In guaranteeing the sanctity and sovereignty of any nation, the safety and security of the president cannot be over emphasised. Who then, should protect the president? ANDREW ESSIEN writes.
With the mere mention of presidential security, what immediately comes to mind is that of mean-faced, gun-carrying elite corps of agents (depending on whatever nomenclature they come under) who pledge to take a bullet to protect the president, his family, VIPs and other senior government officials, often acting as human surveillance cameras, observing everything that goes on behind the scenes in the principal’s inner circle. But security experts say it is way above that as this represents a layer in the overall security architecture.
In Nigeria, as far as protecting the president is concerned, the Department of State Security (DSS) has always spearheaded the provision of security operatives but this has always been in conjunction with other arms of security agencies working in harmony with each other. Until very recently, save for uniformed personnel, you may not readily know that they are people who were committed to working round the clock to make sure that the institution of state which the president represents is safe and above all, secured.
Section 2(1) (ii) of Instrument No. SSS 1 of May 23, 1999, made pursuant to Section 6 of the National Security Agencies (NSA) Decree of 1986, which has been re-enacted as Section 6 of NSA Act CAP N74 LFN 2004, empowers personnel of the DSS to provide protective security for designated principal government functionaries including, but not limited to the President and Vice President as well as members of their immediate families. It also mandates the DSS to provide protective security for sensitive installations and institutions such as the Presidential Villa and where visiting foreign dignitaries may be lodged.
This ‘harmonious relationship’ may have however nose-dived owing to what many allude to the various unprofessional acts of the various agencies thus, breeding suspicions amongst themselves. These suspicions became more obvious when DSS personnel were allegedly turned back after they were drafted to Aso Villa to provide security after the inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari. The directive was greeted with mixed reactions but presidential aides dispelled the rumours that were making the rounds, stating that the security at the seat of power was going through a reorganisation process. At that point however, the president and his vice had not moved into the villa. Rather, they were operating from the Defence House owing to the renovations that were going on.
By the time the president had fully moved into Aso Rock, a memo emanated from the office of the Aide-de-camp (ADC) to the president, Mohammed Abubakar, limiting the DSS operatives to certain areas in the villa. The memo further directed DSS personnel to withdraw from giving close protection to the president, but should instead be guarding the outer perimeter of the Villa, on the ground that the job was meant for military personnel and officers of the Nigeria Police Force who are trained as Presidential Body Guards (PBGs).
The ADC also noted in the memo that, while the military and police are to “provide close/immediate protection for Mr. President”, the DSS personnel should stay away from areas he listed which include, “Admin Reception, Service Chiefs Gate, Residence Reception, Rear Resident, Resident Gate, Office Reception, C-In-C Control Office, ACADE Gate, C-IN-C Control Gate and Panama.
However, “the personnel of the DSS in conjunction with other security forces are to man other duty beats/locations located within the immediate outer perimeter of the Presidential Villa,” the memo read.
But in a counter memo dated June 26, 2015 to the ADC, the Chief Security Officer, CSO, to the president, (now former), Abdulrahman Mani, turned down the directive, just as he directed the DSS operatives to disregard the spirit, intent and content of the earlier memo. He opined that the memo was a show of overzealousness, grandstanding, limited knowledge and outright display of ignorance, adding that the ADC’s circular “grossly misrepresents” the president’s directive.
The CSO who represented the DSS operatives in the Villa, noted that “though further actions have been initiated in this regard, including routine redeployment of close bodyguards out of the villa, and deployment of new ones, it is important to state that the duties hitherto performed by the personnel of the DSS in the Presidential Villa and/or any other Key Vulnerable Points (KVPs) are backed by relevant Statutes and Gazetted Instruments of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”.
Few days after the memo, Mani was relief of duty as CSO to the president and posted out of the presidential villa.
The question then on the minds of many is why then is there an alleged bad blood between these agencies when they are supposed to focus on the job at hand?
A source within the security circles that craved anonymity, in his opinion pointed out that the reason for this inter-agency rivalry is due largely to overlapping of roles. He also alluded to the fact that as opposed to uniformed personnel, plain-clothed security details often times enjoy access and privileges that are accorded to the principal, therefore they are also privy to the information that the principal gets since they may have to accompany him or her to private meetings and the rest.
Professionally, he stated that the Army is by nature and training an ‘action agency’ hence, are often in the outer cordon of the security ring. On the other hand, the inner cordon is manned by intelligence agencies – the DSS and NIA, who, in the event of an attack, are responsible for evacuation and the supply of intelligence to the outer cordons (uniformed personnel) to act on.
He further explained that the weaponry deployed for protection purposes by these various agencies already explain their roles naturally. The rifle, which is always at the outer perimeter, is meant for long range engagement and cannot be concealed because of its size. The pistol however, can be concealed and used for a secondary counter attack.
He admonished every security agency guarding the seat of power to strictly observe their specific roles as provided for by the Security Act Instrument, as negligence and unnecessary rivalry could result in a security breach, resulting in catastrophic consequences.
In Europe, Asia and the Americas especially, VIP protection being a much specialised field, is usually handled by the Secret Service operatives, irrespective of the nomenclature they fall under. In the USA for example, the Secret Service usually constitute the inner core security ring around the president, top government officials and other VIPs. All other security agencies, including the army, the police and others, also have their roles to play. They are often required to provide secondary and tertiary security cordons around venues and routes to be taken by their principal.
According to an online source, as part of the Secret Service’s mission of preventing an incident before it occurs, the agency relies on meticulous advance work and threat assessments developed by its Intelligence Division to identify potential risks to protectees.
Advances in technology and the world’s reliance on interdependent network systems also have changed the Secret Service’s protective responsibilities. No longer can law enforcement rely solely on human resources and physical barriers in designing a security plan; agencies also must address the role and inherent vulnerabilities of critical infrastructures upon which security plans are built.
Intelligence gathering is also an integral component of all security operations. Agents and specialists assigned to conduct protective research evaluate information received from law enforcement, intelligence agencies and a variety of other sources regarding individuals or groups who may pose a threat to Secret Service protectees. These agents review questionable letters and e-mails received at the White House and maintain a 24-hour operation to coordinate protection-related information.
Experts argue that Nigeria should de-emphasise close-body protection while taking advantage of the growth in technology and deploy same in security affairs. Intelligence gathering should be further developed and enhanced.