The activities of the State Security Service (SSS) is now a daily news headline in Nigeria. This is a shame because a security outfit, setup to be most discreet is now itself in the news every week. This fact already goes to show the SSS is no longer fit for purpose as presently constituted. I will like to give some background information to contextualise my thesis.
This post is not about PMB as the excesses of the SSS predated the PMB administration. Although the style and body language of a President can shape the attitude of the SSS as history has shown. This thread is also not about SSS-Bashing per se; but a critical examination of how its current setup promotes abuse, lack of accountability and potential lawlessness.
The Nigeria police had an Intelligence wing named the Special Branch. Prior to the 1976 coup, internal security and intelligence was handled by the police Special Branch, a Secret Police, while external intelligence was conducted by the Research Department (RD), a unit of the External Affairs ministry. The Special Branch was the intelligence brain-box of the NPF. First after its failure to intercept any information about the coup against Gowon the military head of state was losing confidence in the Special Branch and the RD. But after the coup that killed Murtala Mohammed (few months later); the Military Junta could no longer trust the Military intelligence operations, Special Branch or the RD; so they decided to create a new Civilian Intelligence outfit exclusively reporting to the Head of State. MD Yussuf the IGP at the time looked on helplessly.
So; the Special Branch was carved out of the Police and formed into a new outfit under the direct control of the Head of State. This new outfit was named the Nigerian Security Organization (NSO). The NSO was created by Decree number 27 of 1976 by the military regime of Gen. Obasanjo, after the failed Dimka coup which claimed the life of Gen. Murtala Mohammed. The NSO was given a mandate of co-ordinating Internal Security, Foreign Intelligence and counterintelligence activities. It was charged with the detection and prevention of any crime against the security of the state, with the protection of classified materials, and with carrying out any other security missions assigned by the president. The main focus of the NSO was Regime Preservation. At inception; the NSO, was staffed by a mix of military intelligence officers, some fresh recruits, officers of the RD and former police Special Branch officers.
During the time of the military regime, and continuing through the Second Republic, the NSO was accused of carrying out systematic and widespread human rights abuses, especially of those seen to be critical of the government. So, the abuses are not new.
In June 1986, Gen. IBB issued Decree Number 19, dissolving the NSO and re-structuring Nigeria’s security services into THREE separate entities. The State Security Service (SSS) was made responsible for domestic intelligence, with Director General Ismaila Gwarzo. The National Intelligence Agency (NIA) controlled external intelligence and counterintelligence. The Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) was tasked with military-related intelligence outside and inside Nigeria. So, the SSS became the primary domestic intelligence agency of Nigeria. It is primarily responsible for intelligence gathering within the country and for the protection of senior government officials, particularly the President and state governors.
The legal name of the outfit is SSS. They decided to nick name themselves as the DSS (based on a document called Instrument No1 signed by Gen Abubakar few days to the end of his tenure in 1999). DSS is not an entity known to law in Nigeria. That is why in all legal proceedings they are always referred to as the SSS (their Legal name). When focusing on its main duty of Intelligence, gathering, the SSS have actually recorded many successes to their credit. Aside from the basic duties to secure the leading politicians, the SSS has recorded some successes some of which are:
1) The agency in its early day was credited with the arrest of the Egyptian bomber Omar Mohammed Ali Rezaq in 1993 while he was trying to enter Nigeria through the Nigeria–Benin border.
2) In October 2010, the SSS intercepted a large cache of arms and ammunition originating from Iran at the Apapa port in Lagos; this in spite of a UN arms embargo on Iran.
3) Due to the SSS undercover work; In September 2001, six Pakistani proselyters invited by the Lagos-based Tabliq, a Muslim NGO were arrested in Benue State on suspicion of immigration violations and they were subsequently deported on November 18. This spared the nation needless religious tension.
Despite these and many other successes; the SSS have sadly become a personal tool of oppression in the hands of the Presidency and those it favours in all governments.
From 2010 onwards, the standard issue assault rifles used by SSS Operatives are the IMI Tavor Tar-21 assault rifle produced by Israeli Military Industries and the FN P90 personal protection weapon, FN F2000 assault rifle, both manufactured by FN Herstal; these rifles replace the Uzi as the primary assault weapon of the SSS. Operatives also use various side arms and pistols from a number of manufacturers including Glock, and Browning. These operatives are better equipped and trained than their NPF counterparts. Hence, the NPF will be no match for them if there is any confrontation. It is interesting to see how well and better trained and equipped the SSS is (who secures the VIPs) compared to the poorly trained and badly equipped Nigeria Police Force who are supposed to secure the masses.
The SSS also have IMSI number catchers and signal direction finders have can be deployed for intercepting and tracking GSM and satellite phone communications. They have capacity to intercept ALL telephone communications in Nigeria. With so much power also comes abuses as we have seen.
Now to the excesses and abuses as well as impunity of the SSS. Given its origin, the SSS (and its predecessor NSO) have always considered themselves as the Untouchables. They are the personal security army of the sitting President. Under the law setting up the SSS, in addition to its stated duties; there is one last line that is the root cause of all its abuses. That portion of the Act states that the SSS will perform such other duties as prescribed by the President. This catch-all phrase is the basis of all abuses by the SSS. It is also the basis upon which they cannot refuse the order to perform “any other duties” as directed by the President. This is the basis of their impunity and disregard for any other authority but that of the President.
The SSS is always the President’s scarecrow, and are used to do any job the law restricts other agencies from doing. They hide under ‘classified’ operations. Even the SSS Budget and Manpower is classified. We all can remembered recently when the EFCC was physically restrained from arresting a former DG SSS fingered in massive corruption. The SSS are considered untouchable by the Police. Sources in the police told me unanimously that the NPF cannot effect an arrest against SSS wishes; even with a court order to do so. One officer told me that will be a “Suicide mission”. Their former DG, Daura did the unimaginable and told the VP Osinbajo he wasn’t answerable to him even when the VP was the acting President. The VP fired him. Since then, many rumoured that PMB has never hand over to the VP when traveling. So SSS loyalty seems to be to the PERSON who is the President and not just to the OFFICE.
So as presently operated; the SSS feels it is only answerable to Mr President, (PMB) and nobody else; not even to the courts. This is an UNLAWFUL stance; but who will enforce a court order against the SSS? Definitely not the NPF. This reality is an added basis for Impunity by the SSS.
In the case of Sowore; several credible sources told me the SSS is under instruction not to release him. If this is true; then it seems like sheer wickedness and vindictiveness and that the government are bent on teaching him a lesson. This is wrong. So, dozens of court orders will not change the position of the outfit; until the Presidency says otherwise. They will dither and obfuscate and play all manner of tricks to avoid releasing Sowore it seems. This posture of the SSS is unlawful and unconstitutional. But they are emboldened by the fact that no other security agency can force them to comply with the orders of the court. In SSS, we have a Rouge Agency who sees itself as untouchable; whose activities are shrouded in secrecy and who answers only to one man. This is a danger to democracy anywhere.
So, what can be done to bring SSS back to its main focus on national Intelligence Gathering? I accept there is a need for a domestic Intelligence agency in Nigeria; but its role should strictly be Intelligence Gathering. The National Security Agencies Act, Decree 19 of June 5, 1986, established the SSS; so the NA can amend this act as follows:
1) Make SSS only an Intelligence Gathering agency only and remove all enforcement duties from it. That should be the duties of the Nigerian Police.
2) The SSS duties must be made solely covert in nature. No more hooded men in Vans terrorising citizens. The SSS should also be removed from checking passports at our Airports. The Immigration Service can access their database and effect arrests as necessary. No more should we be made to produce our passports to two separate people at airports. The SSS presence at the airports should become purely covert and invisible.
3) The Nigerian Police Special Protection Unit (SPU) should be trained and empowered to take over the other duties of current SSS that involves securing safety of top politicians and their families.
4) The operations of the SSS should be brought under the oversight of a Senate Intelligence Committee; who will have power to sanction them and dismiss their boss. Although operationally, the President can remain in charge of directing the priorities of the SSS.
5) It must be made clear that the most dominant civil security agency in Nigeria is the NPF. They must be better equipped, trained and supported. The NPF MUST be able to enforce an order of the court against any other security agency (and their senior officials) in Nigeria.
6) The overall budget and manpower of the SSS, must be published and made available to all Nigerians. Breakdown can be classified for security reasons; but its overall allocation and expenditure MUST be published.
7) The NA should commission an annual report on the state of our security services in Nigeria. This will provide democratic review of their activities, budget and recommend improvements on an annual basis.
The relevant Senate Committee should be given more powers over the SSS other than basic advisory scrutiny. The focus must be the strengthening of the Nigerian Police. The relegation of the role of our police promoted by the Military has yet to be reversed. This must now be done as a priority. The Police must be strengthened and empowered.
In the dying days of his government in 1999, Gen Abubakar signed what was known as Instrument 1, which is a document dictating how SSS will operate and be directed by him, the Head of State. To the SSS, this document is their Bible and not Nigerian Constitution. This should not be so.
As stated in this article; the SSS have achieved major security victories for the nation when they focus on their core duties. But when they choose to become errand boys to any politician; then do a disservice to the valiant men and women amongst them who do us proud daily. Accountability is seldom voluntary. Instruments have to be put in place to demand it and enforce it. That is what the SSS need.
This article does not pretend to provide a perfect solution or a full story about the SSS, but a starting point for a national debate of how we can reform the SSS and our security sector as a whole. I hope these ideas can be mixed with others to move our nation forward. We all have a part to play.