What appears a push to curtail the pace of reform being implemented at the State Security Service (SSS) has brought President Muhammadu Buhari's Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, head-to-head with Director-General Matthew Seiyefa, PREMIUM TIMES can report today.
Already, multiple sources said, Mr Kyari has ordered Mr Seiyefa, who was named to the position only last month following the sack of Lawal Daura, to reverse some key decisions he took and desist from implementing new measures unless otherwise directed from the presidency to do so.
This newspaper learnt that Mr Seiyefa called Mr Kyari's bluff saying he would rather report to and take directives from the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno, under whose office the SSS is structurally placed.
The rift has become so pronounced that top directors at the SSS and even some rank and file are now threatening to either fight the battle openly with their principal or quit the service entirely -- saying political interference has corroded the agency's professionalism and should no longer be tolerated.
Mr Kyari's position, contained in a letter he wrote to Mr Seiyefa on August 30, prescribed the types of administrative decisions the new spy chief should not make without permission from him.
Mr Kyari said Mr Seiyefa should immediately recall some directors who were recently asked to proceed on terminal leave. State directors in Borno, Cross River, Kaduna and Oyo were cleared for terminal leave by Mr Seiyefa, ahead of their retirement from service.
Other officials who were redeployed are also asked to return to their previous posts, a decision Mr Seiyefa sees as an attempt to undermine his authority, according to people close to him.
Mr Seiyefa was appointed on August 7 by then Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, moments after the dismissal of Mr Daura.
Mr Daura was accused of ordering the August 7 siege which SSS operatives laid to the National Assembly, drawing nationwide condemnation amongst those who saw it as an affront to democracy.
Mr Seiyefa assumed office promising to clean up the mess at the agency, which many expect would involve doing away with the controversial tactics of Mr Daura.
His appointment was widely hailed by top civil society personalities, including Chidi Odinkalu, a former head of the National Human Rights Commission who described the new spy chief as "a thoroughbred professional" in an exchange with PREMIUM TIMES.
Mr Seiyefa demonstrated the genuineness of his resolve by immediately holding a press briefing to address issues confronting the SSS, especially in relation to human rights and internal accountability.
Some of the promises were already being implemented, as several persons held on obviously flimsy grounds and without trial were being set free. He also appointed a new spokesperson for the agency within a week of settling in office, years after Mr Daura sacked the agency's spokesperson and closed down its media unit.
While high-profile detainees like Shiite leader Ibrahim el-Zakzaky and former National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki have not been released, human rights activists are optimistic that Mr Seiyefa would soon enforce the multiple court pronouncements granting bails to the duo.
PREMIUM TIMES has not been able to independently establish why Mr Kyari is becoming increasingly suspicious of Mr Seiyefa's actions at the SSS, but officials at the secret police allege it was an attempt to bring back Mr Daura or someone else the administration felt would be amenable to its interest ahead of the 2019 elections.
Mr Osinbajo took the decision when he was acting president while Mr Buhari was in London on vacation for 10 business days. Mr Seiyefa was the most senior official when he was appointed last month, and is expected to retire next year because he joined the agency in 1984.
But since Mr Buhari returned to the country, there have been strong indications that he was not in support of the summary dismissal of Mr Daura, contradicting earlier claims by presidential spokespersons that the president signed off on Mr Daura's sack.
"They do not want him to be taking those decisions, so they want to weaken his resolve and reform agenda," a senior SSS official told PREMIUM TIMES this weekend. "They are suspicious of him and want to remove him to put some favourable people that may help them win the elections."
Presidential spokespersons Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu did not return PREMIUM TIMES' requests for comments.
Peter Afunanya, the new spokesperson for the SSS, also did not return requests for comments.
Some officials, including junior personnel, told PREMIUM TIMES they were ready to resign if that is "where they are dragging the service," saying the agency's image had already been too battered in recent years.
Another senior official said Mr Kyari's demand for the recall of officials on terminal leave could spark administrative and personnel row within the agency.
"We are wondering whether they are going to place them on contract when they come back because they have been replaced already," an SSS official said.