Nothing during last Friday’s emergency meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, suggested an imminent sack of any of the members seated.
It was characteristically businesslike although not totally free of its own light side with President Goodluck Jonathan even throwing some banter at General Owoye Azazi who, in a matter of hours thereafter, ceased to be the National Security Adviser (NSA).
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Also sacked at the end of the meeting was the Minister of Defence, Dr. Muhammed Haliru Bello.
The only topic on the agenda was the latest round of the Boko Haram assault on Zaria, Kaduna and Damaturu earlier in the week.
The President opened the meeting expressing displeasure at the continued threat posed to the nation’s security by the Boko Haram insurgency. He then invited others at the meeting to make contributions.
One source said: “Each member of the council took time to offer suggestions on the way out of the Boko Haram menace. Both Azazi and Bello did an extensive review but they ended up with the usual refrain of ‘we are on top of the situation, we will overcome.’
“But when the Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshal Oluseyi Petinrin made his submission, it was apparent that the President was tired of ‘we are on top of the situation’. He wanted a fresh plan in line with Petinrin’s suggestion.
“Petinrin had claimed that ‘in modern approach to terrorism, you take the battle to the terrorists, you don’t wait till they strike.’
It was gathered that some members of the council were also uncomfortable with the attitude of the Judiciary to terror suspects, including the disposition of some judges to set free Boko Haram members on trial.
They argued that judges should know that terrorism cases are ordinarily bailable like other matters.
Another source said: “Some members suggested the adoption of the Indian model which makes terrorism a capital offence like murder. They called for a law in this respect to check the recklessness of some judges who are hell-bent on releasing Boko Haram and other terrorist organizations’ members either in custody or on trial.
“There may be a new bill which would impose stiffer sanctions on terrorists in the country.”
It was also gathered that a new National Counter-Terrorism Strategy will be put in place any moment from now.
“The new strategy will be comprehensive in such a manner that after Boko Haram insurgency, it will be difficult for the nation to experience such in future,” sources said.
On the freezing of the accounts of the sponsors of Boko Haram, members agreed that it would be a difficult exercise because of the international link of the sect with the Al-Qaeda network.
“There was a consensus that sponsors of the sect used to send funds through a third or fourth party which usually makes it difficult to trace,” the source added.
Members of the Council were said to have left the session satisfied that they were on the same page with the President on the issue of tackling the security problem.
The source said: “The President was at his best, he cracked jokes with everyone at the session, especially Azazi and Bello, without the slightest indication of his plan to sack them thereafter.”
Many of those at the meeting were reportedly shocked on hearing the news of the removal of the duo after leaving the meeting.
“The President did not betray his emotion that he had a different plan,” the source said.
It was apparent that the session on Boko Haram was a test for all the service chiefs and heads of security agencies. I think the President also called the meeting to gauge the pulse of everyone based on security reports at his disposal.
“I think the President was just tired of the old approach to the Boko Haram menace, he wanted a fresh idea,” the source added.
But the sack announcement did not surprise Azazi who, according to sources, was drawn aside by the President at the end of the meeting and told that his tenure as security czar was over.
There were indications yesterday that two time National Security Adviser (NSA), Lt-General Muhammad Aliyu Gusau is topping the list of possible candidates for the vacant post of Minister of Defence.
Colonel Sambo Dasuki (rtd), a former ADC to ex-military ruler General Ibrahim Babangida was named the new NSA.
It was unclear last night whether Gusau who served as NSA in the Obasanjo administration and the Jonathan government up to the 2011 election would accept the offer.
However, his preference for the job by the President is believed to be a strong indication of government’s determination to find a lasting solution to the Boko Haram insurgency.
The names of other candidates for the Defence Minister position were kept under wraps at press time.
A highly-placed source said: “Gusau’s option is being weighed because of his international exposure and expertise on terrorism. He has been serving as a consultant to many countries on terrorism.
“The truth is that each time Nigeria approaches any country for assistance against Boko Haram, there is always reference to Gusau as an expert. I think the President wants Gusau to assist his nation.
“But no one is sure whether Gusau, a former presidential aspirant, will accept the offer or not. But consultations are on to convince him to accept the offer. “
Sources also said the Friday changes in the security hierarchy are a bold statement by the Jonathan administration of its intention to now take the battle against terrorism to the doorstep of Boko Haram after previous efforts to bring the group to the negotiation table had failed.
The implication is that government may resort to actions to pre-empt the insurgents as against responding to its strikes,the last of which claimed 34 lives in Damaturu,Yobe State on Monday and about 70 in Zaria and Kaduna the previous day.