One area of our national life we seldom discuss is the intelligence agencies. For most of us, the intelligence community is a shadowy no-go area. And when we think or talk about it, it is generally in the context of a spy agency – an agency that operates in foreign land. The truth is that members of this community operate both inside and outside of Nigeria. The Nigerian government website (http://www.nigeria.gov.ng) did not list its intelligence agencies; however, the website of the Federation of American Scientist (www.fas.org) has a listing of Nigeria’s intelligence agencies that was current as of 1999/2000. Most Nigerians are familiar with the SSS/NSO, but are not conversant with the fact that the Nigerian Navy, Air force, Police, the NDLEA and the Army all have “spy” wings.
In addition, the Nigerian Diplomatic service also has its intelligence service – as does all the diplomatic services of all the nations of the world. The British, French, Chinese, American, German and Italian embassies for instance abound with intelligence officers with or without diplomatic covers. Some pose as entrepreneurs while others pose as expatriates working for foreign companies, or as researchers in our schools. It should be noted that just as these countries play the “spy game,” so does Nigeria against these countries and against other African countries. South Africa, China, France, and Japan for instance, are masters at economic espionage — an area Nigeria has not wise up to.
There is complete agreement as to what intelligence is; but there is no universal definition of intelligence. According to Jacob Zuma, the Deputy President of South Africa, “the difference in defining the nature of intelligence often differs from country to country in accordance with how they perceive security challenges.” No matter the nature of intelligence a country engages in, its primary purpose is to assist government or policy-makers in the policy and decision making process. In other words: the intelligence community exists to do one thing and one thing only: to assist the government in the furtherance of its domestic goals and in its foreign policy and national security objectives – whatever those objectives might be.
During the Apartheid era in South Africa, the intelligence community focused more on covert political and paramilitary operations, and in the process used intelligence as an instrument of intimidation, subjugation and extra-judicial operations, i.e. the assassination of Blacks and other minority segments of the population who opposed the regime – all in furtherance of the government’s policy of racial domination, and political and economic exclusion. Since the collapse of the apartheid regime (and the introduction of popular sovereignty), reforms have been introduced by way of legislations, judicial mandate, restructuring and reorientation. The expectation is that these reforms will have a positive impact on how the intelligence agencies conduct their operations.
The guiding principle of the South African intelligence community is well known; however, one wonders what the guiding principles of the Nigerian intelligence agencies are.
I especially wonder why the Nigerian intelligence community has had so many “failures.” Why for instance, have these agencies not been able to imbed some of their members in the inner circles of those responsible for fanning religious and ethnic conflicts? Year after years we have violent conflicts without government’s inkling that these pogrom are going to take place. The ongoing situation in Plateau, Kano, Kaduna and the Niger Delta came about as a result of failure in political leadership and a failure in intelligence gathering.
Thousands of Nigerians and foreigners are engaged in illegal oil deals and in other crimes– including white-collar crimes; yet, the government have no way of stopping these activities before they happen. What then are the duties and responsibilities of the police and of these agencies? What are the duties of these agencies vis-à-vis transnational terrorism, transnational armed robbery, transnational prostitution and cross-border child-trafficking?
Does the Nigerian intelligence community have the ability to stop foreign intelligence organizations from gathering sensitive information from our policy and decision-makers? In other words: are we capable of preventing opposing security organizations from eavesdropping on our ministers, governors and on Aso Rock – considering the fact that we have foreign agents posing as business men and women crawling all over the Hilton hotel in Abuja, and all over government ministries in Lagos, Kaduna, Port Harcourt and elsewhere? Who, for instance is keeping an eye on all those Mossad agents parading as American, Canadian or even as Israeli “security experts” and as “business men”?
Our state and federal ministries are open to all kinds of bandits and foreign intelligence operatives. Some of our public servants – greedily in search of dollars and pounds – are easily tempted to sell state secrets (and are probably doing so).
When the president and other government officials buy planes, telephones and fax machines, vehicles, computers and other equipments from abroad – how certain are we that they are not secretly fitted with listening and video devices? It is impossible to put a stop to intelligence activities. Friends spy on friends. Political allies spy on each others. That is a given — but worst still are enemies who have grand evil intentions.
The Nigerian intelligence agencies must resolve to do a better job of protecting our vital interests. As things are – our boundaries, airports, seaports and waterways are not well-manned and so are not secured. An Argentine can walk into Nigeria today and buy a Nigeria passport at Yaba; an Icelander can walk into the ministry of defense and walk out with a bag full of top-secret information; an American can easily listen to President Obasanjo discussing state secret (even with the agent’s car parked a 100-miles from Aso Rock).
We have the judiciary, the executive, the legislative branch and the Press and the people to jealousy guide our constitution, our democracy, and our national interests. However, it behooves our intelligence agencies to guide us all!
May 24, 2004
Sabella Ogbobode Abidde
Please, do not ask me about religion. I get the evil look every time I tell people I am an agnostic who teeters on atheism. My world resolves around ethics and the rule of law. That’s it. I have no use for religion: religious convictions are not part of my existence -- the laws of man are good enough for me. I have lived in several cities: Seattle, Miami, Norman, Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Saint Cloud, the District of Columbia, Houston, and Mankato. I am not sure where I am going to live next. And I have never really had a profession, only jobs: been a cook, a dishwasher, a civil servant, house cleaner, university instructor and researcher and so on and so forth. Every so often I get questions concerning the role and place of the African woman. Well, I don’t know; at least not with any certainty. What seems to work best is when both partners work as a team: cooperate, coordinate and collaborate their marital efforts. And they should be mindful of the insidious effect of modernization on the African family.