Nigeria And The World of Informants And Espionage

Published on 16th March 2009

The Daily Champion newspaper recently reported that “Nigeria’s High Commissioner to South Africa, Brigadier-General Buba Marwa (rtd), has condemned the practice by some Nigerians who act as spies and informants to the South African police.” Marwa was quoted as saying: “It is unbelievable, despicable and unfortunate that our Nigerian brothers now act as spies and informants to police authorities for monetary gains against their fellow Nigerians.”

Ambassador Marwa went on to ask: “How do you leave your country and decide to become an informant for the police against your brothers…this is not part of our culture at all.” The Ambassador was angry that Nigerians spy for South Africa? If he was, then Marwa must either be uninformed in national security and diplomacy; disingenuous in his interaction with the press and his boss; or out of his league. At the very least, he should have known that espionage is part of statecraft.

In a restricted memorandum entitled “Nigeria: secrecy over arrival of Mossad agents,” it was reported that “Nigerian government officials are maintaining a total silence on details of suspected Israeli security agents who arrived in the country last month.” They are believed to have arrived in Nigeria sometimes in August 2008. The fifty or so Mossad agents were allegedly in Nigeria to “train operatives of the State Security Service (SSS) and other members of the Nigerian security team.”

For more than 30 years, the Nigerian government has sent its agents for training in China, North Korea, Pakistan, the UK, Israel, and Germany. At other times, special agents have been brought in to train Nigerians. Therefore General Buba Marwa (a member of the military and political establishment in the last 35 or so years) should have known that intelligence gathering is part of the governing process.

It is well known within foreign intelligence ring that Nigerian government officials are the most loose-lip when it comes to informing on Nigeria. Some officials, both at the state and federal level, routinely sell and or exchange state secrets for travel visa and other compensations. There is a running joke that Nigerian officials are the cheapest when it comes to naming a price for selling secrets. In a country where most have no allegiance to their fatherland, not much attention is paid to state secrets.

When official secrets are not being sold or exchanged for trifles, they are stolen with ease. There are audio-visual equipments in select homes and offices, cars and planes of government functionaries: in phones, fax machines, copy machines, computers and various electronics. Since Nigeria does not manufacture any of these equipments, they are readily fitted with such devices when they are imported for use. Most of the homes built for official use are built by foreign contractors. Even select private homes are built by foreign builders.

Outside of Nigeria, espionage is very important. Therefore, if Nigerians living in Southern Africa and elsewhere are “selling out their country and their countrymen,” they are simply continuing a practice that is commonplace in Nigeria. And if the government of Nigeria is not sensible enough to provide all the components of human security (basic needs), there is no reason to blame those who must “do whatever it takes to survive.” To betray ones country is a cardinal sin; nonetheless, it is more sinful and injurious when government fails to provide the most basic of all fundamentals.

One wonders why Marwa is angry that South Africa is gathering information on Nigeria. After all, Nigeria has been doing the same thing to South Africa and other African countries (as ineffective and fruitless as it might be). What’s more, the Nigerian government is well known for letting loose informants on its own people. Consider these:

1. The Nigerian Labor Movement has government informants;

2. All the known groups in the Niger Delta conflict -- be they social movements, militants, secessionists movements, semi-insurgents or socio-cultural -- are all being informed on;

3. The Academic State Union of Nigeria and related unions has informants;

4. After the Nigerian Military establishment was thoroughly decentralized and made coup-averse, informants were posted to spy on suspected coup-craze officers;

5. Some of the top law firms in Nigeria also have government informants;

6. In recent years, NGO and various civil society organizations have began to attract government’s attention;

7. Government also keeps track of social commentators (the internet warriors). Seven of these commentators can be found at the most significant of all Nigerian-related websites (

In The World In Their Minds, Yaacov Vertzberger states “our world is one of growing complexity, increasing uncertainty, and diminishing capacity to anticipate and control outcomes.” This is precisely what espionage is all about: the need to know before hand and to control outcomes whenever and wherever possible. In an increasingly codependent and interrelated global system therefore, information then becomes vital.

Information (be it vital or mundane) is crucial to states, to non-state actors and to private entities. For this reason therefore, billions of dollars and countless other resources are continually committed to information gathering. No one does this better than the Americans and the French, Chinese, Russians, and Israelis. While the French are better at industrial espionage, the Russians are primarily concerned with their neighborhood and their sphere of influence.

The Israelis on the other hand are concerned primarily with the Arab world and with all those (both state and non-state actors) who are bent on doing them in. Wherever they look -- East, West, North or South- they seem to see enemies waiting in the wings. And so while most states think of espionage as a matter of national security, the State of Israel considers intelligence gathering not just a matter of national security, but also a matter of survival.

Intelligence has always been important to the United States. However, the ungodly and inhumane events of 9/11 drove home the point. Perched between two great oceans and between two mostly friendly countries, the US has generally felt safe and secured. It is a different world now. As a result, information gathering has become more vital for and to the US. Above the skies, beneath the oceans, and in cyberspace, America is listening.

The Chinese have spent billions of dollars roaming the world in search of markets and natural resources, especially oil. On the Charlie Rose Show and elsewhere, the point has been made that the Chinese doesn’t care much for traditional espionage (especially in Africa and other third world countries). Civilian democracy or military authoritarianism or even with regimes with warlords and barbarians in charge, the Chinese simply want easy access to natural resources and to markets for their Aba-made type goods.

In Africa for instance, the Chinese have just about outdone and outspent the Americans and have in the process tripled their espionage capability using human intelligence collection (humint) and electronic intelligence (elint). And in instance where these have been deficient, the Chinese have not been shy in using political warfare.

According to Donovan Chau, “political warfare is a nonviolent instrument of grand strategy, involves coordinated activities, and results in tangible effects on intended targets. In operational terms, political warfare includes economic aid and development assistance, as well as training, equipping, and arming military and security forces. Political warfare offers distinct advantages to other instruments of grand strategy, making it a desirable means of exerting influence.”

Much of the world no longer pays the British much mind, but they are still part of and playing the espionage game. The British are especially active in the Commonwealth countries, especially in Nigeria and in India. Whether true or false, not a few have opined that Britain seem to consider Nigeria part of its territory. At the very least, it appears as though Britain have Nigeria on the leach: dictating to its leaders and belittling them at will.

Within Sub-Saharan Africa, there are two states vying for space and for primacy: Nigeria and South Africa. Both want a possible permanent seat at the UN Security Council. Both want to be consulted when it comes to anything Africa. Both see itself as having the most important economic, political and social system within the continent. While South Africa considers Nigeria a fading and wobbling giant; Nigeria thinks of South as the ungrateful wayward child. In this equation, Ghana seems to be the emerging power.

All eyes are on Ghana because Ghana is everything Nigeria and South Africa are not: stable, and with an abiding sense of nationhood. Studies have shown that the possibility of Nigeria’s disintegrating is very high because of its dozen or so immolating tendencies. Race and ethnic questions, unconscionable economic disparity, and unresolved psychological challenges are what may eventually undo South Africa. It is hard to think of South Africa and not think it is about to implode.

Sabella Ogbobode Abidde is a PhD Candidate & SYLFF Fellow. He is with Howard University, Washington DC. He can be reached at [email protected]

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