from Africa in Transition

Guest Post: Nigeria’s New Security: Dasuki in, Azazi out

June 26, 2012

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President Goodluck Jonathan’s dismissal of Andrew Azazi as his national security advisor and of Bello Haliru as minister of defense is his most dramatic response thus far to Boko Haram. Below is long-time Nigeria watcher Jim Sanders’ take, with which I agree.

I would add that Azazi’s successor, Lt. Col. Sambo Dasuki, is a member of the Sokoto royal family. He was the aide-de-camp to former military chief of state and power-broker Ibrahim Babangida, to whom he is said to be fiercely loyal. According to the press, he is also married to the sister of Aliyu Mohammed Gusau, who has served multiple times as the national security advisor. Gusau, too, has also been close to Babangida. So, Dasuki is part of the core Northern elite. The Nigerian press reports that Gusau himself is under heavy pressure to accept the now vacant position of minister of defense. If he does, Northern security policy will be in the hands of Northerners, raising the possibility of a new approach to Boko Haram. But Boko Haram is at war with the Muslim elite of which Dasuki and Gusau are a part. Their appointments will hardly mollify it.

In an unexpected shakeup on Friday, President Jonathan replaced Nigeria’s national security adviser Andrew Azazi with retired army Colonel Sambo Dasuki—a result of his dissatisfaction with the country’s deteriorating security situation. The president also fired Minister of Defense Haliru Mohammed Bello, but his replacement is not yet known. Jonathan explained that Boko Haram "changes their tactics every day; so you must also begin to change your staff and personnel to beat their styles." Reportedly, contacts at the development summit Jonathan had recently attended in Brazil rebuffed appeals for investment, citing Nigeria’s high level of insecurity, and urged stronger action.

In addition to his inability to bring the Boko Haram insurgency under control, Azazi had earlier run afoul of the presidency with statements critical of the ruling party. In April, the then NSA, speaking at an economic forum, stated that "The PDP got it wrong from the beginning by saying Mr. A can rule; Mr. B cannot rule, according to the PDP convention rules and regulations and not according to the constitution. That created the climate of what is happening and manifesting in the country today." Azazi believed the "ongoing violence by an Islamic sect (Boko Haram) was also linked to the battle for 2015, adding that people should ask questions as to how the said sect just suddenly become very well armed." In response, President Jonathan advised his NSA "to be careful about how he speaks in public." Recent attacks in Kaduna may have expedited a staff change that was already in the works.

Jonathan’s replacement of Azazi, a Christian southerner from the same state as the president himself, with Sambo Dasuki, a retired army colonel who is a northern Muslim and closely connected to that region’s elites, appears to address a longstanding northern grievance that his government is too southern. The Northern Governors Forum described the president’s action as "a good step in a right direction."

Will Dasuki’s appointment make a difference in the government’s efforts to fight Boko Haram? Perhaps not. He has been away from the security services for a long time and the involvement of a former soldier, Habibu Bama, in the sect’s bombings, suggest that elements of the military may be sympathetic to the group. More importantly, Boko Haram, or at least elements of it, do not appear to be influenced by northern elites, or even by foreign terrorist organizations. What may be behind the insurgency’s increasing momentum is described by Richard Landes in his book, Heaven On Earth, Varieties of the Millennial Experience.

Landes explains: "But when people believe that in the near future, everything will change and the dominant will lose their power to harm, such apocalyptic enthusiasts become radically uninhibited, at least in terms of the current public transcript. None of the ’normal’ threats work to intimidate someone, who, to those on the outside, appears literally ’mad’. These people burn bridges to a ’normal’ future; they welcome death—martyrdom. They are beyond the reach of normal controls."

Boko Haram believes it is winning. Abuja’s new tactics remain to be seen.

More on:

Sub-Saharan Africa

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Terrorism and Counterterrorism

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