LAST week, the feud between the leadership of the State Security Service (SSS) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) reached a crescendo when operatives of the SSS foiled the arrest of its (SSS) former Director-General, Mr. Ita Ekpenyong, by personnel of the anti-graft agency. The EFCC operatives, armed with search and arrest warrants, had reportedly laid a siege to Ekpenyong’s residence in Abuja in an early-morning operation, intent on picking him up for questioning regarding the money which the SSS, otherwise known as the Department of State Services (DSS), allegedly collected from the office of the former National Security Adviser (NSA), Colonel Sambo Dasuki (retd), shortly before the 2015 general election. But they were turned back by the DSS operatives attached to Ekpenyong, who reportedly called for reinforcement from the DSS headquarters.
In the same vein, operatives of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) prevented the EFCC from effecting the arrest of the immediate past Director General of the agency, Ambassador Ayodele Oke, who was sacked by President Muhammadu Buhari last month over the $43 million allegedly found in an Ikoyi, Lagos State apartment said to belong to his wife. According to reports, the former NIA Director-General refused to submit himself to the EFCC because he had honoured their previous invitations. Following the unsavoury developments, the Senate, last Wednesday, set up an ad-hoc committee to investigate the matter.
To all intents and purposes, the clashes between the EFCC and DSS/NIA operatives are a big embarrassment to the nation. Since the EFCC operatives had in their possession validly obtained search and arrest warrants, the DSS’ action in impeding the exercise of their constitutional mandate is nothing but an affront on the laws of the land. And that, precisely, is the point regarding the NIA’s reported foiling of the arrest of its former DG. Surely, the DSS and NIA are not saying that their immediate past helmsmen are superior to the laws of the land. The former DSS and NIA bosses held office through the instrumentality of the laws of the land and it would be quite strange if, now that they are out of office, the law has suddenly become expendable. The deployment of armed operatives to foil the arrest of Ekpenyong and Oke portrays the DSS and NIA as lawless organisations, and it does not matter if the agencies hold a contrary view.
In the wake of the $2 billion arms scandal allegedly involving the former NSA, as high-ranking an officer of the armed forces as a former Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) was picked up by the EFCC for interrogation and subsequently arraigned in court, without incident. Indeed, former chiefs of the Nigerian Navy and the Nigerian Air Force were also picked up and arraigned in court. The military rightly did not treat the EFCC’s arrest of its former bosses as an affront, and made no attempt to foil it. This is because, as a law-abiding institution, the military recognises the supremacy of the rule of law. It is therefore necessary to ask where the DSS and NIA got their motivation from. Sadly, the Presidency has, to date, failed to address the dangerous power play between the EFCC and the DSS/NIA. This is, we believe, a grave offence on its own.
The foregoing notwithstanding, it would be quite facetious not to acknowledge the underlying factors responsible for the sad affairs of last week. Over time, the DSS and EFCC have been at loggerheads following sundry allegations of professional misconduct by either agency. Nigerians certainly have not forgotten that a report by the DSS was what the Senate relied on when it refused to confirm Ibrahim Magu as EFCC boss. And whereas the allegations against Magu are so weighty as to have caused the Presidency to order a comprehensive probe of the matter, nothing of such was done. Instead, President Buhari stuck with Magu, causing him (Magu) to continue to hold office in acting capacity. And even though the EFCC is clearly the agency on the side of the law in the present case, the fact that it has flouted court orders at will since the inception of the current administration has not helped its cause. In any case, were the Federal Government actually committed to the rule of law, the show of shame put up by the DSS and the NIA last week would never have happened.
It is time, therefore, for the Federal Government to sit up and embrace the rule of law as a cardinal operating principle. It should stop treating the law like an expendable commodity. Needless to say, it is high time it arrested the acts of sabotage by the DSS and NIA. An affront on the law cannot become the proverbial ‘family affair.’ Both Ekpenyong and Oke must be picked up to explain their roles in the $2 billion arms scandal and the $43 million Ikoyi cash scandal. After all, they are presumed innocent until pronounced guilty by the court of law.