Mike Ejiofor is a lawyer and retired director of the Department of State Service, DSS. In this interview with Vanguard, he explains reasons the service will not publicly talk about the number of destabilisation attempts against the government it foiled.
He also said that security operatives in the country now engage in regime protection instead of protecting the people. The vocal retired security czar also spoke on how he was kidnapped by herdsmen and the ransom paid for his release among others.
On why he is vocal on public issues despite being a retired security officer
I am driven by patriotism. It is very rare as you rightly pointed out, DSS retired officers don’t come to the public to talk. I was a state director in eight states, interacting with governors and when you see these people and offer a constructive advice, it becomes a problem and I am not a politician. I say things the way they are. Any governor who means well should be able to take the advice in terms of policy formation and implementation from the DSS.
Most times people blame the DSS for failure to provide necessary intelligence for other security agencies. In each of the states I worked, I had excellent and cordial relationship with the Commissioners of Police and other agencies, I never had any challenge.
However, because the DSS do not come out to the public to say this is what we do or this is what we have done in terms of maintenance of internal security, the blame always goes to them.
And I said when I was leaving the service that I would not fold my hands even though I was not mandated by the service. First of all, my aim apart from patriotism is to educate Nigerians on the functions and responsibility of the DSS and the responsibility of the citizens to the service in terms of intelligence gathering. Basically, those were the things that motivated me and I have seen too that many people appreciate what I am doing. Some people will be saying why must any DSS person talk in public as if a DSS officer is not part of the society?
So I find it very difficult to reconcile that as a DSS person but that is the policy of the service, they don’t come out in the open to tell people what they are doing.
I can tell you that if the DSS comes out to tell you the number of attempts to destabilise government that had been foiled, it will create fear in the members of the public. So I think that is why basically they don’t come out to tell people what they are doing. But at the peripheral level and enlightenment level, those of us who are retired can talk to the members of the public.
So what informed your going public, making your views open?
I have told you that I am a product of the media. Right from my youthful days in the 80s, I interact with journalists and there is no information I will look for that I can’t get through the media. So, I am part and parcel of them. Even as a state director the first person I looked for on assumption of duty is the state Chairman of Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, and I always host them in my office, tell them that my responsibilities are their responsibilities. I had exchange of information with them. There are certain information in their possession which they can’t publish, they will always give them to me. I had the exchange of information. I was more or less a product of the media and that is why I continue to relate with the media even outside the service.
Can you highlight some of the hiccups you encountered while in service?
I enjoyed my service I must tell you, I joined the Police in 1975 as a Constable against my father’s position that Police is for drop-outs. I told him it is a question of service and when I join the police I was not going to be wearing uniform. Luckily for me, the month I was leaving the police training school, a special branch came for recruitment at the Police College and we were taken which formed the nucleus of the Nigeria Security Organization, NSO following the assassination of then Head of State, Major General Murtala Mohammed.
I had an excellent career rising to a state director and incidentally I was a state director in seven states in addition to other command positions. Most of my friends were not all that lucky. So, I thank God for my service.
The only two regrets I had but because of my ardent belief in God, I wouldn’t call them a regret because they were ordained by God. I was left on a rank for nine years for no reason and I never complained, I was thanking God. I said supposed I was sent to somewhere that I would meet my death. The most important thing I asked God for is life and this month I am 67 years, God has been faithful.
The other regret is also the blame against the DSS; everywhere is just blame, nobody appreciates what the DSS does unless there is a mistake. It is like the game of football. Nigerians like football, when we are winning, nobody complains but when we lose, they will call for the head of the coach. Life is about give and take. So the DSS also needs the support of the people to succeed, they are not magicians, they are Nigerians.
Some people say that in other climes, security officers are for the people, the masses, but it appears that in Nigeria security officers are only interested in protecting the President, and political office holders…
The observation is very right, it is not how it is supposed to be. What we have most times now is regime protection instead of national interest. The fact is that we have not been able as Nigerians to differentiate between national interest and personal interest. You look at the President for instance, nobody challenges a president in Nigeria but look at what is happening in America. During the presidential election, the judges were saying no (Donald) Trump you cannot prove your case. Can you give such judgement in Nigeria? It is because America has strong institutions, so they continue to build strong institutions instead of strong individuals. Nobody in Nigeria challenges anybody in government. There is uproar everywhere now following the IG’s (Inspector-General of Police) directives that details attached to unauthorized people should be withdrawn. They are taking security seriously now, you see the National Assembly inviting the President. Ordinarily before this time nobody would talk about it because they are protected, they will go with hordes of policemen.. So let all of us face the consequences of our actions and inactions.
DSS is supposed to be undercover police, but these days you see them bragging that they are security operatives, is this a new norm in the service?
That is not true but like you rightly said DSS is an undercover intelligence gathering agency. But you know everybody with his own approach to issues. There was this Director-General Mr. Gazama that I respect so much followed by Mr. (Ekpenyong) Ita, who established the Rapid Response Squad. If there is an emerging problem, you can just go ahead and tackle it in collaboration with the Police and other security agencies.
There is this lack of trust, inter-agency rivalry among the services, although that is being gradually phased out now, relationships among the agencies are getting better. Even in developed countries, there is rivalry but I expect that the rivalry should be a healthy rivalry and not a situation one agency will begin to blackmail another or you say that the DSS is just there to monitor what you are doing and the Police is also blackmailed.
But I can tell you that if we have four strong institutions in the country like the DSS our problems will be half solved. I am not saying there are no bad elements in the service. An average DSS man is guided by accountability, you cannot see a serious DSS officer getting involved in politics because they don’t have the money. How many DSS people have you seen getting involved in politics, is it that they do not have the capacity or the capability to get involved in politics? They can’t even spend the kind of money politicians spend. If any SSS man gets the kind of money politicians get, he will use it to the advantage of the greater majority of the people.
What is responsible for the rivalry among security agencies?
Like I said before, some of them is blackmail and politics. One agency is trying to take credit for doing what it is not supposed to do. The police will be doing the work of the DSS, the DSS will be doing the work of the police, the police will be doing the work of the army, army will be doing the work of the police, all to please the political master.
Basically, the reason for inter-agency rivalry is politics. Each agency should face its own statutory functions, of course, I acknowledge that the functions of the various agencies are interwoven, sometimes, not clearly defined. Like the omnibus clause in the DSS. One of the instruments establishing the DSS is that any other assignment by Mr. President, so if Mr. President tells you to go and do something, will you say you will not do it? However, we need to build strong institutions. For instance, once we get our electoral process and the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, correct, we will have less problems because leaders will now emerge from a credible, reliable process and not imposition of candidates.
So I am begging the National Assembly and Mr. President to see that our electoral process is sanitised so that our votes will count. Even our judicial process is not even reliable. I am sorry to say this because I am a lawyer but you can see that people now buy judgements not based on the realities of the evidence adduced or presented before the court.
If you sit down one on one with the Director-General of the DSS, what advice will you give him to strengthen the service?
Incidentally I know him, he is my friend. The advice is to be professional, that is the basic thing. Once you are professional and resist the temptation of pandering to political whims and caprices, look for the welfare of the operatives, get the service well equipped in line with the emerging security challenges, those are what I will tell him.
When you were in service, what was your saddest moment?
I won’t call it sad because of my belief in God. The saddest day I had was the day I was removed from Akwa Ibom as state director on flimsy and unsubstantiated allegations. Then another sad day in my life was the day I was kidnapped.
His kidnap story
I left the service about three, four years ago. I went to Delta, on my way back with my driver, that is why I tell people to always take security precautions. On this fateful day, I was coming back from my village with my driver, and we ran into Fulani herdsmen, and kidnappers and they opened fire. I had to tell my driver to stop because he who fights and runs away lives to fight another day. We were taken into the bush, for four days no food. We were there, they cooked. My driver was eating what they cooked but I couldn’t eat. We were just there with them living on cashew fruits for four days before my release was negotiated.
How much did you pay as ransom?
Before I was taken by the kidnappers, I used to tell people not to pay ransom because when you pay ransom, you encourage the kidnappers but until I went in there and came out I now know that you must pay ransom. I paid ransom but I won’t tell you how much I paid.
Vanguard News Nigeria