The activities of the Department of State Services (DSS), lately, are now a daily news headline in Nigeria. But in an unfavourable light for what has been described as excesses, abuses as well as impunity of the DSS. Latest on this trail of unlawful conduct was the melee of what ensued on Tuesday, July 25, 2023 at the premises of the Federal High Court in Lagos. Operatives of the DSS fought an officer of the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS), over the agency to take custody of the suspended and embattled Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele. Recall Justice Nicholas Oweibo of the Federal High Court in Lagos had admitted Emefiele to bail in the sum of N20m. But with a court order that Emefiele be remanded at the correctional centre, pending the fulfillment of the bail conditions.
Prior to the bail order, Emefiele, 61, had pleaded “not guilty” to the two counts charge of illegal possession of firearm and ammunition filed against him by the Federal Government. Emefiele, who was suspended by President Bola Tinubu on June 9, 2023 was arraigned after six weeks of his arrest and detention by the secret police. When a top official of the Nigerian correctional centre moved to take Emefiele into custody, he was met with resistance. In the ensuing battle for control, the prison commander was beaten and his uniform torn, while he was being dragged towards the DSS van by DSS operatives who swarmed on him. DSS for the umpteenth time disobeyed court order. At exactly 03:03pm, DSS operatives led the suspended CBN governor out of the courtroom into their waiting vehicle. There has been a growing outrage since what many has termed “gross misconduct”; DSS has continued to come under strong condemnation.
A young lawyer, Miss Chinonye Nwosu said, “This is a shame because a security outfit, setup to be most discreet is now itself in the news every week. This fact already goes to show the DSS is no longer fit for purpose as currently constituted”. The Constitutional Lawyers condemned the disobedience of court order by DSS and called for the suspension and arrest of Yusuf Bichi, the Director General of the agency. The group led by Barr. Tijani Ahmed in a statement decried DSS’ continuous total disrespect and disregard for the rule of law, saying that something urgent needed to be done by the government to put an end to this abuse of power. The statement read in parts, “It’s a big shame and insult, that the judiciary arm of government was disrespected by operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS) who fought officials of the Nigeria Correctional Service (NCS) over who would take custody of suspended Central Bank of Nigeria, Governor Godwin. “
Justice Nicholas Oweibo of the Federal High Court in Lagos admitted Emefiele to bail in the sum of N20 million. The Judge ordered that Emefiele be remanded at the correctional centre, pending the fulfillment of the bail conditions. Shortly after the ruling, DSS operatives strategically positioned their Hilux Pick Up van used to bring Emefiele to court, in a manner suggesting that they wanted to abduct him to their detention centre. “According to reports, this prompted Emefiele’s lead counsel, Joseph Daudu, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), and other lawyers to raise an alarm about their client’s planned re-arrest by the secret police. After the court ruling, the suspended CBN governor holed up inside the courtroom with his lawyers. However, when the prison officials moved to take Emefiele into custody, pending the fulfillment of his bail conditions, the secret police challenged them and it led to a fight. “Over the months, the DSS has been on rampage, first they disregarded court rulings barring them from arresting Emefiele.
Again, they disregarded court ruling ordering them to release him. Now, they are disregarding court ruling ordering his release. At this point the secret police had proven to be a rogue agency with no regard for the rule of law. How can an agency of the government violate bail order? Not once, not twice!!! We call on President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to save democracy and image of the judiciary by immediately ordering the arrest of DSS DG for the rogue behaviour of his operatives. This cannot be allowed to continue. Also, the DSS can’t re-arrest Emefiele until he perfects his bail and released.” Reacting to the development, Ebun Olu-Adegoruwa (SAN), human rights lawyer, said, “I believe that the President is aware of the actions of the DSS; it is giving a bad image to this administration, where security agencies are engaging in a physical scuffle in open court to the extent of tearing their uniforms, which is a symbol of authority of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and desecrating the hallowed chambers of the court without respect for the judge. “
The video I saw today was a total contempt of the authority of the judiciary because what we are saying is that once anybody is within the premises of the court, you have to respect the authority.” Dave Ajetumobi, former Chairman, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Ikeja branch, berated DSS for its action, noting that the organisation had turned to a monster and menace to the country’s progress. He noted that since President Tinubu took over, DSS had fought two different government agencies all in the name of flexing muscle. Ajetumobi called the president to sanction DSS for its wrong doing and not to allow it dent the image of his administration. “The scenario that played out in court is a national shame. DSS cannot become law to itself. Excesses of the organisation are getting too much, so, I believe it is high time President Tinubu cut them to size, in order not to allow them dent the image of his administration,” he said. Some Nigerians alluded that DSS operatives have considered themselves as the ‘Untouchables’, personal security army of the sitting president.
Also, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) described the incident as ‘unmitigated shame’. Emmanuel Onwubiko, HURIWA’s National Coordinator, in a statement, on Tuesday, said: “Following the widely reported fisticuffs between hooded operatives of DSS and the officers of the Lagos correctional centre at a court premises, over the custody of the embattled governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, President Ahmed Bola Tinubu has been tasked to restore professionalism and discipline in the two institutions. “The government must call the DSS, particularly, to order, and there has to be some kind of sanctions administratively for this open show of shame, except and unless the entire drama, which has muddied the global public relations image of Nigeria was choreographed by the DSS and prison warders on the express order of President Ahmed Bola Tinubu. “Aside from the issue of a clear and present danger that the Nigerian government has allowed the institutions of the federation to be populated by some persons with no regards to public decency, professionalism, discipline and ethics. “
There is also the threat this event of a very despicable kind has on Nigeria, and this will scare away willing foreign direct investors who would now think that Nigeria is in an autopilot position, whereby the decisions of the competent courts of law are treated with disdain by a statutory law enforcement body such as the DSS. “We ask the Federal Government to stop allowing security officials paid from taxpayers money to continuously act in ways that depicts the country as a very lawless contraption. We urge the federal government to put an end to these cocktails of disgraceful public fights by officers of supposed law enforcement agencies.” The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) scolded both the DSS and NCoS as it described the incident as ‘despicable’. Yakubu Maikyau, NBA President in a statement on Wednesday, said the altercation between officers of the two government agencies on the premises of the Federal High Court in Lagos is a recipe for anarchy and chaos, adding that it was a “brazen disrespect for the sanctity of the court premises”.
The statement read in parts, “This incident, regrettably, is further evidence of the lack of discipline and absence of professionalism that continues to plague key security institutions in Nigeria, which, without doubt, is largely responsible for the limited progress in achieving a coordinated response to security concerns across the country. “The NBA further condemns the brazen disrespect for the sanctity of the court premises. The courts and judicial processes remain the barometer by which the conduct of persons or agencies of government are gauged in assessing the rule of law. “The NBA calls on the two agencies to take immediate disciplinary measures against the officers involved in this disgraceful conduct. In addition, there is an urgent need for a complete overhaul of the institutions and a total reorientation of the personnel, to achieve professionalism and ensure synergy in the discharge of their respective constitutional responsibilities.”