The National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and its current Director General (DG), Ambassador Ayo Oke have been in the news for the past two weeks for justifiable or unjustifiable reasons, depending on which side of the divide you belong. Suffice to say that the NIA has been in existence for the past 31 years, performing its role creditably without blemish. As it is customary with similar institutions worldwide, it is not to be seen and not to be heard. Only the DG is known to the world. In fact, not many know that the agency has two Deputy Director Generals. Such is the secretive nature of the service that this incident has come to many serving and retired security and intelligence operatives as a big shock.
2. So what happened? Why the hysteria about the so-called funds found in a “safe house” in Ikoyi? Why did EFCC decide to take the news to the press before informing the presidency? Why did the Nigerian news media, especially the online ones, while trying to outdo each other, threw caution into the wind to expose what ordinarily should be our collective responsibility to protect? Why did we decide to wash our dirty linen and spread same outside for those who labour hard to see the workings of the service so cheaply? And finally, why do we rejoice in throwing away the bathwater with the baby?
3. No matter how we look at the unfolding scenario, Nigeria and indeed the citizens will come to regret the day the EFCC attempted to bring down another agency in the name of fighting corruption. The genie is out of the bottle and cannot be put back. Before I start answering some of the questions posed above, let me state for the benefit of the readers and in line with rule of transparency that I am a retired Director of the Department of State Services. I fully support the crusade by President Muhammadu Buhari to identify and punish those who singularly and collectively plunder our collective heritage.
4. Perhaps it is apt to also state that I was privy to know the activities that led to the formation of the Agency. I was actually disappointed when the first Director (as the head of the organisation was called then), Chief A.K. Horsfall selected those that would move over with him as pioneer staff of the Agency from the Department of State Services and I was left out for no apparent reasons. Up till now, I still cannot understand why and it is still painful.
5. Notwithstanding, I have been impressed so far with what the successive DGs of the service have been able to achieve for the organisation. The Headquarters is unarguably the best government building in the country. Unfortunately, Julius Berger that built the structure often regrets its inability to show the world the masterpiece in Abuja. The selection process of the operatives that work in NIA is unparalleled. Even the powers that be cannot influence the process. The leadership is so committed to the service that they have been able to resist even the sharing of the large expanse of land surrounding the headquarters building. This is unfortunately not the case with many of the security and intelligence services in Abuja and not even the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), where all the services’ wives associations have taken over a large chunk of the land surrounding its headquarters in the guise of DEPOWA, NAFOWA, POPOWA, AFOWA etc.
6. So what went wrong? Only the DG, Amb. Ayo Oke knows the details. He should not be condemned even before being tried. His wife should not be ridiculed knowing full well that that she cannot defend herself under the present circumstances. As it is the practise in all intelligence and security services, only those who have the need to know will be able to say in all certainty the details of how the allegedly 13 billion naira found its way into a private apartment in Ikoyi. Indeed, all the stories that have been reported in the media since the news broke cannot be true. From experience, not everything published or aired is true. Such channels are prone to abuse. As reported in one of the news media, “Sometimes, some mischief-makers would give false leads to reporters hungry for exclusives simply to settle scores with enemies at the expense of truth. It is therefore no coincidence that the airwaves have since been filled with all manner of conspiracy theories”.
7. I cannot claim to know the details of the story as well, but from my interactions with my old colleagues who transferred their services to the NIA, (who are also retired now), what should be of interest to every patriotic Nigerian is the damage that we are all doing to the service without knowing the implication for the country. Other intelligence services do have access to funds that do not go through the normal appropriation channels even in developed democracies in order to protect their final use. That Intelligence services do have front companies is not news to the professionals. If as being speculated, the money is the balance of the ongoing expenditure on its front companies and other operations, the government is better advised to keep this information where it belongs as there is also the risk of being in violation of the official secrets act.
8. Understandably, the ordinary man on the street will not appreciate the larger picture in this case, especially when he is battling to keep body and soul together. That is the business of the leadership of the country, knowing that it is not every government activities that must be on the pages of newspapers. As at today, the Agency is the only organisation in the country that can survive for a year without any allocation from the federal government. This is due to the legacy of prudence and probity of the past and present leadership. I need not state in details how they arrive at this situation of buoyancy, where even commercial organisations cannot boast of paying salaries, talk less of any capital expenditure. Time will tell.
9. Even Non state actors also do have front companies. I beg to submit that what should be of concern to those carrying out the investigation now is whether the fund allocated to the Agency has been judiciously used for the purpose it was intended. The hysteria needs to stop to that we don’t end up doing a great disservice to the country by the activities of the media, especially the online one that rely and quote sources that are not verifiable. The regime of President Ibrahim Babangida opened the cells of the defunct NSO to ridicule the service. He however, ended up setting up similar organisation and relied on it for survival during his 8 years regime.
10. While the government must be allowed to finish the investigation, I appeal to the press to be responsible in their publications and return to sanity. The government on its part must caution those responsible for feeding the news media with half-truths and untruths that they are undermining state security and efforts at nation building. It is shocking and unbelievable to see the supposedly NIA report written for the presidency on Tuesday 18th April, 2017 to appear in one of the online media on 20th April, 2017. It couldn’t have come from the NIA. We need not throw the baby away with the bath water. I believe that something good will come out of this NIA’s predicament. Every intelligence service must have its period of crisis, and NIA cannot be an exception.
11. History has taught me that this hullabaloo will pass, and NIA will come out stronger. Those who are in a position of authority in the legislature, judiciary and the executive arms of government will now know that some Nigerians are working day and night to protect the country and not all their budgetary requirements will be determined by the public accounts committee. This will likely continue until we are matured enough to understand the essence of covert operations.
BY BABATUNDE ALADESANMI