The establishment of the Regional Intelligence Fusion Unit (RIFU) Headquarters, Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) in Abuja marked a turning point in the war against terrorist organizations like Boko Haram in the sub-region. Austin Johnson examines the RIFU’s operations as packaged by the Intelligence Services of Benin Republic, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria
The conceptualization of regional intelligence took place at the Paris summit of May 17, 2014 where the Presidents of five African countries of Benin Republic, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria agreed to set up a regional intelligence unit for sharing of intelligence to combat security challenges facing the sub-region. For RIFU to enjoy legal backing, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for its institutional framework was signed in Yaounde, Cameroon on the June 9, 2014. This enabled RIFU to commence operations in Abuja on August 18, 2014 in a provisional office located at 3 Ajayi Crowther Street, Asokoro, Abuja. However, to gain global recognition and access to relevant security information, the Unit fashioned strategic partnership with France, the United Kingdom and the United States to drive the fight against terrorism in the region. Based on its global focus and functions that cut across boundaries, the Nigerian Intelligence Agency (NIA) sort diplomatic status for RIFU in line with the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations for certain category of organizations. With this arrangement, the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said diplomatic privileges and immunity for RIFU must come through a Headquarters Agreement with Nigeria. Accordingly, the proposal was given life on April 29 when the ‘Headquarters’ agreement’ was formally endorsed between the Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr Godffrey Onyeama, representing the Federal Government and Mr Dennis Paul Myntia, a Cameroonian and Coordinator of RIFU. It was indeed an elated Onyeama, who said RIFU was for intelligence gathering and sharing among the five regional governments to check the activities of Boko Haram and other terrorist networks within the sub-region. Maintaining that institutionalizing intelligence to fight terrorism is among the best methods to break the terrorists’ networks, extremism and terrorism, the Minister said the RIFU presents a vital step in battling terrorists, using intelligence gathering and sharing. Onyeama said, “We know that beyond the classical military confrontation, one of the most important weapons in fighting terrorism and insurgency worldwide is intelligence sharing. Intelligence gathering ability has to be really tip-top to really make headway in this fight because it is now a different kind of fight, no longer so much in the battlefield. But as we see with these sporadic terrorist suicide bombers using improvised explosive devices, penetrating local communities, what we absolutely need in that fight is intelligence.” For him, the Ministry would always support RIFU and the actualization of its goals. And his statement and agreement gave RIFU the required boost as a mission stature like the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Nigeria. Speaking on its mandate, RIFU Coordinator, Mr. Dennis Paul Myntia praised the Nigerian government as RIFU’s major financier, saying, intelligence gathering and sharing were central in addressing issues of security and development. According to him, “Nothing effective can happen in any sphere of life without intelligence sharing. The development is a confirmation of Nigeria’s determination to end terrorism, not only in its territory or the sub-region but the world over. It was the information and some classified phone numbers given to RIFU by Nigeria in July 2015, which was shared and sent to Niger that led to the successes recorded in arresting the head of the vast network in Niger after thorough investigation. It also led to the capture of some terrorist kingpins in Chad and Niger Republic.” Alluding to the import of RIFU in the scheme of things, Mr Paul Myntia said, “Without intelligence sharing, nothing can be done; not only in the field of security or terrorism but in every field that exists. It was intelligence that caused the arrest of the masterminds of the first Boko Haram attack in Chad and in Niger.” Security experts are in agreement that the establishment of RIFU and its activities remain a welcome development but their worry is that funding may pose serious challenges given the dwindling economic fortunes of some member-states, especially with relative peace seemingly returning to the region. They ubmissions from the experts are that the challenges that countries with such intelligence fusion may face could be hiding some vital information or selling classified data as well as mistrust among other issues. However, in proffering a way out of such challenges, Air Commodore Oisamoje Emmanuel (rtd) said; “Going by what I see on the activities of RIFU, the work load will be much on Nigeria. It is the only country that has satellite and most of the human resources. The question is, can Nigeria cope? And on the strategic partners, how far the strategic partners are willing to sacrifice information to RIFU will go a long way to help in its operations’’ Unarguably, it was Nigeria’s security challenges that led to the acquisition and installation of ill-fated CCTV cameras in some major towns, especially the Federal Capital city. However, since the installations of the cameras, none is functional. So, in this circumstance, how would RIFU depend on such shambolic equipment for intelligence gathering? Indeed, the work of RIFU will be determined by how best it uses information at its disposal and respect for one another’s idea. Simply put, RIFU cannot achieve its objectives without effective collaboration with third party intelligence units, such as “the natives, religious leaders and associations operating within a locality. But Mr. Myrtia is positive of a good showing, insisting that “We in RIFU are determined to do our job in order to satisfy the high interests of our Heads of State and to end the insurgency in our region by intelligence sharing because RIFU is not working for Nigeria only but for the entire region.