By Olakunle Olafioye
Contrary to the claim that the National Intelligence Agency, NIA did not brief the President about the existence of the fund recovered by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC in a building in Ikoyi, Lagos, fresh revelation has emerged, indicating that the agency gave disclosure about the cash.
A security source confided in Sunday Sun that the National Security Adviser, Brig. Gen Babagana Monguno Rtd was briefed on four different occasions.
According to the source, the president was first briefed on the state of affairs in the agency in April 2015.
“The funds were itemised as $289 million intervention fund approved and released to the agency by the Jonathan administration in November 2014, while the second briefing was in January 2016 via a memo to the NSA where the DG gave more details of the funds.
“Based on the second briefing, the NSA set up an audit team headed by a Brigadier General which inspected the projects and submitted a report in February 2016.
“The NSA wrote back to the DG, NIA on May 17, 2016, stating that the detailed report of NIA’s projects and exercises had been presented to the president and the president was pleased with their work,” the source disclosed.
The controversy surrounding the funds was set off when the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission raided the apartment at Osborne Towers, Ikoyi, and recovered the money in separate sums of $43 million, N23 million and 27,000 pounds, during a raid on Wednesday, April 12, 2017. The cash, was recovered following a tip-off by a whistleblower, and was believed to have been stashed in the apartment by a looter until the NIA claimed that the money was allotted to it for “covert operations.”
The NIA had laid claims to the money, amid counter-claims by Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State that the money belonged to his state.
The controversy surrounding the money resulted in the suspension of the Director General of the agency, Ambassador Ayo Oke and the setting up of a three-man panel headed by the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to probe the source of the funds among other terms of reference. Other members of the panel are the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) and the National Security Adviser, NSA, Brig. General Babagana Monguno (Rtd). The panel which has since started sitting has been meeting and grilling principal actors in the saga. Their sittings have largely remained in camera, heightening the anxieties of Nigerians over the scandal. The panel has assured that it will meet the deadline which comes up on wednesday, this week.
Attempts last night by Sunday Sun to get the Presidency to react to the claim however proved futile as calls put through to the President’s spokespersons, Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu were not picked while text messages sent to their mobile phones were also not responded to as at 10. 00pm yesterday.
Ikoyigate: EFCC made big mistake – Dr Ona Ekhomu
By Olakunle Olafioye
The discovery of funds in different currencies, amounting to about N13 billion reportedly given to the Nigeria Intelligence Agency, NIA for covert intelligence operations by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC a fortnight ago has put the nation’s spy agency under an unusual searchlight. In this interview, Dr Ona Ekhomu, a security expert examines the implications of the undue publicity the drama has generated for an agency which existence and operations are expected to be shrouded in secrecy.
The Nigeria Intelligence Agency is embroiled in a major crisis following the Ikoyi cash discovery. What does this portend for the nation’s security?
It is not a good sign for the security of the country because the NIA is a primary agency for foreign intelligence gathering in Nigeria and having to have their leaning aired in the open is not a very good development for the agency. It also denotes our immaturity as a people because it shows that we don’t understand the nature of the work of the agency, we don’t understand how this agency works and how the modern world works including the modern democratic states. We are taking too many liberties and we think that these liberties will make us safer or are equal to freedom but they are not. The intelligence world has certain ways in which it works. That you discovered $46 million in a house is absolutely nothing for a country of this size and of the budget of Nigeria. The fact is that when this agency has to work it must have access to resources needed in fast manner. They work in the dark. They are not subject to the kind of picture we are trying to paint whereby people are asking them to declare the money and questioning the agency on why the money has to be kept somewhere and all sort of unserious things people have been saying. But I think that is to be expected because people don’t understand the world of intelligence gathering, intelligence analysis and intelligence capitalization, which is use of intelligence. They are looking at it as akara and garri matter. But the point is that this is not akara and garri matter. We are talking about the security of the country. The people involved in this task travel a lot and have to pay for all kinds of things, which I am not going to mention because they do not fall within the public purview. And this is just the way it has been from time immemorial. That is the nature of the work of NIA. And I feel that we are compromising our national security by the kind of reckless comments and all kinds of unguarded utterances that are being made. But it doesn’t matter those comments are to be ignored and I am sure the agency does not even listen to them. The fact is that this fund should be required by the agency to be able to carry out its statutory mandate.
Are you suggesting that the agency should keep mute in spite of the controversy trailing it and isn’t it in its own interest to respond?
The agency needs not respond to the noise being made about it. If it does, then it means it is not a credible spy agency. NIA has no business responding to every beer parlour talk or every social media talk.
But if this is the nature of task the NIA is expected to perform, what do you think is responsible for the uproar about the discovered cash?
I don’t want to speculate about the suspension of the agency’s chief. I think when the ownership of the fund was confirmed, there was a feeling within the presidency that it should have been disclosed earlier that there was this fund for this particular purpose. But these people (NIA) are an appendage of the presidency, they work with the presidency, they work for the security of the Nigerian state and its people so there is no separation. But there are certain things that are not just out there in the public domain to the extent that perhaps the President was not briefed. Maybe they feel he was embarrassed by not being briefed about the fund. But the President has been a head of state before now although NIA was formed after he was removed from office. However, having said that, I think we really need to understand that the nature of the work of the agency; the clog and dagger kind of work it does, the room with multiple-mirrors- kind of work it does, does not lend itself to the kind of public disclosure people are expecting and to the kind of reckless statements that are in the media about why didn’t they say this or that. Let them continue to say what they have to say the nature of intelligence work will continue to be just that. Perhaps if there was a need to, perhaps they would have briefed Mr. President. But I am sure there was some disclosure and I guess that is why the President has set up an investigative panel. I know NIA is not CIA; even CIA carries hundreds of millions of slush funds around. We modeled NIA after CIA and wanted it to be effective like CIA. So let them do their work.
Is it part of the nature of the agency that its appropriations should also be shrouded in secrecy because the CIA, which the NIA is modeled after, has its budget which is made public because findings show that the CIA received $15 billion as its yearly budget up to 2013?
NIA has lined item budget, its budget is not kept secret. This one we are talking about is a slush fund for its covert operations. That is what we assume they keep the money for. Intelligence agencies keep money which has to be in cash and must be easily accessed for special operations. The CIA budget is there and the NIA budget is also there. I laugh when I hear Nigerians asking why they have to keep the money the way they did. It is the nature of their job and it is in line with international practices. MI5 keep slush funds, CIA keeps slush fund, ISI of Pakistan and all other international spy agencies keep slush funds. That is the way they operate. They don’t have to come to the National Assembly and ask for money for any of their covert operations. For goodness sake we are talking about the security of Nigeria and its people. We need to be very serious about our national security because it seems a lot of Nigerians don’t know that we have enemies, we have potent enemies. People don’t like us particularly on this African continent and they will love to see our downfall. This is the agency that stands between this country going down and this country remaining among the comity of nations. Different intelligence agencies are running a lot of operations in this country. It is the job of NIA to detect them and it will also have to run its own operations in their countries. Do we spend Naira in America or other countries? No! It is not a joke. NIA is an agency set up to collect intelligence that is of value to the Nigerian state. Maybe we want to wait until somebody destroys our country before we know that we should have really paid attention to our own intelligence gathering agency.
Are you suggesting that the EFCC which blew up the whole issue should have been more discreet in its operation?
I think EFCC made a big mistake in this case. If they went and conducted a raid and they found money, the first is to look for the owner of the money and not run to the press and claim they have found money. That is sensationalism, it is not investigation. After getting the owner of the money, then you begin to investigate what the money is meant for. It is only after doing all this with due diligence that you can say it appears there is a wrongdoing here. But how can there be wrongdoing when money that was appropriated for a spy agency operation is found in the custody of that agency. I think there is too much of haste to judgment here and perhaps the haste to embarrass the agency. This is certainly not in the interest of government and the people of Nigeria. So I think EFCC acted too rashly and almost irresponsibly in divulging that information. At the end of the day nobody would say you busted corruption because it is government money for goodness sake and it is for a purpose. By its action, the EFCC exposed an agency that is supposed to be super secret to odium. What EFCC did is a breach because when you do that you are exposing us to the numerous other agencies. The haste to show that EFCC is working shows that there is an institutional weakness, which should be corrected. Like I said, we have so many enemies in this country, most countries don’t like us including our neighbours. We are supposed to be a regional power and there are other countries struggling with us. An example is South Africa, they don’t like us. Any time they have the chance to give Nigeria a black eye they will, and we only need this intelligence agency that stands between them and their plot to rubbish this country. And of course, in the international arena too, most of them don’t like us.
What do you make of the secret investigation being conducted into this controversy?
That is the way it should be. You cannot conduct such investigation in an open court. Besides, this is not a court, it is a probe panel which is set up to investigate the case. Once they see the lined item appropriation and the chain of the money and they see what has been disbursed and see what is left, that is it. The panel will give them a clean bill of health.
Are you expressing confidence that the NIA DG will come out unscathed?
If you remember what I said earlier, Oke might have offended, offended to the extent that perhaps, he had a duty to brief Mr. President because this is like a slight, not that he committed any crime or stole any money. Maybe, if he had whispered words into Mr. President’s ear about the money and what it was meant for, the president would have been aware of it. This whole mess was caused by the indiscretion of the EFCC in this matter. I have no problem with the EFCC but in this matter they did a bad job. They shouldn’t have made it a media trial because this gave room to all kinds of rumours and speculations. Even all this unnecessary disclosure without investigation is giving this country a bad name.
How best do you think the three-man probe panel should carry out is assignment without further endangering the security of the nation?
First of all, it is proper to have a secret probe of the NIA matter. I like the panel but I seem to have a problem with one of the members of the panel. But I believe that the fact that the panel is headed by the Vice President, who is a man of integrity, is a guarantee that we are going to get good result out of the probe. Now, the probe panel has done well by holding their hearing in secret. It is not a matter for public consumption because what we are talking about is a super secret agency. So what is there to discuss in public? People don’t have the right to know what they are doing there. What I believe is that the search for the truth is on, the Vice President’s panel, which will find the truth and the truth will set NIA free. There is no doubt about that. The only caveat I can put here is that if after looking at the whole thing there is supposed to be $55 million and we find only $45 million, there will be question on who took that money.
What major lesson can we deduce from this controversy and what should be done to forestall a repeat of this national embarrassment?
The major lesson we can derive from this is that we should not be too hasty to judge and we should not be too hasty to say we have found looted fund. It is irresponsible to do that when the facts have not been established. Even if you find looted fund, you have to exercise patience and do your investigation until you are able to establish the ownership of the fund, the source of the loot, you can now come out to announce. When you come out to make the announcement you should be able to make some arrest too. There is nobody who is above the law in Nigeria. It is only the president, the vice president, the governors and their deputies that have immunity. And it doesn’t mean that they are above the law. It is just you can’t arrest them when they are still in power.