Nigerian security services are at the bar of public opinion now after their scathing performances in the last 16 years of constitutional rule. How far did they acquit themselves individually at the court of public justice according to the law? To some of the services there no longer was rule of law because they became law.
We shall take pleadings in the matter of Aso Villa and the State Security Service, SSS. I don’t know of Department of State Security because the decree creating that service did not name it as such. Law is very rigid about statutes and in a matter between the SSS and Aso Villa, it remains State Security Service.
One recalls some of the sound brains that re-organised our intelligence community, prominent among whom were Umaru Shinkafi and Bernard Odogwu, two gentlemen one could vouch for in terms of professionalism. We were all age mates and the filthy lucre was distantly secondary in our days. I knew them. The National security Organisation came into being when it was felt that the Special Branch of the Nigeria Police Force and the Nigerian Army intelligence branch were having too much on their plates.
And with the assassination of Murtala Muhammed, former head of state, there was agitation to separate strict intelligence from crime detection or sheer police duties. No intelligence service is supposed to be loud, nor is it to be a bully.
In the mirror of Nigeria, the SSS represented those two negative elements in the last 16 years. It showed too much of muscle instead of brain. It even overshot its scope according to the Law to become the police and an extension of then ruling political party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. State security is the protection of Nigeria and not essentially the flattering subservience to the head of state.
Unfortunately, the SSS elements became political thugs and spokesperson for the PDP. Nowhere else could that be better proved than the vituperations of Marilyn Ogar frequently against the opposition, as the spokesperson of the service? Should an intelligence outfit have a face? The M16, M15, CIA, KGB, Mossad and others speak through their political supervisors, not the operatives.
Ogar spun unfounded stories in the great play to ensure Nigerians were kept in the bondage the PDP rule represented. And one was wondering whether it was still the intelligence clan, which used to pride itself of its shadowy image of hardly being seen but often effectively heard? While the operatives were chasing imaginary computer hackers planning to doctor electoral figures, the SSS could not offer any defence to Nigeria about how it allowed the Boko Haram to gain ground or why it could not render it stillborn at inception? Should the SSS complain about being elbowed out of Aso Villa security when it failed in many areas to secure Nigeria’s overall interest?
The job of the SSS is not bodyguard duties for the head of state or governor. The SSS is charged with preventing economic sabotage, food shortages, health epidemics and many other aspects of national security.
Yet we had massive money laundering, Ebola, Boko Haram, Egbesu, Odua Peoples’ Congress, OPC, and many plagues that have rendered Nigeria unproductive. What did it do to ensure their effective containment by advising government on the slide down the slope? What of the rot in the NNPC, a very strategic source of strength of the nation? What did it do to secure our borders in terms of offering intelligence, which would have prevented leakages that allowed foods and arms to be smuggled out or into Nigeria? The men of E Branch, the precursor of the present intelligence service, did not print complimentary cards. They did not wear uniform. They melted into the society unrecognised and were able to gather intelligence without coercion. And with the crude technology available then, they were accurate and effective in their reports on issues of the state.
E Branch operatives tailed people they called subverts without those elements having any inkling that they were being watched. Even policemen on criminal investigation were faceless but efficient in getting to the roots of any crime committed. They were great psychologists and physiognomist.
The security services except partially the military, have been serving individual “Big men” in the last 16 years instead of the people. Why should one be surprised if Aso Villa changes the security tapestry on the ground? Its suspicion may be genuine. Those of us who watched the Cold War years, as activists knew the many ways targets were smoked out of existence with all sorts of methods and chemicals. Most of us feared for Buhari’s safety after the election.
There have been cases of induced asthma, lung cancer, skin cancer, prostate cancer and heart attack. God is great. Buhari survives. People still wonder what really happened to Moshood Abiola, Sani Abacha, Shehu Musa Yar’Adua and Umaru Musa Yar’Adua? How did Felix Moumie, the leading Cameroon’s nationalist die in 1960?
Where is it written in the Nigerian constitution that the SSS should lead in the protection of the President? What prevents the President in our laws from organising his own protection in the way he deems fit?
There is a general slack in the many services that should protect life and property in the execution of their duties. The Road Safety Corps was established to help the police prevent carnage on the roads. Why does it allow trailers with containers to ply the roads without securing the monsters that fall often sideways to claim lives?
Containers have slaughtered people on many of our roads, the latest being the case of Olabisi Onabanjo students’ death. The Nigeria Police Force of the 1980s was very strict about containers being properly packaged from the ports to prevent such calamities. The Sagamu–Ore–Benin road is one bedlam that the road safety authorities have allowed to thrive. There is no respect for one-way traffic on that road, all in the excuse that portions of the two sides are not passable. What of the passable sections? Drivers ride against the traffic now unchecked.
The SSS should save its tears for another occasion. In fact, security in the civil society is for the police, not the SSS. The police are supposed to co-ordinate all security activities in a civil regime. Guarding the President’s entourage is the duty of the police. The SSS became contaminated, and as such, had spread its wings beyond its space to impinge on others’ duties.
One hears some people speak of chief of staff to the President. It used to be chief of protocol. Shehu Shagari changed the name to look like an American setting. What is the big deal about the chief of staff, who is essentially domesticated at the villa? What is a chief security officer? Al-Mustapha gave it such mystique that uninformed people now regard it as the power behind the throne. These are all decorations. It is like the talk about forming a government. Muhammadu Buhari is the government. He has a 19-man committee, with a chairman, helping to redesign an administrative architecture for change. So we shall soon see the good time roll. Judge Buhari from the quality of the people he has appointed as service chiefs and whatever.
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