After President Muhammadu Buhari came into office in 2015, one of the measures he took seemingly to restore the professional integrity of the Department of State Services (DSS) was to overhaul it. The worry then was that the operatives of the security agency were politically exposed; a euphemism for the neglect of their professional duties while being steeped in corruption in the process of doing the bidding of politicians. It was alleged then that at the height of their derailment, they were used to prosecute the re-election agenda of the former President Goodluck Jonathan in brazen violation of the rights of the citizens. Standing out of the alleged excesses of the DSS then was its raid on the office of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Lagos. In the reorganisation, the leaders of the operatives were relieved of their jobs.
Thus, the citizens expected that a new DSS would emerge in the Buhari era. They expected a DSS that does its job professionally; operating with respect for the rights of the citizens. But in less than two years, the citizens have come to the grim realisation that this expectation is misplaced. This is because despite its so-called transformation, the DSS has not changed its crude method of operation.
One major area in which the DSS has failed to show that it is now a different organisation is in the arrest of suspects. It is puzzling why the DSS has demonstrated a proclivity for nocturnal arrest. We would have thought the DSS would simply invite a citizen to its office if he or she has questions to answer. It is only when the person fails that the agency may raid his or her residence any time. But what we see today is that the DSS arrests in the dead of the night people who would not have resisted its summonses. In this regard, the DSS shot into infamy through the nocturnal raid of judges. This method is fraught with many dangers. In the case of the arrest of the judges in Rivers State, the state governor had to intervene. If there were no sufficient caution by both parties, there would have been tragic consequences. The common reason given for such nocturnal arrest is that it enables the DSS to secure incriminating evidence before it is destroyed by suspects.
It is the same nocturnal method of arrest that the DSS also tried to use against Apostle Johnson Suleman. It was said that around 2:00 a.m. the DSS operatives raided the hotel room of the preacher who was in Ekiti for a crusade. But the timely intervention of Governor Ayodele Fayose saved him from being arrested. Still, this arrest could have been tragic. The governor’s armed guards could have confronted the DSS operatives. But thankfully, the DSS operatives fled when they saw Fayose and his team.
Nigerians have many reasons to resist nocturnal arrest by DSS operatives. For even if they identify themselves as DSS operatives, their genuine identification may still be doubted. After all, we live in a country where armed robbers in police or military uniforms raid banks. Worse still, there have been kidnappings and disappearance of people without being traced. In the case of Suleman, the DSS later did what they failed to do initially. They invited him to their office. Suleman honoured the invitation. At the end, he said that the operatives were professional and they only had a “friendly chat” with him and released him. If the issue could be resolved through a “friendly chat” why did the DSS massively deploy to nocturnally arrest Suleman in his hotel?
The so-called “friendly chat” that came after so much violent attempt to arrest Suleman does not help the image of the DSS as a professional organisation. This is because there is the suspicion that they were only “professional” because of the status of the cleric. If those the DSS operatives want to arrest are not friends of a governor, they would easily unleash violence on them. In the process, if the suspects are killed, the operatives would lie that they resisted or that they were killed by armed robbers or unknown persons. There is the suspicion that the DSS operatives choose this nocturnal arrest when it does not have real evidence to implicate a suspect. It is such nocturnal arrest that allegedly provides the operatives the opportunity to plant evidence. After such a raid, they would regale the public with tales of how dollars were found in sceptic tanks.
The DSS needs to be re-orientated and professionalised. It must not continue to use its crude method and still claim that it has undergone a reorganisation that has depoliticised it. The impression the agency is giving the citizens is that indeed it is not professional; it is only being used by politicians to persecute their enemies. This is why while it is obsessed with branding some people as the enemies of the state and arresting them, it ignores the urgent imperative of taming the herdsmen who are wreaking havoc on communities in some parts of the country. The DSS operatives have not arrested any Fulani herdsman suspected to be responsible for the killings in southern Kaduna. Yet, they were quick to arrest Suleman for expressing the need for self-defence in the midst of such wanton attacks by the herdsmen. It is the same tendentious parochialism and partisanship that have made the DSS not to have arrested those who kill fellow citizens simply because they do not share their faith. The DSS must realise that Nigerians are living in a democratic era when they set great store by their freedom. It must wean itself off the illusion that it has returned to the dark days when the citizens writhed under military jackboots. Is the DSS really interested in security when it cannot obey court orders? Is it not the DSS that has kept in its custody the leader of IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu, despite several court orders granting him bail? Is the DSS not aware that it is inciting pro-Biafra supporters by this flagrant disobedience of court orders?
It is sad that the DSS has not realised that it is already faced with a credibility crisis. For its handling of the Ibrahim Magu case and the president’s response have done so much to erase whatever credibility the organisation has had. Or how does one explain a situation where the DSS submitted a report to the Senate, the latter used it to declare that Magu was corrupt and not fit to be the chairman of the EFCC only for the president to say that the report was false? Instead of being obsessed with nocturnal arrest, the DSS should be preoccupied with how to surmount this threat to its credibility. For if it is convinced that its report is genuine, it just has to make this clear to the public. But if its report is false, those behind it have to be appropriately sanctioned.
This is where the president has much to do with the credibility and professionalism of the DSS. He did not need much explanation to convince the citizens that the report against Magu was false. All he should simply have done to send this message was to have sacked the Director-General of the DSS, Lawal Musa Daura, and prosecuted him for his treachery against the presidency, the Senate and the entire nation. But Buhari cannot do this because obviously, the excesses of the DSS are perpetrated with his ready approval. But ultimately, it is the DSS that would suffer. For just as Buhari dismantled the leadership of the organisation, so a new president after him would scuttle the careers of those who are complicit in the tragic flight of professionalism from the agency.