Ribadu, Security Chiefs and Their Customers
After barely four weeks in power, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has shown Nigerians that he means business. On Monday, Buhari retired the old military chiefs and the Inspector General of Police. He finally sent home the durable Colonel Hameed Ibrahim Ali, who was the Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Customs Service (CGC), for the past eight years and brought in Bashir Adewale Adeniyi to take charge.
He appointed the high-profile retired Assistant Inspector-General of Police and former presidential contender, Nuhu Ribadu, as the National Security Adviser (NSA), to replace the reticent Major-General Babagana Monguno. He has taken charge. He is the Commander-in-Chief.
The nation’s security apparatus is consequential to the health of the republic. Some of these officers are well known. Egbetokun, the new IGP, was Tinubu’s security aide when he was the Governor of Lagos State.
The new CGC had served as the head of the Public Relations unit for many years. He is one of the best-educated customs officers in the republic and only last year was given national honour by President Muhammadu Buhari. In 2020, Adeniyi was honoured with the Comptroller-General Award for the seizure of $8.6 million (about N6 billion) cash at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport where he was then the commandant.
The most prominent appointee, however, is Nuhu Ribadu, the pioneer Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Since his appointment into the EFCC chair in 2003, he has been in the public glare. Since he left that office, indeed that office has not left him, for his public profile and reputation is delineated by his performance of that duty.
His name, since Tinubu came to power, had lingered as the next NSA, a position that has been monopolised by retired military officers since 1999. Though two former police officers have occupied the post in the past during the military era, it has been filled with retired military officers since Chief Olusegun Obasanjo appointed Major-General Aliyu Mohammed Gusau to that office in 1999. Ribadu will redefine the character of the office.
The indication originally was that a pure civilian with knowledge and competence of security matters would be given that assignment for it was apparent to insiders that President Tinubu would prefer to break with the military tradition. This time around, Ribadu is coming with a portfolio full of resources. He is a politician of national reckoning. He was the presidential candidate of Tinubu’s Action Congress in 2011 when he ran with iconic banker, Fola Adeola, as number two on the ticket. Now he has won the big one.
His tour of duty as EFCC chairman has given him a lot of international exposure and connections. He is respected for his competence, integrity and grit. In the months and years ahead, he would indeed face his ultimate test. He is one man who knows where many of the bodies are buried.
Appointing the service chiefs is a delicate and consequential assignment for the Head of Government. During the First Republic, there were only two services of serious consequences; the army and the police. Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa, along with his Minister of Defence, Muhammadu Ribadu, was a promoter for the Nigerianisation of the armed forces.
The departing British General Officer Commanding (GOC) the Nigerian Army, Major-General Sir Christopher Welby-Everard, believed that Balewa should tarry awhile before making a Nigerian the GOC. Balewa refused. He appointed Major-General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi in 1965 as the Nigerian successor to Welby-Everard. Few months later, the army struck and Balewa was killed in Nigeria’s first coup.
In November 1994, I had gone to Nsukka to attend the 90th birthday of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nigerian first President and Commander-in-Chief. Among the guests at the large hall was Chief Adeniran Ogunsanya, a long time Zik’s associate who had contested for the governorship of Lagos State in the 1979 general election.
Also in the audience was Lt. General Jeremiah Useni, a close associate of General Sani Abacha. Useni had led a powerful Federal Military Government delegation to honour Zik. During his speech, Ogunsanya was unsparing of the military and its role in truncating democracy.
“During the colonial period and the First Republic, we fought to Nigerianise the military and promote the careers of our military boys,” he said. “We gave you teeth and you used it to bite us!”
Coping with the military has been a delicate assignment for Nigerian elected governments. In 1979, President Shehu Shagari had inherited the top brass structure virtually appointed by the departed regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo. The service chiefs were Lt. General Alani Akinrinade, for the Army, Rear Admiral Ayinde Adelanwa for the Navy and Air Vice-Marshal Yisa Doko for the Air force. It was only in 1980 that Shagari tampered with what he inherited. He made Akinrinade the Chief of Defence Staff and appointed Lt. General Gibson Jalo as the Chief of Army Staff. Adelanwa was replaced with Vice-Admiral Akintunde Aduwo as the new Chief of Naval Staff.
Shagari also promoted several military officers and made the likes of Ibrahim Babangida and Muhammadu Buhari Major-Generals. This however did not save him. When the military struck on the night of December 31, 1983, there was no one to save the President. The event met him at the new Federal Capital, Abuja. As the coupist closed in, President Shagari fled to a farm in Nasarawa.
Nigeria has changed tremendously, especially since President Olusegun Obasanjo climbed the saddle in 1999. He immediately sacked the old service chiefs he inherited from General Abdulsalami Abubakar. Now we have the newest set who must confront the old challenges of security.
There is no doubt that President Buhari security team did a lot to degrade the capacity of Boko Haram and kindred terror groups, but the snake has been scorched, but not killed. What has overtaken the landscape are the truly profitable business of kidnapping and yahoo plus. The IPOB and other freelance secessionist groups in the Southeast, though considerably weakened, are still roaming the streets of Igboland like angry specters. We also have the problems of drugs, drug addiction, ritual killings and other crimes.
Though these are serious crimes, they cannot be compared to the bigger crimes committed by the men and women of power among us. These stronger tribes of criminals, who could steal pension funds, hijack a whole ministry or attempt to kidnap the Central Bank, put the entire Nigerian project in jeopardy.
That all these could happen shows the weaknesses in our system. The months and years ahead would be interesting, especially for Ribadu, who is perched on the totem pole of the Tinubu security apparatus. Many of his old customers are presently red cap chiefs in the National Assembly.