The 2012 Chief of Army Staff Annual Conference opened in Asaba, Delta State, on Monday with all the top brass in the Nigerian Army as well as Airforce, Navy, Police in town. Unfortunately, the event was overshadowed by the bomb blast, last Sunday, at a Military Church in Jaji and Monday morning attack on police post in Abuja that made the Inspector General of Police, Mr Mohammed Abubakar, to hastily leave Asaba back to Abuja.
With national security as the theme, I had been invited by the Chief of Army Staff, Lt General Onyeabo Azubuike Ihejirika, as one of the two guest speakers. I spoke on the Nigerian perspective of “Enhancing Inter-Agency Cooperation In Conflict Management”, while Major John Ringquest, a doctorate degree holder who not only teaches at West Point Military Academy but has held command positions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia and several theatres of war, spoke on the American perspective.
After our papers were presented, I moderated discussion as the Generals, serving and retired, gave their perspectives on the state of insecurity in our nation. As to be expected, a few feathers were also ruffled by my presentation. Major General J. B. Samuel (rtd), who represented the National Security Adviser (NSA) did not take kindly to my observation on the effectiveness (or lack of one) of the NSA office. But without any inhibitions, all the Generals who spoke were rather candid about their interpretations of the security situation in the country today as well as where the problems lie. From legislative deficiencies in inter-agency coordination to operational difficulties in our counter terrorism strategies to the challenge of rivalry from the political leadership, I took notes of the feelings from the barrack and I begin to wonder whether those in authorities take time to interact with our senior military officers.
The most profound interventions, however, came from retired Air Vice Marshall Umaru Ndayako; Major General A. T. Jibrin, (who I later learnt is the Director of Military Intelligence);Major-General Moses Bisong Obi, (the immediate past Force Commander of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan) and the Chief of Army Staff, Lt General Ihejirika. In summing up our interventions, Ihejirika said the first solution to the problem at hand was to recognise that there was one. He identified cooperation with other agencies as his main priority even as he highlighted all the things he has done, and will continue to do, in that direction. Incidentally, Ringquist, who had been working in collaboration with our Army High Command, had shared with me some of the commendable gestures from the Army with regards to winning the hearts and minds of the civil populace in their areas of operations.
At Asaba last Monday, there were several retired officers from the three services, including former Army Chief, Lt. General Joshua Dogonyaro (rtd) and the Orhue 1, the Orodja of Okpe Kingdom, Major General Mujakperuo (rtd) who made it clear he was there not as a traditional ruler but rather as a former military officer. I picked up several things from my interactions with the officers but let’s take these: the SSS believes it should host the Counter Terrorism directorate that is currently domiciled in the office of the NSA who is not an operational commander; aside the President, Commander-in-Chief, there is no other person with any substantive coordinating authority for our armed forces and security agencies; the absence of a serious interface between the Ministry of Defence and the operational commanders as you have, for instance, in the United States with Pentagon; the law establishing the Civil Defence Corps gives it omnibus responsibilities for which it has neither the personnel nor the requisite expertise to handle and the Minister of Police Affairs, rather than the Inspector General of Police, controls the purse for the force and determines spending priorities!
By speaking with the Generals, I got a lot of insight about the critical nature of the security challenges we are facing today as a nation but I also got a sense that they are not insurmountable: If only we can meaningfully engage the senior members of our armed forces, both serving and retired. I intend to share my thoughts on this in future but for today, I serve readers the paper I presented at the conference:
Until the bomb blasts at Eagle Square on October 1, 2010 and the intensification of Boko Haram depredations, concerns about security capability in our country were defined in terms of training and equipment for personnel of the police, the State Security Service and the military. The 50th independence anniversary bomb blast, however, changed the paradigm. Since the challenge was novel, it created new awareness and triggered some dimensions of response that required the cooperation and collaboration of all the security agencies, the military and paramilitary institutions.
However, while the urgency for inter-agency synergy came to the fore, such sudden imperative only helped to expose years of rivalry between and among these agencies. It also brought to fore the abysmal lack of capacity to deal with this new threat. Therefore, it came as no surprise that in the aftermath of the tragedy, the police and the SSS appeared to have worked at cross purposes in the immediate investigations and arrest of suspects. Unfortunately, up till today, that remains the situation
While the police considered the October 1, 2010 bombing an infringement on public order and therefore its prime responsibility, the SSS saw it as a national security issue involving the disruption of a celebration presided over by the president and attended by senior government officials and visiting heads of government.
This jurisdictional fog has engendered a lack of cooperation and limited information sharing incentives between these important security agencies such that almost every criminal investigation is now bogged down by petty squabbles as we saw in the Radio House blast fiasco for which both the Police and the SSS have different theories as to the motive of the suspect. It is also this petty rivalry that has led to a situation in which both the Police and the SSS are holding different sets of suspects in the homicide investigation into the death of Comrade Olaitan Oyerinde,the former Principal Secretary to the Edo State governor even when it is obvious that two separate killer squads with different objectives could not have murdered one person on the same date and at the same time.
To be sure, rivalry between security agencies is not peculiar to Nigeria. In fact, to understand how dysfunctional interagency coordination could be even in developed societies, I strongly recommend the March 2009 essay titled“America’s Broken Interagency” by Thomas A. Schweich who was U.S. Ambassador for Counternarcotics and Justice Reform in Afghanistan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, and Chief of Staff of the U.S. mission to the United Nations. He painted a rather interesting perspective of interagency failings in Europe, Afghanistan and the US based on first-hand experience.
What is, however, peculiar to our nation is a situation where senior officials of these critical agencies constitutionally responsible for protecting us would not only openly trade blames and damaging accusations but would indeed seek to discredit one another in the media in a bid to score cheap advantage. And because of the danger this portends for our national security, there is need for an urgent intervention at the level of political leadership.
Whether we want to admit it or not, it is the failure of the security and crime detection agencies which accounts for why the military that should channel its energy and resources towards protecting our territorial integrity as a nation has had to deploy troops in 34 of the 36 states of our country today. (I understand only Ekiti and Jigawa states do not as yet have one form of any standing quasi-military operations). While I am aware that most ordinary Nigerians have more faith in our armed forces whenever they are in situations of distress, there is also a case of familiarity breeding contempt. That, I guess, is what is happening on the streets of Maiduguri today. The larger implication of this exposure is that it makes the military troops so deployed for these duties rather vulnerable, especially on the roads. It is therefore time to strengthen the police to perform their constitutionally assigned role.
Chief of Army Staff, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, when I received a “martial order” to present this paper with the theme “Enhancing Inter-Agency Cooperation In Conflict Management: The Nigerian Perspective”, my initial feeling was that it looks like I have been cornered by a constituency that brooks little impertinence, to punch above my weight. The audience, the timing and the theme suggested something of a challenge to my intellectual pretensions and to the pen which is often touted, albeit rather glibly, to be mightier than the AK-47. But then life is full of challenges and I can only express my appreciation to the Chief of Army Staff, Lt General Azubuike Ihejirika as well as to the men and officers of the Nigerian Army for inviting me here today.
But it is important for me to underscore the fact that I am not an authority on security or military issues. I make that confession knowing that I am speaking to one of the most intellectual gathering that can ever be assembled in this country given how much investment the Nigerian Army has made on the education of its men and officers, especially within the last two decades. With many officers holding several degrees, including at doctoral level, I am conscious of the fact that there are many people within this audience who are more knowledgeable than me, especially on the issue we are engaging today. I therefore make this intervention not as an expert but rather as a citizen and a public affairs observer, who believes that in an era when criminals are becoming more sophisticated in their craft, there is an urgent need for our security agencies as well as the armed forces to also up their game.
Indeed, given what transpired yesterday (last Sunday) at St Andrews Military Protestant Church, Jaji, there couldn't have been a more appropriate time than this to engage this issue which impacts on the peace and prosperity of our nation and the institutional capacity of our armed forces, especially the Nigerian Army. We are in a period when the nation is facing a new form of security challenge that involves the planting of Improvised Explosive Devices on neighbourhood roads; the use of rocket launchers and other high grade weapons by armed gangs to attack police stations, military posts, financial institutions and even markets.
We are at a period when vehicles, rigged with deadly explosives, are rammed into media houses, television viewing centers and places of worship, killing many Nigerians with scores of others maimed for life, physically and psychologically--a period when indoctrinated young men strap explosives on their bodies to blow themselves up in gatherings of men, women and innocent children just to pursue the destructive objective of an extremist group.
Today, our nation is faced with a situation almost akin to war, where dusk to dawn curfew had been in place in some northern states for more than a year, and where the task of maintaining internal security, peace and order, is now being carried out by the military with troops and armoured vehicles patrolling the streets of major cities across the country. In times such as this, it is the level of cooperation or collaboration among these agencies that determines the degree of security of lives and property in our nation, or indeed in any nation for that matter.
Security wise, our country is today very challenged and the manifestations of the threat include the Niger Delta conundrum; the violent encounters between farmers and pastoralists across the country; the intermittent eruptions over religion as well as the perennial settler-indigene sectarian violence. But the issue that is of greater concern to us today is the global wave of belief-based violence and that is why I have tailored my paper to attempt addressing the challenge of inter-agency coordination in an age of terrorism.
Interestingly, while inter-agency collaboration may be a recent development globally, it is an area where Nigeria has had some rudimentary experience in the last two decades. Even when restoration of law and order may be the core mandate of the police, because they have proved to be lacking in the requisite capacity to perform this function effectively in our country, the federal government has had to resort to a loose arrangement called JTF which unfortunately is fast becoming a permanent feature of our national life with all the attendant implications. What this entails is that with soldiers leading the charge, personnel from other armed forces and security outfits are usually drafted in to complement their efforts in dealing with conflict situations.
But given that each agency has its culture, operating procedures, budget, career progression, mission and rules, it stands to reason that there would be challenges with regard to cooperation and coordination. Unfortunately, these are issues on which we have not paid sufficient attention and now they are coming to haunt us.
Globally, security experts and political scientists have long been concerned about the tension between institutional fragmentation and policy coordination in and among security agencies of many countries. Cut to the bone, this situation translates essentially to the challenges of inter-agency co-ordination. To be blunt, much of this challenge stems from inter-agency non-cooperation. Related literature is therefore rife with examples of agencies competing with each other or asserting their independence, while cooperation is relatively rare. This dissonance usually comes to the fore during major crisis. It goes without saying that in environments of fragile peace such as ours, the interlinked nature of security and development is inescapable, with security necessary to enable socio-political progress.
Yet the pace at which the campaign of violence and deaths has spread across some states in the North has exposed the gap in the relationship among the various agencies. Events in the past months have shown that there is an urgent need to fix that gap. The absence of effective interagency cooperation has not only led to the death of hundreds of civilians in the hands of armed bandits, it has also claimed lives of scores of military, intelligence, immigration, customs, police and prisons service personnel. This shows that it is not only in the interest of the nation that an enhanced interagency cooperation is needed, but also in the interest of each of these agencies and their operatives.
It is, however, comforting to note that the men and officers seated here today are on the same page with me so I am merely preaching to the already converted. In September last year, the former General Officer Commanding 82 Division of the Nigerian Army, Major General Sunday Idoko, stressed in Port Harcourt the need for inter-agency cooperation amongst military and para-military groups. According to Idoko, inter-agency cooperation was very essential because the threat to the nation’s environment demanded such of all agencies - from planning to the execution of assignments. Major General Idoko could not have been more apt.
From the NIA, which monitors issues of national security from outside the shores of Nigeria; the SSS which is saddled with gathering intelligence internally; the military which is tasked with protecting the territorial integrity of our nation and assisting in maintaining internal peace when needed; the police tasked with the responsibility of detection and prevention of crime; the Customs charged with preventing the flow of contraband, illegal arms and ammunition across our border posts; the immigration whose responsibility it is to ensure that suspected terrorists do not cross into our territory; the prisons mandated to ensure that detained suspects do not escape and convicted terrorists serve their terms; the FRSC that quickly indentify unmarked vehicles which may have been rigged with explosives; to the civil defence corps whose operatives quickly pass information to the appropriate agencies when unusual things are noticed around the country, the importance of enhancing interagency cooperation cannot be overemphasized.
But one thing must be clear: Interagency cooperation is a matter of mutual trust and mutual respect - having a hunch that if I give my word, you will have my back. That seems to be lacking substantially in our country today. Let's look at two instances. When the Nigerian army carried out an operation that led to the arrest of the late Boko Haram leader, Mr Muhammed Yusuf, he was handed over to the police in Maiduguri, apparently for further investigation and prosecution. But shortly after, we all know what happened to Yusuf. His killing became a focus of both local and international media with the military forced to come out severally to deny having a hand in his death. Such development erodes the kind of mutual trust that is needed to enhance interagency cooperation. What is needed is that assurance that when I play my role, you won't mess up your part.
While I concede that we are in an uncharted territory with regards to dealing with home-grown terrorism, that also makes it compelling that there be more collaboration and coordination. To do that, we need to rethink old ways of fighting insecurity as they are not effective. But even when collaboration should be a given, the pertinent questions remain: collaborating on what? What is our level of expertise on terrorism; that capacity to fight an enemy that is not seen and that is ready to die and bring others down? And how do we fight terrorism without alienating the communities and without abusing human rights? The last point might seem a small issue, but it affects the capacity for effectiveness in this kind of war where you need the support of the people to succeed.
Because fighting terrorism requires intervention across multiple agencies, effective interagency coordination is not only desirable, it is essential to meeting timelines as well as reducing wasteful overlap and unnecessary duplication. But such efforts could only be enhanced by acknowledging the role played by the various units in achieving a common goal. Giving credit to all the agencies involved in the execution of a given task, no matter how little the contribution, could indeed go a long way in enhancing cooperation among them. The main challenge today is that the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) which sits atop the security infrastructure is somehow challenged to perform this critical role.
Yet interagency coordination can only be effective in an environment where each agency's responsibilities are clarified; modalities for the sharing of information are provided and the operational guidelines that would ensure the realisation of the stated objectives are clearly defined. Because differences in institutional perspectives and individual assumptions can muddle a clear understanding of the challenge, a common sense of ownership and commitment is needed and that can only be a product of an institutional arrangement which is still sorely lacking in our country.
Let me at this stage use United States as an example of the essence of interagency cooperation and collaboration. Here, I must crave the indulgence of my colleague, Major John Ringquist who is an expert in that area and who has already given us a most profound insight on the issue. After the tragic September 11, 2001 attack, what did the Americans do? One, they identified that there was a problem. Two, they agreed that the worst attack on their homeland since the second world war was as a result of the absence of interagency collaboration on issues of national security. Three, they took positive and concrete steps to address the problem by setting up the 9/11 commission to look into the remote and immediate cause of the lapses that made the attack possible. Four, they are presently implementing all the findings and recommendations of the panel, which include but not limited to, sharing information at real time. Five, they established the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate all the agencies.
Today, while the system may still not be perfect, America and Americans are safer than they were 10 years ago.
In this era of invisible enemy, it is important that all the stakeholders improve their knowledge of who the targets are and that they come to terms with the reality that this is more of an intellectual than physical work. It is a war in which we need the academics, the clerics, the communities, the media etc. The point here is that fighting and defeating security threats entails more than an application of force. Stabilizing the crisis environment, assisting traumatized populations, and rebuilding societies and institutions are essential to achieving this objective.
This scenario then suggests that it is also critical that there be some form of integration or interfacing with other government agencies outside the intervention of the armed outfits. The collaboration is even beyond the level of security agencies, it is societal wide. Against the background that the civil authorities will remain engaged long after the military has departed the operational areas, it is imperative that there be collaboration with the civilian actors in critical theatres of the current operations, especially in the North Eastern part our country. It is also important not only to share information, but also to be able to analyse such information and ensure that no one drops the ball.
Increased training for personnel in the various agencies on issues of interagency cooperation will also go a long way in enhancing their effectiveness. Such training should focus on the dangers of not sharing valuable intelligence or failing to promote interagency collaboration, which may not only be detrimental to national security, but also puts everybody at risk. But beyond collaboration, we must address the critical issue of coordination. Who takes the lead in times of crises? Who has a global picture of things to ensure that everyone is on the same page? How can we effectively deploy new technology in the fight against terrorism? I am aware there is an office of coordinator on terrorism in the office of the NSA but is it effective? Can we have a shared database to ensure the relevant agencies get the requisite information in real time and act on them? These are a few of the questions that the relevant authorities must find answers for.
As I round up this presentation, I cannot but acknowledge that there is indeed an effective inter-agency cooperation and collaboration, especially between and among the three services that make up our armed forces such that each agency is very much aware of its roles and responsibilities in times of crisis and there is a clear command and control system in place. While this is commendable, for as long as there is no such synergy between the Police, SSS and other security support institutions, our collective security as a nation will still be endangered.
It is perhaps not an accident that the example we can cite of effective interagency cooperation and collaboration occurred in the past under the military. If you would all recall, in the nineties, pro-democracy activists, human rights advocates and journalists who were considered to be thorns in the flesh for the military government at the time were always easily arrested at airports and other border posts based on security reports gathered by the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) and the SSS on those individuals which were then shared with the immigration. The cooperation between these three agencies were so effective that it was difficult for anybody under their watch to slip off. Even though the purpose for their cooperation could be considered dubious, we can still draw useful lessons about how they shared intelligence or worked together so seamlessly to achieve a common goal, which was to please the government in power at that time.
Perhaps there is something in the institutional foundation of our armed forces from which we can take a cue since the law clearly defines the role of each of the services. For instance, the Army knows it is its responsibility to protect the land space; the Navy, our territorial waters and the Airforce, the airspace. Either jointly or separately, they could also be called upon by the Commander-in-Chief in aid of the civil authority which is ordinarily just an ancillary responsibility. But they cannot be effective for as long as the laws governing other institutions with which they collaborate remain unclear. By the law establishing the SSS, it was designed as a policing organization rather than an intelligence gathering institution. It is then little wonder that there is perpetual conflict between the agency and the Police.
What compounds the problem in our country is the fight over turf that is evident even at the level of political leadership and which compromises our security. For instance, it is only in Nigeria that you have a Ministry of Police Affairs when the institution should ordinarily be, as it is in other countries, under the Ministry of Interior. This has led to all manner of frictions. We also have the Customs Service, an armed bearing institution, that is rather curiously under the Ministry of Finance that has, not surprisingly, turned the men and officers to no more than mere revenue collectors. That explains why their preoccupation is to meet financial targets for which they would do anything, even if such compromises our internal security which ordinarily should be their number one priority.
As I end this short presentation, I believe it is imperative for us to begin to pay attention to some of the foregoing issues as we seek to find a way around factors militating against enhanced interagency cooperation in Nigeria at this crucial period of our national life. How we do this will determine how secured all of us would be now and in future. We must recognise that in the face of new dimensions of human conflict, new models of crisis engagement and management are coming into play. Different geographical and sociological peculiarities shape response plans. But most importantly, inter-agency cooperation undergirds the containment strategies. Nigeria cannot, and should not, be the exception.
In the knowledge age that we are in today, novel thinking must drive new tactics of resolving conflict while a comprehensive review of the nation’s inter-agency cooperation template needs to be embarked upon. It is a necessary precondition for the survival of the Nigerian state.
• This piece was first published in THISDAY on 29th November, 2012