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By M. Babajide-Alabi
The operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS) have been very busy in recent times. They have been “fingered” in many “developments” all over the country. One can say the agency is fighting for relevance as the operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) are daily taking the shine away from other security agencies. In this new political dispensation though, the DSS has “reformatted” and has found far wider roles than it had ever did before.
The upper week was busy for the operatives as they stormed the Ekiti State House of Assembly complex in the state capital of Ado to “disturb the peace” of a few “nouveau” legislators. They had come on this particular afternoon with a mission to demystify a few “honourable” members of the house. In Nigeria, being elected as a house of assembly member or councillor confers the right to use the word “honourable” as title. Over here, the meaning of the word bears no relevance to the personality of the title holder. We hail them as “honourable”, even if they had snatched ballot boxes to gain victories in elections. It matters not if the “honourable” was hand-picked by a “godfather” or he muzzled himself in.
Anyway, the DSS decided on this particular hot afternoon to deny four Ekiti legislators their freedom, among other, to eat pounded yam when and where they chose. They were whisked away for questioning, not in lawmaking but some knotty “qualities” they parade.
The members of the public, especially the constituents of the arrested “honourables” are worried about the development whereby their representatives were whisked away just like that and transported to detention in Abuja. As you and I know, the constituents are just an infinitesimal part of the bigger story.
The development in the house of assembly has no doubt set panic among other “honourable” colleagues who are expected to be “picked” up for one reason or the other. They are looking over their shoulders, double checking their front doors are locked and also got travel packs ready so they are not caught unawares.
I do not know the details of the arrests of these legislators and since I am not a legal expert I cannot really comment on if the invasion of the house and the arrests were illegal or not. However, as a law abiding citizen I wonder if in established democratic societies, where rule of law is respected, would other means of arrest have been considered? Then I asked myself – are we back in the military era, when citizens can be picked up at random. I query what has happened to the old style of invitation for questioning? Does the DSS have information that these legislators would have absconded if invited to report for questioning? Does this justify the need to rush in and arrest them on the floor of the House? Was there any thought of “innocent until proven guilty”? These and many questions have been running through my mind, since I read about this invasion.
At a press conference, the Speaker of the House, Kola Oluwawole, who probably ran away or hid when the DSS operatives came calling, alleged they came in commando style, shooting into the air and bringing down every door that stood on their ways. It cannot be independently verified if shooting actually took place on the said day in or outside the chambers. If, however, the DSS operatives were shooting as alleged, one wonders if it was not a case of killing an ant with a sledge hammer.
Some might justify the DSS’ position that the allegations against the legislators couldn’t have been taken lightly. There has been various allegations bandied about, ranging from being accomplices in murder cases, financial and electoral frauds, lack of basic requirements to contest for legislative positions as prescribed by the constitution, and many more.
The main concern of observers right now is the fear of openness in the trial of these men. The manner of invasion of the house and the arrest has seriously cast doubt on the sincerity, transparency and neutrality of the agency. In effecting the arrests, the DSS should have steered clear of any controversy so as to command the confidence of the public in the fact that law would take its normal process. No matter the facts available in support of the charges against these legislators, the public should not be made to feel these men are being witch-hunted.
This impression may be too late to correct though, as the colleagues of the detained “honourables” put the blame on the party ruling at the Federal level, the All Progressives Congress (APC). They alleged that APC, in opposition in Ekiti State, is using the DSS to do the job of intimidating the legislators into signing impeachment notice against the state Governor Ayo Fayose.
Speaker Oluwawole said he and his colleagues “got it on good authority that the script now being acted by the DSS is part of the APC and President Buhari’s clandestine plot to cripple the Ekiti State Government by arresting and detaining top functionaries of the government,” because of his “critical stance on the Buhari-led government.”
Seeking maximum impact, the legislators “dispatched” themselves to Abuja last week. They left Ekiti State before daylight with just two “instructions” from the coordinator. Firstly, they must whip up as much sentiments as they can to portray their colleagues as victims of political choices as members of People’s Democratic Party (PDP) house of assembly. Secondly, while doing this, they must divert attention from the facts of the allegations against these “honourable” legislators.
The legislators visited the National Assembly to urge senior colleagues to put pressure on DSS to release the “honourable” gentlemen. Nothing has come out on the visit yet. In another vein, some of the legislators claimed on live television that they were being pressured to sign impeachment notice against the governor for a token sum of “one million dollar”. This is a serious allegation that should be investigated by security agencies.
The executive arm of the state government had not kept quite on this arrest. Unfortunately the officials who have spoken seem to be reading from the same “manual” as the legislators. However, the reaction of Governor Fayose to the drama is classic. He did not engage in his usual Buhari-bashing, as response. Instead he took to the streets to demonstrate to his people “dignity in labour”. This was supposed to be demonstrated by his supposed dexterity in driving trucks. He got behind the wheel of one and to the “amazement” or befuddlement of his people he wrote on social media –
“We must be proud of our profession. I sell trucks, I did haulage, I can drive this truck to Lagos. I did this before I became governor.” So? You may ask, as I did.
You wonder if this is a clever way to cover up his fears while trying to reassure his people that he is still in charge. But whatever his intentions may be, it should be clear to Fayose that events in the state can move very fast, and if care is not taken, he too may be consumed. If the allegations of monetary inducement is true, he should be asking himself just one question – how far can these “honourables” go before they “cave in”, take the money and start the fire to roast him? It may not be too long.
Published in the Sunday Vanguard of March 13th, 2016. http://www.vanguardngr.com/2016/03/dss-humbles-ekiti-honourable-legislators/ .
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