It was the contemporary African writer, Okey Ndibe, who, in his celebrated novel, Arrows of Rain, declared that: “A story that must be told never forgives silence.” Indeed, silence in the midst of giant strides, is not only a disincentive to leadership, but also disservice to the public.
It is with that consciousness, coupled with the urgent and compelling need for society to restore the lost culture of celebrating deserving public servants, that this piece seeks to ‘spy’ into the activities of the Department of State Services (DSS) in the last two years (September 14, 2018 till date).
This is with a view to situating the secret service within the context of what it was pre-September of the aforesaid year, and what it is today under the administration of Alhaji Yusuf Magaji Bichi (fwc).
As a reminder, Bichi was appointed Director General (DG SS) by President Muhammadu Buhari, on September 14, 2018, to bring back the glory of the Service, which was literally breaking under the weight of public opprobrium, occasioned, as it were, by what many had considered ignoble outings.
Like a scene from a horror movie, the world had watched with bowed heads, as hooded personnel of the State Security Service invaded the National Assembly on Tuesday, August 7, 2018, to stop parliamentarians from accessing the hallowed chambers, to conduct the business of lawmaking and legislation.
That singular action, described variously as odious in form, and tactless in content, will definitely remain a sore point in the political history of the Nigerian State. There was also manpower gap, especially at the lower cadre, with attendant effect on operational and other activities of the foremost domestic intelligence agency of the country.
Concerned about these and others, and recognising the centrality of the SSS in internal security dynamics, President Buhari took the wise decision of appointing the spymaster, a fellow of the War College (fwc), Buchi, as the new helmsman at the ‘Yellow House’.
In appointing Bichi as the new DGSS, President Buhari seemed to have rightly negotiated a deal with renaissance, reformation and reinvention, as events of the last two years have shown.
A statement from the presidency announcing Bichi’s appointment had said: “President Buhari has approved with effect from the 14th of September, the appointment of Yusuf Magaji Bichi (fwc), as new Director- General of the Department of State Services.
“The appointee is a core secret service operative. “He attended Danbatta Secondary School, the Kano State College of Advanced Studies and the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, where he graduated with a degree in Political Science.
“The new Director-General began his career in the security division of the Cabinet Office in Kano, from where he joined the defunct Nigerian Security Organisation, the precursor of the present DSS.
“Mr. Bichi has undergone training in intelligence processing analysis, agent handling recruitment and intelligence processing in the United Kingdom, as well as strategic training at the National Defence College.”
It added that: “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.”
True to type, the spymaster hit the ground running, as is often said in the Nigerian parlance, by causing deliberate reorganisation in the areas of operations as well as intelligence gathering, administration, human capital development, infrastructural development among others.
With his carefully assembled management team, Bichi recognised the fundamental role motivation plays in organisational development, and accordingly, gave approval for massive recruitment of personnel. The well-trained personnel have since been deployed in respective State Commands and other formations across the country.
Against the backdrop of events of the past, the Bichi-led management placed heavy reliance on the immediacy of attitudinal change in the organisation, and among officers and personnel, with reorganisation and refocus as the ultimate gains.
Conscious of the need for optimal productivity, the Kano-born spymaster approved massive promotion of deserving personnel for that subsisting year, while also granting special promotion for personnel, who had remained on the same ranks, for a period exceeding the minimum period.
Also deserving of commendation on the part of the DG, is approval of conversion exercise for Guards, the immediate implementation of the Service’s harmonised salary structure.
Worthy of note also is the upgrading of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), to the National Institute for Security Studies (NISS), by virtue of the Establishment Act (2019). By that development, the NISS has now been brought at par with policyformulating institutes like the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), and the National Defence College (NDC).
Further, the importance of training and retraining of personnel, amidst the dynamics of society, has continued to be prioritised, as witnessed in the continuous participation of personnel in several training programmes within and outside the country.
Apart from investing hugely in procurement of operational vehicles, technical equipment, platforms and wherewithalenhancement tools, the ‘humility- personified’ DG has not compromised his desire to meet the shelter and accommodation needs of staff.
It is, therefore, not surprising to find the construction of residential quarters, side-by-side with the purchase of additional building blocks scattered all over the country.
As if that was not enough, the DG approved medical financial assistance to sick personnel, not forgetting others with challenges that may appear overwhelming.
In addition to the aforementioned, is the go-ahead for the prompt payment of benefits accruing from pensions, and enhancement of claims payable to next-of-kin (NoK) of personnel, who have paid the supreme price, to ensure the sanctuary and inviolability of Nigeria.
Unlike in the past, transfer of personnel is no longer punitive, but strictly driven by necessity, even as there now exists “accelerated promotions and monetary rewards to personnel who have excelled in various special operations.”
To all intents and purposes, joint operations with sister agencies, may well be enjoying unparalleled recognition, more so that the distinguished fellow of the War College, never ceases to emphasise the importance of inter-agency synergy and collaboration.
Being a man that recognises excellence, dedication and selfless service to the organisation, Bichi reintroduced the DGSS Award Ceremony, aimed at rewarding “deserving staff who have contributed in ensuring that the Service effectively and efficiently performs its statutory functions”.
In the face of the security challenges, occasioned by terrorism/ insurgency, banditry, herdsmen/ farmers clashes, cybercrime among others, the Bichi-led management has continued to refocus and re-evaluate operations, thereby making them more intelligence and knowledge-driven.
To be sure, priority is now given to acquisition of critical, actionable and relevant intelligence that has the capacity to help in confronting what appear as daunting security challenges facing the country.
In all of the foregoing, one is tempted to say that the 19th century American essayist and philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, had the “Reinventor” in mind, when he said: “If a man can write a better book, preach a better sermon, or make a better mousetrap than his neighbour, though he build his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door.”
*Ezirim, a retired DSS operative, is a researcher and public affairs analyst.