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EXCLUSIVE: SSS DG Bichi conducts secret, uneven recruitment; North: 535; South: 93

The Gazette has uncovered a hiring anomaly that could potentially tip the ethnic and religious balance of national security in favour of a section of the country for decades.

and • September 29, 2020
Director-General, SSS, Yusuf Bichi
Director-General, SSS, Yusuf Bichi

Director-General Yusuf Bichi has activated a lopsided hiring process that could overfill the State Security Service with personnel from the northern parts of Nigeria, Peoples Gazette can report based on official documents and contributions of senior intelligence officials.

The Gazette’s findings obtained over a period of two weeks show that the North has a massive share of the roughly 1,300 Nigerians currently undergoing cadet training at two different camps of the secret police in Lagos and Bauchi. 

Of the total 628 cadet trainees who had resumed at the Bauchi facility as of September 23, 535 identified themselves as trainees joining the service from either the Northeast or the Northwest. Only 93 were from either the Southeast, South-South, Southwest or North-Central, according to recruitment filings sighted by the Gazette.

The Gazette’s findings also show that at least 71 of those currently undergoing cadet training hail from Bichi Local Government Area, Kano State — the director-general’s home local government area. Officials said the number was more, but the Gazette could not independently confirm the higher figures — as well as a slew of other disturbing allegations of bigotry against Mr. Bichi — prior to this publication.

The list of candidates was not compiled by state, but officials believe a state-by-state breakdown would exist at the headquarters in Abuja.

In Lagos, the Gazette was unable to obtain official attendance records of trainees at the camp in Ojo, but multiple participants, including senior officials, said Mr. Bichi disregarded the federal character concept and skewed the process for Nigerians from the North.

A top official estimated 708 trainees were at the Lagos training facility as of September 26. Officials were unsure how many people were taken as cadet trainees in total because some were still arriving three weeks into the six-month exercise. 

Senior intelligence officials said even though the sectional disparity mirrors Nigeria’s reality under President Muhammadu Buhari, they are, nonetheless, worried that the development could potentially tip the ethnic and religious balance of national security in favour of a section of the country for decades. 

“Some of us are worried less about the audacity of focusing on one part of the country to bring in new cadets than we are about its long-term implications,” a senior SSS official told the Gazette via a secure video channel last week. “We know he might find it difficult, but the DG would leave a better legacy if he sees himself first as a Nigerian.”

All SSS officials who provided documents and inside information about Mr. Bichi’s sectional recruitment drive did so under strict anonymity, citing grave personal and career risks. The Gazette agreed not to name them in line with its editorial policy on anonymous sources.

Man and moment meet

In July, the Yellow House sent out a memo to all state and FCT commands, informing them that Mr. Bichi had ordered a fresh round of recruitment for the agency’s next generation of intelligence officers.

Mr. Bichi directed that each state command should conduct a rigorous selection process and forward four successful candidates to the headquarters for possible admission into the service. The DG also imposed strict entry guidelines for every potential recruit, according to the July 6 memo obtained by the Gazette.

The directive also cancelled a 2018 recruitment process that was underway at the time, but said those who were successful in that process may join the fresh exercise. 

Mr. Bichi emphasised that the four candidates for each state must be below 30 years of age and be selected across the three senatorial districts that make up a state.

The Gazette confirmed that all commands complied with the directive, conducted a thorough selection of four candidates and sent the results to the headquarters. 

But shortly after the candidates were cleared and sent to the headquarters before the July 15 deadline contained in the memo, Mr. Bichi seized the moment and initiated a recruitment process of his own, the Gazette learnt.

On September 1, Mr. Bichi told a few officials at the Yellow House to call people from a prepared list and offer them a role at the SSS. Those who were called were immediately asked to go to the Lagos or Bauchi training school, officials said.

Starting September 8, cadet candidates reported for training in Lagos and Bauchi, in some cases without the awareness of the director of state security in the state they applied from, documents and officials said. 

“I just heard that some people from the state where I work, including some who did not make the cut for the four candidates we selected and passed to the headquarters, had reported to the training school either in Lagos or Bauchi,” an SSS chief said.

“Based on the four-per-state arrangement, only 148 people should have been employed across 36 states and the FCT,” the SSS chief said. “But we suddenly discovered that training schools in Lagos and Bauchi had over 1,300 between them.”

Mr. Bichi kept the list of those he had been sending to the training school secret, officials said. It was unclear how many people he intended to recruit, but they kept showing up.

Resume now, train later

Mr. Bichi has kept the process largely to himself, making it difficult for insiders to access his list or the criteria with which he was selecting cadet candidates, officials said. 

For a long time, the SSS did not admit candidates who had a third-class university degree or lower into the service. Only those who did well in university and polytechnic were admitted as a security intelligence officer (level two), equivalent to an assistant superintendent of police.

SSS Headquarters, Abuja
SSS Headquarters, Abuja

In recent years, however, the service has been admitting candidates who graduated with a third-class, but it has been placing them on a rank below that of a security intelligence officer, officials said. 

In Bauchi, some of the candidates were asked not to bother checking in for training at all, the Gazette learnt.

In at least one case, a candidate was asked not to go to Bauchi for training, but to resume directly at the SSS state command in Kano, the Gazette learnt.

A female third-class graduate resumed at the Kano State field office of the secret police on September 22 without undergoing training. Her employment letter said she should resume immediately as a cadet officer but go for a basic course training in 2021.

The Gazette’s findings show that the woman is also from Bichi Local Government Area. Her identity was redacted based on legal considerations.

In Lagos, the 708 candidates undergoing training are so many that some lecture halls have been converted to hostels, the Gazette learnt. The facility was not sufficiently equipped to take in as many trainees at once, officials said.

Catching up

Mr. Bichi’s regional recruitment agenda came three years after his predecessor implemented a similar hiring process that failed to reflect Nigeria’s diversity. 

In 2017, Premium Times revealed how the 479 cadet officers that were commissioned from the 2016 recruitment exercise were substantially from the North. Lawal Daura was in charge of the SSS at the time.

Lawal Daura
Former Director General of the State Security Service (SSS), Lawal Daura

The SSS did not respond to the report because it had no substantive spokesperson at the time. But a spokesman for Mr. Buhari justified the lopsided hiring as a deliberate measure to correct an existing regional imbalance in the service.

Although the administration’s statement at the time was widely ridiculed as false, officials told the Gazette it is largely true that the SSS has more officers from the southern parts of the country. 

Mr. Daura’s lopsided recruitment was never rescinded, although Nigeria is roughly split by population and religion between arid North and tropical South. 

“It is true that there are more southerners in the service,” an official said. “But that is partly because more southerners were enlisting when the service was using stringent criteria.” 

Since Mr. Buhari assumed office, however, more Nigerians from the North have been employed into the service, and officials said would soon outnumber southerners among the staff. Mr. Bichi has conveniently seized the general atmosphere of the administration to implement his own vision. 

“At this rate, all we need is a short time,” the official said. “No one in service is really against having more officers from the North, but it has to be based on merit and equity.” 

Officials also said Mr. Bichi, Mr. Daura’s long-time associate, was determined to take in as many people as he could before the country’s central government returned to southern control.

“He is determined to put many northerners in the system so they can be quickly regularised and firmly ingrained in the system before a southern president takes over,” an official said. “They will quickly become line managers and ready to take commanding roles anywhere they are posted to serve.” 

“Those of us in national security practice know that Nigeria is controlled by the SSS and the Nigerian Army,” the official said. “It might sound controversial and it might change in future, but it is the reality today.”

‘One Nigeria’

The SSS declined multiple requests for comments from the Gazette for this story. Its spokesman, Peter Afunanya, repeatedly promised but failed to get back after seeing messages from our reporters.

President Muhammadu Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari

Lopsided hirings were reported against previous administrations, but Nigerians are getting increasingly alarmed by how brazen and widespread they have become under Mr. Buhari. 

Despite apparent imbalance in his appointments, Mr. Buhari has vigorously rejected criticism of a sectional agenda, often finding enough anecdotal evidence to advance his own narrative.

Officials said Nigeria’s overall interest would have been better served had Mr. Bichi allowed its diversity to guide his hiring policies. 

The country will celebrate 60 years as an independent and united entity on October 1, and the administration has already unfurled a new emblem for the occasion. 

An apparent reluctance of the political elite to rein in a tendency of bigotry amongst Mr. Buhari’s top aides has deepened fissures across ethnic and faith lines, said public affairs analyst Liborous Oshoma.

“It is quite shameful and unfortunate that Nigerians who were known to be vociferous are now quiet, leaving the ruling government to continue its divisive tactics unchecked,” Mr. Oshoma said. “We have now become so docile in the face of glaring inequality and nepotistic practices.” 

Mr. Oshoma, a Lagos-based legal practitioner, said everyday Nigerians are not inherently bigoted, but many still take their cue from selfish political figures.

“Those who are oppressing us are fewer than those of us being oppressed,” Mr. Oshoma said. “Our leaders should be uniting us on the basis of equity, justice and fairness, rather than creating division and fanning the embers of discord.” 

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