The reported disagreement between the National Security Adviser (NSA), Maj-Gen. Babagana Monguno (rtd) and the Chief of Staff (CoS) to President Muhammadu Buhari, Malam Abba Kyari which made its way to the public domain has provided an opportunity to re-assess the nation’s concept of national security, and its various dimensions. The NSA, in an internal memo dated December 9, 2019, entitled: ‘Disruption of National Security Framework by Unwarranted Meddlesomeness,’ accused the Chief of Staff of meddling on matters of national security, as well as attempting to usurp his role as NSA. In the memo, which curiously found its way into the public arena, the NSA is alarmed, and indeed upset by the decision of Service Chiefs and some designated serving Ministers to attend meetings convened, and chaired by the CoS. According to the NSA, this is an aberration as the CoS is neither in a position to preside over such meetings nor does he possess the requisite professional competence to perform such task which borders on matters of national security.
The Board of Editors of The New Diplomat while appreciating the NSA’s perspectives, however hold the view that the NSA may have narrowly, and inappropriately defined the overall concept of National Security in his memo, and in that sense, improperly approximated national security to military-centered dynamics. The New Diplomat Board of Editors are of the view that the Chief of Staff (CoS) under a modern presidential system, as practiced in the United States, plays a very powerful, crucial role as he coordinates ALL staff, including the NSA, and appointees of the President with the exception of elected officers. The subject matter here therefore goes beyond the occupant of this all-important office. In fact, General Abdullahi Mohamed (rtd), pioneer Director-General of the defunct National Security Organization (NSO) which crystallized into DSS today, who served as Chief of Staff under former President Obasanjo, and was adjudged as effective in that role, coordinated meetings that touch on a variety of critical subject matters of national security, diplomacy, strategy, and economy, among others. But that doesn’t mean the CoS has usurped those roles.
This development raises a number of questions which go deep down to the overall heart of the concept of national security which Nigeria has promoted incorrectly and badly over the years as military-centered thereby neglecting crucial components, and dimensions, such as diplomacy, economy, international affairs, technology, administration, strategic planning, etc. In the US which Nigeria patterns its presidential system after, what is the role of an NSA, and what background do typical NSAs normally possess?
Sadly, the concept of national security and role of the Office of the NSA in Nigeria has been tragically equated with mainly military security. Again, this poses more crucial questions: What is truly the role of an NSA? And what should be the appropriate background of a competent person that would truly discharge the functions of that office creditably? What are some of the best examples we can draw from?
In the US, the NSA previously called Assistant to the President on National Security Affairs, coordinates defense, foreign affairs, international economic policy, and intelligence. This job description reflects the recognition that national security extends beyond military security and encompasses foreign affairs, international economic policy, and increasingly technological policy. Also in the U.S., the appointment of professionals with military background as NSAs has been the exception rather than the rule: the very few military persons who have occupied the NSA position include General Collin Powell under President Reagan, Brent Scowcroft under President Ford and later President Bush senior, James Jones briefly under President Obama, and Michael Flynn who served briefly under President Trump.
Mainly, appointees to the NSA role in the U.S. have been very distinguished academics and excellent diplomats. Some examples might suffice here: George McBundy under President Kennedy, Walter Rostow under President Johnson, Henry Kissinger under President Nixon, Brzezinski under President Carter, Condoleezza Rice under President Bush junior, and Susan Rice in the second term of President Obama. And who were these persons? McGeorge Bundy, who had a very distinguished career as an American Foreign Policy academic and served as NSA under President John F. Kennedy was a Professor of Government, and the youngest Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University. Rostow who served as NSA under President Johnson was a professor of Economic History at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and his earth-shaking book, “The Stages of Economic Growth“, has been most engaging; Henry Kissinger who was NSA under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, was a Professor of Government and Foreign Relations at Harvard; Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was NSA under President Carter was a Professor of International Relations at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), and Condoleezza Rice, who was NSA under Bush Junior, is a Professor of Political science and a Diplomat. After her service, she returned to Stanford University as a political science professor. And again, Susan Rice who served under Obama was US Ambassador to the United Nations (UN) before her appointment.
In Nigeria, the position of NSA has almost become the exclusive preserve of retired military officers. Various arguments have been adduced for this: One, that they are better at forestalling insurgencies. Two, that they have a better sense of the military, and they potentially offer better advice to the President. But the questions to ask are: How impressive, effective can we truly say successive NSAs with military background have been over the years in forestalling threats to national security or insurgencies like Boko Haram?
The New Diplomat’s Board of Editors is of the view that the central issue of maintaining national security, defined narrowly, and incorrectly as military security has raised the need to re-examine the tasks of the NSA, and the appointment of professionals for that role. NSAs with military background have not demonstrated any spectacular performance in addressing national security challenges in recent years. The NSA typically must advise the president on the proper instrument(s), protocols, and methodology to deploy in addressing a given crisis or problem of national security dimensions. Not all crisis are amenable to the use, and application of military force. Two instances are vital here: First, the militancy in Niger Delta was handled with brute force for many years, even though the agitation cried out for economic, social and environmental solutions. Secondly, the Amnesty program implemented by a civilian president (late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua) without military background saved the reputation of the country. The insurgency of Boko Haram has hardly abated, even though one of the former NSAs with military background boasted that Boko Haram insurgency will end within months of his appointment. That NSA has since left office yet the insurgency persists!
It is clear that that the definition of national security promoted by successive NSAs has been so military-centered that the international, economic, technological, strategic planning and foreign affairs dimensions have been lacking. This latest development therefore calls for an urgent opportunity to move Nigeria closer to the U.S. model of a broader definition of national security, and staff the position of NSA accordingly. No country that wants to succeed or be taken seriously in the global community persists in flawed experiments in nation-building, especially on matters of national security.