Security in Nigeria: Matters Arising

Let me begin this article by stating outright that I am not a security expert. I write as a concerned, and hopefully, knowledgeable Nigerian.

Against the background of daunting security challenges Nigeria has experienced in recent years, culminating in the Independence Day bombing, I cannot help but ask: what manner of security apparatus protects Nigeria and Nigerians? It is easy to launch a tirade against the country’s security agencies and write them off but that will not solve our problems. As the 2011 elections draw closer the security situation will become fluid: more bombings and assassinations may occur; politicians will push forward agendas that have nothing to do with the well-being of Nigerians; militants, terrorists, religious zealots and plain criminals will become bolder and more sophisticated. Flash points will flash with violence. I pray I am wrong but we must heed the Prophet’s warning to trust in God but tie our camel securely.

We must take a closer look at the security system and ask some tough questions. In this article the focus is on five major security agencies in the country, namely the Nigerian Police; the State Security Service(SSS); the National Intelligence Agency (NIA); the Defence Intelligence Agency(DIA); and the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA).

The Nigerian Police as we know it came into being in 1930 as a British colonial creation. In the 1950s and 1960s the Nigerian Police had an efficient Special Branch department (Department E). However, it would appear that it became engulfed in Nigeria’s murky politics after independence, what with its investigations of the treasonable felony charges against the Opposition Leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, in 1962 and the activities of the Nigerian military personnel who carried out the coup of January 15 1966.

Following the Special Branch’s inability to prevent the coup attempt by Colonel B. S. Dimka on 13 February 1976, a new chapter was opened in the annals of Nigeria’s security. The National Security Organization (NSO) was established that year. An in-depth analysis of the history of the NSO is beyond the scope of this article but it is pertinent to state that while the NSO was efficient at hounding supposed opponents of the governments of the day, it recorded only modest achievements in dealing with major security challenges from 1976-1986. It failed to preempt the bloody riots of the Maitatsine movement in Northern Nigeria. It could not forestall the December 31 1983 coup that unseated Shehu Shagari’s government.

In 1986 the Babangida regime split the NSO through the instrumentality of Decree No. 19. The NSO was dissolved and replaced with three major security directorates, namely the SSS, NIA and DIA. While the SSS is Nigeria’s primary security and intelligence agency, the NIA handles foreign intelligence and counterintelligence. The DIA, which is closely allied with the military, is responsible for military-related intelligence.

The NDLEA came into being via Decree No. 48 of 1989 to combat drug trafficking and abuse in all its ramifications. To quote the agency’s website, the agency was to be ‘Nigeria’s deliberate effort at evolving an institutional framework for the suppression of the drug cankerworm.’

To the average Nigerian, law enforcement and security issues are the business of the police, the SSS and the army. However, though these organizations coordinate operations and their briefs may overlap, there are clear boundaries. The Nigerian Police is concerned with law enforcement, law maintenance, crime detection and public safety. The SSS is responsible for overt and covert measures to protect Nigeria, her institutions of state, including the President and visiting foreign dignitaries. The Nigerian army safeguards the country’s territorial sovereignty but it can also be drafted into Internal Security operations when situations become too explosive for the police.

With this background I think all Nigerians ought to ask questions about their security. Even if, for national security purposes, our security chieftains do not answer these posers via press conferences or on newspaper pages, they should give them serious thought. Security, just like politics, is too serious to be left to the politicians.

How functional are the espionage/intelligence-gathering and analysis departments of our security agencies? Are the officers well trained, well equipped and well motivated? Is their knowledge about covert/undercover operations up to date? Are round pegs being put in round holes e.g. what sense would it make to send a Christian Igbo intelligence officer who has no in-depth knowledge of Hausa language or Islam to infiltrate Boko Haram?

Inter-agency rivalry is common, even in advanced countries like USA and Israel. The security agencies here will never tell us but undoubtedly it is a tangled web. What liaison efforts are being made to control it? Can intelligence speedily flow across agencies for analysis, planning and action? Maybe the Nigerian security community can borrow from the British. To ensure effective coordination, dissemination and use of sources and intelligence, the various British security systems, made up of the Secret Intelligence Service (M1-6), the Internal Security Service (M1-5), and the Government Communications Headquarters, are members of the Joint Intelligence Committee. Even the American Central Intelligence Agency is a member.

Then in this day and age, while HUMINT (human intelligence sources) can only be disregarded to an agency’s peril, electronic/technological tools of espionage cannot be ignored. How equipped are our agencies in this regard?

Nigeria is a big territory peopled by heterogeneous groups with different interests and links. To whom do the men and women we entrust our security owe their loyalty? Their churches, mosques, shrines, cults or tribes? Their godfathers and godmothers? At what point do such loyalties clash with what should be the security operative’s guiding principle: ultimate loyalty to Nigeria as a united, single federal state? If both the citizens and government are not sure of this, then Nigeria is riding on the back of a tiger.

In our global hamlet security agencies from different countries cooperate, and where necessary, clash. Overriding this intercourse are the interests of the countries these agencies represent. It is sad but true: so-called national interest is often a smokescreen for self-centred elitist/big business/political/military alliances that dominate the affairs of many states. The agencies are there to do their bidding in the name of the state. Do you think the Central Intelligence Agency exists to protect the American walking the streets of downtown New York? It protects Wall Street and her alliance with USA’s industrial-defence complex.

So how do our security agencies relate with their ‘overseas partners’? Do or can they pay attention to actionable intelligence from friends? In spite of her vaunted independent Africanist foreign policy, Nigeria remains firmly entrenched in the capitalist pro-Western bloc as a satellite state. This has far reaching implications for our security agencies.

Every country worth its name has special security teams that can take active measures, often pro-actively and covertly, to nip nasty situations in the bud. Israel’s MOSSAD has experts in assassination, sabotage, anti-terrorism, etc. Apartheid-era South Africa’s BOSS (Bureau of State Security) kept the anti-apartheid movement on its toes with its special teams. Britain relies on its elitist army unit SAS (Special Air Service) for such duties. It is unpalatable but that is the world we live in. States are built and maintained on blood-soaked foundations. The democracies will rarely, if ever, admit to the existence or use of such ‘experts’; dictatorships use them with impunity. What of Nigeria? While the police can fig

ht public battles with the foot-soldiers of crime, can the SSS/NIA do anything about the big shot threats to our national security?

A decade after military rule hopefully ended in Nigeria, have our security services rid themselves of the ‘us’ against ‘them’ mentality? It is not in the interest of any security service to antagonize the people it is supposed to be working for. It is time our security people review their concept of ‘more presence, more sound, more thunder, no rain’ security measures. Gun-toting, fierce-looking police officers may intimidate the average Nigerian who has only verbal bombs but they will not deter the determined terrorist, militant or assassin.

Written by
Henry Chukwuemeka Onyema
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