A jarring dispute over contingency security allocations led to an abrupt withdrawal of dozens of personal security guards attached to the presiding officers of the National Assembly, PREMIUM TIMES can report.
The State Security Service (SSS) implemented about 65 per cent draw down across board in security protection for the top lawmakers on Saturday, sparking a nationwide uproar. The controversial exercise on Saturday afternoon affected Senate President Bukola Saraki, Speaker Yakubu Dogara, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu and Deputy Speaker Yusuf Lasun.
Following an urgent security meeting with Vice President Osinbajo on Monday and political pressure from the so-called new PDP bloc of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the secret police on Tuesday partially returned some of the withdrawn officers to Messrs Saraki and Dogara, according to security sources. It was unclear if Messrs Ekweremadu and Lasun had seen a partial or full restoration of the personnel withdrawn from them.
The disagreement stemmed from the National Assembly’s rejection of a presidential approval issued to the State Security Service for the inclusion of “some handsome billions of Naira” into the 2018 budget, according to legislative sources familiar with the matter.
The botched SSS allocation, similar to similar ‘security allowances’ approved to other agencies like the police and the military, was rejected because Lawal Daura, the head of SSS, failed to defend the expenditure when he appeared before a Senate committee vetting the proposed security earmarks, multiple sources familiar with the episode have told PREMIUM TIMES.
“Rather than answer critical questions and make a strong case to justify his allocation, like the army and the Police Service Commission did, he merely assumed that the presidential approval he brought to the National Assembly was all that was needed — he even tried to intimidate lawmakers by suggesting that their oversight functions were often laden with corrupt instincts,” a source said.
But rather than see the rejection of the SSS request as a direct consequence of his own conduct, Mr Daura decided on a retaliatory measure against the presiding officers, striking first with the drawdown of their security guards.
Around two-thirds of the 84 SSS personnel attached to the presiding officers were withdrawn without prior notice on Saturday.
In the exercise, which a source told PREMIUM TIMES was “sudden” and “far-reaching”, Mr Saraki’s security detail was reduced to nine from 23. Mr Dogara’s personnel were also reduced to nine from 23.With the duo receiving five more personnel, each now has 14 officers as at Tuesday night.
The partial restoration came a day after Mr Osinbajo met with Mr Saraki, Mr Daura, Attorney-General Abubakar Malami and Inspector-General Ibrahim Idris in an emergency meeting whose details were not disclosed to the media.
Hours after the meeting, the so-called new PDP, which contains politicians who pulled out from then-ruling Peoples Democratic Party in 2013, released a statement pulling out of ongoing talks about its future in the APC. The new PDP politicians’ exodus from the PDP was said to be a political masterstroke that ultimately led to the then-ruling party’s shellacking at the 2015 general elections.
The disgruntled new PDP politicians in the APC, which include Messrs Sakari and Dogara, had been in dialogue with Mr Osinbajo on behalf of the APC and the Buhari administration. The latest in a string of meetings as part of the dialogue was slated to hold on Monday, but it was apparently called off following a series of political toxic events over the weekend.
In addition to the withdrawal of personnel on Saturday, Mr Saraki was openly accused of being a suspect in dozens of murder cases in his home state of Kwara by the police on Sunday.
“It appears that the presidency is not interested in the talks and that they may have been negotiating in bad faith,” Kawu Baraje, a leader of the new PDP bloc in the APC, said in the Monday afternoon statement.
Messrs Ekweremadu and Lasun saw reductions in their detail from 19 to six each on Saturday, including their drivers, it was gathered.
Uche Anichukwu, a spokesperson for Mr Ekweremadu, confirmed partial withdrawal of officers attached to his principal to PREMIUM TIMES, but said he was unsure of the statistics.
Aides to three other parliamentary leaders declined comments to PREMIUM TIMES about the development. The SSS could not be reached for comments, the agency has no known spokesperson since September 2015.
Fears that the recurrent clashes between the executive and the legislature may escalate gripped the nation on Sunday after The Cable reported that the security aides of some principal officers had been reduced. The paper said the directive might have come from the presidency, but did not say Messrs Ekweremadu and Lasun were affected, or indicate the actual number of personnel attached to each of the officers prior to and after withdrawal.
PREMIUM TIMES has not been able to independently confirm whether or not external authorities influenced the directive, but multiple sources hinted that it was largely about Mr Daura’s personal grievances against lawmakers.
The development further underscores an unceasing personalisation of public institutions, said public affairs analyst Chris Ngwodo.
“An institutional relationship has been unduly personalised,” the analyst said. But while supporters of the two authorities involved would like to make a villain out of one another, Mr Ngwodo said there was enough blame to go round.
“There has to be a smart way of resolving this rather than one institution degrading the other,” he said. “The SSS has a statutory function to provide security and its budget is essential to its smooth operation.”
“Also, the provisions of security operatives to the presiding officers are rights accorded not to the persons but the offices they occupy,” Mr Ngwodo said. “It is clearly a case of institutional entitlement.”
“When an institution is rubbished and everything becomes a fair game because of personal clashes, then the system suffers,” he added.
The controversy comes barely four years after the SSS and the police withdrew security detail attached to former House Speaker Aminu Tambuwal. Mr Tambuwal, now governor of Sokoto State, was stripped off security protection after he abandoned the then-ruling PDP and joined the then-opposition APC.
Mr Tambuwal’s detail was later restored by the SSS, but it would take several months of stalemate.
In the meantime, the police have increased the number of protective security operatives attached to Messrs Saraki and Dogara from three to five each, PREMIUM TIMES learnt. This would help mitigate the potentially debilitating impact that could arise from Mr Daura’s move.
Mr Ngwodo gave a backhanded compliment for the police’s swift intervention in his telephone exchange with PREMIUM TIMES Monday night.
“It is good that the police took the necessary measures to correct the misstep by the SSS, but what is really important is institutional arrangement,” the analyst said. “Withdrawing security detail as a response to what transpired at a Senate committee is inappropriate.”
It remained unclear whether discussions have been opened between the National Assembly and the presidency to find immediate solutions to the crisis, which some security analysts see as dicey because it is unprecedented.
Charles Omole, a security analyst, said the immediate national security implications of the withdrawal might be felt not directly from the affected officers but their families.
This is because the police are not structurally equipped to play the complex role of security protection for which the SSS was established.
“The police are largely reactive, they have no structural capabilities to detect, analyse and prevent specific threats to top officeholders,” Mr Omole told PREMIUM TIMES by telephone Monday night. “It is difficult for any unit in the police to actually provide the level of security required by not just the highly-placed individuals but their relatives.”
Mr Omole said the withdrawal should ordinarily be a decision well above the powers of Mr Daura, but the ongoing rivalries between the SSS and the Office of the National Security Adviser made it possible for the Director-General to exercise arbitrary powers — potentially without the president’s prior knowledge or sanction.
“The latest trend amongst countries across the world is that they are bringing together all their security agencies under one command for a coherent and efficient national security,” Mr Omole said, who authored several books on national security. “But Nigeria still allows silos amongst security agencies that prevent them from cooperating with one another, which is why agencies are refusing to share intelligence amongst themselves and claiming credits for individual operations.”