By Tunde Akande.
President Bola Ahmed Tinubu is bringing some very radical departures from the usual pattern in Nigeria. One of the most notable is his appointment of Nuhu Ribadu as the national security adviser. Long before the appointment was formally announced, some online news had broached it. I contacted a friend who is fast becoming one of the power brokers in Nigeria to confirm the story and he told me it couldn’t be true. He confirmed that while it is true that some Northern power brokers had been rooting for Nuhu Ribadu to be National Security Adviser, his trajectory in the police before he was hounded out will not speak in his favour. Nuhu Ribadu was promoted some steps above some of his seniors to be Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC which he pioneered that was at par with the Inspector General of Police at that time. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the then president catapulted Ribadu from an assistant commissioner of police to be chairman of EFCC, a position which is at par with IG of Police. Obasanjo couldn’t be bothered despite the grumblings of the police, he wanted Ribadu and he must be. And to the expectation of Obasanjo but to the anger of corruption invested top Nigerians, Ribadu did well. What was a good performance that flowed from a radical determination of a president to stamp out corruption became for Ribadu a problem when Obasanjo left office. Umaru Yar’Adua the successor of Obasanjo in alliance with the enemies of Ribadu in many places especially the police first downgraded Ribadu and later sent him to a course he didn’t need at the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies, NIPSS, Kuru, Jos, and eventually sacked him.
Ribadu, the anti-corruption czar, tried his luck in politics but could not make a headway. Now a man who resembles Obasanjo by the way he appoints people and that has been acclaimed to be moving better and more strategically than his predecessor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Nigeria’s president since 29 May 2023, has returned Ribadu to government. For the first time in a very long time, a retired police officer will be holding an office that had been exclusively reserved for the military. When the security team of Nigeria now meet, which includes the army, the navy, the air force, military intelligence, the police, the Department of State Service, DSS and other paramilitary, it will be headed by a retired Assistant Inspector General of Police, AIG. Tinubu’s strategy was to first announce Ribadu as a special adviser for security before finally announcing him as National Security Adviser. In the United States of America, the NSA coordinates foreign affairs, international economic policy, intelligence and domestic security. In Nigeria, the office is yet to take a character of its own, but it has been dominated since its inception by the military.
How the military will feel or respond to taking orders from a retired police officer will be an exciting scenario to watch in the days to come. For one thing, the military in Nigeria because of their long stay in power in the days of military coups has become very overbearing and arrogant to the civilian populace. In the administration of former President Muhammadu Buhari the national security adviser, Babagana Monguno a retired military general, especially failed together with all the military chiefs to tame serious security problems in the nation. In the United States of America, from which we copied our presidential system, the national security adviser is hardly taken from the military. In fact, only about seven of them have so far been appointed from the military. Henry Kissinger, for example, was fetched from the university. He is a professor of political science and his impact as national security advisor and later as secretary of state is a record in the US.
In Nigeria, copying the idea of picking the national security adviser from the civilian populace especially among those trained in strategic studies, political science or other fields such as law, psychology or sociology is thought to be able to deliver the nation from its militarization. Go to our motor parks if you want to feel the effect of this militarization and you will see these tough-looking men greet themselves in a military fashion. They even take military ranks. Then observe brawling in the streets, you will see little brushes settled in fisticuffs. Nigerians don’t believe in civil ways of resolving disputes. Even though the nation has been in democracy since 1999, it is still common to see soldiers meting out discipline to civilians on the road or to see soldiers match out of their barracks to fight with civilians at the slightest excuse. Nigerians don’t believe in calling in police to settle disputes, going to court is out of it; disputes must be settled with fisticuffs. Our tertiary institutions are also invested in the same militarization. Little disagreement must lead the students to the streets destroying every public facility in sight. When the youths protested against police brutality, in 2020, Muhammadu Buhari the president, a retired military general called in soldiers who ran away using the cover of darkness after they had sent some of these youths to death by bullets.
Incidentally, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who seems to be ordering a new orientation was affected by the EndSARS protest of the youth. Because he took sides with Muhammadu Buhari in an obvious strategy to curry favour from Buhari so he will favour him in the elections, Tinubu almost lost the entire youth of the nation. In Lagos his base, he lost the presidential election to Labour Party candidate Peter Obi who rode the crest of an almost youth revival. Infuriated by Tinubu’s opposition, the youth mounted a very strong campaign against him and caused him to lose the Lagos and Abuja elections. Perhaps, this loss is the reason Tinubu has brought in Ribadu, a man that can be described as not fully military to start the process of demilitarization of the Nigerian society. Opinion moulders have suggested very strongly that henceforth civilians who are well-educated will be the nation’s security adviser so that the military will be subjugated to the civilian population. Some have even suggested that if General Yakubu Gowon and Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu, the two main dramatis personae in Nigeria’s tragic civil war had been civilians, the nation would not have gone to that tragic war from which it has not recovered till now. It is now clear to Nigerians that the claim of the military to any reformation of the civil government is at best a ruse; the less of the military in the lives of Nigerians, many feel, the better.
What would Ribadu bring to the table? Ribadu is a very courageous person who will not fear taking charge of the security agencies. His foray into politics and his fruitless efforts first to be president in an election where he was sponsored by Tinubu’s then Action Party of Nigeria, ACN, and attempts to be the governor of his Adamawa state would have tamed him in the civilian way of life and a knowledge of the difficulties of power acquisition in a civilian setting. Ribadu is thus expected to be in firm control and to be civil in his duties. From his performance at the EFCC, Ribadu has an ingrained hatred for corruption. This will become necessary to heal the military of corruption acquired in fifteen years of insurgency in the Northeast of Nigeria, which has become, allegedly, a cash cow for the soldiers. The military has become very entrenched because of corruption. Asari Dokubo, one of the heads of a group of militants in the oil-rich Niger Delta, while he visited President Tinubu at the Villa, literally dragged the military in the mud when he charged them with stealing money and lying about not being well-armed in its assignment of securing the nation. He attributed the little peace that is enjoyed in some parts of the North to himself and his men in his private army and not to the nation’s military. Many Nigerians heard that for the first time. So, the military need healing and Ribadu seem poised to do that. Tinubu’s choice of ex-policeman Ribadu is a signal to the military that it has failed in its duty of securing the nation and that the nation is looking in another direction.
Tinubu’s change of direction which has enjoyed the accolades of many Nigerians must definitely anger Buhari and his cabal who set Nigeria back at least three decades and left Nigeria divided. Even the military will not be happy as it has seemed to suffer humiliation. The humiliation of the military and the readiness of Tinubu to make for change is reflected in Tinubu’s recent comprehensive overhaul of the military apparatus around him in the presidency and in Aso Rock. Yet, citizens are calling Tinubu to watch his back.
Tunde Akande is both a journalist and pastor. He earned a Master’s degree in Mass Communication from the University of Lagos