This disclosure from someone of the stature of Gadzama is extremely disturbing and should make every informed observer to panic… what he said has simply reconfirmed assumptions long held by citizens. For many years, Nigerians have been witnessing the inexplicably manifest lack of professionalism in the conduct of our security agencies…
The last two weeks have witnessed a lot of commentary about the heightening insecurity in the country. The role of Fulani herdsmen in nationwide criminality and suggested solutions have been on the front burner of national discuss. Many politicians and elder statesmen have joined their voices and expressed their fears and concerns. From the content of their statements, it was relatively easy to discern their motivations. Although the 2023 elections remain four years away, it appears that responses to the ongoing insecurity in the country have become a barometer to know where politicians stand. Those who seek to remain in the good books of the Presidency, like Senator Bola Tinubu and Senator Orji Kalu, chose to either be diplomatic or prevaricate on the real issues. Former President Obasanjo and Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka on the other hand, have been coming out caustic, as usual, as people ready to receive the unsurprising appellation of being unpatriotic, while daring other consequences.
Amidst the cacophony of voices, there is someone whose voice and contributions stand out. This is not just because he does not speak often but also because he is a thoroughbred professional and a former secret service chief of the country. His name is Afakriya Gadzama and he was the director general of the State Security Services from 2007 to 2010. In a speech delivered at the Institute of Security Studies last week, he bemoaned what he described as the lack of integrity and dishonesty among security agencies, which he sees as part of the major reasons for the security challenges facing the country. According to him, these security agencies have been fearful and economical with the truth about the actual situation on the ground, thereby misleading government. The former secret service chief called for the design of a new security architecture for Nigeria, as the existing structure, in his view, will be unable to confront and defeat our current security challenges. I agree with him completely.
This disclosure from someone of the stature of Gadzama is extremely disturbing and should make every informed observer to panic. Some will say that he did not say anything new in particular; however, what he said has simply reconfirmed assumptions long held by citizens. For many years, Nigerians have been witnessing the inexplicably manifest lack of professionalism in the conduct of our security agencies, especially in the fight against the Boko Haram insurgency. Years after the attacks started, the need to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist organisation became necessary in order to access the international support required to fight the menace. However, that effort was met and suppressed by a segment of the security agencies themselves. This was partly because the insurgents were from a particular religion and their victims – at least at that time – were predominantly from another religion. Undoubtedly, that delay contributed to where things are now. Is it a coincidence that people of a particular religion majorly inhabit communities in Bornu State, like Bama, Gwoza, Dikwa, Konduga and Chibok, where major attacks took place? Yet, when things later got worse and the insurgents started attacking mosques, everybody and everything, it became difficult to rally around the level of logistics required to extinguish them.
There were several reports of the diversion of resources allocated for the allowances and feeding of soldiers, their poor welfare and the provision of obsolete equipment to them. As a result, our soldiers reportedly had low morale and some had to abscond from their duty posts. At some point during the fight against terrorists, some Nigerian soldiers were forced to flee into nearby Cameroon in a so-called “tactical manoeuvre”, as part of the struggle to “technically defeat” the insurgents.
A peep into strategic deployments among security agencies today continually ridicules meritocracy and inclusion. It appears that the least qualified are chosen against the most qualified, to ensure that those appointed remain rabidly loyal to those who appointed them against all odds.
The rise of nepotism and favouritism in appointments and promotion in our security agencies is a familiar story. A peep into strategic deployments among security agencies today continually ridicules meritocracy and inclusion. It appears that the least qualified are chosen against the most qualified, to ensure that those appointed remain rabidly loyal to those who appointed them against all odds.
The experiences in the just concluded elections are clear cases in point. Apparently, it exposed how far security agencies would go to display unapologetic partisanship in support of the major political parties. Many of the cases of electoral violence, disruptions and rigging across the country allegedly had the footprints of the security agencies. In cases where they did not participate, they deliberately chose to look elsewhere as it went on. It was so brazen that after the elections, some of the officials whose tenures were about to expire sat back on their seats with understandable audacity. It was as if someone up there owed them some debt of gratitude for jobs well done. The black box called the security vote continues to supply the necessary lubricants for the chain that links politicians and security chiefs.
By the nature of their jobs, security chiefs make enormous sacrifices for all of us. It must be put on record and for these, we – the citizens – must remain grateful. However, it is also no secret that serving and retired security officials belong to an obscene class of their own as some of the richest public servants in the country. Never mind that a few of them get involved in farming activities in their spare time as smokescreen to deflect attention from the real sources of their wealth. Examples readily come to mind. The truth is that the classified nature of their budgets and operations provide a legitimate cover for evading public procurement regulations. The lack of accountability and oversight in this sector is a norm. It means that their actions will therefore remain secrets, except on rare occasions when there are leakages in the media or when such officials happen to fall out of favour with the authorities.
If Gadzama is right in all the points he raised, then it should serve as a reminder for security agencies to urgently carry out self-purge and reform themselves for everyone’s good. The public perception that our security agencies exist to serve the interests of the ruling elite and the privileged few is both unhelpful and dangerous.
There is need to establish a special squad of combined security forces to police about 4,047 kilometres of land borders to regulate the movement of human beings, goods and sometimes weapons. That way, some of the criminal elements who freely migrate into the country, cause havoc and later leave the country through our porous borders can be easily apprehended. Politicians who insist on providing them access – for whatever reason – will be forced to offer some explanations for this. Furthermore, the amount of arms and weapons in the hands of non-state actors is another huge source of apprehension. A comprehensive mop up operation is long overdue. This needs to be carried out by security agencies in identified target states and communities. The continued use of outdated weapons by the security agencies, when criminals and insurgents use sophisticated weapons in their operations, remain inexplicable.
If Gadzama is right in all the points he raised, then it should serve as a reminder for security agencies to urgently carry out self-purge and reform themselves for everyone’s good. The public perception that our security agencies exist to serve the interests of the ruling elite and the privileged few is both unhelpful and dangerous. They must challenge it or face an implosion one day. Such friendly criticism from one of their own should be a call to action. Continuous decline in public confidence means that citizens may soon resort to self-help, which could only deepen the fault-lines in our already fragile country.
It is criminal for security agencies to deceive government by not telling them the professional truth, however bitter. Security agencies must continuously feel the pulse of the citizens and avail government of what they reckon are the citizens’ feelings about them. Any form of shyness and partisanship is clearly unprofessional and an indication of existent vested interest, which must not be tolerated. Corruption in the form of the misuse or diversion of resources made for logistics and the welfare of officers should be visited with maximum punishment. Security agents who show undisguised political leanings that could undermine their judgement on national issues should be shown the way out. The insinuation that government may be unsure of the current security situation is terrifying, yet it does not provide sufficient explanation for the inexcusable poor intelligence and flawed coordination. There is an urgent need for a platform where stakeholders will frankly talk with one another and collectively evolve the right strategy to confront and overcome these national security challenges. The situation calls for cautious introspection.
Uche Igwe is a political economy analyst and governance expert. He can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org.