DG DSS Bichi and Buhari’s body language
Yusuph Magaji Bichi belongs to the ancient and modern generation of Nigeria’s secret police. By the time he was appointed as the Director General of Department of State Service (DSS) to replace Mr. Matthew Seiyefa, Bichi was practically retired from active service.
His appointment made Seiyefa the shortest serving DG. Seiyefa was in office for just one month and one week. Prior to that instantaneous change, Chief Albert Horsfal was about the only DG DSS that had a brief stint in office. Horsfal served for two years.
However, observers believe that the speed with which President Muhammadu Buhari replaced Seiyefa, who came on board immediately his (Buhari’s) kinsman, Lawal Musa Daura, was relieved of his post as DG, showed the President’s paranoia.
Recall that President Buhari had lamented that his stint as military head of state was cut short due to conspiracies within the security circles. Perhaps, it was to forestall the likelihood of a repeat that he continues to insist that only persons he had absolute faith in should man the commanding heights of the nation’s security apparatuses.
Although Bichi denied ever meeting with the President in person before his appointment and subsequent closed-door meeting at the Presidential Villa, it is possible that those who nominated or recommended him (Bichi) for the position of DSS DG knew his ability to interpret and execute the President’s body language.
Despite attempts by Media Aides of President Buhari to confer a sort of independence on DSS, at its foundation, especially after the progression from National Security Organisation (NSO) through State Security Service (SSS) to DSS, it was to serve as a department within the Presidency and answerable to the National Security Adviser (NSA).DSS was charged with providing intelligence within the country, particularly for the protection of senior government officials, including the President, governors and principal officers of the National Assembly and the Judiciary.
Following the prompt sacking of Lawal Musa Daura for the invasion of the National Assembly by DSS operatives, Seiyefa, who was made the acting DG, could not stay in office beyond one month, because he was a total outsider in the foci of power under President Buhari.
Perhaps, in a bid to douse public criticism at the spontaneous removal of Seiyefa, who was expected to retire from service in July 2019, Bichi, who had long retired from service, was sold as a core secret service operative, joined the NSO and trained in intelligence processing analysis and agent handling recruitment was fetched.
The statement announcing his appointment and signed by the Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, stated: “The new DSS boss comes to the job with skills in intelligence gathering, research analysis, conflict management, general investigation, risk and vulnerability operations, counter intelligence and protective operation and human resources management.
“In the course of his career, Mr. Bichi has worked as the State Director of Security in Jigawa, Niger, Sokoto and Abia states. He was at various times the Director, National Assembly Liaison, (National War College), Director at National Headquarters in the Directorate of Security Enforcement, Directorate of Operations, Directorate of Intelligence, Directorate of Inspection and Directorate of Administration and Finance.”
Although it was generally believed that the appointment of Bichi to replace Seiyefa was ostensibly to ensure that the Bayelsa-born security chief does not hold sway during the 2019 general elections, the fact that Bichi served as Director of National Assembly Liaison, gave the impression that he was being appointed to avert a possible repeat of the ugly development that led to Daura’s sacking.
But, Nigerians believe that the events of Friday December 7, 2019 at Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu’s court at the Federal High Court, Abuja, rivaled the DSS’s invasion of the National Assembly complex on August 7, 2018.And, although Bichi told reporters at the Presidential Villa after President Buhari hosted him to a closed door meeting on September 20, 2018 that he had never had prior physical contact with the President, the invasion of the court room to re-arrest Omoyele Sowore, who was released on bail 24 hours earlier, brought back public apprehensions over the President’s penchant for appointing service chiefs who read his body language very well.
Flight From Decency
IT is on record that right from its days as NSO, the DSS was created to be faceless, ubiquitous and painstaking in the performance of its core responsibilities, just as its operatives comprise anonymous sleuths.
But, analysts maintain that DSS’s descent from glory began when the agency started mingling with politically exposed persons as well as the manner in which its operatives were hired and fired. Security operatives in the department had been accused of leaking security reports and threat assessment to influential politicians as well as tampering with background security reports of aspirants to high political offices.
Yet, the DSS remains notorious for its inclination towards assault on media practitioners. Instances abound of how the security agents pounce on, intimidate and detain editors and reporters at the slightest sign of critical reportage of government activities or its officials.
Nonetheless, the department has also recorded some remarkable breakthroughs in its operations, particularly the interception of massive cache of arms and ammunition in October 2010 at the Apapa Port, Lagos, which was said to come from Iran.Another breakthrough was in 2013 when the department was said to have successfully isolated and dismantled a terrorist cell being nurtured by Iranians to gather intelligence about US and Israeli targets in Nigeria for attacks.
DSS’s relapse to the years of the dreaded NSO, which was exemplified by the court invasion on December 7, 2019, comes as a reminder of the toxic leadership selection process that seem to politicize operations of the department.It is possible that the idea of going outside the corps of serving officers to select DSS DGs has brought about some emotional poison within the security circles. Having been retired from the establishment, most officers believe that subsequent DGs, particularly Lawal Musa Daura and Bichi, had lost touch with the exigencies of modern spy agencies.
A top ranking state director confided in The Guardian that the feelings among operatives within the agency is that only political correctness could guarantee career progression, stressing that the development has contributed in lowering the confidence level of operatives. He said: “These politically-motivated appointments have not been able to prime good feeling among the operatives; therefore the best in them have not been positively freed. That, I think, is what is happening in the service and it is a burden the DG has been forced to carry.”
It could therefore be deduced that the agenda, which could have informed the recent invasion of a civil court in Abuja, had to do with recreating President Buhari’s post-December 31, 1983 leadership style, which sees the state above its laws.As DG, Bichi’s loyalists must be acting on the belief that properly interpreting President Buhari’s iron-body language and executing its mandate defines the success of the secret police. The burden, which the Kano-born DG of DSS bears consists of the haste to dust up the rustic role book of NSO and catching up with the dictates of intelligence gathering in a democratic dispensation.
What happens to Bichi in the days to come would go a long way to educate Nigerians how far President Buhari could go in ensuring that the rule of law reigns or to what extent show of force defines his administration.Some observers believe that if Bichi survives the Presidency’s hammer, it could be a toast to double standards, since according to them what happened on December 7 was similar in every material particular to the event of August 7, 2018.