By Sam Akpe:

A daring strategic political manoeuvering and perceived disloyalty may have necessitated the forced exit of former National Security Adviser (NSA), Sarki Mukhtar, last week from the Presidential Villa, Aso Rock sources said at the weekend.

Mukhtar was appointed NSA in 2006 by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to replace Aliyu Gusau. Ironically, the same Gusau replaced him on Monday when he was  sacked by Acting President Goodluck Jonathan.

Gusau, who was earmarked to succeed Jonathan as Vice President, was said to have been forced on the job by the former military President, Ibrahim Babangida, whose plan to return to active politics in 2011 is already an open secret.

“Mukhtar was partially sacrificed and Gusau appointed to enhance Babangida’s political agenda, which would soon be unfolded,” a high-ranking officer of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from the core north told Sunday Independent.

The source pleaded not to be named because of his closeness to Babangida and Jonathan, and described Gusau as “Babangida’s forerunner at the Villa.”

The top politician who spoke on his way to Minna over the weekend said all they needed was “a little trap for Mukhtar to fall in, which he did immediately the Senate declared Jonathan Acting President.”

He said although Mukhtar had his own problems, both as intelligence chief and because of his “naïve involvement in politics,” he was made “the fall guy” because compared to Gusau, “he represents a marginal power bloc.”

The source said Babangida would be “most favoured as Yar’Adua’s successor,” disclosing that the subtle pressure mounted on Jonathan to sack Mukhtar was anchored on issues of divided loyalty “while the real reason was political.”

He disclosed: “The truth is that IBB’s political machine has started roaring. IBB, always smart and ahead of others, wanted a voice and ear in a sensitive part of government.

“Gusau, unlike Mukhtar, represents a huge power bloc and is seen as a better politician who knows something about everybody both in the military and in politics because of his background.”

Described as an expert in local and international security issues, Gusau was Chief of Defence Intelligence when IBB was military President. He later became Chief of Army Staff under the late Sani Abacha.

Jonathan was also said to be acting a script that would completely cut off Obasanjo’s political influence at the Villa with the intention of subduing his already loud voice in the administration.

One of Yar’Adua’s top aides who spoke in confidence said on Wednesday that although IBB and Obasanjo have reconciled, “Gusau has come to place more checks on Obasanjo who is seen to be encroaching on Jonathan’s administration.”

However, he said Mukhtar’s removal was “long in coming” as he had indicated sufficiently that he was “uncomfortable with Jonathan as Commander-in-Chief. He behaved as though he had so much power.”

Describing the former security chief as a member of the orchestrated Yar’Adua cabal, the aide said Jonathan had discovered, even before Yar’Adua was hospitalised, that Mukhtar was not favourably disposed towards him.

He said Joanthan, who was in charge of Niger Delta affairs had realised that “Mukhtar did not appreciate the depth of security challenge in the country, especially in the Niger Delta, Mukhtar never visited the Niger Delta, not once.”

A member of the amnesty committee corroborated this. He said Mukhtar never availed himself of the amnesty process, “he allowed the Defence Minister (Godwin Abbe) to shoulder all the security responsibilities.”

In a quick reference to security issues, from the labeling of Nigeria as a terror country to the religious crises in Borno and Plateau States, he noted that Mukhtar lacked the necessary international connections “and sometimes looked vacant on intelligence issues.”

A top security aide at the Villa told Sunday Independent that Mukhtar had allegedly demonstrated a shocking showdown towards Jonathan on the return of Yar’Adua when he refused to pick calls from the Acting President.

The spook also alleged that the President’s wife, Turai, had meetings with the former NSA almost everyday at the Villa “and both of them were being monitored.”

Although none of these claims could be verified with Mukhtar who has since gone out of circulation, Sunday Independent was informed that some of those associated with him would soon be “dealt” with.

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