The DSS and the rest of us


Nigeria’s Department of State Services (DSS), still smarting from criticisms of its controversial visibility in routine internal security operations in a democracy, was in the news again the other day for the wrong reasons. Specifically, the operatives were involved in a brutal attack on some teachers of the Federal Government Girls College, Calabar, Cross River State. Reason: A teacher, Mr. Owai Owai was said to have meted out corporal punishment to 10 pupils of Senior Secondary School for forcing some Junior Secondary School pupils to sweep their classroom when classes had opened for learning.

Trouble began when one of the senior pupils telephoned her mother, one Mrs. Asuquo, a DSS official who reportedly mobilised her colleagues and invaded the school. With sporadic shooting in the school premises, the secret police operatives not only traumatised the community, they flogged Owai and other teachers who tried to caution them. This assault on their colleagues promptly attracted members of the state chapter of the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) who protested.

Such impunity by the DSS officials is, to say the least, unacceptable and all the officers who participated in it must be brought to justice. Their action was a complete debasement of the ideals of the Service. There is no reason whatsoever for the state’s secret police involvement in a school affair. Or in what way could a teacher’s disciplinary action have breached national security to the extent of attracting state security top officials? This was nothing but an abuse of office by these officials and they should answer for their irresponsibility.

Although, the directorate headquarters of the DSS and the Federal Ministry of Education have stepped in, the leadership of the DSS needs to go a step further and do something about such conducts as give the impression that the Service is an attack dog of some privileged persons. Its men need value reorientation and understanding that the power they wield is not to be used to violate the rights of citizens, let alone school children and their teachers. That is why an investigation of those officials who carried out the attack on the Federal Government Girls College, Calabar should be thorough and all the guilty officials should be severely punished.

The assault on the teachers in Calabar followed several other reports of high-handedness of DSS officers either in arresting people or in the course of sundry investigations.

The Senate, against this backdrop, recently held a comprehensive debate on the issue and came up with resolutions to forestall recurrence of the noisy style of the secret service. Consequently, the Upper Chamber mandated its Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, to review all existing laws that deal with powers of security agencies, and put them in line with the tenets of democracy.

In the same vein, the House of Representatives unanimously adopted a Motion (of urgent national importance) on the need to check cases of persistent human right abuses and acts of impunity by the DSS and other security agencies.

The House members condemned what they called “growing cases of extra judicial actions by the DSS” with reference to the most recent ‘sledge-hammer’ invasion of the Office of the Aide to the Senate President and Youth Council President, describing the act as undemocratic and barbaric while stressing that the DSS has no justification for the disruption of the December 22 planned peaceful protest by some activists operating under the name of Lawyers in Defence of Democracy and Citizens for Good Governance. The lower chambers also condemned the arrest and detention of four persons for over one month without trial for allegedly planning to hold a protest. A unanimous resolution of the House ordered the DSS to immediately release the four detained activists namely: Ugo Apumaga, Emeka Dibia, Ejike Nwachukwu and Ikenga Imo Ugochinyere, all of whom had been in DSS detention since December 22, 2016.

According to the 1986 National Security Acts, the mandate of the SSS, now known as DSS, is to protect and defend the Federal Republic of Nigeria against domestic threats, to uphold and enforce the criminal laws of Nigeria, and to provide leadership and criminal justice services to both federal and state law-enforcement organs. The SSS is also charged with the protection of the President, Vice President, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, State Governors, their immediate families, other high ranking government officials, past presidents and their spouses, certain candidates for the offices of President and Vice President, and visiting foreign heads of state and government. The DSS has constantly adapted to various roles necessitated by evolving security threats in Nigeria including counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency.

The DSS has been reasonably successful in discharging its primary internal security responsibility. The agency in its early days, for instance, was credited with the arrest of the Egyptian bomber Omar Mohammed Ali Rezaq in 1993 while he was trying to enter Nigeria through the Nigeria-Benin Republic border. Rezaq was wanted by the United States for leading the bombing of an EgyptAir plane in 1985 and was subsequently handed over to the United States after an official request was received from the State Department.

Similarly, in October 2010, the DSS intercepted a large cache of arms and ammunition originating from Iran at the Apapa Port in Lagos. This, in spite of a UN arms embargo on Iran. The arms which, included artillery rockets, shells and mortars were allegedly concealed in thirteen containers falsely labelled as “building materials.”

The state agency is known to have infiltrated a number of religious extremist groups in the country including the deadly Boko Haram sect. The state secret police officials are also generally believed to have assisted the anti-corruption agencies in investigations of top-level corruption cases in the current struggle to deal with official corruption in the country.

So the DSS has a lofty heritage of service to country which should not be destroyed by a few irresponsible officers. The office of the National Security Adviser, who has the responsibility to coordinate the special services office (SSO) should therefore ensure that overzealous and undisciplined officers are brought to book as they should not be allowed, like little foxes in the system, to spoil their luxuriant vine.

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