The ongoing security reorganization at the State House that has seen operatives of the State Security Service expelled from inner Aso Rock is a result of concerns by President Muhammadu Buhari that the SSS has become excessively politicised and could easily compromise his security, presidency insiders have told PREMIUM TIMES.
“The President believes that the officers of the service were deeply involved in high-wire brazen politicking prior to the 2015 election and they can be easily compromised for a mess of porridge,” said a top security source familiar with the President’s plans.
The source said Mr. Buhari believe the SSS, as presently constituted, cannot be trusted with any serious assignment until it is “thoroughly reformed and reorganised”.
“Most of those at the helms of the agency today are the same people who openly demonstrated hatred for the president and his party,” another presidential insider said. “Buhari is human and he cannot allow a bunch of opposition politicians in SSS garb to come close to him.”
Our sources said intelligence available to the President suggested that the leadership of the SSS has remained loyal to former President Goodluck Jonathan and his party, the PDP.
“Anyone with ulterior motive can take advantage of the weakness in the service for negative purposes,” a presidential aide said.
A top SSS official, who said he repeatedly warned his colleague against partisanship, said days before he stepped down, Mr. Jonathan “rewarded those who helped his cause”.
“President Jonathan caused the promotion of those who were loyal to him, some did not even sit for promotion examinations. Many of them were not yet due for promotion. But they were arbitrarily rewarded. Some people were hurriedly deployed to sensitive positions and this might be a bobby trap for the president,” he said.
PREMIUM TIMES had exclusively reported how no fewer than 45 officers of the SSS, including its spokesperson, Marilyn Ogar, were promoted to different grade levels during a controversial promotion exercise in the dying days of the last administration.
This newspaper reported at the time that the promotion exercise was hurriedly undertaken by the Director General of the SSS, Ita Ekpenyong, and rushed to Mr. Jonathan for approval ahead of his exit on May 29.
We also reported at the time that some officers, who were also due for promotion, but believed to have had sympathy for Mr. Buhari, were left out.
PREMIUM TIMES gathered that some of the officers who were interviewed and were indeed qualified for promotion were not uplifted thereby causing disaffection among the officers cadre of the service.
Besides, according to our sources, some state directors, although already issued retirement letters, surprisingly benefited from the exercise.
A source at the Villa said Mr. Buhari was fully in the know of all that transpired at the time and had waited patiently to act.
“The President feels that SSS personnel should not be close to him until proper reorganization of the agency is carried out,” he said.
Division, anger among officers
The sidelining of the Service by the presidency has brought division and anger among some personnel of the agency.
We gathered that some officials who remained professional, rather than help the cause of any politician, are angry that the present administration is punishing everyone in the Service.
“A lot of our colleagues are angry that despite remaining professional, the current administration is carrying out a blanket punishment,” an SSS insider said. “Those who decided to play politics were few compared to those who did not.”
A compromised agency
The SSS was openly partisan in the run-up to the 2015 general elections, harassing and arresting opposition figures, ransacking firms and offices with ties to the APC and appearing on television to disparage opposition politicians and their party.
On July 25, 2014, operatives of the SSS descended on the corporate headquarters of TNS-RMS, a Lagos-based research agency, holding its staff hostage, ransacking its offices and premises and whisking away three of its personnel.
The company’s offence was that it was, at the time, conducting an opinion poll on the August 9, 2014 governorship election in Osun state. The SSS struck because it got intelligence that the poll would indicate that Rauf Aregbesola of the APC would win the election. Mr. Aregbesola later won that election.
On November 21, 2014, the agency raided the APC data centre in Lagos, arresting its staffs and accusing the party of “cloning INEC Permanent Voters Card with the intention of hacking into INEC data base, corrupting it and replacing them with their own data”. The SSS is yet to prove that allegation till date.
The SSS also consistently disparaged the APC in the media, accusing the party and its leaders of being behind the deadly Boko Haram insurgency.
And after the Osun election, the agency’s spokesperson, Marilyn Ogar, rushed to the media, claiming that some opposition APC politicians offered the Service’s personnel 14 million naira bribe. She did not substantiate the allegation. The SSS is yet to substantiate that allegation and no one has been charged to court for bribery.
A presidential memo, seen by PREMIUM TIMES Friday, had shown that the SSS (also known as DSS) has been completely sidelined at the villa.
The memo, written by Mr. Buhari’s Aide de Camp, Mohammed Abubakar, on June 24 and distributed to key officials in the Villa stated that from then on, “DSS personnel have been redeployed from some duty beats/locations”.
The memo made it clear that the major security tasks initially being handled by SSS officials are now to be handled by officials of other security agencies.
Mr. Abubakar said personnel of the Armed Forces and the police, who were trained as Presidential Body Guards, PBGs, are to “provide close/immediate protection for Mr. President henceforth”.
Mr. Abubakar subsequently listed some of the areas to be taken care of by the PBGs to 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,” he said, without providing reasons for the action.
Mr. Abubakar added that the Admin Officer, AO, shall be submitting a list of all personnel deployed for physical security within the premises of the Villa to the office of the ADC every Thursday for “perusal, observation and approval as the case may be before final publication and dispatch to the office of the CSO”.
It’s a routine adjustment — Presidency
The presidency has however described the relegation of the SSS as a routine adjustment.
“While it is true that a reorganization of security at the Presidential Villa which involves the realignment of personnel from various services is underway, the exercise does not translate to the expulsion of DSS personnel from the premises in any way.
“The changes being made are routine adjustments which are not unexpected in any dynamic environment from time to time.”