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DSS, democracy and the rule of law

By Editorial Board
14 August 2018   |   3:27 am
Democracy is on trial in Nigeria. Tragically this ugly spectre is the consequence of a sinister connivance between some elected citizens and elemental vestiges of dictatorship epitomised by some security and quasi-security agencies in the country.

[file] DSS

Democracy is on trial in Nigeria. Tragically this ugly spectre is the consequence of a sinister connivance between some elected citizens and elemental vestiges of dictatorship epitomised by some security and quasi-security agencies in the country. Unwittingly perhaps, they constitute a threat to civil liberties and the institutions, which symbolise democratic ideals in the polity. How else do we categorise last week’s assault by hooded men of the Department of State Security (DSS) on the National Assembly in the nation’s capital? How else do we interpret the act of a federal organisation arbitrarily freezing the accounts of a constituent part of the federation, thereby paralyzing all activities of a state government? Where is the rule of law? And why is the law not able to rule?

The action, notably the siege on the country’s federal legislature, has been roundly condemned by all decent persons and impartial stakeholders. The presidency has reportedly distanced itself from the action, which had attracted even the diplomatic community. The British government’s view, which stated that ‘it would only accept a democratic process that recognises the rights of Nigerians to participate in election process, was conveyed by the British High Commission in Abuja. The statement further said the British High Commission is ‘aware of media reports of a situation in the National Assembly’ and that they were ‘closely monitoring the situation.’ State governors and member of the opposition party have all condemned the invasion of the National Assembly.

The National Assembly is the symbol of the people and (their) representative democracy. As one of the arms of government, its independence is enshrined and guaranteed in the Constitution. It is charged with making laws for the overall benefit of the people. This newspaper has repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction with some of the antics of the federal and state legislatures.We have noted several times that they have largely been self-serving in their actions. And they are guilty of self-aggrandizement.

Yet, it is not the duty of the DSS or any other security agencies to intervene and interfere with the internal working of the legislature. The Executive branch cannot or should not interfere with the Legislature. Where there are perceived differences the Judiciary, that arcane body symbolised by a blind woman, as the interpreters of the law, is often invited to adjudicate.This is the time-tested and universally accepted practice in the history of democracy. That is the majesty in the time-tested principle of separation of powers.

The incident of the assault on the National Assembly was frightening. It was starkly reminiscent of the mentality of army gangsterism, which characterised military rule in the dark days of their misadventure in the corridors of power. In the ensuing confusion, the rumour mill became extremely active. Social media was abuzz with different theories, which increased tension. The general thinking was that the Executive branch was desperate to change the leadership of the National Assembly. And so in the early hours of that Black Day, some hooded security operatives illegally blocked the gates to the National Assembly and prevented members, the press and staff from entrying. But some audacity stepped in as a member of the House of Representatives, Boma Goodhead and a few others defied the blockade and challenged the emissaries of doom and unconstitutionality.

Indeed there was a sense of déjà vu. Obviously conscious of the illegality of their act, the minions who were deployed to the unconstitutional action were hooded ostensibly to hide their shame and ignominy. But no, they must be unmasked, fished out and punished according to laws of the land. A plea that they were acting under superior orders is unacceptable. They obeyed an unlawful order. As we know, that plea was knocked out of international jurisprudence during the Nuremberg trials after the Second World War in 1945.

Meanwhile, the nation was indeed pleased with the termination of the appointment of the Director-General of DSS, Lawal Daura, on the order of the Acting President Yemi Osinbajo. It restored a degree of confidence in the rule of law.

The predominant narrative that the Presidency was privy to official brigandage was summarily cleared. It is on record that under the deposed DSS director-general that Department had often acted beyond the confines of law. For example, the DSS once invaded the homes of serving Supreme Court Justices and detained them for days without any court warrant. The DSS also invaded the Ekiti State House of Assembly in 2016 to arrest a legislator. Besides, the continuous detention of former National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki after six different court orders granting the latter bail is another example of his highhandedness and lawlessness.

Sadly, the Presidency condoned these unconstitutional acts. It would seem that the President is unable to rein in his men. His own appointee, the Inspector General of Police once openly disobeyed his orders to relocate to Benue State in the aftermath of a violent attack on citizens. This has accounted for the notorious and fierce inter-agency rivalry that has negatively impacted the fight against the insurgency and the menace of the herdsmen in the country.

We are on the threshold of anarchy. This is frightening and the Presidency must rise to the occasion. All acts of insubordination by political appointees should be dealt with by the appropriate authorities. Unconstitutional acts should not be condoned in any manner. If the President overlooks breaches committed by men who are believed to be loyal to him, such acts have a way of undermining democracy. It is a sure route to anarchy.

Therefore, all the perpetrators of the failed coup against democracy on Tuesday the 8th of August, 2018 should be tried and punished no matter how highly placed they are. The presidency should know that other officers are watching how this sensitive matter will be handled. If not summarily dealt with, it would encourage more scoundrels in the corridors of power into acts of brigandage.

In the main, we call on all actors on the political stage to be more circumspect as we enter the final months, which precede the next general elections. There is life after elections. And in all of this, the point must be made that the lives and security of the Nigerian people are more important than the power struggle currently terrorising the nation.

Caution and respect for codes of decent behaviour should be the guiding spirit. It is thus gratifying to note that the Acting Director General, DSS, has sent the right signal in his first major public statement that illegal detentions by the DSS including that of the former NSA would be reviewed. All told, as we noted here the other day, to make democracy safe, man must not be allowed to rule. It is the law that must rule because it is above all.