Intelligence organizations all over the world are created to detect and eliminate existential threats to the security of their countries.

The methods by which these threats are detected and eliminated are variegated and multifarious. In Nigeria, recent happenings on the home front has placed the failures of the security and intelligence services in the spotlight, exposing the glaring inadequacies, incapability and powerlessness of the assorted intelligence agencies that form the Nigerian Intelligence Community.

Over the years, student riots, military coups and counter-coups, religious and ethnic crises, unbridled foreign intelligence services espionage operations, Maitasine riots, Boko Haram violence and the Niger-Delta imbroglio have coalesced to place the Nigerian Intelligence Community on the spot and highlight their failures and powerlessness. Perhaps none other than the October 1 bombing by elements within the Niger-Delta as well as the uninhibited  attacks on security operatives across the North by roving Boko Haram special squads have led to a public interrogation of the role or lack of it the intelligence community plays in keeping this nation safe and  secure.

At the top of the Intelligence Community is the Office of the National Security Adviser, with the NSA serving as the Chief Adviser to the President on all things security. The National Intelligence Agency is responsible for spying overseas as well as counter-espionage operations, which is preventing foreign intelligence services from spying against, the country, stealing national secrets and threatening the security of the country. The State Security Services has the responsibility of maintaining internal security, the Defence Intelligence Agency, like the National Intelligence Agency is also tasked with the responsibility of engaging in foreign espionage with its major targets being foreign military and military related activities. The Military Intelligence Directorate, Naval Intelligence Directorate, Air Intelligence Directorate and the Police Federal Intelligence and Investigations Bureau are the other components of the intelligence community.

On paper, the intelligence community looks formidable but the reality is that majority of the services suffer from capacity building deficiencies; poor funding, poor training and retraining and politicisation of operations and personnel. In the years before and after independence, the Nigerian Police Special Branch Department put together by the British and modelled after the United Kingdom Police Special Branch was the pre-eminent security organisation responsible for detecting and eliminating threats to the security of the state. In 1960, the Ministry of External Affairs created a Unit known as the Research Department. The Research Department served as the intelligence arm of the External Affairs ministry, however, the department which was expected to engage in intelligence gathering overseas woefully failed in this regard because in the first place, it was never an intelligence organisation with its officers trained to carry out espionage and prevent same. On the contrary, the R.D was a small detective arm of the ministry with its officers trained by the Nigerian Police. They were essentially policemen and detectives rather than spies.

It was no wonder therefore that the Police Special branch failed to detect the January 1966 coup despite glaring evidence of the probability of such an action happening. As a matter of fact, the late Premier of the Western region, Chief Ladoke Akintola was so disturbed about the information he had of a potential coup that he alerted Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, as well as Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa who both did not see any need to react especially as the Special Branch then headed by Chief T.A Fagbola was unaware of such a threat. Not only that, the Special Branch had become highly politicised especially with the not so noble role they played in the perceived persecution and prosecution of Chief Obafemi Awolowo in 1962. The Research Department failed in 1962 to detect the explosion of an atomic bomb in the Sahara desert by France as well as the many cases of espionage by foreign intelligence services operating out of their embassies and consulates in Lagos, Kano, Enugu and Ibadan.

After the 1966 coup and counter-coup, Yakubu Gowon who assumed office in July of that year had M.D Yusuf, the Commissioner of Police of the Northern Native Police Authority appointed the Commissioner of Police in charge of the Special Branch. His appointment was seen as a means of consolidating Northern power over one of the most important branch of the security establishment. Together with the Research Department, the Special Branch was unable to predict the declaration of the state of Biafra by Lt-Colonel Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. This failure to predict the outcome of the differences and hostilities prevalent in the relationship between the central government and the government in the East and hence prevent the coming calamity, led to a costly thirty month civil war in which over one million lives were lost.  The Research Department also spectacularly failed to predict and prevent the recognition of the state of Biafra by Tanzania, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Haiti and others as well the massive overt and covert support provided the nascent Biafran state by France, Italy and many other non-state actors. The R.D further failed to rally foreign opinion to the side of the Federal Government during this conflict. Foreign public opinion was heavily on the side of Biafra who successfully launched and managed a proactive propaganda and foreign relations programme using public relations firms in New York and Paris. It was therefore no great marvel that despite the fact that Nigerian and Biafran armies engaged in massive war crimes and crimes against humanity, only the Nigerian army was persistently blamed by the international community while the Biafrans were perceived as the victims of a blood thirsty, cavernous and carnivorous Nigerian Army, what with the widely circulated pictures of skinny, emaciated and Kwashiorkored children that daily inundated the front pages and news images of western news media.

The theme of failure continued with the 1975 coup that overthrew Gowon and brought in Murtala Mohammed. As a matter of fact, the Special Branch was not only complicit in the coup, its powerful Head, M.D Yusuf, was a part and parcel of the planning and implementation of the coup. He was rewarded with the position of Inspector-General of Police. On February 13th 1976, Murtala Mohammed was assassinated in a bloody coup attempt by Lt-Colonel Bukar Sukar Dimka, an officer with the Army physical corps. Murtala Mohammed was killed in his car while being driven to work. Devoid of physical protection usually provided by the Special Branch and Army Intelligence and accompanied only by his aide-de-camp, orderly and driver, Murtala’ murder was effortless and unproblematic to his assassins

An inquiry conducted into the coup demonstrated and confirmed the ineffectiveness of the security establishment ubiquitous at that time. As a result, General Olusegun Obasanjo who succeeded Murtala Mohammed disbanded the Special Branch and set up the Nigerian Security Organisation, the NSO with then Colonel Abdullahi Mohammed, a former Director of Military Intelligence as the founding Director-General. The NSO was made up principally of officers from the disbanded Police Special Branch who were given the option of joining the new secret police or transferring to the Criminal Investigations Department to serve as crime fighters. Many opted to join the NSO which was more prestigious rather than running after robbers and petty thieves. With the return to civil rule in 1979, President Shehu Shagari appointed Umaru Shinkafi, a former Lagos State Police Commissioner and later Minister of Internal Affairs as the new boss of the NSO despite the intense lobby by then Colonel Aliyu Mohammed Gusau who was compensated with the position of Director of Military Intelligence. The NSO under Shinkafi failed to detect and neutralise the activities of the Maitasine sect whose radical preaching and teachings eventuated in a violent clash with security services including the army which was called in after the sect’s militants overpowered the police. The brutal suppression of the sect left hundreds of people dead. Following the failure of his service to monitor and incapacitate the Mohammed Marwa led Maitasine movement, Umaru Shinkafi resigned and Shagari appointed Ambassador Ibrahim Rafindadi, an officer with the Research Department of the Ministry of External Affairs as the Director-General of the NSO.

The Research Department was itself not devoid of and uncharacterised by this cornucopia of letdowns. In 1981, it was widely believed in security circles that French Intelligence had successfully penetrated the Nigerian Military and Defence establishments and had acquired the Army’s operational battle plan against Cameroon during the first Bakassi conflict and had passed this on to the Cameroonians. It was widely speculated that an officer high up in the army had passed on the plan to the SDECE, the French foreign intelligence service. The Research Department along with the NSO were unable to exhume the mole who probably remained an agent in place and in deep cover for years providing sensitive operational information and national secrets to his handlers.

The NSO once again failed to sense the 1983 coup. It has however been suggested in security circles that the leadership of the agency were very much aware of the coup but did nothing to warn the political leadership. It was no wonder that after the coup, the new Head of State General Muhammadu Buhari retained Ambassador Ibrahim Rafindadi, a fellow Daura indigene as the Head of the secret Police. Under Rafindadi, the NSO became a veritable instrument in the hands of the military for repressing dissent and opposition. Again, the NSO failed to detect the August 1985 coup that brought Babangida to power, a persistent theme in the history of the internal security service. In June 1986, Babangida undertook a massive and unprecedented reorganisation of the security infrastructure in the country. The dreaded NSO was split up. The State Security Services was assigned the task of internal security with Samaila Gwarzo as Director-General while elements to the Research Department as well as the NSO were fused together to form the National Intelligence Agency responsible for external espionage and counter-espionage with Albert Horsfall as its founding Director-General.  The Defence Intelligence Agency was also established alongside the police Federal Intelligence and Investigations Bureau FIIB.

This overhaul did not however make the intelligence community any efficient. Foreign intelligence organisations operating from their embassies continue to manoeuvre with impunity with little effectual attempts to limit their operations and activities by the NIA. The State Security Services and the Military Intelligence Directorate impressively failed to detect the failed 1990 coup attempt led by Major Gideon Orkar that nearly toppled General Ibrahim Babangida. They also failed to detect and eliminate many inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflicts that have bedevilled the country including the Hausa-Kataf crisis, the 2001, 2004 and 2008 religious conflicts in Jos, the 2000 religious conflict in Kaduna, the Boko Haram and Niger-Delta unrests in the North and Niger-Delta respectively as well as the unrestrained kidnappings that has become a threat to national security
There is an urgent need to modernise the security services and make them better able to respond to contemporary security challenges such as terrorism, cyber-terrorism, and insurgencies as well as religious and ethnic challenges. Better and appropriate training and training facilities need to be at the top of the priorities of the political and organisational leadership of the security services. The National Intelligence Agency needs to be de-linked from its police heritage  and turned into a proper INTELLIGENCE service able to conduct covert black operations, run deep cover officers, penetrate high level targets oversees and recruit high value agents. Furthermore, the Agency’s counterintelligence activities should be expurgated and handed over to the State Security Service which has a long history of internal operations, surveillance and investigations. This will allow the NIA devote its resources and personnel into running effective foreign espionage operations. In addition, The State Security Services should also be removed from protective security operations while a new organisation should be set up principally to undertake protective security like the American Secret Service and the highly efficient Indian Black Cats which was set up after the assassination of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. This will allow the service focus primarily on dealing with internal security challenges and threats while leaving the protection of the President and his family as well as other high value politically exposed persons to the new Protective Security Organisation

The appointment of the Directors-General of both the NIA and the SSS should be subject to the confirmation of the senate with officers of both organisations being barred from serving as Directors-General while still in service. This will eliminate the unhealthy competition for power that rears its hoary head anytime there is a change in leadership. The Heads of both organisations should either come from the intelligence sections of the armed forces and police or from retired personnel of the agencies. Perhaps these will go a long way in repositioning the intelligence community to better serve Nigerians.

Nosa James-Igbinadolor wrote in from Abuja. He can be reached at [email protected]


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