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Why we couldn’t foil 1983 coup against Shagari – Ex-NSO boss, Umaru Shinkafi

I don’t know whether it is honest to say one has been out of government. May be one has been out of active participation in…

I don’t know whether it is honest to say one has been out of government. May be one has been out of active participation in government since 1984. But certainly I have been relating to the government and government has been relating to me throughout the period I left formal public service. The nature of work I did in my career is such that, what we are doing constituted a sort of a community effort. In fact, that is the word we used: the security community, the intelligence community, National Security Community. This is not something you abandon merely on retirement. This is something that serving colleagues interact with colleagues in retirement not on daily petty matters of law and order but on issues that require, as they say, more than one head and inputs from those who now live from outside of it. And this kind of input is often very useful.

Having made that correction, I can say since retirement, I have been involved with legal profession and consultancy on public affairs; I have delved into a little bit of absentee farming which was not easy given the condition I gave myself that I would not borrow to farm. In my experience and experiences of a lot of my friends, it did not quite work well when you had to borrow extensively and put the proceeds of borrowing into absentee farming. It never worked very well so far. That is why I said I did a bit of farming.

I have interests in flour milling, fishing trawling and recently with the incorporation of a very active property development venture. We have just developed a very impressive shopping centre in Kaduna. And because of the class and attraction of the property, a group of Chinese businessmen have asked us to see if we could do something on specification for them in Abuja. And we have started putting the application for land and so on. The project will be a composite centre for shopping and accommodation. The type of thing they called China Town or Chinese Village.

Arising out of my legal practice, I also have modest interest in one or two oil companies as investment interests here and there.  This is the kind of things I have been doing. And of course the community takes a lot of my time. First of all, there is the extended family, then the community, then the state and the nation at large. All this require servicing and one’s presence and so they get their own share of time.  And also those of our colleagues from childhood or from schools or from work now in retirement interact a lot. Just a sort of a get together and more positively discussing the state of affairs in our country and sometimes agreeing that one or two of us should go forward and present a contribution to those actually holding the reins of government now. In one’s position, there is this requirement to assist here and there in the public system. That is you assist people to reach the public sector for support, patronage or resolving problems. There is the need of assisting colleagues, offspring of colleagues or people in your circle or extended family just feel that you are in a position to assist to secure one support or the other and to the extent that these things are legitimate; one tries to lend a hand and give some support. Politics also took its unfair share and my successful involvement is public knowledge.

How did you get into the police force? Were you inspired by anything?

You know in the late 1950’s the late Premier, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto, was preoccupied with getting young Northerners into the Armed Forces and the police. He was undertaking this campaign personally by going to schools and talking to students. At the more personal level, he was talking to those who were his friends’ offspring to encourage them to send their children to either the police or the Armed Forces.

So my first attraction was to join the army after what was the example of Lieutenants Zakariya Maimalari and Kur Muhammed, both came to Barewa College, Zaria and spoke to us about the military. It was so exciting and appealing. They gave us an educated view of the military at that time. But by the time I finished School Certificate Exams and I went home, I changed my mind. And my late father, who happened to be a friend of the late premier during the latter’s sojourn in Zamfara sent me to Kaduna with the intention of joining the police.

In Kaduna, I was accommodated in the house of Sarkin Gabas Alhaji Mu’azu Lamido, who was a cousin of the late premier and also my late father’s friend. He did all he could to persuade me to go to the Army barracks and enlist rather than the police. But I told him that I made up my mind it was the police I want.  Then I went to the Police College and as they say the rest is history.   

There is this mystery surrounding the intelligence community. As one of the country’s intelligence chief, how do you manage it?

Honestly, I want to take this opportunity to destroy any myth that there is any mystery about national security, security intelligence or internal security because fundamentally the crux of this thing is just about cooperation with people and also carrying them along. How many people are there working in the State Security Service (SSS), the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), office of the National Security Adviser (NSA), in the military intelligence? They are very insignificant number. And there is no way such a number could cope if there is no cooperation from the generality of the people. As such a secure nation is one in which there is consciousness of those things that pose danger to the entity and willingness and spirit to draw attention of those who work in these institutions to these signals of danger or instability. That is the crux of the matter and any pretence that you are mysterious is just counterproductive. It is fictional writing about security and intelligence that has bestowed on the profession. But the real world of security is about seeking cooperation from the people. It is not James Bond at all. It is not James Bond whatsoever; it is just the extent that you earn the respect of your environment and people are willing to cooperate with you.

Some of the interesting cases involving security that is those uncovered in the life of this nation arose from the observation of ordinary humble individuals on the street. Somebody passes by carrying a suitcase and somebody’s curiosity is arisen and he draws the attention of a policeman. A policeman searches the suitcase and finds prohibited arms inside. Then it starts from there, where did they come from? What is the purpose? Who is involved? And then the circle gets wider and wider. From where were they smuggled into the country? And so on and so forth. And by the time you finished, you may be faced with a serious case of may be an attempt to overthrow a government or the activities of armed people or subversion by an illegal association and so on and so forth.

There is a mechanism of monitoring in intelligence; day-to-day monitoring of activities of people that have been exposed to suspicion. But that ought not to lead to any action until actually some offence overtly is committed. So that intense monitoring is probably what people don’t know about and think that there is mystery. And I agree with you that what you don’t know is mysterious to you. But even that quite frankly, if you get glimpse from inside you will see is just normal day-to-day way of life you take in your house. There is of course a technological angle to national security work and that is another complicated world altogether.