Nigeria sacks security chief

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The Director-General of the Nigeria Intelligence Agency (NIA), Mr. Emmanuel Enarune Imohe, has been sacked by the Federal Government over the Nasir el-Rufai and Nuhu Ribadu passport saga.

He was said to have issued an instruction to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ask Nigerian missions abroad to deny el-Rufai and Ribadu consular services.

El-Rufai, former Minister of Federal Capital Territory (FCT), and Ribadu, former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), are currently involved in face-offs with federal authorities and the embargo was interpreted as an attempt to get back at them.

Most recently, el-Rufai's attempt to get a new passport, having exhausted his current booklet, was turned down by the Nigerian High Commission in London reportedly on “orders from above”, although the mission claimed el-Rufai was not patient enough to wait for the processing.

President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, according to a Presidency source, was then informed by top security chiefs that el-Rufai was only trying to tarnish the image of the government with his passport denial claims.

The President was said to have believed that there was no attempt to deny the former minister a new passport.

However, it has since emerged that there was actually a memo dated September 17, 2009 which was sent to Nigerian missions abroad by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Joe Keshi – acting on a directive from the NIA dated September 15, 2009 – that el-Rufai and Ribadu should be denied new passports and consular services for carrying out “a campaign of calumny” against the Federal Government.

Keshi, however, seemed to have had a rethink, as he later wrote a letter dated September 29, 2009, to Imohe, warning him of the consequences of his directive.

In the letter to Imohe entitled: “Withdrawal of Consular Assistance To Mallam Nuhu Ribadu and Mallam el-Rufai”, Keshi write: “I write to acknowledge receipt of your letter Ref. No. Sr.28/VoI.13 dated 15th September, 2009 on the above subject and to attach herewith a copy of the action taken in compliance with your letter mentioned above.

However, having implemented the content of your letter under reference, I am directed to raise some concerns of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, whose advice on the issue would have been useful in the first instance.

“2. The decision not to renew the former Minister's passport may unwittingly portray the Federal Government in bad light within the international community as a government that is too sensitive to criticism.

“3. The decision could engender more sympathy for him, which he could utilise to greater advantage especially if he opts to pursue the matter in court. That sympathy could also, as in the past, lead to some sympathetic country granting him temporary travelling documents which will in the end defeat our purpose and render our action irrelevant. Equally, is the view that the criticism of the Government could increase resulting in an unnecessary distraction that Government could do without at the moment.

“4. The best antidote to the Mallam el-Rufai menace is to generally ignore him, monitor his movement and where necessary respond without delay to some of his most stringent comments. It's our silence and inability to respond promptly, extensively and effectively to his numerous comments since he left Nigeria that has hurt us most than the things he has said. As it is said in Washington, 'a story not denied within 24 hours, is believed to be true', hence the White House information managers are on duty 24 hours and they do not fight shy of taking on the Government's opponent all the time.

“5. The essence of this letter therefore is not only to inform you of the implementation of your letter, but to hope that based on the above, you may wish to reconsider the issue, which I have no doubt would show the maturity of the Federal Government.”

With the saga eventually creating PR problems for the government, Yar'Adua reportedly summoned a security meeting at the weekend to review the case.

At first, there were suggestions that the government should dismiss the letter as forgery, but this did not sail through.

Imohe reportedly acted on “orders from above” – understood to mean the National Security Adviser, Maj-Gen Serki Mukhtar, who is also believed to have acted on “orders from above”, although it is now alleged that the President was not in the picture.

“I can say without any doubt in my mind that the President did not know anything about the directive,” a Presidency official told THISDAY yesterday, although there were still strong suggestions that it would have been procedurally impossible for the NIA DG to issue such a major directive without clearance from “above”.

Another official said: “Even if Imohe was instructed from above, it was very wrong for him to have put it in writing. So that calls to question his ability to handle the job.”

Imohe was asked to resign after the security meeting last Monday, but having failed to do so by the morning of last Tuesday, he was fired by the evening of the same day.

But in a telephone interview with THISDAY yesterday, el-Rufai said he felt nothing but pity for Imohe.

“I know Imohe very well. He is just the fall guy. He acted purely on instructions from the President,” he alleged. “The first question I would like to ask is: a citizen has alleged that he was denied a new passport. As President of Nigeria, Yar'Adua should have ordered an investigation. Did he do that? Even if I was doing propaganda, did Yar'Adua make any attempt to investigate it? I pity Imohe. They have just sacrificed him for nothing. But it is a clear message to those doing Yar'Adua's hatchet job that the man will deny them at the end of the day. At least, (former President Olusegun) Obasanjo stood by his people when he was in power. Yar'Adua will deny anybody,” he said.

Recently, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Chief Mike Aondoakaa, accused Ribadu of plotting against Nigeria, while the EFCC is seeking the extradition of el-Rufai to face charges which the former minister maintains were politically motivated.

Meanwhile, the decision to deny el-Rufai and Ribadu new passports has been reversed.

In a message transmitted to missions by the Minister of State II Foreign Afffairs, Ambassador Bagudu Hirse, the Federal Government directed that the September 17 letter should be reversed and consular assistance should be rendered to the duo.

“For the avoidance of doubt, the said directive had no authority of Mr. President who has ordered an investigation into the matter,” he wrote.