MEET FRANK OSHANUGOR
Following recent editorials and commentaries by some sections of the media with respect to the involvement of the Department of State Service (DSS) in some actions of the Federal Government particularly the arrest and detention of Nigeria’s Central Bank Governor, Godwin Emefiele and Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) Abdulrasheed Bawa, the Public Relations Officer of the Service, Dr. Peter Afunanya, a Fellow of the National Institute of Security Studies in this write up, throws light on the statutory mandate of DSS. This is ostensibly to enlighten members of the public in general.
“Recently, about five major newspapers called out the DSS for bashing of sorts. The papers, which used their platforms to express varied views about the modus operandi of the Service include Vanguard, Daily Trust, The Sun, Tribune and Punch.
While Vanguard’s piece on 2nd June 2023 was Dousing the DSS/EFCC Feud, Daily Trust, on 6th June 2023, published an editorial titled The DSS Must Conduct Its Duties as a Secret Service. The Sun, on 7th June, published The Needless DSS/EFCC Fracas while Tribune on 8th June 2023 wrote on The EFCC/DSS Confrontation. Similarly, on 14th June 2023, Punch featured DSS, Others Need Radical Reforms.
It did not seem that the editorials which sought the reforms of the DSS or to criticise it for its public statements or actions on various subject matters of national security concern were, by any means, an accident or a coincidence. It looked every inch planted or organised. It is a hatchet job or so it seemed. The judgement that the Service is excessively public or ubiquitous missed the point. The papers manifested predictable bias and patterns.
Relatedly, some respected legal personalities namely, Olisa Agbakoba SAN, Mike Ozekhome SAN and Femi Falana SAN opined that the Service operates outside its mandate especially with regards to the investigation of Godwin Emefiele. The fact that this matter has become sub-judice constrains the Service from making further statements about it. The celebration of the news of a court order to allow his Lawyers and family access to him is quite unnecessary. He was never denied access. Ever since he was taken into custody, his family has continually accessed him. Same with medical officials. The impression that the Service is going to act on the prompting of the Court is not correct. This is by the way.
Back to the subject under discourse. While it may be fair to admit that the news media and aforementioned personalities are entitled to their opinions, on measured ignorance predominantly played out in their arguments. First, they failed to recognise that security threats are evolving and so do the approaches to managing them. Instructively, the security landscape in Nigeria, like many other countries, has become increasingly complex and dynamic.
The periodic issuance of press statements to educate or carry citizens and residents along has undoubtedly become part of strategies to manage national security challenges. Extensive research would have revealed to the critics that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other world intelligence Services deploy similar tactics including occasional statements and advisories. The CIA includes demographic information on its website to provide the public with valuable insights and data about various populations so to enhance understanding of different regions and communities. Does it mean CIA is operating outside its mandate? Or will that be accepted because it’s CIA, a foreign body?
The need for the agencies to be responsive, transparent and apprise taxpayers has become the global norm in national security and intelligence management. It is called security/intelligence accountability. The tenets of security and intelligence governance expect that agencies remain transparent, accountable and compliant to democracy. World over, Intelligence Services operate in ways and means not too discernable to the uninitiated.
But the institutionalisation of democracy as preferred political culture has nonetheless forced such agencies to communicate often with the Public. You can see why the public statements can never be out of place. Without public consciousness and support, countering threats may remain a herculean task for security agencies. Democratic subordination and legislative oversight are basic principles which make it an obligation for these agencies to operate openly even when some of their activities are secret. Ask the USA, UK, France, Canada and other advanced democracies. This level of openness does not vitiate the expected secrecy or in any way compromise their operations.
Regarding the matter concerning the DSS and EFCC, both agencies have refuted claims of a rivalry. It is important to note that comparing the 30th May, 2023 incident at 15 Awolowo Road, Lagos to the barricade of National Assembly in 2018 is inaccurate and unjust due to the substantial differences in the nature and context of the two events. While it is essential to emphasize inter-agency relations and cooperation, it would be unfair to generalise and imply that the Service is in rivalry and power struggle with the Commission. Each agency operates within its distinct mandate and context.
Meanwhile, the editorials accurately alluded to the constitutionality of the DSS as an intelligence organisation in detecting, preventing and neutralising threats against Nigeria. They commended the Service for its commitment to the security of the country as well as the many feats it had accomplished in the course of discharging its duties. Thank you indeed. It has to be understood that the Service is not only an intelligence organisation. It is also a law enforcement agency. It is a security and policy advisory organ. Its establishment law expects it to prevent. To prevent unarguably means to enforce. Should the Service seek media endorsement or permission before deploying operatives and equipment to conduct its job? Should it rather play to the gallery? Characteristic of intelligence operating systems, DSS’ activities may never be completely explained or understood particularly to those who do not need to know.
Even though some of its high officials and operations are known and their veils of secrecy uncovered, there are thousand undercover personnel and actions that have no business going public. It is expected to remain so. With its broad mandate and legal authority to investigate crimes of national security significance, the DSS is well within its rights to initiate an inquiry into any relevant matter. The DSS is primarily charged to detect and prevent crimes and threats against the internal security of Nigeria. More profoundly, it is to undertake such other responsibility as maybe assigned to it by the President and Commander-in-Chief. Appreciating this role of the DSS is instructive for some sections of the media, lawyers and other interested parties. The Service operates on the basis of rule of law. Its operations are rule governed. As required, it obtains arrest and detention warrants when and if needed. For the fact that such instruments are not advertised does not suggest otherwise. Critics should get conversant with the law and rules of engagement and desist from misinforming, misleading or inciting the public. Those seeking to weaken the Service through premeditated reforms may be on a wild goose chase. Consistent attack on it based on ignorance, unrealised interests and emotional assessments and judgements does the country no good. The DSS has stood so firmly for Nigeria. It will continue to.
Considering the warped mentality that has triggered these writeups, it will, no doubt, be unsurprising to witness an upsurge in malicious articles, criticisms and baseless attacks in the public space following the investigations of Messrs Godwin Emefiele and Abdulrasheed Bawa among other flimsy matters. Certain groups and people are bound to come up with frivolous allegations against the Service and its leadership. These entities may also exploit unpatriotic members of the Service to spread falsehoods, propaganda and hate in order to project the Organisation in a bad light. Given their reach and war chest to mobilise forces against Government and its key officials, the adversaries may intend to cause distractions to the on-going investigations as directed by the C-in-C. However, the Service will not depose its professionalism for cheap backlash nor discharge its duty with prejudice or fear.
For those who canvass the opinion that the DSS has no business in investigating the matters referred to it are obviously not taking seriously the omnibus powers of the President, as enshrined in the enabling Acts of the SSS and the NSA. As argued by a onetime Director of the DSS, Fubara Duke, “When a law confers on the President power to delegate ANY assignments he deems fit for a particular Agency to perform, I wonder how it falls outside the purview of (ANY) the stipulations of the President’s powers and by extension why the DSS is being faulted for carrying out the President’s directive”. Continuing, he added: “I have heard arguments of cases being thrown out by the courts over questionable prosecutorial powers of the DSS regarding some categories of cases including criminal cases. Without prejudice to the wisdom of the court on such judgements, they should not override the lawful investigative authority of the DSS. Should there be need for prosecution in due course, these determinations would be appropriately evaluated and where/if necessary, appropriate prosecutorial agencies which may include the Attorney General’s Office or other sister agencies may be deployed to prosecute. It is not the first time this has happened”.
Let it be clear, however, that the DSS will remain unshaken and professional in carrying out its duties. It recommits to diligently operate, as always, within the confines of the law and to uphold the fundamental rights of all Nigerians. The media must, as the fifth estate of the realm, remain balanced, accurate, impartial and accountable. To sustain a deliberate misguidance of the public with any form of misconceptions is detrimental to nationhood. Therefore, to deepen the expected contributions, seeking veracity is not only ethical but obligatory. That should not be asking for too much.”