Mild drama as Monguno, Kyari meet in Aso Rock
• How mutual suspicion fuelled NSA, CoS feud
After weeks of a reported rivalry between the Chief of Staff (Cos) to the President, Abba Kyari and the National Security Adviser (NSA), Maj-Gen Babagana Monguno (rtd), they met yesterday for the first time.
Kyari and Monguno were in the Presidential Villa, Abuja, to witness the inauguration of a 12-member National Assembly Service Commission (NASC) by President Muhammadu Buhari.
For weeks, the duo has been at daggers drawn, with the NSA accusing the CoS of undue interference in matters bordering on national security, a role which is originally within the purview of his (Monguno) office, among other scathing allegations.
In a memo, the NSA had warned the president’s “all-powerful” chief of staff against meddling in security affairs in the presidency. He also warned the nation’s service chiefs to stop taking orders from Kyari, a civilian, and to be wary of his interferences.
The memo, addressed to the service chiefs and copied the president and ministers for foreign affairs, defence, interior, police affairs and Kyari himself, was dated December 9, 2019.
The two top officials have not met since the leaked memo penultimate Monday trended, while the presidency and CoS maintained a deafening silence.
But their meeting in Aso Rock yesterday was inevitable. Neither of the two could avoid it and it did not happen without a mild drama.
First to arrive at the venue of the NASC event, Kyari proceeded straight to his allotted chair in-between the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha and the Head of Service of the Federation (HoSF) with the NSA sitting next.
Monguno sat two chairs away from Kyari who was seen engaging in a discussion with the SGF.
However, before the commencement of the scheduled ceremony, Kyari momentarily broke his chat and beckoned on the NSA to return to his originally allotted seat, but Gen. Monguno looked way. Eventually, Monguno returned to his original seat after a second pause and another subtle plea by the CoS. Both did not speak to each other. The mild drama took place shortly before the commencement of the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting presided over by President Buhari.
Kyari has long been hailed as one of the most powerful men in the Buhari presidency and allegedly the head of “a cabal” accused of running the Buhari administration behind closed doors.
The CoS is known to be one of the president’s closest aides. He plans Buhari’s schedules while ministers are said to queue in his office to see the president.
But Monguno said that Kyari’s directives to the military top leaders were sometimes issued without the knowledge, much less approval, of the president, a practice he said had added to government’s failure to contain the prevailing insecurity in the country.
“Chief of staff to the president is not a presiding head of security, neither is he sworn to an oath of defending the country,” Monguno, a retired major-general, said in the December 9, 2019, letter.
“As such, unprofessional practices such as presiding over meetings with service chiefs and heads of security organisations 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.”
The NSA said Kyari’s actions had not only ruptured the nation’s security and defence efforts but had slowed down any meaningful gain that Buhari had sought to achieve.
Monguno’s letter came as insecurity returned to the centre stage, a major cause for worry among Nigerians.
The president has repeatedly promised to curb the crises, many of which he met in the office, but has largely failed like his predecessors, to contain.
Security experts, opposition political parties and federal lawmakers have urged President Buhari to urgently sack his service chiefs.
According to them, the current security heads have been unable to rein in Boko Haram insurgents since 2015 when President Buhari named them to take charge of the various arms of the nation’s security architecture.
While previously held swathes of land have been taken back from terrorists, deadly attacks on civilians and military targets have worsened since 2018 and deteriorated.
The Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, reportedly said in recent media interviews that the military had degraded the insurgents’ capacity to attack Abuja and other cities outside the war-ravaged northeast.
The reports quoted national security sources as revealing that the fresh memo showed how Kyari helped in keeping the service chiefs in office despite overwhelming call for their sacking. It also underscored the frustration faced by Monguno and others who found the CoS’s influence over the president too domineering for national benefit.
But many Nigerians have blamed the administrative misdemeanor on Buhari’s seeming lukewarm disposition to governance.
Prior to the leakage of the December 9, 2019 memo by the NSA, the wind of mutual suspicion blowing in the presidency shortly after President Buhari secured a second term had begun to gather momentum.
Sources close to the principal actors confided in The Guardian that the delicate balance of power between officials of the Buhari presidency from Northwest and those from Northeast was approaching breaking point due to Buhari’s decision to accord wide powers to Kyari.
It was learned that even before the 2019 general elections, a decision had been taken not to reappoint the then Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan Ali and his colleague in the Ministry of Interior, Lt. General Dambazau (rtd) so as to effectively rejig the nation’s security architecture and give some bite to the fight against insurgency, illegal mining, banditry and other forms of security upheavals.
Sources disclosed that while President Buhari was being taken to task by Nigerians over the rising level of insecurity, the NSA and other powerful stakeholders from the insurgency- ravaged Northeast were worried that some members of the federal cabinet were more particular about their personal aggrandizement than the success of the fight against insurgency.
While allusion was made to the preceding administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, when the office of the NSA was very powerful and was used as the campaign headquarters of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Monguno and others from the beleaguered Northeast grumbled that similar authority had not been vested in the ONSA occupied by a “son of the soil” to prosecute the war on terror.
They complained that although on paper a semblance of balance between Northwest and Northeast was noticeable, the lines of communication were skewed against the Northeast, especially after President Buhari directed that ministers and heads of agencies should direct correspondence to his office through the CoS.
“So, even when Major General Bashir Salihi Magashi (rtd) from Kano State succeeded Dan Ali from Zamfara, while Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar from Bauchi State and Major General Tukur Buratai occupied the offices of Chief of Air Staff (CAS) and Chief of Army Staff (COAS), the President’s directive made it impossible for the COAS to bypass Kyari,” the source explained.
The source, a former top military officer from the North, stated that the new reporting organogram as directed by the president “created the impression that instead of closer working relationship with the ONSA, whose occupant was also a former military officer, the COAS bonded with Kyari, who was beginning to act as the shadow president.”
Piqued by the development, Monguno became apprehensive, especially as the renewal of his appointment has not been forthcoming.
Matters came to a head when some top military personnel attached to his office were withdrawn without evidence of immediate replacement, sending the erroneous signals that “either the NSA was endangered or that his office is no longer being carried along in the security scheme of the presidency.”
Presidency sources alleged that Monguno’s secret memo to the president was leaked from Kyari’s office ostensibly to pit the NSA against Buhari, adding that a similar leak attended Kaduna State governor’s memo when efforts were being made to create a rift between Mallam Nasir el Rufai and the president.
It was also learned that considerations for the 2023 presidency were contributory to the mutual suspicion between Monguno and Kyari, as sources in the presidency claim that while those close to Kyari seem to be working for a southern president, which their principal (Kyari) could pair up with, those from the Northeast are working on the original template, which suggests the emergence of a presidential candidate from their zone to cancel out the imbalance in the leadership of the country from their area.
With the Kaduna State governor coming out to declare support for power shift to the south in 2023, one of the three camps scheming to produce Buhari’s successor has given up, leaving those loyal to the Chief of Staff and those clamouring for “Northeast’s recognition and reward for their support for President Buhari’s second term.”