#BringBackOurGirls: Where is our Defence Minister, Aliyu Gusau?

Gen. Aliyu Gusau (Rtd), implicated

June 08, 2014
By Tonnie Iredia

At war times, such as the insurgency period we are in now, the Military is usually engaged in intense sacrifices as some of its members quite often have to pay the supreme sacrifice. It is therefore important for critics to exercise a high degree of restraint while analyzing delicate military issues. At the same time, those in charge of defence and security must not do anything, even if inadvertently, that can adversely affect the image of the military.

Unfortunately this has not been the case in the last few months amidst increased insecurity in the nation particularly the North. One rather inexplicable phenomenon has been the complete silence of our Defence Minister, General Aliyu Gusau.

gusau-kanoWhen he was appointed Minister of Defence in March; many, including this writer had confidently hoped that his return to the scene especially at the apex of government would stem the growing misery of our people arising from insurgency. Gusau had himself raised the bar when on assumption of office he said: “The challenges are evidently daunting but surmountable; with the help of almighty Allah and our collective resolve and determination we will get to the destination that will give Nigerians the confidence that the country is indeed a safe place for everyone”

Those who have followed events since after such a solemn assurance must be wondering now what exactly is wrong. First, there was the rumour that he resigned from office shortly after his appointment. It turned out that he did not. But whether he actually contemplated resignation was never resolved. Presidential spokesman, Reuben Abati, had declared as false, reports that Gusau had left office after an altercation between him and military commanders.

Why then did he fail to attend the Wednesday’s weekly cabinet meeting? Abati explained that the Minister had flu. Quite a few did not believe the story because the body language of the Minister of State (Defence) Senator Musliu Obanikoro suggested that there was some uneasy calm. The Media in particular doubted the explanation by the Presidency more so as a segment claimed that neither repeated calls made to Gusau nor text messages to his mobile telephone were answered or replied

After the episode, the Minister has said little or nothing about the unending polemics in his jurisdiction. There was the allegation by a foreign news agency that some top military officers were colluding with Boko Haram in their raging offensive in the North-East. Has any Military General been court martialled as a result of the allegation? The answer depends on which medium one is exposed to. Whereas the Interior Minister reportedly confirmed the subject adding that the investigations were sending the right signals down the line, the Military was said to have dismissed the allegation. Many waited in vain for the authoritative voice of the Defence Minister to clear the air. Again, it was both “yes” and “no” to the allegation that some soldiers attempted a kind of mutiny at Maimalari Barracks in Maiduguri, Borno State. The only point that was not disputed was that the General Officer of the Command was replaced.

On the vexed issue of Amnesty for Boko Haram, it was the Youth Development Minister Boni Haruna who revealed what originally looked like the government position. According to the Minister, President Jonathan had declared amnesty for members of the Boko Haram sect. Shortly after, Haruna was formally disowned. But considering the details he provided on the subject, it is difficult to imagine that Minister Haruna merely conjured the policy statement. In the words of the Minister: “Series of integration programmes have been lined up for the members of the sect who would surrender their arms and embrace peace”.

Whether Boni Haruna was right or not, the relevant aspect of the story to this article is the fact that it was him and not his Defence counterpart that had to speak. When then will Minister Gusau speak? Could it be that he has chosen to adopt the ‘silence is golden’ strategy to avoid being disowned? If so, the posture is worrisome.

If the Chief of Defence Staff can get to the point of telling the nation that our security forces know where the Chibok girls are being held, what is it that the political over-all head of the Military knows that he does not want to share with the nation? Does he for example agree that the Military is not well funded? His answer will throw light on the poser that although our annual budget on security of recent; doubles that of several other sectors put together, some people still talk about underfunding of the Military. One of such persons is Major-General Abdullah Muraina, the Nigerian Army Chief of Accounts and Budget who raised an alarm last month on what he called the negative impact that poor funding was causing to the current operation in the North-East and other parts of the country.

In Muraina’s words, “apart from the limitations of the envelope system, the Nigeria Army is enmeshed in the bureaucratic bottleneck for funding approvals for military operations”

The term ‘envelope system’ suggests that the Ministry of Defence is involved. If so, does the huge budgetary provision actually get to the Military and does it filter downwards? With these questions, the policy of complete silence can only justify calls for our security expenditure to be probed. Having reportedly expended N130billion in the first quarter of 2014, many people would no doubt support the idea of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) that the sector should be audited so as to fast-track the appropriate funding, training, kitting and equipping of our security personnel.

Meanwhile, Gusau is too brilliant and expertly skilled in security matters to head our Defence Ministry without success. So can someone remind him on our behalf that Nigerians look up to his expertise for solution to our unending insecurity? We agree that a trained security expert like him should avoid being loquacious but the other extreme of saying nothing can increase the rumour mill and indeed tilt public opinion towards cynicism. By the way, is he really still there?

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