Mahmud Jega

Cloak And Dagger Men’s Brawl, By Mahmud Jega 

This country’s streets are gripped by protests demanding an end to police brutality, among other steadily escalating demands, so it was easy for all except the most curious reader to miss an innocuous-looking story out of the National Industrial Court’s Abuja Division late last week. Some of the online media that posted the story said the court ordered Ambassador Mohamed Dauda’s reinstatement as Acting Director General of National Intelligence Agency [NIA], our version of the CIA.

I briefly wondered, how could a court order anyone’s reinstatement to a political position? Could a court order the president to reinstate a minister, military service chief or a political head of any agency, all of whom serve at his pleasure, according to the Constitution? It turned out that this was an important reporting mistake because NIC ordered Dauda’s reinstatement as a director in the agency, being a civil service position. The matter is complicated because even if he had not been dismissed from NIA’s services in 2018, he would have retired last December. In any case, NIC’s ruling was on the technical ground that certain aspects of the disciplinary rules were not followed. It had nothing to do with the substantive issues, which were very substantial.

NIA got very bad press three years ago when EFCC agents stormed a flat at Ikoyi, Lagos and seized $44m stashed there by its then Director General, Ayo Oke. It was said the money was for clandestine operations. President Buhari apparently did not believe that because he suspended Oke, instituted a probe panel headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, and ultimately sacked the DG. Oke was never tried in open court, most probably because such a trial will spill the beans out of this country’s intelligence operations. No wonder that since its creation out of the former National Security Organization [NSO] in 1986, very little was publicly heard of NIA, until recently, when Ambassador Dauda was replaced as Acting DG by a substantive DG, Ahmed Rufa’i Abubakar, in January 2018.

Now, in Nigeria here, no one is happy to be removed from a top political office, even though Ambassador Dauda occupied it in acting capacity, for only a month, on the verbal say-so of Malam Abba Kyari, without so much as a letter, because he was the agency’s most senior director, and then only because the Acting DG who took over from Oke was retiring. Still, what followed Dauda’s replacement as NIA’s head was without many precedents in Nigeria’s public service, certainly without precedent in its police, military or intelligence services.

First, documents from the new DG’s secret personnel file rapidly appeared on social media platforms. They questioned his nationality because though he is a Katsina native, he went to primary school in Chad but returned home for secondary and tertiary education. I thought that was strange because many Nigerians did primary and high school in Europe, North America and Arabia. Some even acquired British accent, returned home, dodged NYSC and still made it to top positions in the country. Is it because Chad is a mere African neighbour? It was alleged that the new DG has a Moroccan wife, that he failed NIA promotion exams and retired as an assistant director. The Presidency declared in January 2018 that it found all four allegations to be false.

At the time of the change of baton, we read in newspapers that the outgoing Acting DG moved $44 million out of NIA’s vaults to the National Security Adviser’s office in order, Dauda later told a National Assembly committee, to prevent Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, Abba Kyari and incoming substantive DG Abubakar from stealing it.

Oh, my. If the President, using his constitutional power, appoints someone to head an MDA, what is the outgoing head’s own [to use Nigerian parlance] to protect its money from the incoming head? $44m is even small by government standards. Does it mean that anytime the President changes Finance Minister, CBN Governor, Accountant General or NNPC Group Managing Director, the outgoing person should take desperate steps to protect the agency’s money from the incoming head? I think he should just ensure that it is mentioned in the handover notes.

I was awfully amazed in February 2018 when Ambassador Dauda appeared before a House of Representatives committee and publicly read out a sensational petition. I have been reading TIME magazine since when I was twelve years old. It was only during the 1987-88 Iran-Contra scandal that I recall secret intelligence material openly mentioned before a US Congress committee. Besides, leaked House of Reps committee papers indicated that Dauda’s most sensational allegations were false. He said Rufa’i, as secretary of the presidential committee to reform intelligence agencies, phoned him a day after it submitted its report in December 2017 and asked him to deliver dollars to the panel’s chairman, Kingibe, for a holiday trip to London. It turned out that Rufa’i flew out of the country the day the report was submitted and could not have made the alleged soliciting.

I wasn’t surprised to read a few weeks later that NIA dismissed Dauda from its service. The industrial court ruled last week that the correct procedure was not followed because the applicable law for disciplining him is Article 8(1) and (2) of Instrument No. NIA 1 of the National Security Agencies Act, which was not complied with. Maybe it wasn’t, but the sheaf of papers tendered before the National Assembly committee, now leaked, showed that some process indeed took place before the sack.

NIA’s Senior Management Committee set up a Special Management Staff Disciplinary Committee that invited Dauda to appear before it due to “a wave of unbridled leakages of official documents, publication of falsehood concerning the Agency’s affairs, as well as unauthorized movement of funds from the Agency’s vaults.”

Dauda refused to appear before the panel, which went ahead and found him guilty of “breach of confidentiality, violation of oath of secrecy/allegiance, misapplication of Agency funds, unlawful petition, disobedience of lawful orders, falsehood and prevarication, injurious rumour peddling and violation of Section 108 on unauthorized publication in the media.” Among men engaged in international cloak and dagger operations on behalf of Nigeria, these were serious charges indeed. NIA’s Senior Management Committee then dismissed Dauda from service, “with the approval of the President.” It said even after dismissal, he must still observe NIA’s oath of secrecy.

Since then, I have read many more strange social media stories about NIA and its internal working, clearly a continuation of that 2018 episode. Last June for example, there was a petition by “concerned NIA staff” alleging favouritism by the DG in the nomination of its officers to serve as Nigerian ambassadors abroad. It was shocking; I have been reading newspapers since my primary school days but I never knew that secret services have a certain quota of career ambassadors. This is not something that citizens need to know, but foreign spy agencies probably know it, since they do the same thing themselves.

The petition went many steps further. It mentioned some of the ambassadorial nominees that Buhari sent to Senate, outed them as secret service officers and mentioned others that they were going to replace abroad. This was a bonanza for foreign spy agencies; now they know which Nigerian diplomats are engaged in intelligence work. In any authoritarian country, one could be executed for revealing such information. Even in the US, it was a big issue when the husband of a female foreign service officer who undertook a mission to Niger Republic was outed by a journalist as a CIA officer.

Lest you think that by wading into this matter, I am also a closet cloak and dagger man, I wish to remind you of something that former British MI5 agent Peter Wright wrote in his highly publicized 1987 book Spycatcher. He said 75% of MI5’s intelligence information was obtained not from cloak and dagger operations but simply by reading newspapers and other public documents between the lines. In other words, it is journalists like me that do most of the legwork only for secret agents to get the credit.

MONDAY COLUMN  today, October 19, 2020.

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