A group of security experts, including a Dutch national, held a meeting recently with interior minister Abdulrahman Dambazau at his office in Abuja to discuss Nigeria’s multitude of security challenges, especially the crisis caused by Fulani herdsmen across the country. Several of the experts at the meeting came out very disappointed with the minister.
Dambazau, on paper, seemed a perfect fit for a ministry whose responsibilities include “security of lives and properties” and a mandate that includes “fostering the maintenance of internal security”. He retired from the Nigerian army in 2010 as a Lieutenant-General and Chief of Army Staff. He also holds a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice from Ohio’s Kent State University and a PhD in Criminology from Keele University in the UK. Incidentally, Dambazau was one of the ministerial nominees that, at least, looked the part during his Senate confirmation hearings in 2015.
But this did not come across at the meeting with the experts. One of them told Naijiant.com that the minister was “shallow, did not have any basic command of the issues at stake and lacked substance”. Dambazau also appeared to not have bothered with any serious consideration of the herdsmen menace that has accounted for about 200 deaths this year already and thousands more in previous years.
When questioned about policy options for curbing the incessant attacks by gunmen suspected to be Fulani herdsmen, all Dambazau could offer was that “the president had set up a committee and I am waiting for their recommendations”. His visitors left the meeting thinking he was a “total waste of space”, as one or two wondered how a minister could be so out of his depth.
One of the people at the meeting, described by our source as a “very sharp and intellectually sound guy”, who is also from northern Nigeria like Dambazau, said as they left the meeting that the minister was “useless”. Another in the group replied in jest: “Is he not your brother?”. The northerner retorted: “God forbid, I am not Fulani, I am dan….” He referenced his city of origin (one the major cities in north) to suggest he is a “son of the soil” and to distance himself from Dambazau, who is Fulani. The Fulani are seen as not “indigenous” to northern Nigerian and had migrated there centuries ago from the Futa Jallon highlands of present-day Guinea.
When our source was asked why Dambazau could have left such a negative impression for a man with such an academic pedigree, he replied, “who knows how he got his degrees?” The source then told a story of how he was in a meeting with a very senior official at a Nigerian ministry when someone, who the official paid to write his Masters dissertation, arrived with a draft of the work. The source claimed that the official was not even embarrassed to discuss that business in his presence.
Dambazau courted controversy when pictures of a flunky cleaning his shoes went viral online a couple of years ago. If he can’t be trusted to clean his own shoes, maybe he can’t be trusted to have written his own PhD thesis, and the evidence from the meeting with the security experts suggests that the minister lacks the intellectual curiosity to be trusted with the “maintenance of internal security”.