- Â He is being investigated for alleged theft, says anti-graft agency
Iyobosa Uwugiaren and Paul Obi in Abuja
Armed with superior firepower and men, the Department of State Services (DSS) Tuesday prevented the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) from arresting a former Directors General of the DSS, Mr. Ita Ekpeyong, and the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Mr. Ayo Oke.
Operatives of the anti-graft agency, assisted by the Nigeria Police Force, had stormed No. 46 Nasir Mamman Street, Asokoro, Abuja, the residence of Ekpeyong, at about 6 a.m. in a bid to arrest him.
They had blocked the two entrances leading to the street, preventing vehicular movement in and out of the street.
Residents of the street were forced to park their cars outside the street and walk to their houses, while the failed bid by the EFCC to arrest the ex-DG of DSS lasted.
THISDAY counted 35 men of the DSS manning the gate of their former boss. While more of them were seen in the compound, others were seen patrolling the street with four black vans.
Over 25 men of the Nigeria Police were said to have been drafted to arrest Ekpeyong in the early hours of Tuesday but the DSS operatives guarding him resisted the move, resulting in a heated argument.
According to a source, Ekpenyong had been invited by the EFCC about two weeks ago in respect of an investigation into the procurement of arms and equipment by the agency he once headed.
The investigation by the anti-graft agency was believed to have had the nod of the presidency, but invoking respect for institutional integrity, the DSS asked its former DG not to honour the invitation.
The source explained that the DSS in giving the directive to Ekpenyong, was asserting its independence, adding that the secret police reports solely to the presidency and not to any other agency.
He added that the investigation by EFCC is so far reaching that even the incumbent DG of DSS, Mallam Lawal Daura, might be the real target.
He further explained that the position of the DSS was predicated on the â€œsensitivity of its expenses and operationsâ€.
Citing the global practice of the intelligence community, the source said that there were also very â€œexpensive thingsâ€ involved.
For instance, the source said that one of the items of equipment involved had a maintenance contract running into billions of naira, saying that Ekpeyong, who left office more than two years ago, had been internally investigated at home and abroad by the DSS as part of its internal routine without any indictment.
Besides, intelligence sources close to the committee, which investigated arms procurement by the Goodluck Jonathan administration, said that the ex-DSS boss was never invited for questioning on the purchase of any item for the DSS.
â€œThe hierarchy as well as the rank and file of DSS believe that their bosses are about to be humiliated by the EFCC as revenge for blocking the confirmation of Mallam Ibrahim Magu as chairman of the anti-graft agency by the Senate with a security report.
â€œThis was reflected in the mood of the operatives of both agencies in the stand-off at the residence of Mr. Ekpeyong,â€ an intelligence official disclosed.
Another government source said that the EFCC got the green light for the arrest of the former DG of DSS from the presidency, referring THISDAY to the statement by the presidentâ€™s media aide, Mallam Garba Shehu, when he said that President Muhammadu Buhari had ordered the EFCC to investigate the former NIA chief, over the cash discovered in a private apartment in Ikoyi, Lagos.
Following the recent sack of Oke, THISDAY gathered that the EFCC made a second attempt to arrest him at his Asokoro residence Tuesday but the move was also thwarted by the DSS.
When THISDAY called the former NIA boss to visit him in his house, he said: â€œYou can come, but I doubt if you will be able to get to my house with all the barricades by the security agents.â€
The EFCC had invited Oke for questioning in connection to the $43.4 million found in an apartment in Ikoyi, Lagos.
Okeâ€™s wife, who had also been summoned, was identified as the owner of the apartment.
The EFCC and the DSS have been at loggerheads on various fronts since the inception of the Muhammadu Buhari administration.
The discord between the two agencies became apparent after the report written by the DSS to the Senate against the appointment of Magu as the substantive chairman of EFCC.
The anti-graft agency had also accused the DSS of blatantly refusing to hand over some of its officials for questioning for alleged corruption in the Office of the National Security Adviser during the last administration.
An EFCC official who spoke with THISDAY in confidence in Abuja Tuesday said: â€œOfficers of the Department of State Services Tuesday thwarted the attempt by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to arrest a former Director General of the agency, Mr. Ekpeyong Ita, who is being investigated for offences bordering on alleged theft and diversion of public funds.
â€œDetectives of the EFCC, armed with both arrest and search warrants, had stormed the 46 Mamman Nasir, Asokoro, Abuja residence of the former DG at about 6 a.m. today but were prevented from gaining entry by armed guards from the DSS.â€
The source explained that â€œshortly after the EFCC operatives arrived, the DSS reinforced its security presence at the property, with the deployment of about 30 armed operativesâ€.
The EFCC official added: â€œThe refusal of the DSS operatives to allow the EFCC execute valid search and arrest warrants is considered worrisome.
â€œI donâ€™t know whether it is within their brief to prevent a law enforcement agency from executing an arrest or search warrant on a property belonging to a retired staff of the agency.
â€œThe suspect in question is not a serving officer of the DSS, which makes this action particularly reprehensible.â€