With the appointment of Ambassador Ahmed Rufa’I Abubakar as the Director General (DG) of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), by President Muhammadu Buhari, the media, conventional and social have been awash with comments. These comments range from the mundane to the downright ridiculous. Even in that warped effort to pull him down, no one has questioned the power and or legality of the action by the President. In making that appointment, President Buhari is actually staking his own integrity which deserves to be given some credit.
As a recap, in June 1986, then Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida, issued Decree Number 19 of 1986 which dissolved the National Security Organisation (NSO) and restructured Nigeria’s security services into three separate entities. With that legal instrument in place, State Security Service (SSS) – responsible for domestic intelligence came into existence. So also were the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) – responsible for foreign intelligence and counterintelligence operations and the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) – responsible for military intelligence.
Since then, it has always been the prerogative of the head of government, military or democratically elected, to appoint the heads of these organisations. That has remained the practice till date and no one has questioned the legal basis for the appointment or the constitutionality of the head of government so to do. It may be that the unfortunate incident in and around the agency prior to this appointment, that had to do with funds diversion, may have brought NIA into the limelight in such a manner that Nigerians are interested in who heads it. If that is the case, then it can be understood. But from the comments trending in the media, the emphasis has not being on the competence of the candidate. Or for that matter, the powers of the appointing authority. It has more to do with the now familiar proclivity of a section of the Nigerian populace to read non-existent meanings into every act of government with the mischievous intention of drawing conclusions directed at bringing the powers that be to bad light. It is given that every head of government, in making certain appointments, relies on often not stated criteria. The unstated condition is who the president trusts and can be assured to execute the duties in the national interest. A person he will not have to look constantly over his shoulders just to satisfy himself that the officer is doing what he is expected to do. It will not be fair to begrudge the President the right to choose those he believes he can work with seamlessly.
The legal instrument that empowers the President to appoint whomsoever he trusts can do the job was so confident about the President’s judgement that legislative oversight was not required in the process. Because, ultimately, the buck stops on the President’s desk.
It is from this perspective that one can possibly assess the needless controversy, the appointment of Ambassador Ahmed Rufa’I Abubakar is generating. To the discerning mind, it calls to question the motive of those criticising the process that produced him. If that is not the issue, then, it becomes pertinent to point out that this is not the first time that one from the diplomatic corps is to be saddled with the responsibility of managing the country’s foreign secret service.
Mohammed Lawal Rafindadi was a career diplomat in the Nigerian Foreign Service when he was appointed the Director-General of the National Security Organization (NSO) in 1984. The last before the reorganisation. By the nature of the operations of the agency, it is only proper that someone who understands the nuances of the intelligence and diplomatic community should be put in that position.
What is more, Abubakar is not the first to occupy that position. All his predecessors in office were appointed by the incumbent head of government without anyone imputing any motives. So, why this time round? The sad aspect of the debate, if we are to call it that, is the resort to argumentum ad hominem. Attacking the person of the appointee just to cast slur on his personality and possibly question the President’s judgement. His antagonists descended to the level of questioning his career progression. Some of such unfounded stories include that Abubakar had retired from the services of NIA as an Assistant Director, because he failed promotion examinations twice, and had to quit, willy-nilly. But they failed, in the frenzied haste of the moment, to prove that passing a particular examination was a precondition for the appointment. But in truth, facts available from records indicate that he retired from Foreign Service as Deputy Director and never failed any examination. He is competent and received many Merit Awards for competence and commitment to service. Others also claim he is married to a Moroccan, and so cannot hold such sensitive security position. But that is false because the man and his wife are both from Katsina, here in Nigeria. But such issues no longer matter in today’s global village. The wife of the President of the United States, Donald Trump, is from Slovenia. The security implication of that was not in consideration during the election which he won to rule the most powerful nation on earth. Trump’s son-in-law is a Jew and one of his top advisers. So, what has that got to do with anything? President Buhari’s preoccupation is essentially to do with competence and proven acts of patriotism demonstrated by the appointee in his other tours of duty as diplomat and presidential aide. Having served as the key adviser to the President for more than two years without blemish, attending all his meetings with foreign leaders means that he has handled a far more sensitive responsibility than many can imagine. Can any job be more sensitive than being an adviser who has the privilege of having the President’s ear? It is therefore most unfair for anyone to question his capacity to lead the NIA.
It will not be appropriate to join those fellows along that perfidious path. But suffice it to say that he was, ab initio, qualified for the job he has been appointed to do. The most important point is that he enjoys the confidence of the appointing authority, the President. And that is what matters. However, and fundamentally, he has experience with the workings of the Presidency and the President. He understands the Change Agenda of President Buhari’s government, having served as his Senior Special Assistant (SSA). That confidence was earned during his tour of duty which saw him acquire technical exposure and competence in the areas of international affairs, diplomatic practice, peace support operations and mediation with fluency in up to three major international languages –English, Arabic and French, which is a huge advantage in the kind of assignment he will undertake.
The danger in unnecessarily making an issue of who the President chooses to work with is the possible crisis of confidence that may result in his dealings with his contemporaries in the field. If that is the intention of those questioning the President’s decision so as to gloat if there is a misstep, then, certainly that will be unfortunate. The decision has been taken by the man in charge. The least anyone can do is to give him the benefit of the doubt. That is not too much to ask for.
– Mohammed is an Abuja based media consultant.