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Exclusive: why EFCC, DSS, Others Are Wary Over Ribadu’s Recruitment Plans

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A bill recently submitted at the National Assembly, NASS, planning to alter recruitment process in the Office of the National Security Adviser, ONSA, is currently creating ripples and worries in the intelligence and security agencies, DDM’s findings over the weekend shows.

As learnt, persons within the presidency, including the current occupier of the ONSA, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, a retired police officer and premier chairman, Economic and Financial Crime Commission, EFCC, are believed to be actively behind the plan, piling enormous pressure on President Bola Tinubu to back the proposed law, sent in to NASS as executive bill.

 

File Photo: L-R. Maj Gen Babagana Monguno, handed over to Ribadu as NSA. What happens to ONSA after Ribadu?

 

By the provision of the bill, from accounts of those privy to the document, it will, when signed into law, change the established acts setting up the office of the ONSA and allow the National Security Adviser, NSA, to recruit and establish its own staff, similar to existing government security agencies like the EFCC, where Ribadu once served, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, and others.

There are, perhaps, basis for this worry.

DDM, for instance, got reports purporting that Ribadu may have begun this process in anticipation of the passage of this bill into law. Insiders in his former commission, hint at strange transfers from EFCC of critical personnel, especially in the areas of operations, cyber space monitoring, to the office of ONSA. Some names were mentioned, but DDM, for security reasons, chooses to withhold them to protect the operatives. Even more, the commission, when contacted, through Mr Dele Oyewale, officer in charge of Media and Publicity of EFCC, gave no responses to our inquiry.

But the sources who gave DDM the scoop say that the officers were meant not only to work for the ONSA, but also serve as recruitment and training corps for the recruits. “The prevailing belief is that the former EFCC boss is trying to recreate ONSA according to his own image like he did at the commission,” source said.

Some retired intelligence personnel whom the online newspaper spoke to say that it is a bad idea, if indeed such bill was being considered. They argue that ONSA is not like other agencies even though it is statutorily created.

“The NSA is about one man who serves at the wishes or fancies of his commander in chief. When he leaves the offices with C-in-C, does the new NSA begin the entire process again,” asked a retired military intelligence officer who asked not to be mentioned in name. Some others, however say that such plans or law cannot be implemented.

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But Ribadu’s antecedents support the suspicion, though. His stint as chairman of the financial graft fighting body has instances where actions, anticipatory of enabling law were taken by the commission under him.

Shortly after the country returned democratic rule, Nigeria saw the need to do something about its international image, threatened by illicit money transfers and movement. There was urgent need to evolve better financial graft tracking and fighting body. Until April 2003, the principal money laundering fighting agency was the Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, with the police fraud unit playing minimal roles.

According to Financial Action Task Force, FATF, a global coalition that tracks suspicious financial transactions used for terror activities, a country desiring its cooperation must set up replica agency like it with full policing powers, enabled by relevant statute, and also an autonomous financial intelligence unit, FIU. countries desirous of investor confidence take FATF’s recommendations seriously.

But Nigeria, heading FATF advice, put the cart before the horse. EFCC began operation anticipatory of its enabling act which only came a year later. But by then, it had swung into action. Maurice Ibekwe, late, Emmanuel Nwude, and many others criminals responsible for swindling Brazilian bank, Banco Noroesta, of $242 million were rounded up and jailed. But at the time, EFCC faced legal challenges because the suspects were rounded up, prosecuted and jailed without recourse to an enabling law.

Its bill was still at the NASS, under process, like the new ONSA amendment bill is.

EFCC’s enabling act came a full year later. But by then, Ibekwe was dead. He died in jail.

FATF also requested that EFCC has, domiciled within it, an FIU, financial intelligence unit, to monitor suspicious transactions, but fully protective of people’s right. Its intelligence were meant to be actionable by EFCC upon show of probable cause. EFCC observed this later clause in breaches when it created its version, the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, NFIU. EFCC, while Ribadu was head and even beyond his tenure, ensured that NFIU remained firmly hitched to it, serving its whims.

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This provoked a backlash when global partners in financial crime fighting couldn’t ignore Nigeria’s excesses in this regard. Egmont Group, a global coalition of other country’s FIU, in 2017 suspended Nigeria from it as member. According to the chairman at the time, Sergio Espinosa, NFIU, failed in the “protection of confidential information related to suspicious transactions”. The sanction was only reversed after NASS created laws that granted the body autonomy, insulating it from EFCC’s influence.

Apart from the legacy of poorly constituted NFIU later corrected by act of the Nigerian parliament, Ribadu also left a recruitment legacy that would later haunt the agency. At its creation two decades ago, its immediate manpower, were sourced from other sister agencies, mostly on ‘secondment,’ according to official parlance, as currently obtains in ONSA.

What this means is that police personnel from the Nigerian Police Force, DSS, NIA, NDLEA, Head of Service, and even Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where brought into EFCC. But that stopped in 2004 and 2005, when, under Ribadu, a cadet system was started. But recent upheavals within the EFCC in 2023, raised questions of lopsidedness in the recruitment process, favoring a section of the country.

In August last year, an amorphous, ‘Progressives Nigerians’, wrote an open letter to President Tinubu, alleging severe lopsidedness in recruitments, nepotistic promotion processes and sundry cases of inequality. The said open letter was more like a dossier, chronicling what observers later described as an ‘apartheid regime’ within Nigeria.

File Photo: Global coalition sanctioned EFCC over abuse of NFIU

 

Barely a month after the story made front page headline in a Lagos based national newspaper, Daily Independent, President Tinubu struck. He ended the two decades stranglehold Ribadu’s natal region had on EFCC leadership, putting a career lawyer, Mr Olu Olukoyede, as new EFCC chairman.

In an effort to seek official clarifications from the ONSA on this matter, DDM reached out to the NSA through its website euc@nsa.gov.ng. It also called a contact number on the site. A request also formally sent via an email provided on the site. As at the time of publishing this story, no response has come from ONSA.

But apart from chatters within the security and intelligence stakeholders who have spoken on the matter, another group, over the weekend, said the bill exists, warning the President of dire consequences on the country’s security architecture of it is ever signed into law.

The group, Non-Staff Actors Consultative Forum, NOSACOF, an association of varied interests believed to have strong connection with the security agencies in the country, told the president that it suspects that intentions behind the bill are self serving at best.

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In the letter signed by Abdulrazaq Alkali, the forum Convener, critical issues bordering on unwieldiness of the process prescribed in the bill, a potential to cause disaffection and needless rivalry with other security agencies and cost implications, were raised.

“This has the potential of creating many overlaps in the functions of these agencies and will further widen disunity, rivalry and lack of synergy between the various security agencies.

File Photo: First EFCC Chairman from southern Nigeria

 

“Presently the NSA has been the fulcrum of maintaining and enforcing co-operation between the security agencies, and one key component of its success is due to the fact that it derives staffs and collaborations from the various security agencies, such that the agencies do not see the office of the NSA as a rival agency,” NASCOF convener said.

Arguing further, the group said that the current practice is ONSA can obtain trained and experienced personnel from the security agencies; that is, staffs who are already trained and experienced to fill into national security roles.

“Thus, restructuring the office of the NSA into an agency and allowing it to recruit its own staffs at present will very much reduce the efficiency in the operations of the office of the NSA.

“This is because the office of the NSA will not be able to fill the roles with candidates of the desired expertise and specialty; it will end of spending years, may be decades, and billions of Naira to train these staffs to the desired level of competency and the other security agencies will be reluctant to share staffs with the NSA as they will feel they are no longer stakeholders in the office of NSA,” explained NASCOF in their letter the president.

 


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