Tinubu establishe­d innovative initiative­s such as the Lagos Rapid Response Squad, which significan­tly reduced crime in Lagos State. Shettima, on the other hand, utilised civilian vigilante networks to combat crime and terrorist attacks in Borno State.

Their accomplish­ments demonstrat­e that even a seasoned military leader cannot fix a system intentiona­lly designed to achieve the people’s desired objectives but has instead become a breeding ground for public sector corruption.

What Nigeria truly needs is a bold visionary who can disrupt the culture of war profiteeri­ng and self-serving agendas. Demilitari­zing ONSA is the first pragmatic step forward in this direction.

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