Nigeria: Espionage and National Security

920 views | Justine John Dyikuk | August 19, 2020

Espionage which involves intelligence gathering has implications for every nascent democracy. Experts have opined that effective and efficient espionage has the capacity to quench the fiery challenges of national security to secure a nation’s sovereignty. This shows that any breach of intelligence could truncate a nation’s internal and external security. The intractable insecurity in our country today calls for sober reflection about intelligence gathering and national security. Despite the gallant efforts of our security agencies, the insecurity in the country which ranges from the unwholesome activities of Boko Haram, suspected killer herdsmen, to commercial kidnapping and armed banditry have continued to fester. As expected, the sole responsibility of the government is overseeing internal and external intelligence as well as counterintelligence operations towards the protection of lives and property.

Before the civil war, as a country, we experienced the original state of blessedness where like Adam and Eve, we were at peace with one another and built a pluralistic society in the true sense of the word. No thanks to the civil war, the nation experienced what theologians term “fallen humanity.” With genuine efforts at peace and reconciliation and experimenting with the Democratic Project, the nation moved to “restored humanity” in 1999. One would have expected that we have learnt our lessons from the long years of military interventions in our polity. Unfortunately, we have moved many steps backwards. While clannism and religious bigotry has resulted in cries for self-actualization by some, corruption has become the fertilizer for insecurity. Since without security of lives and property there can be no meaningful development, espionage with its full brides of surveillance and intelligence gathering are key.     

Espionage is not a new thing in Nigeria. However, it was Ibrahim Babangida who in June 1986 issued Decree Number 19 during his first national address as President to dissolve the National Security Organization (NSO) and restructure the country’s security services into three separate units. This meagre under the Office of the Coordinator of National Security brought about the State Security Service (SSS) which has the responsibility for domestic intelligence, the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) which is saddled with the responsibility of foreign intelligence and counterintelligence operations as well as the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) which is responsible for military intelligence.

The NIA is like Israel’s Mossad, United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the United Kingdom’s Secret Intelligence Service (the SIS or MI6) and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). The body is a division of government that oversees foreign intelligence and counterintelligence operations. In the words of a Public Policy expert, Valentine Tobechukwu Achum, the NIA has the role of “preserving Nigeria’s eminence, pride and dignity through repossessing and intercepting secret information that is capable of imperilling Nigeria’s National Interest and breaching its National Security.” In his article “Nigeria’s Intelligence System: An Analysis” Peters (1987) disclosed that its ultimate aim is to acquire, collate and evaluate information that is required for policy and decision making.

The scholar who further argued that it covers three broad areas – strategic intelligence, tactical intelligence and counterintelligence also revealed that its area of coverage includes signals or communications intelligence, security, intelligence, economic intelligence and industrial intelligence. He contended that espionage operates at short, medium and long term policy and decision-making levels. In his book, “Permanent Records,” Edward Snowden unveiled the technical implementations of U.S espionage against its citizens and the rest of the world. The book which stressed the importance of data also revealed how the US has the world’s information at its fingertips through employing U.S PRISM and Upstream Collection.

With PRISM, they routinely collect data from local companies like Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Apple to mention a few so as to access useful information from data such as email, photos, video, audio chats, web-browsing contents, search queries and all other stored information. Through Upstream Collection, the U.S. intelligence is able to get information from people’s computers, phones and internet services. Even though they may not be able to see the content of your message due to encryption, they are however able to have access to all other data associated with those messages especially the sender, receiver and when the message was sent.

Therefore, the need for intelligence gathering can never be overemphasized. Little wonder, in a study titled “Solving Security Challenges in Nigeria through Intelligence Gathering and Surveillance,” Ashaolu (2012) maintained that: “Surveillance and intelligence gathering are some of the sophisticated methods that law enforcement authorities use to tackle security challenges. These help them gather information sufficient to prevent a crime that is yet to be committed, intervene in one that is being committed or investigate a crime that has been committed.” The submission of this expert shows that espionage has to be proactive, not reactive. Sadly, in Nigeria, security agencies often react after a security challenge.   

In its attempt to utilize intelligence gathering, security agencies are accused of spying on ordinary citizens. For example, a story entitled “Nigerian military using surveillance technology to spy on Nigerians – CPJ” published by Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism on November 12, 2019, reported that the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) accused the Nigerian military of using surveillance technology to spy on ordinary Nigerians and the press. “The Nigerian military procured a forensic technology designed to extract information from phones and computers” the report further disclosed. It is crucial to learn from international best practices while respecting people’s privacy except where such stand in the way of both internal and external peace through acts of terrorism.

The news making the rounds about how the Department of State Services, (DSS) recently invited, quizzed and released the former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Deputy Governor, Dr. Obadiah Mailafia is still with us. Mailafia had made comments on a radio programme in which he claimed that some repentant Boko Haram insurgents told him that a serving northern governor was a commander of the terrorist group. While revealing that the insurgents were flying arms and ammunition from one place to another unchallenged during the lockdown, he also disclosed that the herdsmen and Boko Haram are one and the same. In fact, he was bold enough to say he is a Central Banker and doesn’t speak without facts. Well, that the DSS invited him is good enough because he made weighty allegations that needed investigation.

However, it is important for the reader to know that the former CBN Deputy Governor is not the first person to make those revelations. For instance, the former Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Theophilus Danjuma (rtd) had raised alarm that the military is colluding with armed bandits. Besides, elder statements like former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Anthony Cardinal Okogie have alerted the presidency about the precarious nature of security in the country and the need to be proactive so that we do not go the way of Mogadishu. One would have expected the government of the day through the DSS, NIA, DIA and over military and paramilitary personnel to collaborate with prominent Nigerians especially those who have other networks of information to nip the problem of insecurity across the country in the bud. Unfortunately, the issue of security in Nigeria is still a far cry.   

Expectedly, intelligence gathering and surveillance should curb the various security challenges we are facing. In a study “Security Laws and Challenges in Nigeria: The Boko Haram Insurgency” Idowu (2012) emphasized that security challenges cannot be surmounted through the use of brute force but “through effective governance capable of ensuring transparency, justice, and genuine dialogue with relevant stakeholders.” This view aligns with those of Bodunde, Balogun et al (2019) who in a research paper which examined the challenges of intelligence sharing among the Nigerian security agencies and the government that ought to execute intelligence report shared with it, found that “the politicisation of intelligence shared with the government itself makes a mockery of intelligence sharing among the security outfits.”

The study recommended collaborative effort in intelligence sharing between the security agencies and government, de-politicising intelligence and more provision of security facilities to help gather information timely in order to forestall impending dangers. Since we have established that espionage has huge implications for national security and cohesion, it behoves on the government to rejig our moribund security architecture. This means taking a leap of faith in the way of e-governance with its full components of digital infrastructure. Unless the nation’s surveillance apparatus is superior to the current sophisticated communication network of criminal elements, the war on terror would only be fought on banana peels. God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria!

Fr. Dyikuk is a Lecturer of Mass Communication, University of Jos, Editor – Caritas Newspaper and Convener, Media Team Network Initiative (MTNI), Nigeria.

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