Without knowing it, the Department of State Services (DSS), Nigeria’s detachment of secret police, is helping Omoyele Sowore to push his agenda for #RevolutionNow. In its attempts to smother the call for citizens’ demand for good governance and accountability, the DSS has, by its unthinking procedure to emasculate the convener of #RevolutionNow and publisher of online news platform, SaharaReporters, exposed the defects in the country’s presidency.
Furthermore, the hint at the country’s gradual slide into diarchy is not lost on many in the outrage that has attended the recent courthouse commotion that trailed the DSS’s Gestapo approach to re-arrest Sowore.
In the voices for and against, two camps have been established between those that favour fascism and enthusiastic supporters of real democracy. In all, Sowore’s counsel and democracy activist, Mr. Femi Falana, has cleverly exposed the underbelly of those championing the return to authoritarian system of government in the country. Explaining what happened in court that fateful Friday, Falana stated: “When I informed the court that fresh charges were being filed against our clients and that they could be re-arrested, the prosecution denied any such plan.
“As soon as the case was adjourned, the DSS pounced on Sowore and caused a disruption of the proceedings of the court. Having taken over the courtroom, Justice Ojukwu hurriedly rose and asked the Registrar to adjourn all other cases.”
But, despite the facts of what happened before many people, the prosecutor tried to deny the obvious to the extent of saying that the invasion never happened. And in a bid to exonerate itself from the violation of the hallowed arena of justice, the president pushed back on an attempt to put the DSS’s blame on it, saying that the DSS does not take instructions from the president.
In the statement by Senior Special Assistant to President Buhari on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Garba Shehu, the presidency described Sowore not only as a person of interest but also that it “should not surprise anyone that the DSS is after” him.
Part of the statement read: “The presidency notes some of the insinuations in the media about the arrest by the Department of State Services (DSS) of the agitator, Omoyele Sowore. However, it should not surprise anyone who has followed his actions and words that Sowore is a person of interest to the DSS. Sowore called for a revolution to overthrow the democratically elected government of Nigeria. He did so on television, and from a privileged position as the owner of a widely-read digital newspaper run from the United States of America.”
Earlier, the president’s Assistant on Social Media, Lauretta Onochie, claimed that the attempt at forceful removal of Sowore from the courtroom was a drama acted by his supporters to make the Buhari administration look bad, adding that there was no such thing.
The clumsy denial, with another variant that Sowore’s supporters subjected him to the dehumanizing physical attacks, was dismissed by Falana, saying: “If Sowore’s supporters subjected him to such brutalisation in the presence of DSS operatives, why were they not arrested for contravening the provisions of the Anti-Torture Act, 2017? Or were the DSS operatives expecting the supporters of a defendant wanted by the state to kill him in their presence?”
While revealing that the DSS came to the court with no warrant of arrest and detention order, the senior lawyer noted that although “this country was ruled by military dictators for about three decades, at no time did security operatives invade court premises to arrest political activists inside a courtroom.”
Throw back to NASS invasion
THE December 6 attempt to whisk Sowore away from the premises of a Federal High Court in Abuja came as a cheap rehash of a similar attack on the National Assembly complex on August 7, 2018, that is precisely 16 months ago.
On that fateful day, hooded DSS operatives barricaded the gate to the National Assembly complex. As the hooded operatives stood sentry at the NASS gate, the two presiding officers of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki and Ike Ekweremadu, were also hemmed in at their respective residences.
Given that Saraki had by then defected to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), there were indications that the presence of the hooded security operatives was to provide cover for APC lawmakers, who claimed to be in the majority, to change the Senate leadership.
The DSS’s action was greeted with massive national outcry and condemnation, just like in the current Sowore debacle. National chairman of PDP, Uche Secondus, condemned the security siege on the Abuja residences of Senate President Bukola Saraki and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, stressing that the DSS’s action was aimed at the forcible overthrow of the National Assembly leadership “and rendering it comatose.”
While describing the siege as an “attack on democracy,” the PDP national chairman declared: “It is now a known fact that democracy has collapsed in Nigeria and we are now under a totalitarian and fascist government with no appetite for the opposition.”
Piqued by the unwarranted siege on the nation’s symbol of democracy, the then Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, summoned the then Director-General of DSS, Lawal Daura, to the Presidential Villa, where he was debriefed. The Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, who was also summoned to the Villa for the same purpose, ensured that Daura’s retinue of security orderlies and patrol vehicles were withdrawn from him.
Nigerians heaved a huge sigh of relief at the prompt sacking of Daura, which was made possible by the fact that President Buhari was at the time on medical vacation in London. Speaking at a world press conference on the attack on the National Assembly, then President of Senate, Saraki said: “It is a matter of record that yesterday, lawmakers and staff of the National Assembly were prevented from entering the National Assembly Complex by heavily armed security agents of the Department of State Services (DSS). All entries to the Complex were blocked. The National Assembly, the seat of democracy in Nigeria, was under lockdown. Senators and members of the House of Representatives were prevented from gaining access.
“…Some of you may recall that about two years ago, I stated that there was a government within this government, to a purpose that was not in the interest of what the people voted for. I said it then, and now we are beginning to see the manifestations of that government within a government. It beats one’s imagination how the head of an agency could have authorized the brazen assault on the legislature that we saw yesterday.”
Unlike in the National Assembly instance of last year, it is obvious that apart from conflicting voices from the presidency, there would be no consequences for the violation of the hallowed precincts of another arm of government.
Two months ago when the Economic Advisory Committee was empaneled and some agencies under the vice president were displaced, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, dismissed insinuations of a quarrel between the president and his deputy.
Appearing on national television, Adesina stated: “You seem to forget that the vice president is the number two man in the country. If the president is away, the vice president acts because it is a joint ticket. Therefore, the new economic advisory body can also relate with the vice president when necessary.
“It is just some Nigerians, who want to drive a wedge between the president and the vice president that are reading meaning to everything. They insinuate about everything. It is still one presidency and decisions taken are best for the country.”
But, in an apparent show of different approaches and understanding of issues, Prof. Osinbajo denounced the invasion of the court by the DSS. The vice president made his feelings known while rejecting an award from the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism as Anti-corruption Defender.
Osinbajo was announced as the recipient of the Integrity Specialty of the Anti-Corruption Defender Award for his “invaluable work of overhauling the Lagos State Judiciary, facilitating far-reaching reforms in the administration of justice in the state, his work of promoting integrity in the civil society and business in Nigeria and his consistency as a strong voice for promoting integrity in the country.”
But in a letter by his Special Assistant on Media, Mr. Laolu Akande, Osinbajo stated: “However, two reasons explain my absence. First is that I am currently in Abu Dhabi for an international meeting under the auspices of the government of the UAE where I am the keynote speaker.
“Second, in view of the developments on Friday in the Sowore case, I think it would be insensitive and inappropriate to attend the ceremony.”
The disparity in their vocations seems to explain the divergent attitude to the rule of law by the president and his deputy. While President Buhari, a former head of state, comes from the military background, Prof. Osinbajo is a professor of law and Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
President Buhari allowed security chiefs extended stay in office after their terms elapsed. At a Nigeria Bar Association conference last year, the president caused a national stir when he stated that the rule of law is subordinate to the national interest. Does that mindset excuse the disdain shown by Nigeria’s secret police to the court in their overzealous attempt to take the law into their hands?
Most Nigerians believe that Mr. Osinbajo’s professional competence and know-how do not come into the reckoning in the performance of the duties of the office of the president, thereby putting a lie to the one presidency claim!