Hon. Busayo Oluwole Oke (Osun PDP) recently sponsored a bill aimed at stipulating stiff penalties for deliberate disclosure of the identities of security agents and their informants. The bill has passed second reading in the House of Representatives. Damilola Oyedele writes

Security is on the front burner of the national discourse. It has become imperative that steps be taken to enhance security of lives and property, as constitutionally required of government. A crucial step towards achieving this is to ensure better welfare and protection for those in charge of security, the security agents, and those who assist them with much needed information in the execution of their duties.

It is therefore timely that the House of Representatives recently passed through second reading a bill seeking to guarantee the protection of national security agents, sources and informants from unlawful disclosure, as part of efforts to enhance security in contemporary Nigeria.

Sponsored by Hon. Oluwole Oke (Osun PDP), it is named “a bill for an Act to Provide for the Protection of the Identities of National Security Agencies Officers, Agents, Sources, Informants and Operational Methods from Unlawful Disclosure and to Protect their Establishments, Facilities and Equipment against unauthorised Access, as well as Provide for the Promotion and Engagement of Nigeria’s External Security and for other related matters.”

The bill prohibits the disclosure of the identity of an intelligence officer and criminalises any unlawful disclosures.

Oke, leading the debate, said information gathering is a key requirement of security agencies to wade off terrorism and other forms of insecurity, but their identities are not protected in the course of their work.

He added that Nigerians are also wary of giving information to security agencies as the confidentiality of such disclosures cannot be guaranteed, therefore putting the informants at risk.

“The section equally proceeds to protect the facilities, installations and equipment of an intelligence agency. Some of the provisions contain prohibitions against taking unauthorised pictures or making sketches or models, or unauthorised entry into premises of an intelligence agency,” he said.

He cited South Africa where the National Key Points Act 1982 was passed to prohibit taking of photographs or making of sketches or gaining unauthorized access into places designated as National Key Points.

The rationale for this law is that it is a tool for preventing sabotage, Oke said.

“It will without doubt address the unnecessary conduct within government circles of leaks of vital security and intelligence information to the media and to insurgents threatening the Nigerian state,” the lawmaker added.

More Objectives of the Bill

Speaking further to THISDAY in a brief interview, Oke, who is also chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Public Procurement, said while security agencies usually reveal the identities of the agencies they belong to, in the course of carrying out an operation, the specific identities of the personnel must remain protected.

“The processes leading to practical operations are what we are talking about, they have done a lot of ground work, a lot of investigations, before they come for arrests. At that point, the name of the agency involved no longer matters. Besides they wear their jackets which bear the names of their agencies, not the names of the personnel,” he said.

Oke added that security agents, who reveal identities of informants, would also be subjected to stiff punishment, under the bill. This, he said, is to enhance confidence in citizens that any information given to security agents, would be handled with the utmost confidentiality without jeopardising the safety of the informant, and his or her families.

“It is expected that this bill will strengthen the Nigerian intelligence agency and grant them protection, which is enjoyed by intelligence officials working in other jurisdictions, including the world leading intelligence nation, the US. In order for Nigeria to achieve the same level of intelligence efficiency, we must place the same protection and safeguards which is now the global standard,” Oke told THISDAY.

Contributions

Contributing to the debate at plenary, Hon. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha (Abia PDP), said even the families of the security agents and informants are at risk.

“Now we know everyone, officials of State Security Services, Criminal Investigation Department, and others who do covert or undercover operations. This should not be so,” she said.

Onyejeocha added that there should also particularly be stiff penalties against security agents who disclose the Identities of informants.

Hon. Aminu Shehu Shagari (Sokoto APC) also called for the criminalisation of the revelation of classified information, which is accessed in the course of the work of security agencies, for instance, contractors executing projects for security agencies, and other officials working with them.

Many in the security circles believe that legislations such as this one by Oke would go a long way in enhancing security in the country, as security agents and informants feel better protected.