The week that just passed will for long be remembered as perhaps the most momentous week in the history of the Muhammadu Buhari administration since 2015. Exactly a week ago, officers of the Department of State Security Services (DSS), acting under the instructions of their boss at the time, Lawal Daura, wearing hoods, stormed the premises of the National Assembly in Abuja, Gestapo-style, occupied the place and resorted to the harassment of National assembly workers, members of the Legislative Assembly who had rushed to the place, and civil society groups that heard of the assault and decided to witness the special drama that was unfolding.
A few days earlier, the Presidency had made a special appeal to the National Assembly to cut short its vacation, and return to consider some urgent national matters, including the approval of the supplementary budget to accommodate expenditure for the 2019 elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The leadership of the National Assembly took a favourable view of this request and chose to meet last Tuesday at 12 noon to take a decision accordingly. But that meeting never held. Unknown to the Senators in particular, other people had other plans. By 6 am, gun-wielding, mask-wearing DSS officials had taken over the National Assembly. There have been many conspiracy theories, reports and conflicting accounts about this incident. What is clear is that what we are left with, what we can hang on to – are very embarrassing conclusions about the integrity of public institutions, the state of our democracy, the quality of leadership and the bad politics that stands in the way of everything else.
The assault on the National Assembly by the Department of State Security has been rightly condemned by all and sundry. It was indeed an assault on the sovereignty of the Nigerian people, to the extent that the National Assembly is the work-place of the elected representatives of the people of Nigeria. That also was a violation of the principle of the separation of powers, and a coup attempt against the rule of law. It was an illegal and unconstitutional act, and can be rightly labeled an act of treasonable felony. The allegation by the now dismissed, and detained former Director General of the State Security Services that he acted based on an intelligence report that there was a plan by some people to smuggle dangerous weapons and incriminating items into the National Assembly remains unproven. If anything, his action has thoroughly embarrassed the Buhari government. The biggest victim of that act of indiscretion is the President himself. Dauragate is by far, one of the worst “own goals” by this administration.
It is worse that the Presidency had to disown Lawal Daura and sack him immediately. The Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo described the seizure of the National Assembly as “unlawful and unauthorized.” The Acting President, being a student of history, must have realized that each time the Executive arm of government takes on the legislature in such a physically violent manner, it is the entire government that is about to be violently destroyed. This was part of the problem in the Western region in 1964/1965. Despite the attempt by the administration to distance itself completely from Lawal Daura, however, so much damage has been done already from which the government cannot extricate itself. Nigeria has been put to shame.
The international community must be wondering what kind of people are actually in charge in Nigeria. The relationship between the legislature and the executive arms of government at the centre, not at any time a good example, has been further damaged. The National Assembly, battling with the politics of defection at the same time, is seriously overwhelmed by an unmistakable crisis of confidence among its members. Nobody should be surprised that the Senate has not yet made up its mind whether to reconvene or not, since what is more important to some elements in Abuja is the plot to impeach the Senate President, Bukola Saraki. The situation was bad, but Dauragate made it worse. There is no doubt that the Buhari government has unwittingly made itself lame-duck. Daura has further eroded the government’s legitimacy.
What I find curious is the Presidency saying that the former DG SSS’s action was “unauthorized.” Should an unlawful and unprovoked attack on the National Assembly ever be authorized? No, I don’t think so. Can or should the head of state security services, who is in addition a member of the National Security Council, chaired by the President, and who is duty bound to submit daily national security reports to some persons and share information with same persons who are on the list of government personnel with a “need-to-know” access to state secrets go on a frolic of his own, in a manner that jeopardises state interest and embarrasses his principal? No, I don’t think so. I also cannot imagine that Lawal Daura spent any part of his life as a professional herdsman, where he possibly may have learnt such tactics as he put on display recently. I have also not heard that he spent some time in Nollywood either as an actor or producer, to learn the kind of histrionics that he and his men staged at the National Assembly. There is definitely a lot more to this matter that no one has told us.
State security is not something to be trifled with because on it rests the stability of the state. “Intelligence” is also not such a casual phrase as deployed by Nigeria’s security chiefs. It cannot become a blanket excuse for misconduct. Michael Warner in an essay titled: “Wanted: A definition of intelligence” (see Christopher Andrew, Richard J. Aldrich and Wesley K. Wark (eds), Secret Intelligence: A Reader, London and NY: Routledge, 2009, 552 pp.) writes that “Intelligence involves information, yes, obviously it is far more”. He adds: “It is what people do with data and information that gives them the special quality that we casually call “intelligence”.
I interpret that by saying it is not the information in itself that constitutes “intelligence” but how exactly the information is used. On August 7, the Department of State Security Services and Lawal Daura acted unintelligently. But I am tempted still to give Daura the benefit of the doubt in one regard: could he possibly be a fall guy? Is it possible every one was part of the plot all the way to London as part of the get-rid-of-Saraki-by-all-means-plot, and when the shit hit the fan, Daura had to be sacrificed? How the Daura case is handled going forward will either prove or disprove this hypothesis. If he is suddenly rehabilitated or nothing is done further about the incident, then of course we would know we have been sold a dummy and we shall return here to point out their hypocrisy.
But should Daura be guilty as alleged, then we would certainly be dealing with a major crisis at the heart of government. First, the abuse of strategic public institutions which seems to be a growing norm. Second, the personalization of state institutions; third – the danger that the politicization of strategic institutions poses to the entire polity, and fourth, how easily the government can be hijacked by power mongers. I make this point with an intention to link it to the statement made by Senate President Bukola Saraki to the effect that there is “a-government-within-the-government”.
Saraki is simply saying that President Muhammadu Buhari is not in charge of his own government, that some other people are in charge, and they are so powerful that they give orders to the Director-General of the State Security Services to act in defiance or without the knowledge of the President. Daura has had a long career in the security services. It cannot be assumed that he does not understand protocols and procedures. But the tragedy we face is that those who are supposed to work professionally to protect the state often abandon procedures and protocols and become politicians or agents of those who run “government-within-government” and hence threaten the integrity of the same state they are supposed to protect and defend. This is the short and long of it.
Dauragate should serve as an entry point therefore, into a full audit of the activities of our various law enforcement agencies, not just the Department of State Security Services, but also the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the police, the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), Immigration and Customs. Daura’s acting successor, Matthew Seiyefa, has already alluded to the rot in the SSS when he practically threw his former boss, Lawal Daura under the bus. He did when he publicly admitted that there are too many cases of illegal detentions and human rights abuses involving the SSS and his first task would be to address these cases and ensure that the SSS under his watch respects the rule of law and the right of all Nigerians to dignity and fundamental rights. Given his previous and present position, we believe Seiyefa knows what he is talking about. He should be encouraged to do as he has promised. Femi Falana, SAN has already provided him with a list of persons in SSS detention who should be set free, including Colonel Sambo Dasuki, El Zakzaky and his wife. To that list should be added James Abiri and all victims of political persecution. Seiyefa needs not wait a day longer, and he must resist the temptation to tell us what we want to hear in order to gain some legitimacy.
But the full audit that I call for is not something to be handled by either the police or the EFCC. The EFCC is obviously claiming a moral victory over Lawal or so it seems. But the EFCC has its own issues. For example, shutting down the accounts of Benue and Akwa Ibom states was a coup against autonomous components of the country, clearly in violation of Section 14 of the Nigerian Constitution. Why the coincidence that this happened shortly after APC members in Benue state defected to the Peoples Democratic party? This in itself calls for an investigation. The Acting President must not cherry-pick. The higher loyalty must be to God, conscience, and the people because those in charge today will, tomorrow, also become yesterday’s men, and what they sow today is what they will reap tomorrow, most certainly.
The audit cannot also be assigned to the Inspector-General of Police who obviously has been gloating over Daura’s fate, and has been acting in a holier-than-thou manner. As they say on the streets, Ibrahim Idris should go and sit down! He lacks both the moral and technical integrity to sit in judgement over Daura. There is nothing that Daura has done that he himself is not guilty of. In the course of work, he has also in various ways, undermined the integrity of the National Assembly and at the state level, he should answer these questions: what role did his men play in the Ekiti election? And were his men not reported to have provided protection for the eight members of the Benue State House of Assembly who just recently wanted to impeach the Governor, Samuel Ortom, illegally? He says the Police have investigated and interrogated Lawal Daura and he has submitted an Interim Report to the Acting President, Professor Osinbajo. I find his interim report inadequate and shoddy.
I am embarrassed that Professor Osinbajo actually accepted the Report and intends to pay attention to it. He should have “transmissioned” it back immediately to the “olodo rapata” that wrote it, and ask that all the grammatical errors in it be corrected and a clean copy be “transmissioned” back to him. The office of the Inspector-General of Police is a very important office. And yet a report comes from that office, signed and circulated in the public domain and it contains such grammatical monsters as “weep up sentiment”; “did conspired”, “on a claimed of”, “used…conspired, “hoods and marks”; took strategic location of”; experts or specialist.” I am shocked that the Inspector-General of Police appended his signature to this document… but come to think of it, I worry too much, the man himself probably doesn’t know better. They don’t speak English in this government. They just play with power, guns and bullets.
I insist that Dauragate is not so much about the man and his foibles, rather it is a metaphor for something far deeper which must be isolated, contained, cauterized and disallowed from cancer-like mestasization – in order to save Nigeria. The gangrene eating at the heart of everything, and the thing that hangs around the neck of this government are so easily decipherable, no one will need the services of a marabout to know what to do.
It is up to President Buhari to identify those who have constituted themselves into a “government within (his) government” making him look weak and distracted, acting in defiance of or without regard for his authority; I mean all those formal and informal power brokers who seem to be busy making enemies for him and ridiculing him in the eyes of the world. These are persons Nigerians will forget as soon as they are out of power and relevance. But they will remember Muhammadu Buhari and the mandate they gave him in 2015 – and what he did with it. I urge President Buhari to cut short his trip to London and come back home to put an end to this disturbing drift. This is not the right time to remain on vacation.
Reuben Abati was spokesperson and special adviser, media and publicity to President Goodluck Jonathan (2011 – 2015). A former chairman of the editorial board of The Guardian, Dr. Abati is one of the most respected columnists in Nigeria. He writes his syndicated column twice a week. He tweets from @abati1990.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the writer.