Sunday, March 14, 2021 1:00 pm
Unbeknown to many Nigerians who haven’t heard him speak, Major General Babagana Monguno (rtd), President Muhammadu Buhari’s National Security Adviser (NSA) secretly admires self-styled Mr. Bombastic, Jamaican–American reggae musician, singer and Disc Jockey, Orville Richard Burrel, better known by his stage name, Shaggy. Suave and glib, with words gliding effortlessly through his mouth like okra soup skids at the slightest prodding, Monguno can electrify and disarm his audience, not with guns but with bombasts. A few weeks ago, Monguno addressed the press on what he labeled the Federal Government’s newfound resolve – after thousands of Nigerians had been killed by bandits, kidnappers and insurgents – to smoke them and their sponsors out of their hiding places.
Donning a straight-faced, stern and no-smiling visor, with cadences of a motivational speaker, Monguno thundered, in my paraphrase, that “enough is enough with activities of scoundrels and scallywags” in Nigeria. In their graves, the trio of Mbonu Ejike, Adelabu Adegoke and Agadagbachiriuzo of Arondizuogu and Maye of Lagos, Chief Kingsley Ozumba Mbadiwe, must have chuckled in their graves. As pre-colonial, post-colonial and First Republic Nigeria burnt with the fire of political intolerance, the three politicians electrified Nigerian politics with their bombasts and sent ribs cracking with their roof-shattering, highfalutin lexicons.
Elizabethan playwright, poet, satirist and pamphleteer, Thomas Nashe, in his 1859-published The Anatomy of Absurdities, described this inflated and turgid language as that of “braggarts (who) employ the swelling bombast to out-brave out-wit better pens.” While Mbonu, newspaper analyst and one of Nnamdi Azikiwe’s trusted political allies, enriched the political lexicon with his “boycott the boycottables,” Adelabu, also renowned for his Peculiar Mess thesis which later turned into penkelemesi, regaled his audience with his first bombast-sounding book, Africa in Ebulition, Mbadiwe, nationalist, politician, statesman and Federal Minister of Nigeria’s First Republic, as well as Nigeria’s first and only Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, was popularly known as one who authored the “Man of Timber and Caliber” and bamboozled his listeners with highfalutin coinages.
From the national campaign to institute zoning system to remedy slow national development, KO chiseled the bombast, “zoning to unzone,” and “handshake across the Niger.” As Minister of Aviation in the government of Tafawa Balewa and entrusted with the task to drive the initiative of the maiden Lagos to New York flight, Mbadiwe took Atilogwu dancers and Kano trumpeters on that flight which he called “Operation Fantastic.” The NPN/NPP alliance of the Second Republic, the original Mr. Bombastic called “accord concodiale,” even as he labeled political upheavals, “When the come comes to become, we shall come out.” In writing an epithet for Mbadiwe at his death on August 29, 1990, Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu said of him: “KO was grand, his actions grandiose; his speeches grandiloquent.”
As it is, NSA Monguno seems not to be only Mr. Bombastic, he is nooks. On Friday, while appearing on the BBC Hausa Service, he detonated a bomb which immediately reverberated through the nooks and cranny of Nigeria. Saying in Hausa, Kudade dai sun salwanta – literally, the money is gone, Monguno literally set the country on fire. “We don’t know where the money went to. The president has done his best by ensuring that he released exorbitant funds for the procurement of weapons which are yet to be procured, they are not there…Mr. President is going to investigate those funds. As we are talking with you at present, the state governors, the Governors Forum have started raising questions in that direction. $1 billion has been released, that and that has been released, and nothing seems to be changing. So I assure you that the president will not take this lightly. The funds are nowhere to be found and the weapons have not been seen and the newly appointed service chiefs have declared that they have not seen the weapons,” he said.
Nigerians will recall that, in 2018, the release of $1 billion for procurement of military equipment in fighting the Boko Haram insurgency was made by President Buhari. After approval by the governors, the sum of $1 billion was withdrawn from the Nigerian Excess Crude Account (ECA). Not long after this approval, snide comments and hushed tone whispers emerged that the $1billion was money sourced for the prosecution of the 2019 elections. In the thick of this, highly influential Wall Street Journal caused a furore when it alleged that over 1000 soldiers were secretly buried at night in unmarked graves at the Maimalari barracks, Maiduguri.
“The sprawling secret graveyard in Maiduguri and an official cemetery at the base, the operational command for the north-eastern front in Borno State, now hold the bodies of at least 1,000 soldiers killed since the terror groups began an offensive last summer,” the WSJ had written. Quoting soldiers, diplomats and senior government officials who said that soldiers’ corpses were surreptitiously transported in trucks from a local mortuary at the dead of the night, WSJ said they were hurled into “trenches dug by infantrymen or local villagers paid a few dollars per shift…(at the) Maimalari barracks.”
As the insurgency war deteriorates, with huge casualty on the part of our soldiers, lack of equipment and ammunition in fighting the insurgency has been blamed for the field of blood that the Northeast of Nigeria has become. Soldiers with big epaulettes on their shoulders are alleged to be profiting from the war, cornering huge chunk of armament budgets and seeking all means to make the war interminable.
But, not to worry, the presidency has spoken. QED. In a quick riposte to Monguno’s allegation, Garba Shehu, Buhari’s Senior Special Assistant on Media, deployed the usual suspect – quotation out of context – as the villain, in an apparent bid to deescalate Monguno’s bomb. “I want to assure you that nothing of that money is missing,” he told Channels Television’s Politics Today. “The reference by it in the interview with Hausa Service of the BBC by the National Security Adviser, I think, has been misconstrued and mistranslated.” Then he journeyed into a very big waffle on how the procurements that were made had not been fully delivered and that, about $536 million of the cost of the armaments was paid directly to the United States government.
The office of the National Security Adviser, a few hours after this explosive comment, recanted what Monguno said. According to it, “the NSA was quoted out of context” and “he did not categorically say that funds meant for arms procurement were missing under the Former Service Chiefs as reported or transcribed by some media outlets from the BBC interview.” The NSA office said that what he only did in the interview was to reiterate “the Federal Government’s commitment to deal decisively with insecurity and stated President Muhammadu Buhari’s continued commitment to provide all necessary support to the Armed Forces, including the provision of arms and equipment.”
Some critical questions emanate from Shehu’s waffle and the NSA Office’s peremptory denial. What is obvious is that they are both trying to be clever by half. The variance between what Monguno’s office claimed he said and what was attributed to him in the media are too diametrically opposed that no one needed to be told that someone had attempted to play pranks in this episode. It is too puerile to hold the translation process of the Hausa comment of Monguno to English as the culprit, hoping it will be “and they live happily ever thereafter.” No. As a first step, those who attempted this abracadabra should not be allowed to go away with what appears to be blue murder. Good that the transcript in Hausa on the BBC is in the public domain. The verbatim transcription of it, availed the public by The Cable, has finally rammed the nails in, revealing that Monguno could not have been quoted out of context at all. My haunch is that, convinced that Nigerians are not thorough people and hold public fact crosschecking in terrible disdain, Aso Rock believes it could get away with this consequential Freudian slip which meandered into the public domain.
What the interview revealed to Nigerian is a Monguno who is at the periphery of the center of goings-on in the Villa. It revealed that critical security decisions are taken outside of the loops of the NSA. For instance, he claimed to be unaware that the governor of Zamfara State and Buhari had reached a mutual decision for 6,000 soldiers to be deployed to his state to stem the tide of banditry and kidnapping. Kudade dai sun salwanta may thus be an attempt to hit back at the system that ostracized him or an attempt to deploy the Samson option as response to the Villa’s lukewarm-ness to the security situation.
The truth is, Monguno is not an ordinary appointee of President Buhari. Though appointed by him, his responsibility to the presidency is only tangential. That office’s greatest responsibility is to Nigeria and its people. He owes Nigeria absolute and full disclosure of the byzantine arms purchase conundrum, even if it hurts the system. This is where the concept of national security comes in. What Monguno was appointed to secure is not Buhari per se but Nigeria. In securing Nigeria, he must stop the bleeding of our young children who are serially killed by insurgents, not because they do not have the skills but because of their obsolete weapons. We cannot afford to populate a snakes’ farm while depopulating our soldiers.
The second issue for consideration is that, no reasonable man can say that Monguno is a dunce. Or that he does not know the consequences of making spurious allegations. During a recent Cybercrime law sensitization in Aso Rock, which had Buhari in attendance, Monguno electrified his audience with his grasp, knowledge and power of delivery. That same man cannot be said not to know what he was saying. As coordinator of all the ambits of Nigeria’s security, key of which is the military, it will be foolhardy for anyone to say the NSA does not have information either. What Shehu, Monguno’s office and Aso Rock power apparatchik have not addressed their minds to or are afraid to own up, is that Monguno is a bomb which can self-detonate at any time. Shehu and the NSA office’s interventions were just fire brigade measures to shore up a sagging situation and save a corruption-ridden system from total collapse.
Pedigree-wise, throwing explosives and minding seldom whose ox was gored, is not new to Monguno. Bold, courageous and a risk-taker, with that BBC Hausa service revelation, Monguno was just on a home turf. In a leaked acidic memo dated December 9, 2019, the NSA had warned all the then service chiefs to refrain from taking further directives from Buhari’s Almighty Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari. He accused Kyari of undue and dangerous interference in matters that bordered on national security. “Chief of staff to the president is not a presiding head of security, neither is he sworn to an oath of defending the country. As such, unprofessional practices such as presiding over meetings with service chiefs and heads of security organizations, as well as ambassadors and high commissioners, to the exclusion of the NSA and/or supervising ministers are a violation of the Constitution and directly undermine the authority of Mr President,” he had said. Not up to months after Kyari’s unfortunate death, facts which validated Monguno’s claim began to sidle out.
So how will the NSA not know that there were procurement problems in the weaponry allegedly paid for by the Nigerian Army? Worse still, is it conceivable that the NSA was unaware of a said diplomatic imbroglio between Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that was claimed to be delaying the delivery of the arms? How would the Nigerian Minister of Defence hold a meeting with the Ambassador of the UAE to Nigeria, a la Shehu, on the alleged delay, without the knowledge of the NSA? It is a confirmation that he is probably sidelined, the naivety of which he displayed in the kudade dai sun salwanta interview.
If you properly articulate all the back and forth on the $1 billion withdrawn from ECA and place them side by side the weaponry disaster that has obviously led to hundreds of deaths of our soldiers who have been killed between the 2018 date of withdrawal of the $1 billion for arms purchase and now by insurgents, you will realize the need for Monguno to come clean with the facts. General Segun Adeniyi spoke about the paucity of arms to fight at the war front, despite this selfsame $1 billion withdrawal and was recompensed with military trial and demotion. Until Monguno thawed that ice, neither Buhari nor anyone in the presidency was bothered enough to ask questions. Even the Buhari lickspittle National Mis-Assembly was too supine to bother about such “trivia.” After summoning the ex-Service Chiefs to a forum where they could properly give accounts and they stubbornly refused to appear, the same National Mis-Assembly cleared them when the president nominated them for nebulous ambassadorial postings.
We must thank Buhari for giving us a man who is like nooks as NSA; a man whose stubbornness, probable loyalty to Nigeria rather than to the President, or because he is prone to frequent Freudian slips, give us periodic insights into the damp recesses of the Nigerian power architecture. We may however be dealing with intra-systemic rebellion. For the sake of our children, brothers and fathers fighting Boko Haram insurgents, literally with their bare hands, we must get to the roots of this arms purchase, mis-purchase or nil-purchase matter.
Now that COVID-19 vaccine is here
As America battled her over-half a million casualties from COVID-19 pandemic and vaccines began to trickle into the country, a friend of mine’s call from the US to me adverted my mind to the crises ahead of Nigeria. As we spoke, our talks dovetailed into the global vaccine drive. Last week, said my friend, his parents-in-law who lived in the US but had now returned to Nigeria due to their advanced age, got a call from America. It was their turn to receive their vaccine jabs, the caller had informed them. So they flew to the US to be vaccinated.
How did that happen? I asked in incontrollable wonderment. Of course, America had details of every of her citizens and their ages. So when it was the turn of the age bracket of my friend’s parents-in-law, the system promptly rose to its responsibility.
After passing of bucks and all that, the vaccine eventually arrived Nigeria a few weeks ago. Distribution has promptly started to states of the federation. This is when and where you will see Nigeria in total unfolding and manifestation. Our ancient corruptive, prebendal, as well as destructive nature and practice of allotting unfair preferential treatments to one person or group, at the expense of another, will begin to rear their ugly heads. Governors and government officials will deploy their “long legs” to get their families vaccinated ahead of essential components in the country; some of the drugs will be hoarded and deployed as political favours; officials will sell them at inflated prices to the highest bidders and if care is not taken, some of the drugs will get spoilt due to our sparse and fossilized spaces for storage.
When they say that we must kill corruption if we want to square up with the rest of the world, can you now see that it is not mere rhetoric?