That Fictional “Secret Memo”

By Prof Sylvester Afolabi

It would have been unnecessary for anyone, much less an observer like me, to respond to allegations contained in a widely syndicated “story” on obscure social media platforms alleging that “directors in the National Intelligence Agency [NIA]” wrote a secret memo to President Muhammadu Buhari. The alleged “directors” were neither identified, nor was it said whether they are serving or retired, which says a lot about the professionalism of the social media outlets that lent their space to this “story.”

Still, it is important to respond to this fictitious “story” lest it fools some innocent social media users.  

To begin with, no “directors” in any government agency would write directly to the President, unless it is a personal matter affecting their welfare. Even that has to be properly routed through their superiors and it has to be on matters within their competence and prerogative to advice. That any “directors”, serving or retired, wrote such a memo to the President, as is being alleged, is entirely in the realm of fantasy and imagination.

And what was the alleged memo about? That they “asked President Muhammadu Buhari to desist from appending his seal on decisions he does not understand. All these they attributed to the President’s inability to pay rapt attention to matters.” I doubt if anyone in the whole Federal Public Service, no matter how imprudent or impertinent, will address the President in such language.

The syndicated fiction and its hidden hands’ grouse was in regard to the appointment or reappointment of the Director General of National Intelligence Agency, NIA. The incumbent DG’s four-year tenure expires in January next year. The alleged memo said the President’s appointing Ahmed Rufa’i Abubakar to the position four years ago was a “wrong one based on very wrong advice.”

Who decides that? The 1999 Constitution vests all powers to make executive and even judicial branch appointments in the President. It did not vest this power in directors of the agency, serving or retired, loyal or disgruntled. The President exercises this power at his discretion, subject to relevant laws and laid down rules and regulations. If any of these are breached, an affected person or persons could resort to the courts. But in exercising his prerogatives, the President is not bound to do the bidding of any other vested interest. Some of the outfits that carried the “story’s” publishers contested for President in the last general election. If Nigerians had elected them, they will most certainly never cede their constitutional prerogatives on appointments to anyone.

The imaginary letter alleged that President Buhari is being “deliberately misguided by his aides and advisers as a result of selfishness.” Insofar as the President has absolute prerogative to appoint his aides and to accept or reject their counsel, it is futile for anyone to ignorantly snipe from the sidelines and allege that the President is being misguided. We must assume that the President is fully responsible for all his actions and the electorate and historians will accordingly judge him by it all.

The alleged letter repeatedly claimed that an NIA DG must be appointed upon recommendation by the National Security Adviser, NSA. Insofar as NSA is another prerogative appointee of the President, it is difficult to see how that takes away the constitutional provision that “All Executive power of the Federation shall vest in the President.” How could any outsider possibly know what transpired between President and NSA?

The alleged memo was said to have been prompted because “We learnt that the tenure of the current DG, which comes to an end in January 2022, is being considered for extension or has been secretly renewed.”  We wouldn’t know that one way or another until the Presidency makes an announcement, but why should anyone be irked by this? The President is the one in the best position to know if the current DG has satisfactorily discharged his duties in the last four years. NIA being a secret intelligence outfit, the public is in no position to judge its performance as they would judge agencies with a more public profile. To that extent we should allow the person with both the information and the constitutional prerogative to make up his mind one way or another.

It is very dangerous to the health of critical national institutions when people with vested interest collude with social media outfits to try to stampede the Presidency into following a line of action that entirely fits their selfish personal agenda. It also does incalculable harm to the country’s image and the integrity of its public institutions. National security is too precious to be sacrificed by anyone on the altar of disgruntled self-interest.
Afolabi, a researcher on diplomatic and security affairs, writes from Lagos.

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