Lagos — For some time now, intelligence gathering has become very fundamental more than ever before to the international community, especially with the pervasive insecurity all over the world created largely by terrorism and trans-national criminal activities.
Hence the developed world, particularly countries like Britain and United States of America have fortified the MI5 and MI6, the CIA and FBI respectively. Perhaps, this is the time to actually appreciate our own, the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), which has existed in the past twenty (20) years.
Created in 1986 by Decree 19 of June 5, 1986, now known as Cap.278 of the laws of the Federation, from the ashes of the defunct National Security Organisation (NSO), the NIA has over the years stood the test of time, moving gradually from a perceived government agency with intent to do its masters bidding, to the status of a professionally driven and responsible security organisation.
Saddled with the responsibility of keeping watch over security threats to the nation, along with other security agencies, the NIA since inception has had the primary responsibility of gathering and analysing international intelligence information about Nigeria, as well as working with the local intelligence organisations, to ensure that there is peace and stability in our country.
Promulgated by the military administration of President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, the Decree 19 of 1986 created three new security and Intelligence Agencies, namely the National Intelligence (NIA), the State Security Services (SSS), and the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA). And since two decades of its inception the NIA, like the other agencies, has concentrated on its area of core competence, exhibiting absolute professionalism in intelligence gathering, and also collaborating with strategic and friendly international partners to secure the peace and stability of Nigeria, including its immediate neighbours.
Before the establishment of the NIA, the evolution of the Intelligence Service in Nigeria dated back to the establishment of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) by the British Colonial Administration. However, in 1958, the Special Branch, known as the "E" Branch, was created within the NPF and charged with the responsibility of gathering overall intelligence. Similarly, in 1960, the Research Department of the Ministry of External Affairs was created and saddled with the specific responsibility for the procurement of external intelligence. This arrangement was retained until 1976 when the then Government of General Olusegun Obasanjo established the NSO, to take charge of both domestic and external intelligence, which later gave birth to the NIA. Since then, the agency has been responsible for the maintenance of the security of Nigeria outside the country.
Though, the 1986 Decree setting up the NIA did not spell out in great details its functions, the government of General Abdulsalami Abubakar in 1999 sought to remedy this and signed the NIA Instrument No.1 of 23rd May 1999, spelling out in greater details the duties and obligations of the Agency. The Instrument states that "without prejudice to the generality of the provision relating to the duties of the NIA set out in Section 2(2) of Decree No. 19, the objective for the Agency shall include the protection, promotion and enhancement of Nigeria's security, national interest, the economy and government's policy objectives outside Nigeria."
Under the direct supervision of the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, the agency carries out its daily function, in conjunction with the National Security Council (NSC), Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), the Intelligence Community Committee (ICC) and the Joint Intelligence Board (JIB). Since it was found in 1986, the NIA has been headed by five Directors-General, namely, Chief Albert K. Horsfall (1986-1990), Brigadier-General Haliru Akilu (Rtd) (1990-1993), Ambassador Zakari Y. Ibrahim (1993-1998), Ambassador Godfrey B. Preware (1998-1999) and Ambassador Uche O. Okeke (1999 till date).
The various Director-Generals have, in the intervening years, made immense contributions to the growth and development of the Agency. Despite the enormous contributions of the various intelligence chiefs to the security and stability of our nation, the general public cannot actually assess them, since they are the unseen hands silently driving the security needs of our nation. The success story of the Agency cannot, therefore, be complete without giving due credit to each and everyone of them. The roll call of honour very appropriately should start with Chief Albert K. Horsfall, a doyen of Nigerian Security and Intelligence establishment who, as the pioneer Director-General, conceptualised the framework and philosophical foundation on which the Agency is built.
Next is Brigadier-General Haliru Akilu, a strict disciplinarian who brought his military discipline to bear on the operations of the agency. We must also recognise Ambassador Zakari Y. Ibrahim, a consummate administrat or and welfarist, who steered the affairs of the Agency with great zeal. On his part, Ambassador Godfrey B. Preware, a fine diplomat, strategic planner and thinker, was noted for his methodical and conciliatory approach to issues of the day. Since June 1999, the mantle of leadership of the NIA has fallen on the shoulders of Ambassador Uche Okeke, a fine gentleman, visionary leader. With these arrays of tested leaders, it is therefore little surprise that the agency has continued to function in the best traditions of a professional intelligence service.
Operating from a magnificent edifice in Garki II, Abuja, there is no doubt that in the last 20 years, the agency has recorded a number of successes, but because the business of security and intelligence is almost usually conducted and shrouded in absolute secrecy, it is very difficult, especially for an outsider, to be able to assess in absolute terms the performance index of the NIA without compromising its operations.
Conducting its affairs strictly under the principle of "the need to know" you only know what they want you to know. It is only when things go wrong that the public begins to hear of intelligence failures, but when things are right, you hardly hear or know about the delicate endeavours of the security and intelligence agencies. It is, therefore, within that context that one can assess the performance of the Agency in the last 20 years.
One can safely say that the Agency has excelled and has contributed a lot to the relative peace in the polity, which ranges from the excellent relations existing between Nigeria and its neighbours, the reasonably strong performance of Nigeria's economy, the giant strides Nigeria is making on the world stage, the curbing of religious fundamentalism and terrorism in all their forms to the fight against drug trafficking. Others include the fight against human trafficking, as well as the successful fight against economic and financial crimes, including "419" and cyber crimes.
Furthermore, the vision and foresight of the current leadership of the NIA was the main driving force that led to the establishment of the Committee of Intelligence and Security Services of Africa (CISSA) in August 2004. CISSA is the first bold Pan African initiative for the pooling of resources and sharing of intelligence among African countries. Thanks to the pioneering effort of the current Director-General of National Intelligence Agency (NIA), CISSA is today an organ of the African Union. Again, the NIA successfully pioneered the establishment of the NEPAD Intelligence and Security Committee.