It has been a week since the Kuje Medium Security Prison was attacked by fighters from the Islamic State West Africa Province, which led to the release of over 600 battle-hardened Boko Haram fighters, including its chief explosions expert. It has also been a week since more revelations surfaced about how a certain security officer in the facility communicated with the terrorists and was tracked and arrested. Within the past week, we have also learned about the scale of the operation and the damage done, leading the president, Muhammadu Buhari to ask no one in particular, how the security services were caught off guard and allowed this event to happen. Curiously, one week after this “JAMB Question”, nobody in the security services has been held accountable, nor has an investigation been launched.
What has been on the lips of many concerned people since Buhari’s statement is the lamentation of the acute failure of intelligence that made such an attack in the country’s capital happen. This piece will begin by heavily drawing upon the already existing skeletal framework of the existing intelligence agencies the country has, as reported by Premium Times.
Nigeria, like other countries across the globe, does not lack relevant outfits tasked with providing intelligence. The Nigerian police have the Force Criminal Investigations Department (FCID) and the Federal Investigations and Intelligence Bureau (FIIB).
The FCID conducts investigations and prosecutes complex crimes within and outside the nation. The FIIB carries out intelligence gathering and surveillance to aid other police units. The SSS (also known as DSS), formed in 1986, operates under the presidency and answers directly to the National Security Adviser (NSA). It manages domestic intelligence and ensures the national security of the country is not compromised. The SSS is also empowered to eliminate ‘national threats’ and provide security for top government officials and visiting dignitaries. The National Intelligence Agency (NIA), also under the NSA, is charged with gathering international intelligence. Established also in 1986, it is responsible for foreign intelligence and counterintelligence. It collates external intelligence aimed at protecting Nigeria’s security interests outside its shores. There is also the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) established in 1986 to provide an efficient system of obtaining military intelligence for the Armed Forces.
The existence of these bodies acts as a boon to the requirements of internal security. That is at least, on paper. There have been surrounding questions about why these organizations exist within classified budgets under the office of the national security adviser if intelligence failures would be even more commonplace than annual Lagos floods.
What causes intelligence failures? To begin with, much of the controversies surrounding the capacity of the Nigerian state to ensure security have lacked proper nuance and understanding of how intelligence works. There are three levels of intelligence–strategic tactical and counterintelligence. The most far-reaching of these levels is strategic intelligence, which takes into account information about the capabilities and intentions of foreign countries. Tactical intelligence sometimes called operational or combat intelligence is the information required by military field commanders. As a result of the enormous destructive power of modern weaponry, the decision-making of political leaders often must take into account information derived from tactical as well as strategic intelligence; major field commanders may often also need multiple levels of intelligence.
Thus, the distinction between these two levels of intelligence may be vanishing. Counterintelligence is aimed at protecting and maintaining the secrecy of a country’s intelligence operations. Its purpose is to prevent spies or other agents of a foreign power from penetrating the country’s government, armed services, or intelligence agencies. Counterintelligence also is concerned with protecting advanced technology, deterring terrorism, and combating international narcotics trafficking.
For the purpose of this piece, the definition will be limited to the first two. Strategic intelligence is intelligence concerned with the policies, cultural tendencies, thinking processes, intentions, capabilities, limitations, vulnerabilities, and possible courses of action of foreign or enemy nations or international terrorist organizations. It is used in carrying out national security measures, determining foreign and anti-terror policies, or conducting general security and/or military operations. Tactical intelligence is intelligence pertaining to the capabilities, limitations, vulnerabilities, or reactions of a hostile force (or terrorist organization), either air or surface and which is used in carrying out tactical operations. Tactical or actionable intelligence is an awareness of the target, timing, and type of attack being planned by an enemy.
Many have argued that intelligence failures are inevitable, pointing to a slew of security and intelligence failures that have blighted the record of the American intelligence community, especially 9/11 and the “error” of inaccurately stating the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. But in Nigeria, accepting that reality (of the inevitability of intelligence failure) risks accepting irresponsibility as a norm. In Nigeria, many breaches attributed to intelligence failures have stemmed from the absence of intelligence itself. Analysts have variously stated that the absence of actionable intelligence has been the bane of the existence of security operations. However, events over the past year have shown that we are well past that threshold of blame. Of the types of intelligence, human intelligence ranks the oldest.
This has been the most available to the Nigerian security services within this period. Case in point: on 10 May 2021, kidnappers attacked a town in Jibia local government area of Katsina state and abducted 12 worshippers in a mosque. Residents said that there had been a series of warnings about the attack at least two weeks before it took place. Law enforcement agencies did not act to prevent it. The Kuje attack also took place amid warnings about the impending breach. Before it happened, two years earlier in September 2020, the US Africa Command warned the military that both the Islamic State and AL Qaeda were looking to push the South to gain access to the Atlantic. Abuja was within that line of fire. Before the warning, the Islamic State’s Nigeria’s offshoot, the Islamic State West Africa Province was restricted to the fringes of Lake Chad. Within two years, not only have they broken that perimeter by expanding to Taraba, they have also traveled west and gained a massive foothold in Niger, Kogi, Kaduna, and possibly the federal capital.
There is hardly any such way to look at these events among others and veritably claim that the Nigerian security services lack intelligence. That is patently false. There is a wealth of abundance of human intelligence to the point that both bandits and Boko Haram have taken the offensive on the informants and have sought to take them out of the equation. What is clear from the foregoing is that there has been a very inconsistent response to the information received. To put it simply, more often than not, the information passed is not being acted upon for various reasons. While we cannot pin this on the certainty of accuracy, we can postulate that there is not enough appetite to act. This is a leadership problem. Communities in the Plateau and the Benue have accused the military of being aware of impending attacks and doing absolutely nothing to prevent them. Unofficial accounts from sources within the military have said that the reason many attacks go unanswered is that they did not receive any order to act. Attacks are reported live and soldiers are given orders to stand down. The military has sometimes labeled this inaction a “tactical withdrawal” intended to obscure the true state of play.
Furthermore, asides from the lack of will to act, there is an overwhelming disjointed focus of the security architecture away from the imperatives of national security. The overarching interest is in the preservation of the regime. This in itself is found in the posture of the dissolution of the National Security Organisation (NSO) in 1986 which birthed the three letter agencies–the SSS, NIA, DMI, and DIA we have today. Before 1986, much of the country’s domestic intelligence work was done by the Nigerian police force’s Special Branch. The Babangida regime, seeking to make the government coup-proof, decided to decentralize the power of the NSO into three agencies with a specialized focus. The onus to preserve the government of the day did not go away–a strong holdover of colonialism in which the security structure created by the colonialists was put up to serve the interests of the colonial administration in terms of provision of security of officials as well as the odious duty of whipping errant chiefs into line.
In our time, that focus on regime preservation has continued to remain, with the government’s order of priority thinning away to rank its own security first, the security of the ruling political elites second, and national security third. It also explains why protests against police brutality, and the rising cost of living among others are either viewed as threats against the state (re: regime) or interpreted by the government’s base as such. In recent times, the lack of response to the kidnap of members of the elites and their families is the clearest indicator yet that the resources available to the state are now one hundred percent tailored towards the family of the head of state and as result, it is an all man for himself situation. What this means is that if a threat is judged to not be directed against the government or oil, its primary source of revenue, it may not get an immediate response and will be treated with levity.
A major flaw in Nigeria’s strategic intelligence is not the absence of equipment. It has equipment in abundance. Tracking devices, surveillance systems, and aerial and monitoring equipment are made available to the major agencies within and outside the military. Nigeria owns an aggressive collection of surveillance tools. We are not so much different from the U.S. in this regard. As a matter of fact, a certain (undisclosed) military regime in Nigeria bought an encrypted code transmitting device from CryptoAG, (a company secretly run by a consortium of the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as well as the West German Intelligence Agency)to complement the intelligence operations of the newly created security services. As the declassified report shows, Nigeria bought a large shipment of Crypto machines (worth hundreds of millions of dollars), but two years later, when there was still no corresponding payoff in intelligence (which was secretly monitored by the CIA), a company representative was sent to investigate. “He found the equipment in a warehouse still in its original packaging,” This was in the 1980s. Things have not changed much since then. Hence, the availability of technical resources and data has been a constant.
However, the deployment of such and data gathered are not always tailored to fit the purpose. This is either due to sabotage or incompetence. For instance, exactly a year ago this week, fighter jets from the Nigerian airforce dropped bombs on a woman and her children taking shelter under a tree in Sububu Forest in the country’s North West. Since 2017, there have been nearly ten air mishaps by the Nigerian Airforce, with the most brazen being the killing of 30 ground soldiers in the North East “by mistake” in April 2021. Some of these have been blamed on poor or inaccurate intelligence but one can see right through the dishonesty of the air force when its refusal to launch inquiries into these mishaps is considered.
For any tactical operation to succeed, tactical intelligence must be gotten right. Nigeria’s security agencies have been able to get half of that right evident in initiatives such as Operation Sulhu among others, but it is discovering that its fight against terror is impounded by not only the dearth of skilled personnel from the very tiny field of intelligence analysts within its employment (the entire police force has less than 70 trained modern analysts, the military less than 100) but also the problems of fighting multiple insurgencies in a large expanse of theatres of operations which subsume both local and urban terrain. This has made (the military and police) lose personnel and have sought to mitigate it by creating (army) super camps to protect its personnel and relying on periodic aerial raids to do the work.
Concluding this piece without talking about the sparse collaboration between the intelligence agencies will be a huge misdirection. The chiefs of Defence staff have been able to labour extensively to get the services to collaborate with each other but the limited success available has been achieved within the military itself. The intelligence agencies still operate in silos given the existing rivalry and mistrust that exist between them. Such rivalry is not new as it also exists at a much deeper level in the American intelligence community. However, it becomes dangerously ridiculous and problematic when the chief of army staff refuses to talk to the national security adviser for some reason and the president, being aware of such friction, does nothing to stop it. The lack of trust may not be without precedent–in 2019, a Boko Haram plot to attack markets in Ondo State was uncovered by the DSS and sent to the police. It found its way to the press, much to the consternation of the DSS who became reserved in the distribution of classified information to relevant authorities.
In the final analysis, repurposing the Nigerian security and intelligence agencies to take a different direction and work ethic would require enormous political will, amid much-needed reforms which everyone, including the president and his national security adviser, has promised. However, if there is one tragic realization about the problem with Nigeria, it is that almost everything, as with the country itself, is purposely designed to fail and at such, is working in perfect harmony with its intended goal, the disruption of which may require more political and personal capital that its captains cannot be found willing to expend.