Of DSS, lawmakers and the law

THE State Security Service (SSS), otherwise known as the Department of State Services (DSS), is Nigeria’s primary domestic intelligence agency. Set up  by the then President Ibrahim Babangida in June 1986 through Decree Number 19 which replaced the previous National Security Organization (NSO) with  the SSS, the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), the DSS has a mandate to protect and defend Nigeria against domestic threats, uphold and enforce criminal laws, and provide leadership and criminal justice services to both federal and state law enforcement organs, in addition to protecting the presidency and state governors and their deputies.

Commendably, the agency has achieved many feats over the years. These included the arrest of the Egyptian bomber Omar Rezaq in 1993 while he was trying to enter Nigeria through the Nigeria-Benin Republic border; the interception, in October 2010, of a large cache of arms and ammunition originating from Iran at the Apapa port in Lagos, and the infiltration of extremist groups in the country, including Boko Haram. Indeed, in 2013, it broke up a terrorist cell led by Iranian handlers. The terrorists  had been planning attacks on American and Israeli targets in Nigeria. It has also, at various times, suffered casualties while trying to secure the nation, in addition to fighting kidnapping to a standstill.

Sadly, however, the agency sometimes exceeds its constitutional boundaries. For instance, in a move which sent shock waves across the nation in July this year, it arrested and detained the  Speaker of  the Zamfara State House of Assembly, Alhaji Sanusi Rikiji, his deputy, Muhammad Gumi, the Majority Leader, Isah Abdulmumini and the Chief Whip, Abdullahi Dansadau, in Abuja over an alleged plan to impeach Governor Abdulaziz Yari. Consequently, the remaining 20 members of the Assembly fled to Kaduna, where they issued a statement calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to intervene in their plight. The lawmakers had accused Governor Yari of alleged corrupt usage of local government funds for state purposes, non-remittance of pension funds to pension administrators and non-remittance of five per cent emirate councils funds, among others. The detainees have since been released, but without any apology by the DSS.

The Zamfara case was a follow up to the invasion of the Ekiti State House of Assembly in March for reasons that have, till date, not been disclosed to the Nigerian public. Indeed, irked by its action in another case, Justice Nnamdi Dimgba of the Federal High Court, Abuja, had recently said in despair: “If the people at the DSS want to become judge and do their job as well, I am ready to vacate my office for them. But as long as I am still here, I take  exception to them flouting the orders of the court.” A situation where judges are frustrated by an agency under the executive can only be a recipe for anarchy.

But apparently emboldened by its actions at the state level, the DSS took its brazen assault on the Constitution further penultimate week when it stormed the National Assembly over the ongoing budget padding drama at the House of Representatives. Reacting to that action, 27 pro-democracy including the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), condemned the invasion, saying it was unconstitutional. Similarly, human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), said the DSS lacked both the moral and legal rights to probe the alleged budget padding by the leadership of the House of Reps. Falana added: “By virtue of the provisions of the National Security Agencies Act, the powers of the SSS are strictly limited to the preservation and detection within Nigeria of any crime against internal security.”

It is indeed curious that the DSS has carried on as if unaware of its constitutional limitations. In our view, this situation has arisen simply because the nation at large is really not   ready for governance according to the democratic ethos. This explains, for instance, the violence visited on the Zamfara lawmakers by youths in the state who accused them of plotting to impeach Governor Yari. Pray, when did it become an offence for the legislature to initiate impeachment proceedings against a governor or president? How can the cause of democracy be advanced when a siege is laid on the legislature for doing the job for which it was set up in the first place?

Indeed, how can the nation complain of bad governance, then condone assault on the process constitutionally laid down for redress? We insist that it is the business of lawmakers to determine whether or not to impeach a governor or president, who is equally entitled to a defence when notified of impeachment proceedings. If the lawmakers act wrongly, the courts are there to adjudicate on the matter. Thus, a situation where the DSS, an agency under the executive, arrests and detains the leadership of a state legislature or invades the hallowed chambers of parliament should not be tolerated under any guise. In fact, it amounts to fostering a reign of terror on the land and assaulting the principle of separation of powers which, we hasten to add, is one of the pillars of democracy.

While we are not against the DSS as an institution, we believe that the time has come for it to be mindful of its constitutional mandate. It should exercise caution in the way it carries itself, otherwise it would continue to open itself up to criticisms on the basis of high handedness, impunity and partisanship.