STATE security service chiefs, including Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Constantine Chiwenga, are fuming over security breaches in President Robert Mugabe’s chaotic encounter with Nigerian journalists at Muhammadu Buhari’s inauguration in Abuja a fortnight ago, intelligence sources say.
This will pile pressure on Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) director-general Happyton Bonyongwe, already under stress over a number of issues, who was there when the fiasco happened.
The sources say the Zimbabwe government is also angry their host failed to provide adequate security for Mugabe, who was there in his capacity as the African Union chairperson, despite limiting his security details.
The sources say notwithstanding this, Chiwenga and top security officers are not happy with how Bonyongwe and other intelligence bosses handled the president’s security while he was under siege from journalists.
Informed sources said this week Chiwenga had been to senior government officials, including Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s office on Wednesday, to seek an explanation and investigate the issue.
It is said Chiwenga demanded to have video footage of Mugabe being mobbed by journalists as it appeared some senior government official — Foreign Affairs minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi — was laughing during the melee.
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“Chiwenga was in Mnangagwa’s offices on Wednesday over this issue,” said an informed source. “He was probing the matter because he apparently believes there were security breaches by senior CIO directors, including Bonyongwe, who failed to manage the situation,” an intelligence boss said this week.
Bonyogwe and Close Security Unit head Albert Ngulube were for the second time this year exposed as they failed to contain aggressive Nigerian journalists, especially the online Sahara TV reporters who accosted and embarrassed Mugabe demanding to know when he was going to step down. The journalists refused to be pushed away by Mugabe’s depleted security.
Usually Mugabe travels with at least a dozen security officers, but in Nigeria there was only Bonyongwe, Ngulube and a senior officer only identified as Lifa at the inauguration venue to deal with the aggressive journalists.
Security bosses say Nigerians limited the number of people who attended the inauguration resulting in Bonyongwe and Ngulube acting as Mugabe’s tight security aides instead of supervising the situation.
So thin was Mugabe’s security that Chief of Protocol Munyaradzi Kajese desperately participated in trying to contain the journalists, something out of his line of duty.
“There was a clear breach of the president’s security and of course our host played a huge part in that because the moment a head of state flies into another country that country’s security takes over,” the security boss said. “This is because they know better the security situation and risks in their own country. The Nigerians exposed our president by failing to provide him adequate security.
“Having said that, our own security bosses also failed to handle the situation well; only Lifa (the bolded-head security officer on the video which has gone viral) is a specialist in that area. The journalists got so close to the president that if they were assassins or terrorists, for example, anything could have happened.”
Some security officers also felt Mugabe was exposed after walking some distance to the car. In addition, some feel Mugabe’s security team was incompetent in that it failed to assess the situation properly and anticipate what could happen.
“When you feel there is a potential security risk, you can stop the president moving, even if he wants to and change plans. They could have done better in that regard,” one officer said.
Speaking on Sahara TV last Saturday, feisty presenter Fayehun, who was the most vocal reporter among those who besieged Mugabe, said she had taken advantage of Mugabe’s lax security to confront him as she had not planned the interview.
“First of all there was no way of me knowing the presidents attending the inauguration and to be honest I did not expect President Mugabe to come to something like that. I went to his car and fortunately I was the only person that tried to peep in through the window and I greeted him,” Fayehun said.
She said after the inauguration “for some weird reason instead of picking Mugabe from where the event took place, the security team allowed him to walk to the car”.
“When I saw him walking I was like, wait a minute, I can still ask him my questions,” she said.
Chiwenga and other security service chiefs, just like they did when Mugabe fell at the Harare International Airport in February, are said to be demanding answers as well as action to prevent similar occurrences in future.
Mugabe’s harassment in Nigeria is almost certain to pile pressure on Bonyongwe whom officials loyal to Mnangagwa want removed from his position over his alleged links to ousted former vice-president Joice Mujuru.
Mnangagwa and his backers reportedly prefer that the CIO be led by Bonyongwe’s deputy Daniel Tonde Nhepera who was replaced by Ngulube when he was promoted. Under fire Presidential Guard commander Brigadier-General Anselem Sanyatwe was once mentioned as a potential successor to Bonyongwe.
When he walked into the storm brewed by journalists in Nigeria, Mugabe was also accompanied by Mumbengegwi, Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Nigeria Lovemore Mazemo, and Kajese. Mumbengegwi appears to laugh in the video clip, while the president was being harassed.
Last week Information minister Jonathan Moyo took to twitter to blame the Nigerian government for failing to provide security for Mugabe, while describing the journalists as Boko Haram.
“Of course those are human beings, but are they journalists or Boko Haram? How do you know those were journalists, especially since they did not behave as such?” said Moyo.
“The responsibility of protecting the president there squarely fell on the shoulders of Nigerian authorities. That would not happen in Zimbabwe against any visiting head of state or government, not even (United States President) Barack Obama or (British Prime Minister) David Cameron.”
Presidential spokesperson George Charamba also exonerated local security bosses, suggesting the host government was at fault. “They took advantage of protocol restrictions that were imposed on delegations … Heads of State had to be accompanied by only two officials outside of security structures and in our case it was Mumbengegwi as well as ambassador Lovemore Mazemo,” said Charamba.
“There was a protocol requirement that heads (of state and government) travel on a bus; so essentially it meant that, that protocol expectation by the host country stripped heads of state of their normal structures of protection and interaction, including with players like so-called Sahara TV.”