National salute to a tactical nation builder: Chief Albert Korubo Horsefall at 80 years, by Godknows Igali

Though much constrained by professional norms to a life of near anonymity and subdued social exposure, the great national service of one of Nigeria’s ace security professionals, Chief Albert Korubo Horsfall who is also a key witness to the Nigerian story, even as he joined the ranks of octogenerians on 22nd December 2021 remains sparsely told.

The significance of Horsfall’s service though in the peculiar dimly setting of his vocation, was the fact that he leveraged on his profound knowledge of the country and its people to impact on national peace and integration at different levels. A lifetime intelligencer, he is today, a traditional aristocrat among the Kalabari sub-group of the Ijaw ethnic nationality, an active figure in the effort at peace in the Niger Delta and a vocal voice in framing the country’s democracy.


Horsfall’s call to duty traces its roots to a family tree of service in prestigious positions in defense and commerce. Buguma his hometown in Rivers State had for the past two hundred years become noted as one of the main commercial entrepôts was in the forefront of what the British, called “Legitimate Trade”. This form of commerce started as an alternative to Transatlantic Slave Trave when it was abolished in 1807. His town is also the seat of the traditional authority of the Kalabari Kings and people dating back to the 1550’s. The town has also been a centre of social and cultural life especially in the interaction between the various peoples of the Niger Delta and the South-East hinterland. Buguma, in recent times, also raised such Nigerian celebrities as Prof. Tam David West, Highlife King, Cardinal Jim Rex Lawson, great footballer Taribo West, frontline actress Hilda Dokubo. In general, very progressive Kalabari people boast of producing some of Nigeria’s first set of Western educated elites.

The peculiarity of Horsfall’s life lies in the fact that his own immediate family traces its origin to a fiery warrior, Chief Omekwe, who was one of his Kalabari’s most celebrated knights in shining armour. Omekwe who founded the dynasty during the late 18th century, was considered the foremost Admiral of Kalabari war fleet, at a time when national strength was determined by gunboat diplomacy. He therefore left his progeny with a DNA of soldiery strands; recognizing the worth of service to community amidst a background of geo-strategic consciousness. Young Albert Horsfall’s engrossment with a lifestyle of regimentals was further aided by being nurtured by his uncle, Alex Horsfall, who at the time was a senior personnel in the colonial service in the divisional headquarters at the nearby town of Degema. At a very young age therefore, he became exposed to service, order and uniform; interacting both with Nigerian and British officials.


After completing his Primary school at Degema, he went to Christ School of Commerce, Onitsha for his secondary education. Horsfall’s family background is one of relative affluence garnered from their active mercantilist pursuit and control of the palm oil trade. Many expected therefore, that like his several kinsmen, and indeed as was the case with the Kalabaris in general, he will join, euphemistically speaking, the seeming pitting of wits to proceed to the United Kingdom to further his education. On the contrary, in 1962, at the tender age of 17, he opted to join the uniform service being the Police Force of the infant Nigeria state. Like his contemporaries who were among those who joined the Nigeria Police Force, professional training was organized by British Officers following common ordinances and manuals imposed on the entire former colonies around the world.

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In retrospect, what is known as the Nigeria Police Force was first established in 1820, but about sixty years later, that is by 1879, another body known as Hausa Constabulary was formed. Shortly afterwards, that is in 1888, the Royal Niger Company, one of Britain’s main trading outfits at the time moved more inland along the River Niger in search of produce, establishing its own Police Unit, a Constabulary at Lokoja. This was again, followed in 1894 by the Niger Coast Constabulary based in Calabar and then the Lagos Police in 1896. This was first of its kind directly controlled by the colonial government.

With the establishment of the Northern and Southern Nigeria Protectorates on 1st January 1900, the Police became somewhat reorganized and bifurcated into what came to be known as the Northern Nigerian Police and the Southern Nigerian Police. Even after Lord Frederick Lugard’s amalgamation of 1914 heralding the formal birth of the Nigerian nation and enactment of the Clifford’s Constitution of 1922, this operational structure continued until 1930 when the formalized Nigeria Police Force was created.

This notwithstanding, the Nigeria Police Force even after the country’s independence in 1960 remained under the command and influence of British colonial officials for some time. Training of persons such as Horsfall and his contemporaries at the Police College was therefore essentially carried out under the watchful eyes of British officials with courses shared between Nigeria and the United Kingdom. This produced some of the best Cops ever known in Nigerian history. This includes the likes of former Inspectors General of Police, Louis Edet, Kam Salem, M.D. Yusuf, Adamu Suleiman, Sunday Adewusi, Aliyu Attah, Ibrahim Coomasie as well as many others since the country’s return to democracy under the current fourth republic.

Against this backdrop, Horsfall completed his cadet training and was commissioned as an Assistant Superintendent of Police in 1965. On account of his outstanding brilliance and performance during the training, he was deployed to the intelligence branch then known as Special Branch. Due to the delicate nature of those vested with intelligence gathering, men of that branch, along with the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) with whom they work very closely, who are still largely plain clothed and are regarded as “elite core”. Hence, they are picked from among the best at any time. In his own case, Horsfall who was atop posted to work directly under the Branch Commissioner, Major J.J. Sullivan, who had already carved out a niche for himself as one of the crack British detectives of his time. Furthermore, he had the more than usual privilege of working under the hawk-eyed first indigenous Commissioner of Police in charge of the intelligence branch of the Police, Chief T.H. Fagbola.

To sharpen his professional skills, he was later sent to the United States of America for a training course under the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). This was just enough for him to acquire the added professional skills to encounter a most risky stint any intelligence officer could face. He was deployed down deep south and embedded to accompany the Nigerian troops during the Civil War (1967-1970). His bit was tough, sent to operate in places such as Opobo, Calabar and Port Harcourt, amongst the war epicentre. Fortunately, the coastal terrain was within the biosphere in which he was raised, hence aiding his outstanding performance while on that tough assignment. With the end of the war, he was posted to different stations around Nigeria and rose steadily into command positions in service.


The years of military rule in Nigeria were marked by spirals and straddling occurrences of military coups and instincts of military war lordism counter coups. In particular, shortly after the failed Dimka military coup in 1976 which claimed the life of the then Head of State, General Murtala Muhammed (1938-1976), the Nigerian security architecture had to be reconfigured. This led to the removal of the Special Branch from the Police as it had also become common practice in many other countries. A new entity known as Nigeria Security Organization (NSO) was created to deal with all issues pertaining to internal security, as well as large aspects of foreign intelligence and counter intelligence. In other words, it was highly specialized to deal with national security as different from mere crime detection and prevention, and external intelligence gathering from the Research Department of the then Ministry of External Affairs.

Under this new organizational setup, Horsfall then at the rank of an Assistant Commissioner of Police became one of the most senior officers from the Special Branch of Police and CID to become part of this new organization. Since the raison d’etre for setting up the new organization was to fill the gap of failed intelligence which led to the assassination of the country’s ruler, the initial staffing of the NSO included a good presence of military personnel side by side Police counterparts. Horsfall easily stood out as one of its most outstanding staff from the latter group. He therefore had the opportunity to work with some of the best from military intelligence such as then Col. Abdulahi Muhammed, who later as a retired General, became Chief of Staff to President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999 and then Col. Aliyu Gusau who also rose to become a General, Chief of Army Staff, National Security Adviser and ultimately Minister of Defense.

The NSO attracted an unusual ill-fame on account of overzealous activities of some of its staff. In particular, the hard liner approach to political repression, clamp down on civil activism, the failed kidnap of Second Republic Minister of Transport, Alhaji Umaru Dikko in 1984 and similar activities became its albatross. However, Horsfall stood out as a very competent, nonpartisan and dispassionate staff who carried out his duties with equanimity. Acknowledgingly, his thoroughness was bolstered by the fact that he went on to take a study leave to become a lawyer, and quite often exercised courage on balancing expectations of political pressure and respect for humanity of others.

With the continued political changes during the military hey days and the emergence of President Ibrahim Babangida as Head of State in 1985, further reforms in the following year, 1986, brought about the creation of new security organizations, to focus on External Intelligence, Defense Intelligence and Domestic Security. The external intelligence aspect led to the establishment of a dedicated body answerable directly to the President. This led to the creation of the National Intelligent Agency (NIA). Similarly, the NSO was reformed and renamed State Security Service (SSS), though now better known by the more pliant acronym Department of State Services (DSS).

These developments happened at a time when Horsfall had risen high in service becoming one of two Deputy Directors-General of the NSO and ultimately Acting Director General after the removal of his erstwhile boss, Amb. Muhammed Rafindadi in 1985. With the creation of the two separate organizations, he became the first Director General of the NIA in 1986 and later on moved to the DSS as its second Director General in 1990. After a less than boring and risky career, he retired in 1992.

Fortunately for Horsfall, the very difficult task of heading two very serious national security agencies, the only Nigerian to have ever done so and making great success out of them, was possible because of his broad based training and exposure in all three branches of civilian security CID, Special Branch and External Intelligence). He was able to create the greatest level of impact and saw the laying of the foundation for them to become viable organs of government and critical blocks for expression of statehood in the post military era. For one, he is credited for the building of their respective physical infrastructure in the Federal Capital Territory, setting up their respective Training Schools and the complex paraphernalia of their concealed work. Unfortunately, these are not places easily opened for public viewing and scrutiny.


Not surprising, one year after his pullout, this gold fish which even at 80 years, still has no hiding place, was called out again in 1993 to head the newly created Oil Mineral Producing Area Development Commission (OMPADEC). This institution was specially created by President Ibrahim Babangida’s government to accelerate the impact of proceeds from oil and gas industry in the infrastructural and social development of the Niger Delta. Horsfall whose coastal community of Buguma lies close to the Cawthorne Channel, with multiplicity of major crude oil fields such as Soku, Belema, Ekulama, Robertkiri, Awoba, etc, was able to undertake, in the short period he was there, multiplicity of projects. Leveraging on his contacts with persons such as Nigeria’s current ruler, President Muhammadu Buhari, who at the time was Chairman of the defunct Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), he focused particularly on completion of ongoing educational projects. As life would have it, a Hydro-zoologist, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan who later became Nigerian President, was one of his pioneer staff at OMPADEC.

On the flip side though, OMPADEC was a near banana peel for Horsfall. For the first time in his brilliant career, he came under various claims of impropriety leveled against the body which he headed after it was scrapped in 1995. This typified a case of the hunter becoming the hunted as he came under intense public scrutiny and vilification. At a point he had to retreat out of Nigeria to enable the security agencies carry out thorough investigations. Various fact-finding panels including one headed by the irreproachable public economist and anti-corruption czar, Prof. Sam Aluko. However, the spurry of investigations all returned a verdict of not guilty. Conversely, all these turned out to work for his public image as OMPADEC became a reference point for productive public sector spending.

Horsfall continued his life as a lawyer and community leader within the Kalabaris, and the Niger Delta. Intermittently however, he has also been called to carry out other national assignments requiring his peculiar, even though uncanny experience. These included his appointment in 2005 as President Obasanjo’s Special Envoy for peace in (the) Niger Delta; a position which he resigned shortly afterwards to contest for the office of President of Nigeria and was succeeded in 2006 by Amb. Godknows Igali. This office later metamorphosed in 2009 into the present Presidential Adviser on Amnesty Programme under President Umaru Yar’adua (1951-2010). Similarly, the then Governor of Rivers State, Chibuike Amaechi (now Minister of Transportation), in 2010 appointed him to help conceptualize and implement post militancy rehabilitation of affected youths in the State.

It was the great American writer Ain Fleming, reputed for his “James Bond” series who once wondered aloud, that someone “was a secret agent and still alive. Thanks to his exact attention to the details of his profession”. Perhaps, at 80 years of age, Horsfall, a man of meticulous points, haven handled some very engaging duties, has every reason to share the gratification of survival and longevity. In the lonely walk of his service, like many of his colleagues in the intelligence and security services, whose avowed turf is the welfare of the realm, and stay awake when others are asleep, his roles in fitting together the puzzle of nation building are better left to imagination. Hence, the ancient Chinese strategist, Sun Tzu postulated in his seminal work, “The Art of War”, such persons are the silent but restless weavers of the threads which bind the internal dynamics of states together and form the bonds on which the human family thrives.


Like the good old book says “Do you see a man skilled in his work? They will stand before kings and they will not stand before obscure men”. At this new age, this national figure remains counted as one of the greatest Nigerians ever and appears still ready for more tasks whenever duty calls.

Chief Horsfall lives in Ikoyi, Lagos with his wife, of near lifetime, Ma Henrietta.


Dr. Godknows Igali is a Retired Ambassador

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