Disquiet In DSS As Officers Threaten To Sabotage Buhari’s Reelection

President Muhammadu Buhari’s appointment of Yusuf Bichi as the new Director-General of the State Security Service (SSS) has drawn the ire of senior officials within the key national security department.

It was gathered that many of them are threatening to undermine not just the president’s re-election bid but also Nigeria’s counter-terrorism operation against Boko Haram.

Multiple officers told Premium Times the secret police’s headquarters in Abuja and field offices across the country have been subsumed by an air of anxiety and volatility since Buhari recalled Yusuf from retirement and named him as a replacement for Matthew Seiyefa on September 13.

Seiyefa’s removal came a little over a month after he was appointed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.

Seiyefa was the most senior official at the time of his appointment, having enrolled in service in 1984. He assumed office with promises to perform his duties differently from his predecessor, who was infamous for his crude and controversial approach to law enforcement.

In his first two weeks as DG, Mr Seiyefa’s soft reform efforts were already being felt with the gradual release of ‘illegally-detained’ suspects from custody and the appointment of the agency’s first spokesperson in three years.

Scting DSS boss Mathew Seiyefa
A few days before his removal, PREMIUM TIMES learnt that Mr Seiyefa’s job was being threatened by top presidential aides, especially the chief of staff, Abba Kyari.

Kyari, whom presidency sources said was unhappy about the sack of Mr Daura, tried to mitigate Mr Seiyefa’s control over the SSS. The chief aide ordered Mr Seiyefa to undo some administrative decisions he had taken, including postings, and operate only as directed by the presidency going forward.

At first, Mr Seiyefa rebuffed attempts to make him subservient to the chief of staff — arguing that he would only report to the National Security Adviser as legally required. But he later caved in under immense pressure from the presidency.

Senior officers and rank and file who spoke with Premium Times during Mr Seiyefa’s face-off with Mr Kyari expressed support for their principal, saying they would reject any attempt to further deface the image of the agency by dragging it into politics.

Mr Seiyefa also had the support of some leaders from southern Nigeria, who warned the president against removing the only southerner in the core national security and intelligence architecture.

But it appeared the former spy chief’s popular moves and goodwill was not appealing enough to persuade the president into allowing him to stay on the job.

When the presidency announced Mr Seiyefa’s removal, there was a whiff of resentment that Mr Buhari took the decision not because Mr Seiyefa was incompetent but because he was not comfortable with a southerner overseeing a crucial national security desk going into an election he had been so keen on winning.

After Mr Seiyefa was sacked, the same group of concerned leaders from southern and central parts of Nigeria accused the President of fueling ethnic and religious division in the country. They said the president deliberately sidestepped senior officers in the SSS who were capable of being appointed DG and recalled Mr Bichi from retirement because he does not believe in Nigeria’s unity.

Recent findings showed that Buhari faces the most potent threat to his reelection not from political opponents or critics like southern leaders but from disgruntled elements deeply embedded in Nigeria’s security architecture.

In the first week of Mr Bichi’s appointment, at least four SSS personnel at director levels, in separate interviews with Premium Times, expressed displeasure over the development.

Further interactions with additional eight senior and five junior officers across different departments and directorates confirmed the pall of grievance which Mr Buhari’s decision cast on the agency.

The officers complained that the appointment would greatly hinder their own career progression, with many who belong to the class of the mid and late 1980s fearing they will not have a chance to produce a director-general before they retire.

“Afakriya Gadzama (2007-2010), Ita Ekpeyong (2010-2015), Lawal Daura (2015-2018) and Matthew Seiyefa (2018) all belong to the same class,” a senior official said. “Now all of them have been directors-general and no one from our generation has managed to get that high.”

Another officer from northern Nigeria condemned Mr Bichi’s appointment as threatening his own career, saying he would not forgive Mr Buhari for bringing him from retirement.

“This man retired since 2015, he got a security consultant deal with Lawal Daura that kept him near the SSS for two years until 2017, so why was he recalled three years after retirement?”

“I am a northerner and I do not agree with this move by the president because it will destabilise the service,” he said.

“We believe the president took this action to preserve himself in office, but we will ensure he does not get a reelection,” another SSS official at director level said. “In-between working for the opposition and frustrating the Boko Haram war, we will get him out of office.”

All the officers spoke under anonymity because they are still in service and fear they could be targeted for summary dismissal or worse punishment if named in this report.

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