SINCE February 4 when former military President Ibrahim Babangida released a statement through his spokesman, Mr. Kassim Afegbua, essentially calling for a new leadership breed in the 2019 general election, it has been one travail after the other for the spokesman. The statement said in part: “In 2019 and beyond, we should come to a national consensus that we need new breed leadership with requisite capacity to manage our diversities and jump-start a process of launching the country on the super highway of technology-driven leadership in line with the dynamics of modern governance.” This statement, which came on the heels of a similar but more pungent letter by former President Olusegun Obasanjo asking President Muhammadu Buhari not to seek re-election in 2019, stirred some controversy in the polity because it was followed by a counter statement purportedly issued by the former military president. But the controversy was laid to rest when General Babangida confirmed to a national daily that he was indeed the author of the original statement. However, it strangely gave the Nigeria Police and the Department of State Services (DSS) goose pimples, and they went after Afegbua with dangerous relish.
First, the Nigeria Police, without extending an invitation to Afegbua, declared him wanted for allegedly issuing a false statement and inciting the public. This move immediately raised a number of posers. How did the police come to the conclusion that the statement issued by Afegbua was false? And why declare a man wanted when there had been no previous invitations? More fundamentally, what business had the police with political statements issued by a former president? Without any shred of compulsion, IGP Ibrahim Idris and his team shed the toga of professionalism and descended into the political arena, in an apparent bid to curry the favours of President Buhari. By that action, the police blurred the lines between loyalty to the Nigerian state and partisan politics. Not surprisingly, Afegbua received a warm reception when he showed up, together with his lawyer, Dr. Kayode Ajulo, at the police headquarters in Abuja last Wednesday, and even got an apology to boot. But the incalculable damage had already been done to the psyche of the Nigerian public and the image of the Nigeria Police.
However, in a bizarre twist of events, the DSS extended an invitation to Afegbua in the evening of the same day. And while the apparently law-abiding spokesman honoured the invitation, the leadership of the Service, which issued the invitation, failed to attend to him. Thus, in a statement he issued on Friday, Afegbua revealed that developments in the previous six days had left him traumatised. He said: “My life is in danger as we speak. I have been receiving series of phone calls from unknown persons threatening me and my family. After what the police termed a no-case issue, they were apologetic and I took my leave. In the evening of that day, Wednesday, February 7, I got a call inviting me to the headquarters of the DSS.” The next day, he spent seven hours waiting to be told what he had been invited for. At 6.50 p.m, he left but was told to return the next day at 11 am. According to him, “On arrival, having spent two hours, I was attended to by the Director of Operations and two others who interrogated me on the statement I issued. My interrogation was recorded electronically and I was made to write a statement, (the DSS) having collected all my personal details, house address, account number, international passport number and other information,” disclosed Mr. Afegbua.
It is indeed strange that the DSS would join issues with politicians on President Buhari’s 2019 fate. If former President Babangida felt offended by the statement Afegbua released to the public, he certainly would have made his reservations known. But the former president did nothing of the sort, and Nigerians are left with the impression that the DSS was only harassing Afegbua as a retaliatory measure against the former president. By any standards, this is tragic for the nation and even for the DSS itself. Indeed, if some people feel that Buhari should not contest in 2019, how does that concern the DSS? Is Nigeria now a police state where the expression of personal opinion about the suitability of a sitting president for reelection is tantamount to treason? By the way, what did the DSS want to do with Afegbua’s bank details?
It is unfortunate that the police and DSS have deployed the repressive state apparatus against an innocent private citizen in a bid to protect the perceived political interest of their principal. It is equally saddening that the Presidency has, to date, not deemed it fit to issue a statement denouncing the patently unconstitutional actions of the police and DSS. In the absence of such a statement, it would be reasonable for Nigerians to assume that it approves of their antics. The harassment of Mr Kassim Afegbua by the security agencies must stop forthwith. They should deploy their energies into tackling real threats like the herdsmen’s terrorism that has continued to wreak untold havoc on the nation. As creations of the law, they cannot scoff at it and expect to go scot-free.