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.
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.
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 was nationalist, politician, statesman.
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.
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.
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. Then he journeyed into a very big waffle on how the procurements that were made had not been fully delivered.
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.”
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 about the Villa’s lukewarm-ness on the Nigerian 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. 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.
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