By Shittu Olayinka Y.
The Nigerian National Intelligence Agency (NIA) is a tasked with overseeing foreign intelligence and counterintelligence operations. Recently the government agency has been facing serious setbacks over money found hidden in a flat in Osborne Road, Ikoyi, Lagos allegedly owned by the former DG of NIA Mr. Ayo Oke.
Following the discovery of the humongous cash stack by a government official, he was suspended by President Muhammadu Buhari pending a comprehensive investigation of the find though his tenure will end in November. Technically, he is expected to proceed on pre-retirement leave from August. The most senior director in the agency, Ambassador Arab Yadam has been directed to assumed office as the acting DG of NIA pending the outcome of an investigation.
NIA is tasked with the collation of information, insights, and actions and to consistently provide tactical and strategic advantage for the Nigeria government by collecting intelligence that matters, producing objective all-source analysis, conducting effective covert action as directed by the President, and safeguarding the secrets that help keep the Nigeria safe.
The agency is entrusted with protecting the nation and advance its interests which is why its budget is classified for security reasons. This is to enable it fulfill the operations in a number of ways – with the information its personal provide, technical resources at their disposal and close relationship with foreign intelligence and security services.
The big question now is how can can the President Mohammadu Buhari manage the agency crisis to save the image and integrity of the spy agency?According to a professor of political science and Nigeria’s former minister of foreign affairs prof.
Bolaji Akinyemi in an interview he granted the Guidian Newspaper, he said that NIA stepping forward to claim ownership of the N13 billion the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) found in a private residence was alarming.
According to the erudite professor, it is one of the sacred traditions of the external intelligence trade to admit nothing and to deny nothing. He added that a ‘saving grace emerged’ when President Muhammadu Buhari set up the Vice President Osinbajo-led committee ‘to untangle the web over the millions of dollars’.
The Political Science professor who once served as Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, said the President “inadvertently made a mistake” by failing to appoint anyone with a history of external intelligence experience unto the panel. He stated that external intelligence operations do not belong into the same security genre as domestic security forces like the SSS, EFCC and the Police, arguing that “external Intelligence officers, otherwise called spies, do not operate under the same operational penalties as domestic intelligence officers.
“The ultimate penalty for a foreign spy in most countries is death. Countries go to incredible lengths to hide the identities of their agents both domestic and foreign and their operations. No receipts get issued. Budgets are called black budgets because they are never publicly acknowledged,” he said.
Continuing, he opined that “it would have been reassuring if the President had appointed a former head of or a former very senior member of NIA to be a member of the panel. Even at this late stage, let me remind the Vice President that a lawyer with a specialty in constitutional law will not appreciate the niceties of international law. It is not too late to appoint a retired head of NIA as a consultant to the panel.
“Normally, foreign intelligence activities are shrouded in secrecy, and not in the glare of publicity. Now, the whole saga has made us a laughing stock in the world. Nigerian agents strewn all across Africa are now in dread of being exposed. Recruiting agents in future in Africa is going to be difficult out of fear of future exposure,” added.
Akinyemi, however, made recommendations, which he said could serve as damage control. He said: “It is not too late to call in a former Director of NIA to serve as a consultant to the Osinbajo panel; no more leaks from the panel. Under no circumstances should the report of the panel in as far as it relates to the activities of the NIA be made public.
Speaking further, he cautioned that “under no circumstances should the National Assembly be allowed to conduct hearings into the NIA affair. The Osinbajo Panel Report could be shared secretly with the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House. Should any NIA officer be found culpable, he or she should be quietly eased out. Putting a foreign intelligence officer on trial in an open court is going to be disastrous to external national security interests. If there is no provision to put an intelligence officer on trial in a secret and special court, an executive bill should be sent to the National Assembly to make provision for such”
– Shittu wrote in from Lagos