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By Chidi Obineche
Chief Albert Korubo Horsfall is a former Nigerian security chief. He was the first Director General of the National Intelligence Agency, NIA, the fifth Director General of the Department of State Services, DSS, and the pioneer Chairman of the Oil Minerals Producing Areas Development Commission, OMPADEC, the precursor of the Niger Delta development Commission, NDDC.
He speaks on the non- implementation of the 2014 National Conference report and non- adherence to the vision of the founding fathers, which he says are at the root of the prevailing social tensions in the country, adding that if not urgently addressed, the nation may slip into crises. He picks holes on the whistle blowers’ policy of the current government, which he says “smacks of a police state.” He also says the cash haul kept in an Ikoyi- Lagos flat by the NIA is in order as security intelligence agencies worldwide operate in an “unorthodox manner,” while accusing the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission of rubbishing the nation’s intelligence security. Horsfall also gives knocks on the methods used in suppressing separatist and other outlawed groups fearing that it may drive them underground and cause an eruption of crises that may not be contained easily.
He speaks more on other burning national issues. Sunday Sun met him in Abuja.
I would like to revisit the 2014 National Conference which was executed with much pomp and ceremony and tended to give much hope and promise to Nigerians. You were a member and what are your regrets?
It is not that I am impressed as such. I am rather surprised that a confab that was properly constituted including youths, elders, statesmen, traditional rulers, technocrats and which cut across every facet of our national lives, political aspirations , etc and which found favour with the body of eminent Nigerians to go a long way to ease the political tension that has characterized this country has not been implemented since 2014 when this conference was held .We are still hoping, praying and appealing to the authorities, i.e. the legislature and the executive to revisit the report of that conference and implement them. Not by the piecemeal actions being taken by the legislature now, but implement them comprehensively so that the weight of those recommendations can be felt throughout the whole country and ease the political, economic and social tensions that are still visible and can be solved by the implementation of some of those recommendations of that conference.
Specifically which of the areas in the conference report do you finger as germane to national stability and harmony?
The conference report covered almost all facets of our socio- political lives; security, economics, politics, etc; and especially this talk of restructuring and rearrangement for the geo- politics of this country were very well and widely covered. And if those recommendations are properly visited and dealt with, I think some of the issues which appear to be pressing now, where people comment with a lot of complaints as though the previous administrations had not listened to their own problems would never have been so. I think more confidence will return to the population and all concerned if the recommendations are looked into for implementation.
When you hear of threats of secession from groups, militancy over some perceived economic rights, resurgent calls for renegotiation of the Nigerian entity, do you believe strongly that they could have been effectively doused by the confab reports?
I think so to some extent. But there are issues being raised which appear strategic. Most of the demands by IPOB (Indigenous People Of Biafra) and some elements in the South-east on the economy and even separation from Nigeria should be very carefully looked into because these things keep simmering and keep coming back again and again. Therefore, you cannot sweep them under the carpet. A good strategy is to bring them up and expose them for full discussions and find ways of implementing a decision that has been freely taken. It should include the views of the people from those areas. That is how to solve political problems. By merely keeping quiet, you don’t solve the problem. The present approach to solving the problem cannot do it because they are there and some day they erupt and then we have a crisis. And then we begin to find a solution. I don’t think that is good for the country or for the persons in those areas who are agitating. Why are they agitating? What can be done? Must it be a right to leave the country? If that is the decision, the constitution already makes a provision for agitations like that to be tested in a referendum and then be dealt with appropriately in a constitutional manner through the legislature and of course the executive arms of government. But merely sitting on them does not provide a solution and we keep the problems lingering and getting bigger by the day.
Do you see a failure of security in the emergence of these groups?
It is not. You are surprised to hear that from me, a security person. No, it is not a failure of security. No. A political issue can only be solved through political means not by security means. What can security men do in this case? You subjugate them, kill the people and intimidate them? The more you intimidate them you are pushing them to go underground and you have more problems. Political solutions to these problems will make them go away rather than the issues simmering over a long time and continue to wreak havoc on the psyche of the people and the economy of the nation.
What do these simmering agitations portend for the safety of Nigeria as a single indivisible entity?
Nigeria? We have declared as an indivisible, inseparable entity. That is the declaration and the wish. But to sustain these wishes and declarations we have to attend seriously to these planned agitations and aspirations. And these need political scrutiny. We have to review the issues concerned from time to time by legislative actions, by political discussions and dialogue.
That was not the vision of the founding fathers of Nigeria?
What are their visions?
Their vision is encapsulated in what you just said of an indivisible entity called Nigeria.
That wasn’t what the founding fathers said. What you just said was a later coinage. The founding fathers actually came up with fundamental issues at the core of national cohesion. People are now agitating for restructuring. They came up with a true federation in the 1963 constitution. Read it. It speaks of a true federation where any of the federating entities has domestic issues under their responsibilities. They took care of them. The vision was that national issues (and they identified them) which concerned issues of the country will be dealt with at the federated level. But local issues, and you can count them, will be dealt with at the local federating units. This is not being followed. That is why we have problems. That is why we have frictions. What we have now is a kind of unitary government forced into the polity by the military dispensation of the time. I am talking about 38 years or so of their intervention in the politics of the nation. They forced this unitary system on Nigeria and that unitary system has become very sensitive. That is what is causing all these problems.
But it does appear that Nigerians are supporting the government in not implementing the Confab reports that would have saved so much problems for the country? The suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF Babachir Lawal described the Confab as “Job for the boys,” and consigned it to the rubbish heap. Nigerians just accepted it that way. What do you say?
I think that question should be answered by you, the press. You are the organ that should sensitize the nation over such critical issues. I have not seen the press come out and revisit these issues to test Nigerians’ attitude to the non implementation of the report of that conference. You know, it takes a long time to sound public opinion. And you have to sensitize the people in order for them to air their views. So, blame the press. They are responsible for Nigerians being lukewarm to the non- implementation of the report of the 2014 National Conference report which would have saved Nigeria all these agitations, arguments and quarrels. If the report sees the light of the day I think we should be agitating less, blaming less, arguing less, grumbling less as we are doing at the moment.
What do you have to say about the whistle blowing policy of the present government that is posting a lot of dividends?
Whistle blowing? Hmmm! Those of us that have had some experience of these things know that it smacks more of a police state. It is not done in a true democracy as a policy, as a practice. No. People are free to express their views normally, ordinarily, generally, but when you encourage the idea of people secretly, exposing themselves, given the practice in the Bolshevik Russia I don’t think it is a safe policy in a democracy like ours.
But according to government, it is geared towards ameliorating the ugly spectre of corruption.
Yes, of course. In pursuit of freedom of expression, people will go and report incidents and issues, but you don’t have to do it from a secretive point of view by going to spy on your neighbour sleeping with his friend’s wife. It is not a safe practice because some of these issues may be exaggerated or false in the first place. Put it in the open. Go and report. I see that this gentleman is living well above his means so they can call him, confront him and if necessary you can stand as a witness. You have seen what is happening today where a lady called Yeats said she was going to confront, testify against a man called Slim who is suspected of being a Russian agent. And she was going to testify against him publicly on what she knows about his implications in these allegations. But when you make it secret, from a secret informant’s point of view, then you are encouraging dissention in the society. People who have information should go openly and give it. That is what happens in a democracy.
There is a multiplicity of security agencies in Nigeria with the attendant rivalries. What is your prescription concerning this and a greater security for the nation beyond what we are presently seeing?
I cannot prescribe more than what has been decided at the 2014 confab. If you go to that document, you will see that adequate provisions and recommendations had been made to articulate the security arrangements of this country which I believe will work. So visit that document and you will be able to get our answers.
What of the multiplicity and rivalry of security agencies?
Well, rivalry is not built into the law. They are all serving the same government, the same country. Rather than rivalry, we should be talking of co-operation, collaboration. We used to do in my days joint operations to certain areas involving the police, army, the security intelligence services. We even ran what we called Joint Security Ops Room where all these agencies manned a joint operations room, exchanged, collaborated, co-operated, received information and in that room, things the police will do will go to the police, those for the army will go to them, and so on and forth. With that level of co-operation and collaboration there will be no need for this unnecessary rivalry that we are beginning to see. The objectives are the same- serve the state called Nigeria genuinely, sincerely and honestly. What concerns Department A or B or Service A or B, if it is of national import or interest concerns all the agencies.
Would you subscribe to the scrapping of some of them that are doing exactly the same thing?
This is something that should be dealt with off record. It is a deliberate offence. There is a committee to look at what is there now, what is actually necessary and how they collaborate. For instance, I came into this hotel yesterday (Sunday, May 7, 2017) and I saw policemen standing around with guns in front of the hotel, Civil Defence and one other uniformed group. We don’t need all these three groups doing the same thing at one venue. They are all serving the same government. Government is paying money to the police, civil defence. Maybe there were some security people in plain clothes that I didn’t see. The impression you get is that of rivalry, rather than co-operation, coordination and collaboration. Serving one government, one country, one objective, they will proceed to file reports from different angles and persuasions and at the end what you get is conflict and competition. It is unnecessary.
Now, this NIA Ikoyi Cash imbroglio. What did they do wrong?
(Laughter) You ask me?
I mean, keeping such huge amount of money in a private apartment, was it right?
Okay, now you ask me specifically. I don’t know what you call a private apartment. The intelligence services don’t operate in the regular normal manner everywhere in the world. The way they do their things are slightly irregular. For instance, because they operate from the point of invisibility they are not necessarily and normally expected to be visible in their operations. So, some of the measures they take, some of the things they do will not necessarily follow the routine regular lines. For instance, if you want to pay your agent- a paid agent from another country by the intelligence operator, there is one man who operates him or her. You don’t go to the bank and send a bill “to the agent, Tom James in Netherlands. Tom James, here is your monthly pay”. Would you do that? It is not possible. It is not done. You use measures which are unorthodox. So, you retain large sums of money sometimes, if it becomes necessary, in cash. And you pay such agents in such circumstances as the need arises. Circumstances are different, and so you deal with them as is necessary within a given circumstance.
But EFCC as a security agency, did they not know about this operational style before they went into operation?
I think in this area, we solicit the support of the media. The media has not only a role to inform but to also advise. Is it necessary? Is it in the interest of the country? That the intelligence services of your country, Nigeria will be exposed to this manner of ridicule in their operations? For instance, that the sum of money claimed by the sister agency was care freely or carelessly kept in that place. I have not been briefed on the truth or lack of it on it. If it were true, where do you report to? Is it to the president or the press? That is the question I want everybody to think about.
Maybe the press
It looks like it (Laughter). I think it is a bit irregular, anyway. Let people think about it and see what is the appropriate thing to do in circumstances like that in the national interest.
Our president is sick. Can you chip in something on his illness?
I don’t know about it.
I want you to talk about the economic problems bedeviling this country now?
I am not an economist. Are we in recession? I don’t know when the recession started and I don’t know when it is going to end. The only thing I know is that my wife who goes to the market to buy garri says it is costlier than before. She tells me that fish and chicken cost more now. Whether it is as a result recession or tress ion, I am not quite sure. But generally speaking; I am being honest, ask Nigerians; things are pretty very hard especially for the ordinary folks. I encourage the government. They are doing quite a bit to correct the situation and we hope the situation will be corrected soon enough because the ordinary folks are suffering terribly.