OPINION | NIA: Between Competence And Politics

By Philip Agbese

The National Intelligence Agency (NIA) has responsibility for Nigeria’s foreign intelligence and counterintelligence activities. That puts it on the same footing as the United States of America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), United Kingdom’s Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation (SVR RF) or Israel’s Mossad.

Operations of bodies like these are meant to be clandestine, shrouded in the highest secrecy possible, but nonetheless they have the unwavering task of securing the nation. It is important to point out that security in this regard goes beyond chasing terrorists across the globe or across international boundaries. The security covered by such organizations is an all-round affair: how do the activities of the other nations (even allies) impact the long-term interest of the country in question, how do economic policies, scientific or technological breakthrough of other nations, media content generated elsewhere and even hard drugs from other climes or just any other thing happening offshore affect the nation?

The competence of a country’s foreign intelligence agency is therefore of the greatest importance as every other efforts made on the home front may amount to naught if the country’s interests are not protected internationally. Countries that are adjudged as super powers today did not attain such reckoning simply on the strength of firepower alone; the international respect they hold is coerced out of other countries by their being strategically positioned, through their intelligences agencies, to keep a finger on the pulse of things in their relationships with other nations.

Unfortunately, in Nigeria, these imperatives are lost on the emergency critics that have jumped on the bandwagon of criticizing development at the NIA following the emergence of Mr. Rufai Abubakar as its substantive Director General. That appointment has attracted what can best be described as a barrage of dimwitted reactions that are powered by parochial sentiments, ignorance or a deadly combination of both. This is hardly surprising in a country where every single football fan is a coach, technical adviser and player at the same time, hence a penchant for every single fan to ascribe to themselves the position of foremost expert where the round leather game is involved. National Interest, as safeguarded by the National Intelligence Agency, does not however lend itself to such all comers-analysts; this is also not about freedom of speech or expression because other Nigerians have a counterbalancing right to have their lives protected from nitwits that could unravel the country with their ill comments.

Those that criticized the appointment out of selfishness and sentiment are perhaps the most dangerous crowd there is. Notable among such is former president, Dr. Olusegun Obasanjo, who had vehemently tried to dismiss the appointment as parochial and shaded by nepotism without showing the kind of restraints required in reviewing such issues given his background as one time military man and two time leader of the country. He omitted to mention that had he appointed the NIA leadership based on competence during his time as Nigeria’s president the country might have fared better than it did with issues related to foreign intelligence.

Dr. Obasanjo’s presidency was for instance, dominated by foreign interventions that can scarcely be described as beneficial to Nigeria. Relations with other nations were defined more by a need to cater to Obasanjo’s oversized ego than to secure the national interest of Nigeria. Nigeria thus intervened in crisis situations; help stabilize them while other countries stepped in to reap the benefits. Under his watch Nigeria entered into any treaties that are today albatrosses, burdens that stymie the country’s ability to make rapid progress.

Mr. Rufai Abubakar’s appointment as the Director General of NIA must therefore not be rubbished considering that it is a national institution of crucial importance. Dr. Obasanjo’s condemnation of the appointment is unbecoming especially following reports that he embittered his preferred candidate was not appointed. Similar criticism by those that should otherwise be knowledgeable is also reportedly sponsored by those that were disappointed at not making the cut.

Cognizance must be taken of the abysmal low to which the NIA had sunken under the previous leadership that pattered to political correctness and “Federal Character”. The NIA became a laughing stick when it could not, as clandestine agency, properly secure the $43.5 million operations cash that an anti-graft agency discovered in a flat in Lagos. The agency has also been reduced to a nest of tatter boxes where directors are comfortable to routinely leak sensitive information to politicians under the pretext of writing the National Assembly.

The noise from these bitter lots is being echoed and amplified by some persons without the lightest iota of intelligence on their immediate streets of residence, which clearly places foreign intelligence beyond their grasps. These are the ones that have become overnight intelligence analysts to the extent that they fantasize about knowing the right kind of person to appoint as the head of NIA.

Had those in this alliance of the angry taken time to understand the person of Mr. Rufai Abubakar they would have perhaps been humbled enough to know that theirs is an exercise without merit given the Director General’s track record. His is a blend of experience as a government employee tampered with knowledge of the country’s security needs and with the requisite network in international circuits to swing things the way of Nigeria. The question then is whether such level of sterling competence should be ignored by a desire to comply with Federal Character principle or sacrificed in pursuit of a noxious political agenda. Nigeria is bigger than any of the stakeholders in this matter and it is the interest of the country above all others and not that of people in search of slots to place their marionettes and create new conduits to national treasury.

The great nations Nigeria aspires to surpass did not become strong by undermining their foreign intelligence agencies neither do they subject them to becoming subject of discourse by the uninformed. They are treated with the deserving reverence for institution that are equivalent of a country’s jugular, never to be toyed with.

Rather than engaging in a futility that would only further undermine Nigeria’s interests with other nations, people should rather applaud President Muhammadu Buhari, whose appointment into security agencies have shown he has a grip on security hence the results recorded under his leadership. What is needed is not antagonism of Mr. President or his appointees but to give him the backing necessary to perfect the foundation for a Nigeria that will truly be a world power house.

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