LEWIS OBI, 08173446632 sms only, [email protected]
ONE organization which keeps reminding Nigerians of the dark days of military dictatorship is the Department of State Services (DSS), which found it necessary a few days ago to call a press conference to exhibit a political detainee. The political detainee was Mr. Afolabi Akanni, a member of the Ekiti House of Assembly who was abducted by operatives of the DSS and whisked to Abuja. Unable to get any information about the man, his family and friends got so frustrated so much rumors began to swirl that Mr. Akanni had died in the custody of the DSS. The rumor was so credible that the Ekiti State Commissioner for Information Lanre Ogunsuyi had to call on the DSS to confirm or deny the rumor.
DSS Spokesman Mr. Tony Opuiyo subsequently stepped forward with a prostrate Mr. Akanni who was alive but manifestly not in ship shape. The DSS said the man was hale and hearty, which the man was not, given his state and pose. Nigerians saw a very ill, worried, if not troubled gentleman who kept saying he did not know why he had been apprehended, that he was being questioned on matters he did not know anything about, and that he had not had his medications.
Mr. Opuiyo then called on Ekiti State people to go about their normal business and to be rest assured that Mr. Akanni was doing well in the custody of the department. “You may have been aware of the recent situation in Ekiti State in which the DSS was accused of abducting the state’s Assembly legislators.
“The fact is that one of the members of the Assembly, Hon. Akanni Afolabi was duly invited by the Service over some serious breaches bordering on State security and for which he has some explanations to make. “These breaches fall under the purview of the DSS to investigate.
“This Press Conference has become necessary in order to debunk a rumor which is being dangerously spread in Ekiti State by some mischief makers to the effect that Hon. Afolabi has died in custody. Nigerians and Ekiti people in particular are convinced to see that Afolabi is hale and hearty as he is being presented to the Press today.“The DSS will, therefore, warn all those who have planned to make a meat out of this to desist from it and stir clear from trouble as the Service will not hesitate to bring the full weight of the law against any one or persons that may engage in violent actions of any kind.
“In a similar vein, all law abiding Ekiti residents should go about their normal businesses as the Service assures them of full protection by security agencies.” The above press statement would have been issued word for word in 1977, or in 1987, or in 1997 and no one would blink. That it could be issued in 2016 says so much about the march of democracy in Nigeria. Igbos say the bird that flew off the ground to perch on an anthill has not improved on its distance. The DSS was used for decades by military juntas as instrument of regime protection and advancement and propaganda. In a new dispensation like a democracy the country ought to have asked that the department be renamed, or changed, or retrained. It probably would not require extensive changes. One week intensive orientation on the difference between tyranny and democracy, the rule of law, the basic human freedoms, and the demands of liberty would probably do.
In a military regime it was wrong to abduct Nigerian citizens but it happened all the time and Nigerians shrugged, well, that is the rule by the gun. What did you expect? In a democracy no man should be arrested unless there is some proof that he has committed an offence known to law. Any man arrested should be allowed to talk to his family so they at least know where he is being taken to, the nature of his offences, and when he would be taken to court to answer to the criminal charges for which he has been arrested. The Constitution demands that he should not be held for more than 24 hours before he is taken to court. An active Attorney-General would insist that any promise made by the Constitution is not breached by law enforcement. No self-respecting law enforcement agency should trifle with a fundamental right of the citizen. These are democracy’s fundamentals.
The DSS statement said Hon. Afolabi “was duly invited by the service over some serious breaches bordering on State security and for which he has some explanations to make.” Two problems with this statement.
The invasion of the Ekiti House of Assembly in a noisy manner with the DSS agents firing in the air was contemporaneously reported in the Nigerian Press. When the smoke cleared, four members of the Ekiti House were missing. That cannot be called an invitation by any self-respecting law enforcement agency. Secondly, why did the department not send him a query or, better still, a question, asking him for a written answer?
There can be no doubt that the DSS has a wide berth as to the breaches that fall under its purview — from terrorism to debt collecting – but must all breaches be pursued in the same old intimidating, ‘terror’ tactics and methods? Even the CIA eventually found that torture yields mostly wrong information. Some victims would say anything for the pain to stop.
Now, the rumor that Hon. Afolabi died in custody was a natural accompaniment of the style of his arrest and the DSS’s style of communication and less the handiwork of mischief makers.
And the last two paragraphs of the DSS statement was typical tone of dictatorships well known to Nigerians. The threats to bring the full weight of the law on those who engage in violent actions sound hollow especially when the department itself did not follow the law in its own actions. The assurance that law abiding Ekiti residents are protected sounded like a joke.
It is so dispiriting that the DSS after all these years makes itself look like a pawn in the political game instead of standing up as an institution deserving of dignity and respect from administration to administration. The FBI and CIA are good models. Governments come and go; justice and service should be constant.