By Ben Agande, aBUJA
The rivalry between the Department of State Services (DSS) and the Nigerian Army came to a head on Thursday when the aide-de-camp to President Muhammadu Buhari, an army officer, Lt Colonel Lawal Abubakar, through a memo, disengaged the DSS from providing close body protection for the president as they have always done for many years. It was the climax of the distrust of the DSS operatives by the president’s team since he won the election of March 28.
In the memo, seen by Sunday Vanguard, the ADC claimed that ‘recent events’ which he did not name necessitated the change he was effecting in the security architecture of the Villa especially as it concerns the close body protection of the president.
The ADC memo addressed to the chief security officer to the president,said: ‘’Sequel to directives, I am to inform you, with immediate effect, the authorization of the redeployment of some DSS personnel from some duty beats/locations. Personnel of the armed forces of Nigeria and the Nigeria Police who were trained as presidential body guards (PBGs) are to provide close/immediate protection for Mr. President henceforth.
“However, the personnel of the DSS, in conjunction with other security forces, are to man other duties, beats/locations located within the immediate outer perimeter of the Presidential Villa”.
The ADC went ahead to list some of the beats/locations that are off limit to the men of the DSS which effectively mean that the personnel of the DSS would effectively be about two kilometers away from the precincts of the Presidential Villa.
The memo by the ADC to the CSO was the culmination of several weeks of suspicion of the DSS, especially in the run up to the presidential election. It would be recalled that prior to the election, the spokesperson of the DSS, Marilyn Ogar, revealed that in carrying out its operations, the service raided a building which was being used as a centre by agents suspected to be working for the APC to clone the Permanent Voter Card of the Independent National Electoral Commission. Several of such operation, which saw the APC receiving the short end of the stick, created the impression that the DSS had removed its toga of neutrality and was working in the interest of the Peoples Democratic Party whose candidate, Goodluck Jonathan, was the sitting president.
With the emergence of Buhari as president, it was learnt that some persons in his inner circle plotted the idea that since the DSS appeared to have been partisan in favour of the Jonathan (which they interpreted to mean the PDP), the DSS would be stripped of its constitutional role of providing close body security for the president and his family. In order to ensure that there was no vacuum, it was gathered that a retired senior security personnel, who worked closely with the Buhari campaign team, wrote to the heads of some security agencies, including the DSS, to nominate a certain number of their personnel for training in close body protection in Jaji, Kaduna State. It could not be ascertained whether heads of other security agencies complied with the directive, but it was learnt that the DSS, which had already trained a new set of operatives to take over from the personnel that provided security for Jonathan, did not honour the request from the aide, who, they argued, was not known to the service because he had no appointment in government as at then.
As it is customary, all the nation’s security agencies deployed some of their men and equipment to provide maximum security for the President as soon as he emerged as president-elect. While there was little or no friction between the private security guards of the then president-elect and members of the Nigeria Police and the army, for instance, the personnel of the DSS were viewed with suspicion. The disdain came to a head at a mosque when an attempt by the DSS operatives to restrict access of the private security guards of the president-elect almost resulted in a fisticuff but for the timely intervention of some senior aides.
Few weeks after the mosque incident, personnel of the Nigerian Army, without coordination with the security operatives on ground in the Presidential Villa, were drafted to join the presidential body guard to understudy how to protect the president. Later, when the new crop of body guards, who had been trained for over three months to take over from those that served under Jonathan, resumed at the Presidential Villa, they were turned back, allegedly on the order of the ADC to the president. A day before the memo officially warning the DSS operatives to stay away from the Presidential Villa, it was learnt that the ADC went to all the beats manned by the PBGs and drove them away.
According to Sunday Vanguard’s findings, apart from being constitutionally empowered to provide close body protection for the president, the vice president, the governors and their deputies, the president of the senate, the speaker of the House of Representatives and their families, the DSS is the only security organization that has the competence to provide protection for the VIPs. That is why when there are visiting heads of state, the department provides not only the security details but also, support staff. To underscore the fact that even the army and the police lack the capacity to train personnel for close body protection, they frequently sends their personnel to the DSS for training as body guards.
Warning about the dangers about personalizing the protection of the president and his family, a security consultant in Abuja who retired from the DSS as Director after serving for 35 years, Mike Ejiofor said personal interests and score settling should not be a yardstick for determining which agency protects the president.
“I don’t believe the story that the DSS has been withdrawn from protecting the president because his security should not be toyed with. If the president is intent on changing the security architecture, a policy formulation should be made. He should come up with a working document streamlining the different functions of the various agencies. Statutorily and constitutionally, the state security service is charged with the protection of the president, the vice president, the senate president, the governors, and the deputy governor, speaker of the House of Representatives and state house of Assembly and their families”, he stated.
“The president’s security should not be toyed with. I believe that what is going on now is people who are trying to settle personal scores. Instead of looking at national security, they want to settle personal score and in the process compromise national security and the security of the president. What I am saying is that I don’t believe it, but if it is true, it’s rather unfortunate because those military that are being drafted are not trained in body guard protection. The DSS are trained for VIP protection and the president falls under VIP”.
According to a Nigerian Army Intelligence officer in the Villa who spoke with Sunday vanguard on the matter, even if there was a need for a change of security personnel around the Villa and especially around the president, the situation could have been better handled than it was done because of the wider security implication both for the president and the country.
The officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the matter, noted,”There is a system in place where all the security agencies in the Villa have their defined roles and responsibilities. Even within the army, there are different corps in the Villa and their roles are defined. Statutorily, we have come to know that the role of close body protection is the role of the DSS. Apart from their personnel who are trained both within and outside the country for the role, there are sensitive equipments that they are the only people who have the competence to handle them. Withdrawing them whimsically as it was reported to have been done is not only tardy but exposes the country to ridicule. I am sure that at the end of the day, reason will prevail and the emotional decisions that seem to have been made in the last few days would be reversed”.
It was gathered that the National Security Adviser, who coordinates security matters for the president, has waded in to resolve the crisis. As a man who professes that his administration would be guided by the rule of law, it speaks well of Buhari to abide by the provisions of not just the law but also conventions. And such weighty decision on who provides close body security for the president and his family cannot be taken on the basis of emotions or ego but on sound judgment, what the law provides and convention.