While the remote and immediate causes for last week’s decisive sacking of Mr. Lawal Daura as the Director-General of the Department of State Services remain a guess, it is unarguably the most inspiring action by the Muhammadu Buhari administration in a long while.
And following it up this Tuesday with the literal disbandment of the infamous Special Anti-Robbery Squad, was a bonus that points to more likely heart-gladdening decisions as we move towards the 2019 elections. To hope that all of these and other such attempts at living to the ideals of democracy are not mere populist carrots dangled to lure the electorate is to mind, a legitimate one for every Nigerian. Until there is contrary proof, however, these two decisions are a loud indication of the responsiveness of government to the aspirations of the people. They assertively puncture the apathetic, if not completely insentient, the character that is consistent with this government’s delayed reactions or entire lack of it to the myriads of avoidable plagues that Nigeria and its people have faced over the years.
The first decision, in particular, had a national benefit to its credit. It was one of those few occasions that all Nigerians irrespective of their persuasions agreed on anything in the recent. Everyone, including those who ordinarily saw nothing wrong in the activity or inactivity of the DSS in fulfillment of their commitment to the Buhari administration, saw it as a positive signal. That individual reasons for hailing this decision bore different tones are irrelevant. What matters is that, for once, there was a convergence of opinions concerning the decision of the national government.
And arguments over whether Acting President Yemi Osinbajo consulted with his principal before taking these far-reaching decisions, which have continued to agitate the minds of partisans, bear no much import. For starters, in a society like this where the donor of power, even though he does it under statutory compulsion, holds on to the leash, it is unthinkable that an earthshaking call like firing the nation’s number one spy (who also happens to be a presidential kinsman), would pass without consultations with the honcho. That is without consideration to the largely unobstructed disposition of Osinbajo who once described President Buhari as a father figure. In any case, these contentions are distractive and unhelpful in the circumstance. What should agitate the minds of compatriots at the moment is the demand for total reforms of all institutions of state for effective service delivery and that does not end with the removal of a chief executive.
For instance, there is hardly any infringement of the rights of people and institutions by the DSS under previous administrations that the Daura leadership did not match. Since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999, security agencies have continued to hone their skills at circumventing the laws of the land and disobeying court orders, which is a disheartening irony. When agencies set up to maintain law and order in a society themselves become the biggest flouters of those laws, they put everything about decency in the country to ridicule within and outside the boundaries of such a state.
What is most striking about the Nigerian case is that the wilful disgrace that security agencies serve on the state is mostly on behalf of the government of the day. What this means is that successive heads of security agencies just generally see themselves as servants of the President and his administration rather than the state itself!
Heads of security agencies in Nigeria do not realise that they are agents of the state and that the government of the day is only one of the organs of the state, a result for which their allegiance should be to the people, who are a permanent feature of the state rather than the ever-transient individuals that constitute government at one time or the other.
This is why a few days after Mr. Samuel Ortom, Governor of Benue State, defected from the ruling All Progressives Congress alongside most of the elected representatives of the people in the state, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, would see sense in dusting up some pending petitions against the state government and freeze its bank account. It is the reason why people would be kept in detention in spite of repeated orders of the court granting them bail and why there is the general perception that government’s war against corruption is uneven. Of course, as the great Leonardo da Vinci says, “All our knowledge is the offspring of our perceptions,” there is very little government can say and do to change the perception of people until these agencies become more law-abiding in their own law enforcement duties.
Beyond the change in guard at the DSS or any other security agencies upon which fate may be impending, therefore, there is the all-important duty to ensure a transformation in the mode of operation of all security agencies. This, within the contemplation of the National Security Agencies (Establishment) Act of 1986, should, in the case of the DSS, be: “The prevention and detection within Nigeria of any crime against the internal security of Nigeria; the protection and preservation of all non-military classified matters concerning the internal security of Nigeria; and such other responsibilities affecting internal security within Nigeria as the National Assembly or the President, as the case may be, may deem necessary.”
Nigeria’s security agencies need to move away from this fixation on dancing to the tune of the government in power even when the action or inaction of successive government jeopardize national security. These agencies must start to function like the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States, which since 1970 when still led by the legendary J. Edgar Hoover, has continued to grow in independence.
According to accounts by Tim Weiner in his book, Enemies: A History of the FBI, Hoover had in 1970 refused President Richard Nixon’s pressure for him to “sign off on a plan … to unleash the full powers of the CIA and the FBI and the NSA … to take off any restrictions that the constitution might impose and (allow them to) spy on anyone the president deemed a threat to not only the United States but his personal power.” After the painstaking investigations of multiple cases of abuse of office that brought down the Nixon administration in 1974, the FBI has investigated four other presidents across party line. These include Ronald Regan, Bill Clinton, George W Bush and the incumbent, Donald Trump.
That the same FBI which was between the 1950 and the end of 1960 deployed and subjected to use for political rather than professional reasons, could transform in such a short period, gives a ray of hope that it is attainable in Nigeria and the process should start now.
Even if it does not realize it, the revolutionary mandate delivered to the Buhari administration in 2015 did not request just the battle against corruption or improvement in the national economy, it is also an important demand for the rejuvenation and right-placing for all national and democratic institutions.
Whatever this administration needs to do, whether by a review of the laws, the re-orientation of personnel (leaders and operatives) and the introduction of community outreach programmes, it has the task of reforming these agencies and turning them into nation-serving agencies instead of the leader-serving agencies that they currently portray. It is an important prerequisite to the entrenchment of true democracy.