Pioneer Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Chief Albert Korubo Horsfall, who is also a former director-general of the State Security Service, in this interview with ARISE NEWS CHANNEL Anchor Modele Sarafa-Yusuf speaks on what should be the relationship between intelligence agencies and the government in power; the controversy over the discovery of NIA funds in an Ikoyi apartment; and the botched plot to abduct Second Republic politician, Alhaji Umaru Dikko, in London by the military regime of General Muhammadu Buhari. Excerpts
Do you agree with the Civil Society Organisation that it is important that the legislature, especially the executive have a close eye on Secret Services Operations?
We don’t have Secret Services, what we have is Security and Intelligence Service. Sometimes they mistake it for secret services. Many of the things that the Intelligence and Security Services do are not secret. Truly speaking, because they have to interact with human beings. The object of their work is to secure and safeguard human lives and property. So they need the collaboration and cooperation of the populace in order to do their jobs and the secret aspects of what the Intelligence and Secret Services do is a small minority. Bulk of what we do is open so we don’t like to be called Secret Service, we rather be called Security or Intelligence Service.
How open is open?
Most of the things you see in the newspapers, on television, some of the things we do coincide with them.
On the other hand, what can we do to empower the Intelligence and Investigation organizations with adequate acts of the sovereign body and free them from the machinations of politicians?
The communist countries, the intelligence services work side by side with the government, political group. In our systems, we try to remove close collaboration with the political governance so they don’t influence the work of the intelligence and security services. We want to be independent of their thinking. Therefore, in most cases, the Head of Security and Intelligence Service will serve one government, and then another government. So he or she has to realise in order to be acceptable to different administrations, one has to be as much as possible impartial. Strictly speaking, we serve the state.
From the revelations that have come to light from the last administration, what you are saying seem not to have been the case?
I’m afraid I don’t know. It will be immature operatives that will do anything that will bring them to conflict collaboration with the political governance.
Because what we have been made to understand is that Security Services actually work hand in gloves especially with the last administration so much to say that monies meant for security operations were used to fund political activities?
I don’t have such information. Quite frankly, the Jonathan administration has been accused of a number of things which I’m not privileged to know if it’s true or not. But the fellows who are in services at that time, both in internal security services, the SSS and the external, NIA, which I have headed both before were professionals. I don’t think they will collaborate hook, line and sinker with the political governance. I don’t believe so.
So what do you make of the revelations that came out?
The NIA funds that was found in a private property for example; were the explanations given for that tenable?
The bulk of what was explained was the carefree carelessness of an individual which betrayed his lack of professionalism. And that was a pity because the services, NIA in this particular case, which he ran was made up of professional stuff. People who have been grilled, trained and experienced in the service. This gentleman probably has some immature streaks around him because he is been mostly in the commonwealth office and maybe more academic than professional.
Is it the case that intelligence officers are able to keep such kinds of monies in private homes in the pursuit of their work?
That wasn’t his private home incidentally. It is the manner of handling…
That wasn’t his private home?
No. It is what we call the safe house. It is an official establishment of intelligence services. The nature of a safe house is such that you make it as discreet as possible but don’t make it as obvious as possible. For instance, if you have a safe house in a secluded place and you guard it with all manners of serious smoking fellows, toting arms and all that, it sells itself out. But you make it in an environment that looks so natural, people come in and out everyday and they don’t know that Bin Laden is hiding in such a place. That’s a typical safe house where Bin Laden was caught and shot and he had stayed there for so long nobody could identify it. So that’s the nature of a safe house.
So it was just improperly handled?
That’s all. Improperly handled. The gentleman had been careless, almost to the point of being carefree and then of course, the other aspect was that there were hostile elements around him which he should have known but didn’t take cognisance of. So directly the issue happened, directly the matters were exposed and it went directly to the media rather than the president. You know, the intelligence service, security service, the police, military, defense services, they all report directly to the president. But you see, somebody finds something amiss here, totally irregular as was the case in that particular matter. The first thing I would have expected somebody to do is to either call his colleague and say ‘My friend, what happened? You left so much money here’ or if he was not that friendly, call the president and tell him what you have found that he is carelessly, carefree, brought so much money here and they vanished in public view. But that wasn’t done. So the whole thing got blown out. The intelligence and security services as I said earlier work with the media at times. They help us to give us cover and other protection in quote. But in this particular case, it was a hostile process.
But we were told that his wife was involved in the handling of these monies. Is that sometimes the case or an accepted behaviour?
…I read it and if it were true, that would amount to carelessness.
No, carelessness, irresponsibility. The wife, if she was an agent of the system, it will be wrong professionally because you do not involve your family in doing delicate intelligence works which you are assigned. So I think if it’s true, I have not gotten all the whole facts about this matter, I don’t poke nose in what goes on now. We are past masters. In our days it won’t happen that way, so I really don’t know what happened, the details thereof.
But how did that make you feel as a pioneer in that field?
I will tell you how I felt. Directly I read it in the Sunday papers. I called the gentleman and asked him was this true. He said ‘yes sir’. I can’t tell you the silly things I told him because with my age, my background and experience, I’m like their father. So I could say things to them that a father will say to their children. I said a few unpleasant things to him but it has happened. The issue is damage control. You can see how long it has taken to control that damage.
It is still ongoing…
Yes…. We had the panel to look into what the NIA was doing, like I told you, we found nothing wrong with the service. The act of a single individual could really damage a whole system. The damage was terrible, very serious because it raised a lot of questions, not only with those who deal with the service here, the government itself and of course our external collaborators and even agents. So it was a very serious damage. The mere fact that the NIA had been so adversely exposed was bad enough.
One of the most opaque sub heads in government expenditures is the security vote. There have been calls for this to be open to more scrutiny. Should it?
It’s already over-open to public scrutiny. You know the security and intelligence services this day, today as we speak defend their budget with the senate and also with at least the committee of the House and the senate. So every question is asked, every issue is raised and answered. I’m afraid we frown at it because the extent which the parliament goes about scrutinising the votes of the intelligence and security services could readily expose our capacities if the opponent knows, for instance that NIA has a budget of N10 million, then they know the capacity is limited when it comes to a certain level of operation. So each time, the Service has to go back to government for extra funds or will be handicapped in carrying out its duties. But the truth is that today, the budget of these services are very well exposed. It is not done in secret and most people who wish to know, know what these agencies get for their operations.
What do you say to those who say the Herdsmen and Farmers clashes could be prevented if our intelligence system operated better?
If you said the police were doing their jobs well, I will say yes. But the intelligence services can only observe and report what is going on or anticipate what could go on, or analyse the consequences of what will go on.
So with the benefit of your experience, what is likely the consequences of what is going on?
Very simple. We’ve heard it said by a few governors, can’t remember the latest one that they will arm their people to defend themselves against the onslaught of these herdsmen marauders. And if that happens, you can imagine the consequences. It could easily lead to civil wars, inter-tribal wars and things like that, so it is better avoided. So the sooner government takes serious proper and adequate actions to curb the activities of these herdsmen, the better it is for all of us.
Lets’ move on to something else. During your time as NSO deputy director general under Rafindadi, the agency was at its height of notoriety. One of the more notorious actions of the NSO during this period was the “Dikko Affair.” The Dikko Affair was an attempt by the NSO and an Israeli collaborator to kidnap and repatriate second republic Transport Minister Alhaji Umaru Dikko from his United Kingdom exile in 1984. The attempt failed and Nigeria suffered great diplomatic and economic repercussions. You denied any involvement in the attempt. But what happened and how was it so badly bungled?
I still deny. I was number two at the NSO at the time, actually in charge of operations. Strangely, I had no knowledge of this and I queried it. Strange things happen in this country. I was purely a professional public servant but the issue that came about was under my own province because I was the director of operations and I never knew about it.
And you had no knowledge of this operation?
I still didn’t know about it. My boss was the Director-General so I went to his office to do the daily briefing about one in the afternoon. When I got there, the BBC was relating this news about Barak being arrested and all the rest of this and he said to me that was our operation, so I asked ‘whose operation?’. I could say all of this because it’s been a long time. I told him I know nothing about it. So we kept quiet and listened to the news. When it finished, he said that we sourced the operation out, somebody else took it on our behalf. So I said to him so be it. Because first, everybody knows who I am. I am quiet but rather vocal in my opposition to things which are not appropriate. I do not see any reason and I’m sure they know if they brought it before me, I will just jettison it. I do not see any reason why Nigerian citizen should be abducted from another country with whom we have reciprocal extradition treaty and crated and attempted to be moved out of the country. Interestingly enough, the plane that went to ferry that cargo, it’s very funny, was a Horsfall. He was my cousin.
Did he know what he was supposed to bring in?
Of course not, he didn’t know. When he came back, I queried him. He said Federal Government special flight. So he wasn’t the pilot, he was a co-pilot. He didn’t know what they were going to ferry. So no, I didn’t know and I guess most people didn’t know. I would never have subscribed to such methodology of doing things. Because we could easily have charged the man to court here, get an extradition warrant, face the British government with it and we will expect them to take the appropriate action to return the fellow to us for prosecution. So I do not subscribe to such things at all.
There’s the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, there’s the Presidential amnesty programme; there has been a President from the Niger Delta. What more needs to be done to appease the people of the Niger Delta?
We don’t need to appease them, you need to allow them to run their affairs. That is why the recent agitation for restructuring has become so vehement that it will be irresistible in the long run. You don’t need to appease the people; give them a fair share of what is theirs. We are talking about revenue distribution in the First Republic. Fifty per cent goes to the owner. The rest are divided
So what formula do you recommend now?
1963. Just go back to 1963 constitution, the details are simply there.