Hitherto known and referred to as the State Security Service (SSS), the Department of State Services (DSS), which is the primary domestic intelligence agency in the country, now operates under the huge influence and undue interference by the presidency, in a sense that undermines both the integrity and credibility of the agency, writes Tobi Soniyi
A THISDAY exclusive report of last Sunday, which blew the lid off some alleged clandestine moves to undermine the current acting leadership of the Department of State Service though did not come as a surprise to many, it however generated deserving public opprobrium. This simmering development within the agency is believed to have stemmed from the sudden sack of the former Director General of the agency, Lawal Daura, a development some interests in the presidency were believed not to have envisaged let alone prevent.
But since the sack of Daura, which paved the way for Mr. Mathew Seiyefa, the current acting DG, all has not been the same, thus creating the room for different theories about the likely goings-on in the agency. It is the view of a majority of members of the public that the sack of Daura, which though was hurriedly managed, did not receive the much expected consent or approval of President Muhammadu Buhari hence the aftermath of the power play that is presently playing out at the agency.
This unsavoury situation is believed to have been exacerbated by the fact that while the inevitability of the takeover of Seiyefa has continued to make the presidency uneasy, the mere knowledge that the next in line to him is also a southerner, is believed to have created staggering feeling of inadequacy in the presidency, which in turn is believed to be responsible for the brazen move to undermine the Seiyefa leadership.
Suffice it to say that though the theory of alleged plans to reinstate the sacked DG is more impossible than being given a thought, some of the happenings in the agency have however given fillip to these feelings and in a way, setting the north against the south.
Thus, the recent order from the ‘presidency’ asking a reversal of some of the postings done by Seiyefa has not only raised concerns, it has also strongly supported the thoughts that there were moves to bring back Daura and deny Seifeya any opportunity of ascending the office in substantive capacity. This, in yet another sense, appears to support a part of the story which claimed there are already name suggestions to the office of the DG DSS.
Even more disturbing is that the DSS has not only bowed to pressure from the presidency by reversing some of the postings, which many have described as a tip of the iceberg, the DSS has also come out to defend the order because it is an agency directly responsible to the presidency and therefore, lacks the capacity to express independent views.
Unfortunately, this has been the lot of the DSS since Buhari assumed office in 2015. The DSS, as it is, has been reduced to a shadow of itself, which is now being used to carry out covert operations that signify danger to national security or threaten the rights of Nigerians or better still, undermine the rule of law.
Designed for local intelligence gathering and the protection of senior government officials particularly, the President and governors, the DSS, which is one of the three organisations that succeeded the National Security Organisation (NSO) that was dissolved in 1986 by the Ibrahim Babangida junta, functions albeit by design, as a department within the presidency, placed under the supervision of the National Security Adviser (NSA).
For a security agency, whose positions on issues had always counted and whose mode of operations had stood out for all that it was worth, what it is currently experiencing totally falls short of expectations, thus raising concerns about the future of the organisation especially, given the disposition of President Buhari.
Until a few weeks ago, Daura who was appointed by President Buhari after the resignation of Ita Ekpeyong in July, 2015, was himself fired by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, during a 10-day vacation of his principal and he acted. He was sacked for alleged insubordination and immediately succeeded by Seiyefa.
As a highly respected security agency, which always pays attention to details and whose operations always come highly recommended, the DSS has hitherto lived up to billings, it shortcomings notwithstanding. It has constantly adapted to the various roles necessitated by evolving security threats in the country, including counter-terrorism and counter-insurgent and has always stood out.
Unfortunately, all of that appear to have taken a back seat since President Muhammadu Buhari mounted the saddle. This is because prior to the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, inter-agency rivalry had always been properly managed to the extent that these institutions were not a subject of embarrassment to the government and people of Nigeria.
But under Buhari, this is no longer the case. Due to a weakness in Buhari’s style of government, these institutions have largely become an embarrassment to the government and by extension to the nation. Under previous administrations, the agencies at least recognised and respected the authority of the president to whom they are all responsible. This is no longer so. Under Buhari, every institution has become a law unto itself. A few examples will suffice.
BROKEN CHAIN OF COMMAND
It was never heard of that the Director General of the DSS refused to report to the NSA. But the Buhari Presidency has allowed this anomaly to stand. This unhealthy situation further emboldened the DG DSS, who then interpreted his powers to be absolute. Since the president did not tell the sacked Lawal Daura that he ought not to only respect the NSA, but report to his office, Daura then decided to dare the president himself.
The ugly development naturally created in vacuum in the management of intelligence as everyone seemed to be running their shows regardless of the existing structure. Hardly was the office of the NSA aware of the operations of the DSS and NSA too chose to stay off whatever concerned the DSS, whether or not it was in nation’s interest.
However, that the president would not redefine the relationship and situate authorities where they belong, escalated what was ordinarily official relationship to personal affairs as these heads of these offices hardly spoke to each other. Even where very strategic information was passed down and meant to be shared with the other, they would rather sabotage each other at nation’s expense.
MAGU’S CONFIRMATION DRAMA
By breaking the chain of command and disrespecting a rather superior office, the DSS became law unto itself, a situation that led to the second example. When President Buhari sent the name of Mr. Ibrahim Magu to the Senate for confirmation as chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Daura disgraced the president by writing and submitting to the Senate a couple of contradictory security reports on Magu, depicting him as unfit to head the anti-graft agency.
By his action, Daura simply told the world that his boss, the president, was wrong to have appointed Magu in the first instance. In saner climes, which run under due process and the rule of law, such high-handedness would have resulted in the termination of Daura’s appointment as DG DSS. But the president, who would rather pan to clannish sentiments than the nation’s stakes, chose to explain away this embarrassment.
This was what former President Olusegun Obasanjo called “nepotic deployment bordering on clannishness and inability to bring discipline to bear on errant members of his nepotic court.” Even though there has been a sustained effort to blame the National Assembly for refusing to confirm Magu’s appointment; that blame should rest squarely with the executive.
CRIMINALISATION OF THE JUDICIARY
Before he wrote the letters that have reduced Magu to a mere acting chairman in over three years at the EFCC, Daura had embarked on an ill-fated raids of judges’ houses in a manner many reckoned was clearly aimed at instilling fears in the judiciary and not to fight against corruption. But those who appointed him, rather than call him to order, prodded him on.
Operatives of the DSS had between Friday night, and the early hours of Saturday sometime in October 2016, simultaneously invaded the houses of two Justices of the Supreme Court – Justices Walter Onnoghen and Sylvester Ngwuta – as well as two other judges of the Federal High Court, Adeniyi Ademola and Nnamdi Dimgba.
Justices Onnoghen, who was then the second in rank and currently the Chief Justice of Nigeria, is neighbor with Justice Ngwuta at the Judicial Officers’ Quarters in Abuja, while Justices Ademola and Dimgba live next to each other at the Apo Legislative Quarters, also in Abuja.
The DSS operatives, according to reports, surrounded the judicial officers’ houses for hours before they eventually broke in at about 1am on Saturday. And after searching the houses, the security agents eventually took Justice Ademola away at about 5am on Saturday. The DSS operatives allegedly beat up Justice Dimgba’s brother during the operation.
Although reasons for the invasion were not known then during the operations, it was however a matter of public knowledge that Justices Ademola and Dimgba had both ordered the release of suspects in the custody of the DSS, which the security agency did not comply with.
NATIONAL ASSEMBLY INVASIONS
As if a systematic clampdown on other arms of government, the DSS under Daura, on Tuesday, August 7, did not have any problems sending his masked men to the National Assembly to take over a sacred institution of democracy and as insinuated, aid the removal of its leadership. Elsewhere, whether in the military or secret services, everyone is under the authority of the police and other civil authorities. But not in Nigeria!
In Nigeria, the police cannot arrest a corporal in the army not to talk of a general, who has breached the law even though the laws empower the police to arrest anyone that had committed an offence with the exception of those protected by section 308 of the constitution, which grants immunity. In variance, therefore, the EFCC should also have no problems arresting anyone, who has refused to honour its invitation.
THE NIA MESS
In Nigeria, agencies are often prevented from arresting errant members of sister agencies in a manner that demystify the whole essence of the nation’s security architecture. For instance, the commission could not arrest Ayodele Oke, a former Director General of the Nigeria Intelligence Agency (NIA) after a huge sum of money he left at an apartment in Ikoyi, Lagos, was recovered. Operatives of the agency stopped EFCC from arresting him. Only for the new DG of NIA, Mohammed Dauda, to further insult the collective intelligence of Nigerians by defending the illegal action of their men.
According to him, NIA was a secret service, whose operations were clandestine and highly classified, and so, it arrogated to itself some non-existent immunity. But he should have allowed Oke to go and tell that to the EFCC. As if that was not enough, he also said EFCC should first write to him to ask him to surrender Oke.
Under the Nigerian laws, the EFCC does not have to write to him. Oke had even left the service of the NIA. But even if he was still in the service, only courtesy, not law, demands that the institution be informed of such an arrest. This can only happen under Buhari, because everyone has carved out an empire within the nation for him or herself and turned the nation into banana republic.
As EFCC chair, Nuhu Ribadu did not have to write to the police before arresting a former Inspector General of Police, Mr. Tafa Balogun. Dauda also expressed regret that the EFCC under Magu had been hostile to and uncooperative with the NIA, leading to the massive withdrawal of NIA operatives from the service of the EFCC. That is the crux of the matter. Every agency wants to operate above the law.
Since EFCC discovered the $43.5 hidden in the Ikoyi flat, NIA had suddenly become both hostile and antagonistic to the EFCC, a precedent set by the DSS, because the same scenario had earlier played out at the DSS. Operatives of the service would not allow EFCC arrest Ita Ekpeyong, a former Director General of the department.
BETWEEN THE DSS AND THE POLICE
Soon after the fall of Daura, the report authored by the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris on the DSS invasion of the National Assembly, which was leaked to the media immediately after it was submitted to the then Acting President Osinbajo left much to be desired. The report appeared to aim at one thing: nail Daura. The report, which was written in very bad grammar, stated that the former DSS Director was playing a role orchestrated by “…highly placed politicians to achieve selfish political goals hence his unilateral and unlawful decision to invade the National Assembly Complex…”
Daura through some faceless associates had since debunked the claim that his decision to invade the National Assembly was at the instance of politicians opposed to Buhari.
Sadly, too, the Police had days before the National Assembly invasion blocked the convoy of the Senate President from leaving the residence, in what was the first attempt by the security agencies to aid some faceless politicians to forcefully remove the leadership of the legislature. Typically, the police denied knowledge of the illegal operation because of the public opprobrium it generated and that was the end of it. No one investigate the police and they got away with that illegality.
IMPERATIVES OF RULE OF ENGAGEMENT
Although the laws establishing these agencies clearly spelt out the powers of each agency, there is an urgent need to come out with clear guidelines on how these agencies interact with one another in a democracy and especially under Buhari.
It however appears difficult for those at the top to understand and accept the fact that the nation is no longer running a military regime. There is therefore the need for Buhari to lead by example. There is huge but disturbing politicisation of the various security agencies in the country, the DSS being the most susceptible, even though the police and others are not any better.
Importantly too is the disposition to the rule of law. Truth is that whenever a court of competent jurisdiction gives an order and the president not only disobeys the order, but goes ahead to justify the disobedience, he should not expect his appointees to operate under the rule of law. His body language and personal example are therefore germane to the modus operandi of these organizations, going forward.
This, of course, is because of his disposition to the rule of law, as stated by him when he attended the annual general meeting of the Nigerian Bar Association, where he canvassed for the rule of law to give way to national interest whenever they clash. Although there is a new DG at the DSS, the president must take interest in the goings on in that all-important agency, before some other mischievous elements in the presidency abuse the privilege of working for him.