The passing away of Alhaji Umaru Aliyu Shinkafi on July 6 was a blow to the Nigerian security intelligence community that not long ago was thrown into mourning by the death of Alhaji Muhammadu Dikko Yusufu, the former Inspector General of Police. Shinkafi, like his predecessor, Yusufu (popularly known as MD Yusuf), left an indelible mark on the security intelligence community. Both of them served creditably in the Nigeria Police and the intelligence agency of the country. So much has been written about Yusufu’s life and times, particularly after his demise; my focus in this tribute is Shinkafi.
I first came across Shinkafi when I was posted to the Cabinet Office, Lagos, way back in 1972. Before then I only heard of his brilliance in intelligence operations in the war front during the Nigerian civil war. I went on to have a long association with him, which lasted for over 40 years. Yet, I never came across a write-up of up to two or more pages on his life or public service. This is notwithstanding his stint in politics after a brilliant and distinguished career in the security system of Nigeria. Also, in spite of our intimacy it was after his death that I learnt that though he hailed from Shinkafi village in present day Zamfara State, north-western Nigeria, his lineage is rooted somewhere in present day Yobe State, north-eastern Nigeria.
It was my schedule at the Cabinet Office that made me to relate with Shinkafi intimately. My interaction with him since then confirmed the positives I heard about him. “Yaya dai Bukar,” that is “Bukar, how is it?” was his usual line to start a conversation with me. He kept to that style to herald our communication ever since. With Yusuf as commissioner at the head of the former Special Branch and Mr. Ekpo as his deputy, Shinkafi, Mr. AOA Adesuyi, and Alhaji M. Gambo, the former Inspector of Police, were the next third tier level of senior intelligence officers of the ranks of Assistant Commissioners of Police. Given his brilliance in security intelligence matters, Shinkafi rose steadily to head the nation’s intelligence agency and also held at separate times the portfolio of minister responsible for internal affairs.
A self-made man, Shinkafi was endowed with exceptionally high and deep sense of self-discipline. Not satisfied with his professional competence, he went on to improve his performance and status by studying law at the University of Lagos. He did so while diligently performing his official duties and eventually qualified as a lawyer.
Burning with desire to further contribute to public service, Shinkafi ventured into politics and was at one time a presidential aspirant. This was no surprise for a person who in his privileged position had seen and heard it all and thought he could make a difference. He was not as lucky as some intelligence chiefs in USA and Russia, among other foreign countries, who found their way to the number one political post. The Nigerian political system is quite different. Shinkafi’s political venture was one of those instances that support my long held view that there are several people like him, who though quite sound and qualified, are usually side-lined in partisan politics because they abide by the truth and are not given to compromise and self-interests.
Having met the brick wall in politics Shinkafi was relentless in his desire to share the benefits of his professional security intelligence experience with the public. Hence, he threw his weight behind the advocates of state police as one of the viable solutions to the security problems of Nigeria. He took to the print media to plead that cause. So far, his campaign for state police born out of his formidable practical experience as a crack security intelligence officer is yet to be heeded. Alas! It was a cry in the wilderness. Needless to say he had done his bit. Only time will bear him out.
The Nigerian security system is fashioned largely after that of the British. Shinkafi and other Nigerian security chiefs should be credited for establishing for Nigeria a sound security intelligence structure. This fact may not have been appreciated before July 13, when Mr. David Cameron, former British Prime Minister, during his final Prime Minister’s Question Time, announced with pride to the British Parliament that he had improved on his country’s security structure by creating a National Security Council for Britain. National Security Council is a body enshrined in the Nigerian security structure and the Nigerian constitution several decades ago.
Those who may have reservation about the operational effectiveness of the Nigerian security intelligence structure may note that there are complementary roles to the operation of any country’s security system: intelligence procurement on the one hand and political action on the acquired intelligence on the other. Members of the security intelligence would be bold to state that there was hardly any major upheaval the security intelligence had no sniff of. However, it is one thing to procure intelligence, it is another to act on it. This leads me to recall an appeal by Alhaji Adamu Suleiman to the government, while he was the Inspector General of Police. He said that while it is his responsibility to catch a thief, he should be given the wherewithal to do so.
A keen polo player, Shinkafi, who was honoured with the traditional title of Marafan Sokoto by the Sultanate of Sokoto, would be remembered best by the security intelligence community and the country at large as a first class security intelligence officer who operated and led the security intelligence community with a high standard of professionalism.
––Usman is former Permanent Secretary in the Presidency.