Following Friday’s sacking of Dr. Haliru Bello, an intense jostling for the portfolio has commenced in the corridors of power.
Investigations on Sunday by our correspondents indicated that the lobby had polarised the Presidency as some of the loyalists of President Goodluck Jonathan were urging him not to appoint another northerner into the sensitive office.
This is, however, against the advice of some, who are saying that a competent hand should be picked from any of the six geo-political zones of the country.
Those against the appointment of another northerner anchor their argument on the appointment of a northerner to replace the sacked National Security Adviser, Gen. Owoye Azazi.
The Presidency while announcing the sacking of Azazi,on Friday named Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.) as his replacement. While Azazi hails from Bayelsa State, Dasuki is from Sokoto State.
A source in the Presidency, who spoke with our correspondent on the condition of anonymity on Sunday, said the battle was between those who wanted a replacement for Bello to come from the North and those who would want the President to pick his successor from the southern part of the country.
The source said, “Their argument is that it will not be proper for the President, who does not have any military background and is almost naive on military tactics to put all his defence in the hands of northerners alone.
“They are saying that the President had hitherto removed a southerner as the Inspector General of Police (Mr. Ogbonna Onovo) and appointed a northerner (Hafiz Ringim) as his replacement. Ringim was succeeded by another northerner, Mohammed Abubakar.
“They also said he had removed Azazi and replaced him with another northerner. The police are strategic; the office of the NSA is also strategic. Therefore, the President ought to appoint a southerner as replacement for Bello to balance the equation.”
Investigations on Sunday showed that prominent politicians from the South, including chieftains of the Peoples Democratic Party, had contacted Jonathan to appoint a southerner as Bello’s successor.
However, it was gathered that the North insisted that the exigencies of the present period demanded the retention of the post in the region.
A prominent South-South leader, who pleaded anonymity, said that if some powerful Northerners, who had the ear of the President had their way, two former generals would be back to power by proxy.
He stated, “Our stand is that the principle of federal character demands that the minister of defence portfolio should go to the South.
“Since the North has been given the NSA position, the President should appoint a Southerner as defence minister. We will get across to the President to make him see reason.”
The South-South leader also faulted the appointment of Dasuki, a former aide-de-camp to a former military dictator, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, as the new NSA.
“I don’t want to sound pessimistic. But let’s wait and see whether Dasuki’s appointment will solve the problem of Boko Haram. He is not an intelligence officer. He is an artillery man,” he said.
But a PDP chieftain from the North told our correspondent that though the region was not opposed to the demand of the South, the country was going through a difficult period.
“These are unusual times that require unusual decision. The President should do anything that will put an end to the Boko Haram crisis. Since the problem is restricted to the North, the President should retain the defence minister’s portfolio in the North,” the PDP powerbroker, who spoke under anonymity said.
Investigations showed that a former Chief of Army Staff, Maj.-Gen. Ishaya Bamaiyi (retd.) has become a power broker in the Presidential Villa, and would have a say in who becomes the next defence minister.
Bamaiyi, it was gathered, was one of the few former military officers that have the ear of the President, especially on how to tackle the insecurity problem in the country.
Apart from him, a former military Governor of Niger State, Col. Lawan Gwadabe (retd.), is also said to be advising the President on the modalities to use in picking the next minister of defence.
Meanwhile, socio-ethnic groups on Sunday cautioned the President on security appointments.
The National Secretary of the Ijaw National Congress, Mr. Robinson Esitei, warned Jonathan against Boko Haram’s infiltration into the Presidential Guard.
Esitei said that the President had the powers to appoint any Nigerian into the position of the NSA.
He however warned Jonathan to be very careful in appointing people to that position in order not to create the opportunity for the Boko Haram to infiltrate the Presidential Guards.
He recalled that the security crises in the country were not because of Nigeria but because of Jonathan.
The Secretary-General of the Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, Dr. Femi Okurounmu, faulted the North’s desire to retain the defence portfolio.
According to him, it will be against the principle of federalism if the defence minister is appointed from the North.
He, however, said that the President could appoint the minister from the Middle Belt.
“Both positions for now should not go to Northerners because of the security situation there. You cannot trust any Northerner now. The President should appoint the minister from the Middle Belt,” Okurounmu stated.
He blamed the security situation in the country on corruption, saying most political appointees were only interested in enriching themselves.
The Afenifere secretary said, “They are only committed to what they can get. We need somebody with an analytical mind as the NSA and a President who cannot be intimidated from taking correct decision. Both of these are lacking.”
Also, a former Kaduna State Governor, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, said Azazi and Mohammed were scapegoats.
He said, “They were not responsible for the insecurity in the country. It is the system and the political leadership that brought about the negative state of the nation, including insecurity.
“This is a system that is based on self interest against public interest which is directly responsible for the disabling level of corruption and criminal waste. It is also responsible for unemployment, poverty and unless the system and the political leadership are changed there is nothing the National Security Adviser and Minister of Defence can do.”