Amidst the cacophony of voices, there is someone whose voice and contribution stands 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 was the Director General of the State Security Services from 2007 to 2010.
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 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, came out caustic as usual, as people ready to receive the unsurprising appellation of being unpatriotic and daring other consequences.
Amidst the cacophony of voices, there is someone whose voice and contribution stands 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 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 saw as part of the major reasons for the security challenges facing the country.
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, it simply reconfirmed assumptions long held by citizens.
According to him, these security agencies have been fearful and economical with the truth as to the actual situation on ground thereby misleading government. The former secret service chief called for a design of a new security architecture, 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, it simply reconfirmed assumptions long held by citizens. For many years, Nigerians have been witnessing inexplicably manifest lack of professionalism in the conduct of our security agencies especially in the fight against Boko Haram insurgency. Years after the attacks started, the need to designate boko haram as a terrorist organization 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 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? 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 diversion of resources allocated for the allowances and feeding of soldiers, poor welfare and use of obsolete equipment. 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 the nearby Cameroun in a so-called “tactical manoeuvre” as part of the struggle to “technically defeat” the insurgents.
The rise of nepotism and favouritism in the appointment and promotion among 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 experience in the just concluded elections is a clear case in point.
Apparently, it exposed how far security agencies could go to display unapologetic partisanship in support of the major political parties. Many cases of electoral violence, disruptions and rigging across the country allegedly had the footprints of 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 security vote continues to supply the necessary lubricants to 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 one of the richest public servants in the country.
Never mind that some get involved in some farming in their spare time as a smokescreen. Examples readily come to mind. The truth is that the classified nature of their budget and operations provide a legitimate cover for evading public procurement regulations. Lack of accountability and oversight is a norm. It means that their action will therefore remain secret except on rare occasions when there are leakages in the media or when such officials happen to fall out of favour with the authorities.
There is a 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.
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 interest of the ruling elite and the privileged few is both unhelpful and dangerous.
Politicians who insist to provide them access –for whatever reason- will be forced to offer some explanation. 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 interest 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 faultiness 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 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 form of misuse or diversion of resources made for logistics and 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 of 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 a cautious introspection.
Igwe is political economy analyst and governance expert. You can reach him on firstname.lastname@example.org