By Eric Teniola
CRISIS is an opportunity to make good on big changes. So never waste a good crisis. The late British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill (November 30, 1874-January 24, 1965) once wrote: “Never let a good crisis go to waste”. After the brutal assassination of General Murtala Ramat Mohammed (November 8, 1938 – February 13, 1976) on February 13, 1976, the central government realised that the coup d’etat caught the government unawares. To rectify the situation and to prevent future occurrence, government decided to reform the security apparatus in the country.
Earlier the internal security of Nigeria was under the supervision of the Nigeria Police Force headed by Alhaji Muhammadu Dikko Yusuf (1931-2015) from Katsina. Prior to the coup, internal security and intelligence was handled by the police Special Branch, a secret police, while external intelligence was conducted by the Research Department, RD, a unit of the External Affairs Ministry.
The Central Government then enacted Decree 27 of 1976. The decree, signed into law by General Olusegun Obasanjo, was for creation of the National Security Organisation of Nigeria, NSO. Decree No 27 of 1976, which set up the NSO, said the organisation was employed for the following purposes: a) the prevention and detection of any crime against the security of Nigeria; b) the protection and preservation of all classified matter concerning or relating to the security of Nigeria; and c) such other purposes, whether within or without Nigeria, as the Head of the Federal Military Government may deem necessary with a view to securing the maintenance of the security of Nigeria.
The decree recognised the powers of the Head of State to make provisions by instrument relating to such matters as the structure, designation, appointment and administration of the organisation as well as the manner in which its powers can be exercised. It also provided that specific officers of the organisation were to be conferred with the powers of “superior police officers”.
Activities of the NSO and the fluid nature of its mandate strengthened its image as an agency whose role covered all aspects of security activities, exercising powers: to obtain by secret sources or other means accurate intelligence regarding persons or organisations whether within or outside Nigeria, engaged in acts of espionage, subversion or sabotage against Nigeria, or engaged in acts which may threaten the security of Nigeria; to identify and, where appropriate, apprehend or assist in the apprehension of persons believed to have committed any crime against the security of Nigeria.
The operational orders of the NSO also laid down the following assignments: to collect, collate, assess and disseminate intelligence information affecting Nigeria’s state security and the maintenance of public order; to detect and investigate all acts of subversion, espionage and sabotage against the country; to maintain records of individuals and organisations engaging in subversive activities; to investigate the reliability of persons who may have access to classified information or material and who may be employed in sensitive or scheduled posts; to advise and assist in the implementation of protective security measures in government establishments and sensitive installations; and to provide personal security to very important personalities.
In setting up the NSO, General Obasanjo recalled the then military governor of Benue-Plateau State, Colonel Abdullahi Mohammed, from Ilorin in Kwara State, to head the newly created organisation. General Obasanjo then replaced Colonel Abdullahi Mohammed with Colonel Abdullahi Shelleng (78) from Shelleng, Numan Local Government of Adamawa State as governor of Benue-Plateau State. Colonel Mohammed had earlier served as Director of Military Intelligence.
Colonel Abdullahi who later retired as a Major-General served as National Security Adviser to a head of state, General Abdusalam Abubakar, and chief of staff to two presidents, President Obasanjo and Shehu Umaru Yar’Adua. In 1976, General Obasanjo merged the special branch with the research department and created an office for the NSO at 15, Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, which is the present office of the Economic and Financial Crime Commission, EFCC. Colonel Abdullahi served till 1979 before handing over to Alhaji Muhammadu Umaru Shinkafi (1937-2016) from Kaura-Namoda, Zamfara State.
Alhaji Shinkafi was succeeded in November 1983 when President Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari appointed Ambassador Mohammed Lawal Rafindadi (1934-2007) from Katsina. He was a Nigerian diplomat and security chief. When General Ibrahim Babangida, GCFR, came to power on August 27, 1985, he appointed Brigadier-General Aliyu Mohammed Gusau as Director General of NSO. Brigadier-General Gusau later became the Chief of Army Staff and twice National Security Adviser to the President.
What General Obasanjo did in 1976 was in order for that is what obtains in other parts of the world. For example in the United Kingdom, it has Joint Intelligence Organisation, JIO – Joint intelligence analysis. National Crime Agency, NCA – organised crime intelligence gathering and analysis. In addition to having intelligence and surveillance powers, officers from the National Crime Agency can hold any or all three of the powers of a (armed) police officer, immigration officer and/or customs officer.
The agency and its officers have special powers including acting as an enforcement authority for unexplained wealth orders and access of internet records through the Investigatory Powers Act 2016.