Mohammed Babagana Monguno, the national security adviser (NSA) to President Muhammadu Buhari, is an unhappy man. Those close to him say since he was appointed in 2015, his expectations have not been met. Since then, he has always cut the image of an isolated, powerless NSA.
The NSAs before him were known to be very powerful and were always at the centre of action, with considerable say on the affairs of the security agencies. They also controlled large budgets.
Monguno has, however, felt that he has been pushed to the margins since 2015, except when Buhari was on a prolonged medical leave in the UK in 2017 and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo called the shots. Even then, according to presidential sources, Osinbajo was careful in giving approvals, insisting that things be done following due process.
In 2016, TheCable understands, Monguno had brought a proposal to buy arms worth billions of dollars. Buhari initially consented but withdrew his approval on realising that third parties were involved, deciding that Nigeria should deal directly with the governments of US and China.
Monguno was never again to be involved in arms procurement as Buhari decided that it should be handled by the ministry of defence and ministry of police affairs.
Initially, Monguno blamed the late Abba Kyari, the former chief of staff to the president, for his marginal role. He wrote a series of letters, leaked to the media, in which he accused Kyari of interfering in military affairs and frustrating the war against Boko Haram.
However, since Kyari’s death, Monguno has not noticed any improvement in his status.
It was also an open secret that Monguno was not on good terms with the service chiefs that were recently replaced.
TheCable understands that in 2016, Buhari had approved extra-budgetary support for the army, air force and police for operations in the north-east. When Monguno asked the service chiefs to account for the money a year later, he was not satisfied with their reports.
His attempt to make them report directly to him, or at least defer to him, also hit a brickwall.
ROLE RE-DEFINED BY BUHARI
In January 2020, Buhari appeared to have laid down the marker for Monguno when he asked him to stop issuing instructions and directives to the service chiefs and the inspector-general of police, presidency officials told TheCable.
This was the clearest indication yet that the president does not consider Monguno to be the co-ordinator of all the security agencies — contrary to his own definition of his role.
Monguno had directed that troops be deployed in the Shiroro Hydroelectric Power Station — without the commander-in-chief’s approval.
Buhari, in his response to the memo, said the NSA should “please be advised to limit yourself to co-ordinating security intelligence and reporting to me directly”, adding that he should “stop issuing direct orders to the service chiefs and the Inspector General of Police”. The memo was dated January 10, 2020.
The retired major general, who once commanded the elite Brigade of Guards, was frustrated and had hoped that the death of Kyari in April 2020 would tilt things in his favour, but little changed.
ARMS COMING FROM ‘AMERICA OR EVERYWHERE’
In over 10 years that the Nigerian military has been waging war against insurgency in the north-east, one complaint, especially from the troops at the frontline, has remained: lack of weapons.
When Buhari came to office, almost all the service chiefs who had served under Jonathan were accused of corruption, including Sambo Dasuki, his NSA. There were reports that funds meant to buy arms were misappropriated by President Goodluck Jonathan’s service chiefs.
It, therefore, shocked many Nigerians on Friday when Monguno suggested in an interview with BBC Hausa that money appropriated for arms under Buhari’s service chiefs — who had served for almost five years — “is gone”.
In 2018, Buhari had approved the release of $1 billion for the procurement of security equipment to fight Boko Haram insurgents.
“We don’t know where the money went to. The president has given out some money for equipment but they are yet to arrive,” Monguno said in the interview.
“Maybe some will be on their way from England, from America and everywhere but right now, I do not see anything on ground and they have also not seen anything on ground.”
Hours after the interview, however, Monguno was quick to dismiss his earlier comment, saying he was quoted out of context.
“In the interview, the National Security Adviser clearly informed the BBC reporter that Mr President has provided enormous resources for arms procurement, but the orders were either inadequate or yet to be delivered and that did not imply that the funds were misappropriated under the former Service Chiefs,” his office said in a statement.
TheCable understands that the $1 billion was paid directly to the US government for the equipment and Monguno knows, even though he was not involved in the process.
“The US was directly paid over $1 billion for the Super Tucanos and other equipment that will help the security agencies. Delivery will begin this year. You don’t buy these things off the shelf,” a senior presidency official told TheCable.
Despite backtracking on his claims on the BBC, Monguno remains an unhappy figure in Buhari’s government.
Not all NSAs are created equal, after all.