Earlier in the week a guest blogger and I published separate posts on Nigeria’s new defense minister, Aliyu Mohammed Gusau. The two blog posts, while covering different aspects of the appointment, saw it as a positive step, providing the possibility for a new Abuja approach to the “Boko Haram” insurrection in northern Nigeria.
The government’s present response, which views the “Boko Haram” insurgency as a counter-terrorism issue, and emphasizes a predominantly military response, is manifestly failing. There was serious carnage yesterday in Maiduguri, including a full “Boko Haram” attack on Giwa Barracks, a notorious military detention center that, according to credible human rights organizations, has been a center of gross human rights abuses.
Before he accepted the appointment as minister of defense, Gusau published a list of conditions to his accepting the defense position, including that he would have direct authority over the military service chiefs. Now, however, the chief of defense staff, Air Marshall Alex Badeh is, apparently, denying the minister direct access to the other service chiefs on the basis that to do so would violate the chain of command and constitutional scope of the minister of defense postion. According to the Nigerian media, Gusau has appealed to President Jonathan to reign in Badeh; otherwise, Gusau will resign. The Nigerian media is reporting that president Jonathan has enlisted the help of former military chief-of-state Ibrahim Babangida, Senate president David Mark, and National Security Advisor Sambo Dasuki–all friends or colleagues of Gusau–to end the stand-off.
Badeh is appealing to the constitution, saying that it vests only the president with the power to direct the service chiefs. However, the constitution is apparently silent on whether the president can delegate that authority to the minister of defense.
It is difficult to see a middle ground between Gusau and Badeh. If the president upholds Badeh, Gusau is likely to resign and his powerful sponsors will be angered and the chance for a new approach to the north will be lost. If the president upholds Gusau, then he will be asserting civilian control over the military, some commentators say. The irony is that Gusau is a retired lieutenant general and an active participant in previous military governments. But, he does not come from Jonathan’s inner circle.