Through most of its existence, Ekiti State has always cut the image of a state wobbling from one crisis to the other. The recent invasion of the state’s House of Assembly by men of the Department of State Security clearly falls in this category of the recurring theatre of the absurd in a state that goes by the sobriquet, ‘Fountain of Knowledge’. Olakiitan Victor tells this disturbing yet developing story with all its trappings. Additional reporting by Shola Oyeyipo and Segun James
Last week, some men of the Department of the State Services reportedly stormed the Ekiti State House of Assembly and arrested four lawmakers for undisclosed reasons. This action of the security operatives has since heightened tension and apprehension in the state to the extent that government functionaries now live in fear and move around incognito as nobody knows who will be the next victim.
The lawmakers, Honourables Musa Arogundade (Ado), Afolabi Akanni (Efon), Sina Animasaun (Ekiti West II) and Badejo Anifowose (Moba I), according to the speaker, Hon. Kola Oluwawole, were on Friday, March 4 arrested within the assembly complex and whisked to Abuja, for undisclosed reasons and had since been kept incommunicado.
More troubling for the members of the assembly and Governor Ayodele Fayose was the fact that contacts could not be established with two other lawmakers, whose identities were yet to be disclosed for security reasons. Oluwawole, at a press parley, where he lampooned President Muhammadu Buhari for gradually sliding into dictatorship could not muster the courage to disclose the identities of those in detention, aside those whose names had been in the public domain.
The DSS alleged clampdown was not narrowed down to the legislative arm, many top government functionaries in Fayose’s cabinet, and those known to be inner caucus members, like the Commissioners for Works, Kayode Oso; Finance, Toyin Ojo; Special Adviser, Political, Mr Demola Bello; the just sacked Special Assistant on Revenue and Chairman of the Internal Revenue Board, Mr Ojo Ogunjobi and Special Assistant on Works, Mr. Odunayo Talabi, were either in the detention or already invited by the DSS, which fuelled insinuation that the game could be a fallout of Buhari-Fayose’s political battle and dangerous scheming ahead of the 2018 governorship poll.
The arrests had generated so much hoopla, which ripples have resonated beyond the shores of the state. While the Peoples Democratic Party (PDp) and pro-democracy activists, including Mr. Mike Ezekhome (SAN), had vehemently condemned the act, branding Buhari as a pseudo-democrat, the All Progressives Congress (APC) was of the opinion that the action was a retributive step to hold Fayose and members of his cabinet accountable for alleged sundry offences they have committed against the people and the constitution.
Though the Alhaji Lawal Daura-led DSS, has not come out with any definite allegation against the people arrested, there were speculations that they were picked up for their alleged involvement in the beating of Justice John Adeyeye during the trial of a suit filed by a group called E-11, challenging the eligibility of Fayose to stand for the June 21, 2014 governorship poll, on account of his ill-fated impeachment in 2006.
Other issues speculated to have informed the action of the DSS, include the alleged culprits’ roles in the blockage of highways with trucks, when the immediate past APC-dominated Assembly, led by Hon Adewale Omirin were allegedly planning to impeach Fayose. Some were said to have been picked up because of their alleged recklessness in the management of the state’s internally generated revenues and for their alleged complicity in Omirin’s impeachment, which seven out of the 26 lawmakers had played a pivotal role.
Considering these multi-dimensional allegations, this is really a difficult period for Fayose. Members of his cabinet are now living in palpable apprehension for no one could actually decipher what would be the next line of action, or who could be the next victim.
Fayose had the premonition of his present political predicament. Last December, the governor assembled all the Pastors from existing churches in the state to pray for his government. At the programme, the governor explicitly said there were covert plans by his detractors to end his government abruptly the way they did in 2006. He used the opportunity to explain to the clerics that he was already in the know of the prophecy by some men of God that his government would have to beware, to forestall a re-occurrence of history.
An inkling that things would soon go awry for Fayose however came to the fore, when his close ally and embattled Secretary of the PDP in the state, Dr. Tope Aluko, openly disagreed with his estranged principal, making several damning allegations.
On various platforms, including the Channels Television, Aluko alleged that the June 21 poll was rigged for Fayose, with the instrumentality of military personnel. He flashed several documents to back up his claims and how money running into millions of dollars had exchanged hands.
However, first to hurl the salvo against the APC-led government was the Speaker of the Assembly, who lambasted Buhari for allegedly deploying state machinery to humiliate opposition, with evil intention to coerce
members of the assembly to impeach Fayose.
Oluwawole, said they were allegedly offered a staggering sum of $1 million to prosecute the agenda, which he branded a desperate attempt by the APC to destabilise the government and brashly oust the governor from office. It cannot be denied that Fayose has been a vitriolic and consistent critic of the Buhari-led government since the president assumed office on May 29, 2015.
Painting the scenario of the arrests, Oluwawole, said the DSS, numbering ten, allegedly invaded the assembly complex on Friday evening and arrested the four lawmakers during the stampede.
The speaker clarified that inquiry from the state office of the DSS confirmed that the operatives, who carried out the operation, were deployed from Abuja.
“At the end of the commotion created by this barbaric act, we discovered that four of our members could not be found. It was only this morning that we were able to establish that Hon Afolabi Akanni, representing Efon Constituency was abducted and taken to Abuja. The whereabouts of three other members is still unknown as we speak, and reasons for the invasion and abduction of our members are not known.
“However, we have it on good authority that the script now being acted by the DSS is part of the APC and President Buhari’s clandestine plot to cripple the Ekiti State Government by arresting and detaining top functionaries of the government. We are aware that 18 of our members have been penciled down for harassment and the game plan is to harass them to submission, with a view to coercing them into signing an already prepared notice of impeachment of the governor and his deputy.
“We therefore wish to tell the APC agents of political instability that this time around, this House of Assembly will not be available for any ungodly use,” he said.
The Speaker disclosed that the lawmakers were not afraid of persecution from any government agency, including the DSS, stating that the level at which the Buhari government is allegedly exhibiting political vendetta and muscling opposition is dangerous to the survival of Nigerian’s democracy.
There is no gainsaying the fact that Fayose is a brave and not-easily rattled political warlord, who could go the extra mile to defend his territory. This also reflected in his official reaction, where he declared that even if the state was invaded by one million armed men of the DSS on the order of Buhari, the government and the people of the state will never surrender governance to political desperadoes.
The governor, who said the DSS under President Buhari was operating beyond its constitutional mandate added, “The government of Ekiti State may have to reconsider the usefulness of men of the DSS in the government house and other institutions of the state government.
“If Buhari likes, let him relocate all DSS men in Nigeria with the entire ammunitions in their armoury to Ekiti, the will of Ekiti people can never be broken. They will only try, and like they have always done, they will fail because dictatorship has never triumphed over the people. Even Buhari’s dictatorship between 1984 and 1985 ended one day and Nigerians will also outlive his present dictatorship.”
The governor said the DSS under Buhari’s kinsman, Lawal Daura, has abandoned its core mandate of providing intelligence for the protection of the internal security of Nigeria as provided in the Security Agency’s Act Cap. N74 LFN, 2004 adding that, “Instead of assisting the police, military and other security agencies with classified matters, we now have a DSS that is running after perceived opponents of the president, arresting goat and fowl thieves as well as husbands, who assaulted their wives.
“If the DSS was alive to its responsibilities, we won’t be having Boko Haram insurgents killing Nigerians, all these kidnappings and Fulani Herdsmen killing, raping and destroying farmlands in the South-west, South-east and North Central zones in the country would have been nipped in the bud.”
He said the same way President Buhari used the National Security Organisation (NSO), headed by Ambassador Mohammed Lawal Rafindadi from Katsina State is the same way he is using the DSS, headed by another of his kinsman, Lawal Daura to harass, oppress and intimidate Nigerians.
Fayose said “It is obvious that democracy in Nigeria is becoming unsafe in the hands of Buhari and his APC and those keeping silent now because of politics may also end up in the belly of this roaring lion that is threatening to consume our democracy. Therefore, Nigerians and the international community should take special notice of the use of the DSS and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to muscle the opposition.
“As for me, I wish to say once again that I am not among those Nigerians that are afraid of harassment by any agency of the federal government. I make bold to state that in the overall interest of democracy and the well-being of Nigerians, I will continue to speak my mind on issues bordering on governance in Nigeria. I will not be intimidated!”
Replying the attacks from Fayose and the assembly, the APC told the governor to encourage his colleagues to submit themselves to the law over their alleged crimes against the nation’s constitution instead of embarking on blackmail to whip up sentiments for undeserved public sympathy.
The party’s Publicity Secretary, Taiwo Olatunbosun, said in a statement that the accusation against the President was not strange to the observers of Fayose’s politics. He said instead of accusing Buhari of persecution, it was the governor that was persecuting the opponents, citing attacks on the opposition and persecution of APC Chairman, Jide Awe, after the court struck out a motion against him but Fayose still went ahead to serve the motion in his house.
“Just as expected, Fayose and his agent provocateur have started playing the game as scripted, but Nigerians are not fooled by the governor’s antics to escape justice in his various crimes against the state,” Olatunbosun explained.
He said Fayose and the assembly members were not the first or only Nigerians to be invited by the DSS for investigation, citing the National Chairman, Victor Umeh, and other eminent Nigerians, who had been invited to answer charges against them but were released after making their statements.
Olatunbosun, however, said it was hypocritical for the Speaker not to see Fayose’s actions in the invasion of the court to beat the judge and tearing court records in the Chief Judge’s office, chasing House of Assembly members out of the state for six months, impeaching the Speaker with seven members in the Assembly of 26 members and holding a gavel to pass the budget into law, among others, as actions depicting Nigeria as a banana republic while he believed performing legal duties by security agencies constituted despicable and unlawful acts in a banana republic.
“This is the Assembly that has not condemned any of Fayose’s illegalities but has been a chief encourager of constitutional breaches and acts of impunity. We are not surprised at the Speaker’s stance because the Assembly is composed of Fayose’s roughnecks, who were compensated for the dirty job they did for him and that was why they are just the governor’s rubberstamp.
“The suspects in DSS net participated in all these crimes and this is the time for the law breakers to answer for their crimes. Nigerians are not fools to be deceived by this unconscionable descent to subterfuge to escape justice.
“For instance, how can we blame DSS for arresting Fayose’s aide, Ademola Bello, and Commissioner for Woks, Kayode Oso, and others after they were arrested by the police and caught with charms, acid, guns and cutlasses to attack APC lawmakers during the House of Assembly crisis?” he queried.
The State Executive Council, the highest decision-making organ in the state didn’t take the matter with levity and it has lent its voice to accusing the federal government of plotting to usurp the government of Governor Fayose, using military tactics.
The Council after its third meeting of the year in a statement conveying its position signed by the Deputy Governor, Dr Kolapo Olusola and 19 others, condemned how the DSS had allegedly flouted the statute that established it and acted extra-judicially by detaining suspects for more than 24 hours as prescribed by the law.
It described the foregoing as a flagrant breach of Section 41 of the 1999 constitution, the writ of mandamus, African charter of people’s rights and international regulations and conventions on protection of human rights.
“None of the stated functionaries have been accused of any crime whatsoever, let alone those bordering on the security of the state. The spate of arrests of principal functionaries of government will appear irregular, unjust, unwholesome and politically motivated to intimidate Governor Fayose, who has become the lone voice of the opposition to the APC-led government of President Buhari.
“The current intimidation is an orchestrated plot by the APC to overthrow the legitimate government of Ekiti State, having failed to achieve destabilisation agenda through the judiciary and later through subversive machinations.
“The state had always cooperated with the EFCC and ICPC and indeed every other agencies that had visited the state to request for a piece of information or the other. The council, therefore, describes the current terror on Ekiti State as condemnable, malicious, and manifestly undemocratic.”
From the Court of Public Opinion
As the controversy continues to rage over the invasion of the Ekiti State House of Assembly, opinions are equally divided on the development. Those in Ekiti are of the opinions that the action of the DSS was politically motivated and that the totality of its purpose was to intimidate Governor Fayose and his political allies.
It is against this background that the governor has maintained that the agency went beyond its constitutional duties and has continually boasted that even if the state was invaded by one million armed men of the DSS on the order of the president, the government and the people of Ekiti State would not be intimidated to surrender governance of the state.
In a statement by his Special Assistant on Public Communications and New Media, Lere Olayinka, the governor said the APC-led federal government was on a clandestine agenda of truncating democracy in Ekiti State and other PDP-controlled states like Rivers and Bayelsa States.
Former deputy governor in the state and currently a Senator representing Ekiti South senatorial district, Senator Abiodun Olujimi, in a chat with THISDAY also contended that the DSS move was as an invasion targeted at harassing the lawmakers.
“We are unhappy about it. It is like returning us to the days of Gestapo when dictator government used the EFCC and the DSS to hound opponents. The hallow chambers are supposed to be sacred. It is embarrassing and wrong to threaten and ensure that people are sufficiently intimidated.
“If such arrest must be made, there are procedures to follow. They are supposed to write to the Speaker. Security agencies should not be used to harass any elected official,” she contended.
Lawyer and Lagos State Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Mr. Taofeek Gani said there was no legal barrier to prevent the DSS from arresting whoever, but like Fayose and Olujimi, he was also not comfortable with the manner the arrest was carried out.
“There is no legal bar or administrative bar in the law stopping the DSS from making an arrest, what is important is that they must not carry out the process with intimidation and persecution,” he said, condemning the fact that the arrest was followed by detention. “You don’t make arrest and detain. When it leads to detention it means you have prima facie and there is no prima facie in this case. That is why there is hullabaloo in this situation.
“The act is condemnable. The DSS is hiding under its power to make arrest whereas some of those powers lie with the police. They are supposed to be bothered about the state – the sovereignty of the state. That is why they are called the Department of State Security. Issue of embezzlement and fruad is more of police responsibility. So, there is no gain saying that the arrest of the Ekiti State lawmakers was politically motivated.”
Lawyer, notable public opinion analyst and former National Secretary of the Labour Party, Mr. Kayode Ajulo strongly believes that irrespective of party affiliation, the way the DSS went about its operation at the Ekiti State House of Assembly should not be encouraged.
“My comment is that the hallow chamber is a privilege area and should be treated as such. If they want to arrest, there is a procedure for doing that. Then again, it amounted to illegal arrest because you cannot hold on to them just like that. I’m not saying that they should not arrest but you cannot keep them beyond 24 hours, particularly when a court has ordered their release. We must respect the law. Nigeria cannot be ruled by the caprice or morale of some people. That is my position,” Ajulo contended.
However, for lawyer and Executive Director, Centre for Mmadu on Human Rights, Mrs. Uju Peace Okeke, the DSS is empowered to arrest suspects on certain issues and it is until the reasons behind the Ekiti arrest are clarified before genuine comments could be passed in the debate. But as other commentators, she condemned the sporadic shooting that characterised the arrest.
“The DSS is empowered to investigate threat of espionage, threat of subversion, threat of sabotage, economic crimes of national security dimension, terrorist activities, threats to law and order, separatist agitation and inter-group conflicts. It is unclear which of these objectives was being carried on in Ekiti. Again, if what we read about their sporadic shooting is true, then it is totally reprehensible,” she said.
Like Uju, the Executive Director, Centre for Human Rights and Conflict Resolution, Lokoja, Kogi State, Mr. Idris Miliki also argued that the DSS must have basis for arresting the lawmakers and harped on the need to allow the agency do its job. He noted that the Ekiti House of Assembly has not been a law abiding assembly itself and stressed the need for things to be done in civilised manner on the part of the DSS.
“I don’t have details of the reason for the arrest, so, I don’t know why they did what they did, but the important thing is that if there are issues on the ground, I think there are more civilised ways to do that. But the Ekiti House of Assembly itself has not been respecting the laws and procedures. If you look at what happened when the governor went to present budget; they should not have substituted the law and constitution to partisan interest and that is why they are victims of arbitrariness.
“Even at that, we expect security agents to follow the rule of law. The allegations of corruption and embezzlement should be property investigated and those found guilty should be penalised according to the law. An institution that is making law should not be seen to be breaking the law,” he opined.
Another Human rights lawyer and activist, Morakinyo Ogele, was particularly against the idea of the National Assembly stepping into the matter, arguing that they lacked the power to stop the DSS from performing its statutory and constitutional duty. He equally criticised the House of Representatives for summoning the DSS Director General, Lawal Daura.
According to him, the Ekiti State House of Assembly was not invaded by the DSS and therefore warned members of the state assembly against blackmailing the DSS.
“The lawmakers’ allegation that some men, who claimed to be DSS officials offered them $1m bribe to impeach Governor Ayodele Fayose is a cheap blackmail and a serious offence, if they failed to prove it. This is a cheap blackmail and equally a serious offence if they fail to prove this allegation because it is trite in law that he who alleges must prove.
“Are they preventing DSS from performing their constitutional duties, after they had constituted themselves into security risk in Ekiti State? The government of Ekiti State jettisoned the rule of law for rule of impunity, illegality and unconstitutionality. The majority APC members in the fourth assembly were chased from the state and only six members, who did not form a quorum, took over. They carried out legislative functions which are contrary to the Constitution.
“Budget was passed and commissioners were approved by the illegal house of seven lawmakers. The DSS should carry out their constitutional duties in Ekiti State. They should ignore or disregard the call of the House of Representatives as they have no such power,” he advised.
The Lagos State chairman of the PDP, Chief Tunji Shelle, said “The invasion of the Ekiti Assembly is very sad and unfortunate. It portends great danger for our polity and nascent democracy. It is not acceptable and if not nipped in the bud can truncate the delicate socio-economic and political state of the nation.
“The action is inappropriate and to say the least, highly undemocratic. It is uncalled for at this point in time in the history of the country.”
But a chieftain of the APC in Bayelsa State, Chief Nathan Egba begs to disagree with the position of Shelle. For him, the DSS of today is different from that of some years ago, when it was used to “bully” the members of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly to impeach the late governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha.
Egba also gave as example, the attempt by some minority members of the Rivers State assembly to take over the leadership of the house, a situation, he stressed, led to violent confrontation in the invasion of the assembly by the police in 2014 and the subsequent closedown of the assembly complex for several months.
To him, therefore, Nigerian should wait for a statement by the DSS instead of jumping to conclusion. Egba opines that he would not be surprised that members of the assembly are being used by Governor Fayose to perpetuate acts that might be inimical to the political wellbeing of the nation.
“You know that Fayose has been playing the role of a political gadfly and assuming the role of the leader of the PDP. He has been in all manner of vitriolic against the federal government, so it would not surprise me that he and his cohorts in the assembly may have done something that had aroused the interest of the security agencies.”
But the Bayelsa State chairman of the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), Alabo Nengi James lamented that any such invasion may not augur well for the polity. He said what the government needed to do was explain the reason for going into the assembly premises. This way, he reckoned, Nigerians would understand and appreciate the action of the security agency.
Certainly, no one can tell how this pulsating and seeming confusion would end. However, one fact has been established and this is the fact that Fayose is going through a kind of Dejavu, akin to his experience of 2006. But all eyes are now gazed on Ekiti as Fayose confronts yet another battle of his life.