â€¢ NIA DGâ€™s confession opens can of worms, causes disquiet among spy agencies
â€¢ DSS DG may be summoned, Oke to reappear tomorrow
By Bolaji Akinyemi in Abuja and Olawale Olaleye in Lagos
A former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi, has warned that the report of the Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo panel investigating the discovery of N13.3 billion in an apartment in Ikoyi by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) should remain classified in order not to compromise national security.
This is just as it emerged at the weekend that the panel is strongly considering at least a weekâ€™s extension to conclude its investigations and submit its report to President Muhammadu Buhari.
The move to extend the deadline may have been compelled by the testimonies and volumes of documents presented by the suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir David Lawal, and Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ayodele Oke, among several other government officials who have been summoned by the panel, thus requiring further scrutiny.
The panel, which is scheduled to conclude and submit its reports on Wednesday, was set up by the president on April 19 and given two weeks to investigate the alleged mismanagement of funds routed through the Presidential Initiatives for the North-east (PINE), which Lawal chaired in his capacity as the SGF.
The panel is also to investigate the discovery of N13.3 billion in the Ikoyi flat, which the NIA has claimed were its funds meant for projects in Lagos and the South-west.
Others on the panel are the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) Abubakar Malami and the National Security Adviser (NSA) Babagana Monguno.
However, Akinyemi, in a statement on Sunday said when news broke that some millions of dollars had been found hidden in a flat in Ikoyi, he was quite indifferent, as it had become a â€œrecurring decimalâ€.
â€œI 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.
â€œIt is one of the sacred traditions of the external intelligence trade to admit nothing and to deny nothing,â€ he said.
Akinyemi, who was also the deputy chairman of the 2014 National Conference, noted that a saving grace emerged when the president set up the Osinbajo panel to untangle the web over the millions of dollars.
â€œBut the president inadvertently made a mistake. He did not appoint anyone with a history of external intelligence experience unto the panel.
â€œExternal intelligence operations do not belong in the same security genre as domestic security forces such as the DSS, EFCC and the police.
â€œExternal intelligence officers, otherwise called spies, do not operate under the same operational penalties as domestic intelligence officers.
â€œThe 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.
â€œBudgets are called black budgets because they are never publicly acknowledged.
â€œIt 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.
â€œEven 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.
â€œIt is not too late to appoint a retired head of NIA as a consultant to the panel,â€ he said.
The former minister explained that he was motivated at this late stage to issue the statement in view of the fact that the House of Representatives has decided to institute its own inquiry to this â€œpeculiar messâ€.
â€œThis 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 â€˜governmental operations with respect to intelligence activitiesâ€™.
â€œIn fact, the main issue which was its concern was â€˜did the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) ever indulge in carrying out assassinations of foreign presidents?â€™
â€œNormally, foreign intelligence activities are shrouded in secrecy and not in the glare of publicity,â€ he added.
Akinyemi pointed out that the whole saga had made Nigeria a laughing stock in the world, adding that Nigerian agents strewn all across Africa are now in dread of being exposed.
â€œRecruiting agents in future in Africa is going to be difficult out of fear of future exposure,â€ he cautioned.
Akinyemi went on to proffer recommendations to limit the damage that has already been done:
â€¢ It is not too late to call in a former Director of NIA to serve as a consultant to the Osinbajo panel.
â€¢ No more leaks from the panel.
â€¢ Under no circumstances should the report of the panel, in as far as it relates to the activities of the NIA, be made public.
â€¢ Under no circumstances should the National Assembly be allowed to conduct hearings into the NIA affairs. The Osinbajo panel report could be shared secretly with the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House.
â€¢ 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 provisions for such.
â€¢ 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.
Meanwhile, following the testimonies and the voluminous documents presented by Lawal and Oke, among several other government officials who have been summoned by the panel, there are indications that the committee is strongly considering at least a weekâ€™s extension to conclude its investigation and submit its report to Buhari.
The Osinbajo panel, THISDAY gathered, has uncovered so much in the last few days that it has come to the realisation that if it must do a thorough and convincing job, the initial two-week deadline it was given would be inadequate, hence its resolve to seek at least a weekâ€™s extension.
The vice-president, who is believed to have taken this assignment very seriously, given the importance that Nigerians and the world attach to the investigation, was said to have recently rebuffed a former governor of a South-west state and stalwart of the All Progressives Congress (APC), when the ex-governor attempted to intervene on behalf of his ally, the suspended SGF.
Sources however reckoned the APC chieftain has not given up on intervening for the SGF, whose testimony before the panel was said to have indicted a few Buhari loyalists in the corridors of power.
In fact, THISDAY gathered from presidency sources that the former governor was said to have told Lawal to remain calm while he continues to pull strings on his behalf.
Also, it was learnt that the testimony and documents presented by the suspended NIA DG, Oke, were said to have been so revealing that the panel has realised that it would need more time for follow up questions to put together an unimpeachable report.
Although the panelâ€™s consideration for an extension is not unmindful of the possibility that Buhari may have to travel soon on another medical vacation, those itching to intervene for different reasons were said to be happy about the likely extension, as the presidentâ€™s absence could buy them more time.
Inside sources informed THISDAY that the president was of the view that the defence provided by the NIA DG, some of which was said to have been brought to his notice a year ago, has been forthright and has his support.
In the light of his revelations, presidency sources said the NIA DG was re-invited for further grilling on Thursday evening and is also slated to appear again tomorrow.
His appearance before the committee last Thursday lasted till midnight and was said to have been very revealing on the startling details of NIAâ€™s operations and even implicated certain individuals in the Buhari administration.
The sources maintained that Oke also provided documents showing past expenditures of the agency, a development said to have expanded the list of those implicated.
THISDAY sources were also of the view that now that the Pandora’s Box has been opened, even if those identified are not indicted immediately, they would certainly lose the trust and confidence of the president, who was said to believe everything the NIA DG has so far submitted to the panel.
Sources believe that if the vice-president sustains the pace and approach to this particular assignment without fear or favour, it would be a major breakthrough in the anti-graft war.
Another source in the presidency who spoke to THISDAY, also confirmed that Okeâ€™s testimony and outcome of the panelâ€™s investigations have caused disquiet among the nationâ€™s intelligence agencies which are now afraid it could undermine national security.
One critical area the spy agencies sense might be adversely affected, intelligence sources said on Sunday, is the extant stipluation that forbids the external audit of intelligence agencies.
According to Paragraph 12 (1) and (2) of the Nigerian Intelligence Agency Instrument No 1, made under the National Security Agencies (NSA) Act, 1986, the accounts of the spy agency is prohibited from external audit as the DG accounts directly to the president.
Other intelligence agencies, including the Department of State Services (DSS) also have similar instruments insulating them from external audit of their finances.
Intelligence sources said, however, that given Osinbajoâ€™s disposition so far, he might recommend a review of the law to bring it in line with the normal accounting standards and procedures.
â€œThis could undermine intelligence operations and jeopardise our national security,â€ a source said.
THISDAY sources said on Sunday that the issue has already caused a disagreement between the vice-president and the AGF.
During his grilling last Monday, Oke was said to have objected to a suggestion by Osinbajo that NIAâ€™s accounts should be audited by external auditors to ascertain the probity of the agencyâ€™s finances.
While Malami was said to have agreed with Oke that such an inquiry would contravene the NSA Act, Osinbajo was said to have contended that the Act was inferior to the 1999 Constitution.
The vice-president, however, prevailed as a team of auditors were said to have visited the NIA headquarters in Abuja on Friday to pry into the agencyâ€™s books.
This, an intelligence officer said, has been unsettling to the spy chiefs in the country. â€œWhat has happened is like the FBI investigating the accounts of the CIA,â€ he said, explaining that it was strange.
THISDAY sources said following the insistence of Oke that his operations and the unusual handling of the N13.3 billion was in keeping with the opaque nature of intelligence organisations worldwide, the committee might summon the Director-General of the DSS, Mr. Lawal Daura, to testify and update it on intelligence financial accounting.
â€œIt was even a misnomer that other intelligence agencies were not appointed to serve on the committee,â€ said an intelligence source, who said given the limited knowledge of the vice-president and the AGF on intelligence matters, persons familiar with the terrain ought to have been included on the committee.
Oke, according to a source, has also been asked to appear before the committee on Wednesday to clarify issues that cropped up after his last testimony on Thursday.
He was said to have told the committee that his handling of the $289 million intervention fund released to his agency by the Goodluck Jonathan administration might seem unusual, it was in tandem with intelligence service operations worldwide, saying he complied with the law by informing the president and the NSA about the money.
But media reports at the weekend quoted NSA sources as denying that the money was not reported to the president and the NSA.
The reports claimed that the NSA only became aware of the money when the DG, NIA belatedly filed a report after a presidential committee investigating arms procurement uncovered the existence of the funds.
An NIA source, however, dismissed the reported denial by the NSA as an afterthought, referring copiously to Okeâ€™s memo of January 2016 to the NSA in which he gave a breakdown of the intervention funds.
â€œThe title of the memo was â€˜Report on Release of $289m Intervention Fund for Infrastructure Development and Covert Operationsâ€™,â€ he said, contending that it was obvious from the heading of the memo that the NSA was briefed.
â€œIf the NSA was not briefed, on what basis did he set up the verification team that inspected NIA projects and submitted a report to him in February, 2016?â€ the source asked.
According to the source, â€œIn any case, the president came to one of the facilities built with the money, the Hill Top Retreat and Technical Centre, Abuja, to induct the new ambassadors in December 2016 and inspected other projects, including the helipad and the Snake Road built through the rocky terrain of the agencyâ€™s headquarters.
â€œWith what money were those projects built when, in fact, the agency got zero capital allocation in 2015 and less than 40 per cent capital releases in 2016?â€
Cautioning the Office of the NSA not to precipitate a media war between it and the NIA, the source asked the NSA to explain the basis of a memo he sent to the DG, NIA on May17, 2016 expressing his and the presidentâ€™s satisfaction over the projects executed with the intervention funds.
Asked whether the NSA was briefed on the N13.3 billion found in the Ikoyi flat and why such a huge amount in cash was kept there, he said: â€œThe law does not require the DG to release details of the agencyâ€™s accounts to the NSA. What he is entitled to know are the headings, which was contained in the DGâ€™s memo of January 2016.
â€œSecondly, there is no intelligence agency in the world that does not have cash holdings, particularly in US dollars, as 80 per cent of our operations are in dollars.â€