By Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi
When the news broke that some millions of dollars had been found hidden in a flat in Osborne Rd, Ikoyi, Lagos, I was quite frankly indifferent as it has become a recurrent decimal. I was not even bothered when nobody initially stepped forward to claim it.
But when Ambassador Ayo Oke stepped forward to claim it on the part of the National Intelligence Agency, (NIA), alarm bells started to ring in my ears. It is one of the sacred traditions of the external intelligence trade to admit nothing and to deny nothing.
A saving grace emerged when the President set up the Osinbajo Panel to untangle the web over the millions of dollars. But the President inadvertently made a mistake. He did not appoint anyone with a history of external intelligence experience unto the panel.
External Intelligence operations do not belong into the same security genre as domestic security forces such as the SSS, EFCC and the Police.
External Intelligence officers, otherwise called spies, do not operate under the same operational penalties as domestic intelligence officers.
The ultimate penalty for a foreign spy in most countries is death. Countries go to incredible lengths to hide the identities of their agents both domestic and foreign and their operations. No receipts get issued. Budgets are called black budgets because they are never publicly acknowledged.
It would have been reassuring if the President had appointed a former head of or a former very senior member of NIA to be a member of the Panel. Even at this late stage, let me remind the Vice-President that a lawyer with a specialty in constitutional law will not appreciate the niceties of international law. It is not too late to appoint a retired Head of NIA as a consultant to the Panel.
What has motivated me at this late stage to issue this release is the news that the House of Representatives has now decided to institute its own inquiry to this peculiar mess.
This is a dangerous move. In my knowledge in this field, I know of only one occasion when a government, in this case, the United States Government , set up a Congressional Committee, the Church Committee, named after the Chairman, Senator Frank Churchill, to look into “GOVERNMENTAL OPERATIONS WITH RESPECT TO INTELLIGENCE ACTIVITIES”.
In fact the main issue which was its concern was “Did the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) ever indulge in carrying out assassinations of foreign Presidents?
Normally, foreign intelligence activities are shrouded in secrecy, and not in the glare of publicity.
Now the whole saga has made us a laughing stock in the world. Nigerian agents strewn all across Africa are now in dread of being exposed. Recruiting agents in future in Africa is going to be difficult out of fear of future exposure.
The following recommendations are to secure damage limitation:
- It is not too late to call in a former Director of NIA to serve as a Consultant to the Osinbajo Panel.
- No more leaks from the Panel.
- Under no circumstances should the Report of the Panel in as far as it relates to the activities of the NIA be made public.
- Under no circumstances should the National Assembly be allowed to conduct hearings into the NIA affair. The Osinbajo Panel Report could be shared secretly with the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House.
- Should any NIA officer be found culpable, he or she should be quietly eased out. Putting a foreign intelligence officer on trial in an open court is going to be disastrous to external national security interests. If there is no provision to put an intelligence officer on trial in a secret and special court, an executive bill should be sent to the National Assembly to make provision for such.
- Under no circumstances should one security agency be allowed to move against another security agency especially one dealing with foreign intelligence, without the express permission of the President or in his absence the Acting President. This should be without any publicity or fanfare.
Professor A. Bolaji Akinyemi was a former External Affairs Minister and Deputy Chairman, 2014 National Conference.