SSS, Boko Haram, Aregbesola and the rest of us By Mohammed Haruna

Most Nigerians, I suspect, would agree that one of the main reasons for government’s apparent failure to contain the Boko Haram terror that has been hanging fire over the country since 2009, is the failure of our human intelligence. The failure itself has several reasons, not least of which are human prejudice and, worse, the “sexing up” – a popular British media terminology for the manipulation – of intelligence information for political purposes.

The stark contrast between the way Ms Marylyn Ogar, the rather gratuitously voluble spokesperson of the State Security Service (SSS), our domestic intelligence organisation, has invariably blamed almost every act of terrorism in the country on Boko Haram, and the way she was quick to downplay the alleged terrorist threat to bomb Radio House, Abuja, on Monday during a ministerial media briefing, should lead to a judicial inquiry into the operations of our intelligence organisations. The contrast should certainly make one wonder about the level of competence and integrity of the SSS, if not of other intelligence organisations in the country.

Two weeks ago on these pages I referred to this possibility of our intelligence organisations manipulating intelligence information for political purposes by pointing out how almost every time the trail of an act of terror points away from Boko Haram, it suddenly goes cold. The following Monday, May 14, the day’s columnist at Leadership and its publisher, the blunt-speaking  Sam Nda-Isaiah, who no one can accuse of being an apologist of Boko Haram, did an even better job than I in drawing the public’s attention to the widespread suspicion that there is more to the Boko Haram terror than meets the eye. Anyone concerned about the sect’s threat to the country’s peace, unity and integrity who has not read that piece, should go back and read it.

In case you missed the story of last Monday’s alleged threat to bomb Radio House, headquarters of the Federal Ministry of Information, Voice of Nigeria and Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, one John Akpanum Alakpo, 39, from Nasarawa State, was arrested under suspicion of trying to bomb the building. The Nigerian Police said the man, apparently a non-Muslim, was caught with three hand grenades, an AK47 machine gun and 37 rounds of live ammunition.

Before you could say “John”, Ms Ogar was on television telling the world the police lied. What were recovered from the man, she said, were not grenades but teargas canisters. She said nothing of the AK47 machine gun and the 37 rounds of live ammunition. Instead she was quick to caution the public from reaching hasty conclusions about the incident. Coming from someone who, in speaking for the SSS, has hardly ever hesitated in blaming Boko Haram, or perceived enemies of the current administrations, for the spate of bombings in the country, her advice sounded rather rich.

Apparently she missed the irony that her own advice was lost on her when she, in effect, reached the hasty conclusion that the man was innocent ahead of any investigations. He was, she said, merely attempting to see the Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku, whose kin, she said, the man was.

Clearly this opens the organisation she speaks for to the charge that in its eyes anytime a Muslim is implicated in a bombing or the threat of bombing, he is guilty until he can prove his innocence, whereas with a non-Muslim suspect it is the reverse.

However, bad as Ms Ogar’s attempt at “sexing up” – or more accurately in this case, “sexing-down” – Monday’s incident is for the obvious political purpose of finding only the usual suspects guilty, it pales in significance to the recent SSS report that indicted the governor of Osun State, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola for, of all things, attempting to secede from Nigeria and at the same time making it an extension of Lagos State and of trying to Islamize his state!

And what was the evidence of his alleged secession bid? Simply that he reversed the official name of his state to State of Osun, gave it a flag and an anthem, and had arranged to send a team of youth to Cuba, presumably to turn them into gun-toting rebellious Marxists! A more infantile reasoning is hard to imagine in the context of a country that is officially a federation and has diplomatic and cultural ties with Cuba.

The claim that the governor also had plans to make his state an extension of Lagos State, a state which the report did not say had any plans too to secede, made the stupidity of the reasoning even more glaring. Its stupidity was equally underscored by the fact that he is almost alone among his counterparts in regarding himself as not being above the law, as exemplified by media reports that his convoy diligently obeys traffic lights and it hardly ever uses siren to beat traffic.

As for Islamizing the state, the evidence of the SSS report that he wanted to impose a dress code on school children and students in the state which included wearing the hijab – the Islamic head cover for females – could hardly be more Islamophobic. After all Muslims are not the only ones who consider wearing headgear for the female folk a necessary component of decent dressing. Otherwise Christian nuns, with their ankle length dresses and headgears, would never have been globally regarded as icons of decent dressing.

It may be granted to the SSS that it would never have acted on such a stupid report given the rigour that such reports should be subjected to. However, the fact that it was written at all raises questions about the integrity of the recruiting procedures of the agency. It also raises questions about the danger that its personnel can be easily suborned by anyone to malign their perceived enemies.

Then there is the obvious danger that the SSS, and probably other security agencies in the country, are prone to Islamophobia in a country where at least half the population are Muslims. But even if it were not so it is simply dangerous for any country to have security outfits that are prone to manipulate intelligence for political purposes.

The concern that this is the case with our own security agencies is hardly lessened by the fact that they look up to foreign countries like the UK, the USA and Israel, for so-called expert advice. All three are countries that have since become notorious for sexing up intelligence for political purposes at home and abroad.

The most notorious of this political manipulation of intelligence abroad was, of course, the claim before the British parliament by Tony Blair, then it prime minister, on September 24, 2002, that Iraq under Saddam Hussein, possessed weapons of mass destruction (wmd) “which could be activated within 45 minutes.”

When the wmd expert, Dr. David Kelly, exposed this claim as a blatant lie, his secret cover was blown by government, an act which led to his suicide, which in turn led to the Lord Hutton enquiry, which finally exposed how the British secret service sexed up intelligence for political purposes.

Here at home, the prize for the most dangerous example of the use of intelligence for political purposes must go to the recent claim by President Goodluck Jonathan that all our intelligence agencies and every arm of the country’s government right up to the presidential villa have been infiltrated by Boko Haram and its agents.

To date he has not named names, most probably because the intelligence on which he based his claim was as tight as a sieve.

With intelligence agencies like ours that are prone to dangerous levels of Islamophobia and the use of intelligence for politics, is it any wonder that the problem of Boko Haram has remained intractable since it burst into the open in 2009?


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