Why is the Senate not comfortable with the National Security Adviser's Office taking the front seat in the fight against terrorism? Intrigues. This report sheds the light on the issue.
The delay by the National Assembly in passing into law the amendments to the Terrorism (Prevention) Act 2011 and Other Related Matters is caused by intense lobbying by security agencies who desire to be the custodian of the law, Sunday Trust has learnt. This is because the agency vested with the task of coordinating the fight against terror would be in charge of a huge budgetary allocation to a crisis that government is desperate to nip in the bud. In 2012, as much as N1 trillion was allocated to the challenge, with President Goodluck Jonathan raising an argument that an end to terrorism was vital to the political and economic development of Nigeria.
It was gathered that though the Conference Committee Report of the National Assembly on the amendment showed that the two chambers concurred that the Office of the National Security Adviser should be the custodian of the law, that decision was difficult to reach, as lobbyists from security agencies made deliberate attempts to win over members of the National Security and Intelligence Committees. The committee members in both the House of Representatives and the Senate were so polarised that some of them failed to append their signatures to the initial Conference Committee Report. Due to the failure of some members of the committee to append their signatures on the report when it was first presented on the floor of the Senate on December 12, 2012, the Senate could not adopt it. Senate President David Mark then directed the chairman of the conference committee, Senator Muhammadu Magoro, to get the report signed by all members for proper documentation before it could be adopted.
Some committee members declined to append their signatures to the report because they were not in agreement with the idea of the NSA becoming the custodian of the law. However, after some persuasion, several of them signed the report, but on December 19 when it was represented, other senators rose against its adoption, hence the Senate postponed debate on the bill indefinitely.
Questions were raised over the legality of giving the National Security Adviser coordinating powers on all security agencies.
The committee, in its report, recommended that the NSA's office should provide support to all security, intelligence, law enforcement agencies and military services to prevent and combat acts of terrorism.
The NSA's office is also to ensure effective formulation and implementation of a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy and build capacity for the effective discharge of the functions of all security, intelligence, law enforcement and military services.
The report also confers on the NSA the powers to "do such other acts or things necessary" for the effective performance of the functions of the relevant security and enforcement agencies.
Objecting to this clause, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Rules and Business, Senator Ita Enang (PDP, Akwa Ibom North-East), argued that it would be improper to give the responsibility being proposed for the NSA's office because the NSA is not the creation of any law.
Citing the provisions of Section 151 of the 1999 Constitution to support his arguments, Enang said the NSA's office does not exist in law and so it would be wrong for the National Assembly to confer any responsibility on the office which is just a mere advisory office to the president.
"The Office of the National Security Adviser is not known to law. It is just one of the 20 advisory offices approved for Mr President. Since it is not established by the legislature, the legislature cannot confer any responsibility on it. We should realise that if we make any mistake on this, it will be revisited later," he said.
Senate President David Mark said the report could not be amended since it was prepared by a conference committee of both chambers.
But when he put the question for the adoption of the report, the voice vote sounded equal between the 'ayes' and the 'nays'. Mark consequently called for the suspension of the debate.
According to Mark, "The way we normally express our views is either yes or no. But since this is too close to each other, I will call on the Senate leader to move a motion for me to suspend the debate on it".
Senate Leader Victor Ndoma-Egba, while moving the debate, said, "In view of the stormy waters we are in over this matter, I move that we stand down this debate to another legislative day."
Insiders in the committee say that the opposition against the vital amendment to the bill in the Senate showed how tenacious security agencies who coordinate the counter-terrorism project were. During the public hearing, the agencies canvassed to be put in charge of it. For instance, the State Security Service (SSS) had argued that the fight against terror cannot be won with the barrel of the gun, but through intelligence. Marshalling out the fact that it had made major arrests through its intelligence network, the SSS advocated that it should be the agency to implement the law. The Nigeria Police wanted to be in charge because terrorism is a criminal issue and the Police have that primary responsibility of tackling crime. The Army, the Nigerian Intelligence Agency (NIA), and the National Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC), etc sought vital roles in coordinating the anti-terror war.
THE POWERS IN CONTENTION
The powers being contended for are captured in Section 1(A) of the amendment to the Act. It says: "The Office of the National Security Adviser (in this Act referred to as 'ONSA') shall be the co-ordinating body for all security and enforcement agencies under this Act and shall:
Speaking in a telephone interview, Senator Ita Enang (PDP, Akwa Ibom North-East), said the recommendation that the NSA should coordinate the fight against terrorism was incongruous with the law, as the NSA is one of the president's aides who does not go to the Senate for clearance, hence a responsibility of that magnitude should not be reposed in that office by the National Assembly.
He explained thus: "The Senate cannot tell the President who should coordinate the fight against terror. Rather, the president should decide how to appoint the coordinator, as it is done in other parts of the world where there are specific agencies set up to tackle terrorism. The president may wish to appoint anybody of his choice to implement the Counter-Terrorism Act. It's not our duty to ascribe that role to anyone. "
On the way forward, Senator Enang said, "The Senate would have to revisit the work of that committee to ensure that the right thing is done. The Act we're talking about is a crucial one and it should not be handled carelessly."
It was gathered that during the committee's deliberations, there were suggestions that security agencies with bias for intelligence gathering should be considered as co-ordinating body. They included the State Security Service (SSS), the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) and the Nigerian Intelligence Agency (NIA). Though the Nigeria Police Force was also mentioned, it was assumed that they already had enough work on their hands to be able to coordinate the fight against terror.
When asked how the committees agreed to give the powers to the NSA's office, Barrister Ali Ahmad, who head the House Committee, explained that it was based on The Presidency's demand. "It's an Executive Bill. We didn't want to tamper with what the Presidency recommended."
A former Inspector-General of Police, Mr Mike Okiro, reckons that the issue of the coordinator of the counter-terrorism law is a major defect in the Act since it came into being in 2011.
According to him, "I had argued that you can't say you want to fight terror when there's no one vested with the responsibility to ensure that what needs to be done is done. There's need for a central body to do so, and as it is in Nigeria today, I think the NSA's office should do it. The coordinating body should be able to relate with the SSS in intelligence gathering; the police and army in operations; the Navy to tackle terrorist operations on the high sea; the Air Force, to deal with any terrorist act by air; the Customs and Immigration when it comes to border matters. As it is in Nigeria today, I think it's the NSA's office that can play that role."
The Former IGP said he foresaw that terrorism would be the next security challenge Nigeria would face, and that was why he established the Anti-Terror Squad (ATS) in the Nigeria Police in 2007. But he said the Police should not be the coordinating institution considering the current security setting in the country.
On his part, Dr Amaechi Nwokolo, an expert on Terrorism, said that the NSA's office should not be the custodian of the law because it has no outfit to control.
According to him, "Every country that is seriously fighting terrorism has an agency, a specific unit that does that job. That's what the United States, UK, Canada, Australia, Sweden, Japan, etc have done. It is not the police, not the NSA's office. In the US, you have the Homeland Security outfit that coordinates the fight against terror. The National Security Adviser to President Obama is not the person who does that job. I tell you that security agencies in Nigeria know these things but they pretend as if they don't. They want to be the custodian of the law so that they can have robust budgets. Their eyes are on the money involved, not on the effective fight against terrorism. We've seen a very huge budget in the fight in 2012, but how much success have we recorded?"
A security expert in Abuja, Mike Ejiofor, said the bill to amend the Terrorism Prevention Act must be given priority by the National Assembly to enable the courts and the security personnel fight terrorists. He said the bill should specify special courts that can handle terror cases and the 'time limit' within which to handle all cases. The bill should provide grounds for the security agencies to collaborate under one body in the counter-terrorism activities. "Terrorism is an international crime that needs to be tackled by various agencies. The police are in charge of internal security while the SSS, NIA are involved in intelligence gathering. So, all the agencies are to come together and the person that will direct them has to be a retired officer."
Speaking on the phone yesterday, a member of the Senate Committee on Air Force, Senator Kabiru Marafa (ANPP, Zamfara Central), said already the security challenge in the country would worsen if the heads of security agencies deviate from their fundamental duty of protecting Nigerians and struggle to outdo one another in receiving huge allocations from the funds voted for security.
Senator Marafa added: "People are just feeding fat on security funds and we have to be very careful, otherwise we would be escalating the security situation. A situation where security agencies appear to be competing for funds will not augur well for the nation. Each security agency has its constitutional responsibilities. We cannot expect good results when the Army takes over the responsibilities of the police. The police force is the most poorly funded security agency in this country. The EFCC is an agency within the police but its budget is higher than that of the police. The budget of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps too is far heavier than that of the police. Even the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) which used to be under the police often gets higher budgetary allocation than the police. The president should look into this. The police should be well funded."
According to him, there is nothing bad in the over N1 trillion budgeted for security in the 2013 budget, but the priority of the security agencies should be how to end terrorism.
Senator Marafa said since the nation is already facing a very serious security situation, the consequences would be too devastating if the security agencies lose their primary focus.
He noted that the Senate would not fold its arms and watch things go wrong, saying it would be proper for the upper legislative chamber to advise President Goodluck Jonathan to checkmate the security agencies in order to ensure that they do not get derailed by budgetary allocation.
Senator Abubakar Sadiq Yar'adua (CPC, Katsina Centre) said that the security agencies should be concerned with justifying the funds appropriated for national security by producing the expected result of combating terrorism and protecting Nigerians.
As it stands, the bill is hanging in the balance almost six years into terrorist activities in various parts of the country. All these years, security agencies have been working at across purposes, almost competing with each other and reluctant to share intelligence information because of intense rivalry. The consequence is that terrorists have unleashed so much violence that not less than 10,000 souls have so far been lost.