Scare Tactics and Interim Fiction
ENGAGEMENTS BY Chidi Amuta
Under the Muhammadu Buhari presidency, Nigeria’s security police, the DSS, has gradually acquired a political costume. Like all adept political masquerades, the DSS chooses its moments and sides. At one such moment during this president’s first term, the agency woke up one morning and sent out hooded goons to invade and barricade access to the National Assembly. The aim was ostensibly to prevent PDP opposition legislators from assembling to impeach embattled Senate president Bukola Saraki of the APC. That was a politically defensive posture and an open foray into the partisan fray.
The images unsettled local and foreign audiences. Government under acting prefecture of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was embarrassed and quickly fired Director General Lawal Daura. Buhari was reportedly uncomfortable with the turn of events and appointed a successor of his own choosing who is the current head of the agency. The rest is a known story.
Just before the last elections, the DSS instituted a surprising court action seeking permission to arrest CBN Governor Godwin Emefiele for, among so many unprintable allegations, terrorism financing. The nation was shocked that the man who holds and signs all our money could be associated with such nefarious meddling. It would be recalled that Mr. Emefiele was at one point both incumbent CBN governor as well as a card carrying APC presidential aspirant with an elaborated well oiled campaign apparatus until hounds in the Villa reportedly shot him down mid air. The court case miraculously died on arrival or is still in suspended animation. Mr. Emefiele survived to resume presiding over our money and its plight.
The next day, a pack of organized political jackals was out on public prowl, threatening hell fire against the DSS and stiffly defending Mr. Emefiele as a man who could do no wrong. Shortly afterwards, an emboldened Emefiele resurfaced from hiding and appeared in Aso Villa to the warm embrace of president Buhari. The president ushered him back from his vacation and back to his duty post. Thereafter, the duo conspired and unleashed the largest currency confiscation project in our history. Our cashless and hapless public is still bleeding from that thoughtless gambit.
In the run up to the last elections, the atmosphere of general uncertainty and imminent threat to national security was palpable. Fear was high that pre-existing fault spots could be aggravated by election tension to unsettle our fragile national security even further. The public expected the DSS and other security agencies to be at their best. They probably were. But their best delivered an election full of crisis, violence, intimidation and open abuse of the electoral process.
Worse still, the nation came under severe security stress as we witnessed the worst type of ethnic profiling and divisive hate tactics during the governorship election especially in Lagos. Voters were injured. Some were killed or maimed for life. Animosities tore neighbourhoods apart. The many casualties of the election fiasco are still being counted. A revamped reign of armed thuggery has emerged and literally transformed into an untidy ethnic militia. Innocent victims are still counting their losses. A new version of ethnocentrism which president Obasanjo has recently described as ‘Igbophobia’ has emerged. One of our strategic nationalities has been under consistent ethnic profiling and targeting from emboldened arsonists and armed thugs. The freedom which democracy ought to confer on all citizens has been severely curtailed in Lagos especially. Fear thy neighbour has replaced love thy neighbour!
Interestingly, the DSS remained silent in the face of these inter ethnic aggravations and blatant threats to the security, peace order and unity of the nation. I am not aware that the DSS issued any cautions to the ethnic warlords who profiled and filtered voters by ethnicity and party in Lagos. I am also not sure whether the DSS has managed to compile its own classified list of polling units where the worst electoral criminalities occurred all over the country. Maybe those findings remain ‘classified’ or ‘secret’ as usual!
The election is over. Outcomes have been announced. The nation is looking forward to a peaceful handover of power to a new president and government on 29th May. Those who lost or are aggrieved have since headed to tribunals and courts to get a hearing. As in every healthy democracy, there are post election after shocks. Partisans have mildly protested the announced outcomes. Party officials have issued all manner of conflicting statements. The public has remained calm, having gone back to their lives while politicians duel mostly in words.
Meanwhile, some Nigerian politicians and their trumpeters have been true to type. Predictably, winners and losers have engaged in incendiary exchanges. That is in the nature of partisan democracy. Winners tend to be triumphant while losers bear an abiding bitterness that lasts until the courts deliver judgments on election cases and scheming for the next election commences. The heat of these exchanges has now bred a new level of concern. People fear that angry exchanges among politicians could unsettle a fragile and factious polity. But even then, nothing has been said or heard that detracts from the normal run of anger and disappointment among parties in a democracy.
The DSS has now weighed in to cry and warn out about a ‘plot’ by some political interests to generate enough heat to discredit the outcome of the election. According to the secret police, there are plans by yet unnamed entities to procure conflictual court orders to discredit the elections especially at the presidential level. By the phantom plot. There are plans to arrange subversive protests to destabilise social order. By this same script, the authors of this toxic trend hope to secure an ungovernable public space leading to a state of emergency and a logical formation of an ‘interim government’.
The logic and sequence is an acceptable Nollywood plot line. It however drips of a scare tactic that could tempt the lame duck administration to believe that the DSS is up and about. Not exactly. By any serious definition of pre -emptive intelligence, this interim government alarm is a superficial hoax. All the elements of the so-called plot fall squarely within the confines of normal democratic expressions. Those who lost elections are bound to go to court. The courts will pronounce a diversity of judgments some of which may overturn some received outcomes. Some political groups and parties are likely to organise protests to air their grievances or reinforce their confidence in victory. Some protests at home or abroad could exceed the bounds of civil protest but the police and other security agencies are paid to contain such situations. All these are well within the normal expectations of a post election scenario in a democracy. See what happened in Brazil after the recent elections. Even the post election anger in Kenya is still alive in riots and protests all around the country.
Unconsciously, the DSS may in fact have entered the Nigerian post election conversation through a political back gate. By a curious coincidence, the DSS argument and warning sounds similar to those of the spokespersons of the APC. Both Mr. Festus Keyamo and Femi Fani-Kayode have been issuing the same warnings and threats to the major opposition parties. They have even crossed the line to issue ethnic oriented threats, with Mr. Fani-Kayode warning against a possible ‘Kigali scenario’. Both the DSS and the APC hawks are targeting the leaders of the two major opposition parties. What unites the APC town criers and the DSS is their joint concern and informing logic that nothing must disrupt the swearing in of Mr. Bola Tinubu on May 29th. The APC people are predictably defending the interest of their party. The DSS is , on the other hand, out in defense of the constitutional requirement that you swear in the winner while the losers go to court in the hope that justice could vindicate their contention.
Common sense and the constitution make any mischief outside this logic unthinkable. The constitution is clear. No sensible opposition political leader can seek to prevent the May 29th event at Eagle Square. That is in line with our constitutional order and serves the interest of an orderly democracy.
However, there is an implicit threat in the DSS statement of alarm that could stoke national unrest. If they play according to the script of the APC hawks and proceed to arrest either or both Mr. Atiku or Mr. Obi to prevent them and their followers from disturbing the peace on May 29th, then comes trouble in battalions. Partisan mobs will be incensed. Public order will be disrupted. The nation will splinter into disruptive gangs of angered partisans. Ethnic war mongers will have a field day. Free ranging anarchists will take over the streets. In the general drift towards anarchy, uninvited power adventurers wearing frightening but familiar uniforms may even be tempted to walk a familiar path. The new government, if it manages to survive, will enter office with the poisoned chalice of a divided and violently rowdy nation. No one in the present configuration of interests and forces wants any of this. The unwritten consensus among all interests is that we all want Nigeria to survive so that we can continue to advance our interests and fight our battles.
As for the kite of the possibility of a so-called ‘interim government’, that is as far fetched and foolish as can be. The elaborate democratic edifice of the nation remains firmly in place. There is a federal government both incumbent and impending. There are 36 elected state governments both incumbent and imminent. There are 774 local governments deriving their powers and legitimacy from an elective sovereignty. It is therefore something of an insane flight of fiction to imagine a serial disruption of this elaborate edifice in favour of some transient contraption. I think our politicians and their associate mischief makers are a little more serious and sensible than to make a mess of this in the name of some interim government. The last time we tried that path under the military, it produced a disaster that the courts later ruled out of order.
As for the DSS, we expect a higher level of scare mongering and fictionalizing from an intelligent security outfit. This interim government joke does not do sufficient credit to the long institutional heritage and memory of what used to be the SSS and is now the DSS.
If indeed there is any such plot backed by credible factual intelligence, let the DSS, as the United States FBI would do, come out with the details, make arrests and file charges in court against the suspects. Institutional fiction writing and amateurish creative mischief are unbecoming of a serious security agency entrusted with the security of the Nigerian state. In it all, what in fact could actually destabilise the nation and unhinge the state is the adoption of conspiracy fiction making as the basis of a national security strategy. It is time to get serious, please.