NSA: Why Tinubu must be circumspect in choice
As Nigeria now has its 16th President sworn in on Monday, May 29, 2023, among what is expected to be tackled headlong by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu is the issue of insecurity. Nigeria has been grappling with security challenges for over a decade, with the emergence of the Boko Haram terror group and rising violent crimes in the country.
Besides Boko Haram, which has been misusing religion for subversive activities, armed gangs, kidnappers, and separatist groups have exacerbated the security situation in this West African country of over 200 million people. Then there is the raging issue of ritual killings in the south, particularly Tinubu’s South West.
The conflict between cattle herders and farmers, the presence of the Shia Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) in central Nigeria, the Niger Delta Vigilante (NDA) and the IPOB in the southeast, the Boko Haram, or Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) in the northeast all disrupt the peace in one of Africa’s most populous countries.
Despite several operations to prevent terror groups attacks on civilians, kidnappings for ransom, and school attacks, past Nigerian governments found it difficult to find a genuine solution to the country’s security dilemma. Though significant efforts were made, a mismatch exists between expectations and actual success.
All eyes are now on President Tinubu to unleash his magic wand and mitigate the challenges posed by insecurity in the country. Expectedly, the Office of the National Security Adviser (NSA), is expected to answer to this. However, intelligence gathering, monitoring, processing and management must be placed in the hands of seasoned personnel who are competent for the job and can muster a paradigm shift in the larger interest of the citizenry irrespective of their religious, political or ethnic affiliations.
He must be able to stand out in wrestling with the challenges that undermine national security, necessitating solutions encompassing economic, psychological, and social factors. Such an individual does not have to have a military background but must necessarily possess requisite expertise in statecraft, public policy, internal security, and law enforcement, which is now a debate that has become a popular among pundits and those in the intelligence community. Whereas military experience may be good, it peters into the background in the face of more challenging, complex and contemporary strands of insecurity, which explains why we are where we are.
The NSA must have a direct interface with the President and the citizenry. He is the President’s eyes, and the National Security Agencies Act of 1986 expressly defined that role. 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 sole 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 an internal security collapse that requires 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.
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. His or her power is reflected in the ability to analyse trends and intelligence to predict the state of security in the nation. This requires broader intellectual and sociological sophistication to achieve, beyond what military training offers.
NSAs don’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. Here lies the paradox between preference and choice.
Unless we move away from excessive militarisation of the NSA – especially in a country where the military is reduced to taking over responsibilities under the jurisdiction of the Nigerian Police Force – this role is going to remain under-utilised. This is not about the reward for loyalty or politics. There is a pool of retired IGPs and people from the intelligence community with vast experience in national security endeavours.
Those with the stereotyped view that the occupant of the office of the NSA must be of military background have completely missed the point. The fact that Nigeria’s security challenges continue to defy solutions in the face of serial appointments of military operations as NSA makes for an immediate need for a change in the rules of engagement. It is reassuring that Nigerians are reaching a point where they see the wisdom of having a non-military person as an NSA.
The current President had during his campaign promised to place a high premium on the protection and the prosperity of people. He promised to tackle the nation’s problems with a commitment to solving them. This is the time for him to exhibit that to make life more abundant and allow national cohesion and peaceful coexistence; the right decisions and choices must be made without settling for old ideas, but by embracing fresh and innovative ideas.
He is known to possess the skill to identify talent. This is where that skill set is urgently needed for the effective delivery of good governance anchored on a national security architecture that moves away from the stereotype but which guarantees peace and stability.
• Kehinde is a legal practitioner based in Ibadan, Oyo State, and works with a new generation bank.