On August 6, 2015, the 49-member Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Senate Caucus led by the minority leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio had cause to address the nation on some issues of great importance to the polity. One of the issues was the worrisome meddlesomeness of the Department of State Services in election tribunal matters especially in Akwa Ibom, Rivers and Abia states.
According to Senator Akpabio, “the PDP Senate Caucus is worried, alarmed and shocked by the recent development in our polity where the Department of State Security Service is now involved in electoral matters. A situation where officials of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Rivers State, Akwa Ibom and Abia states, all PDP states are daily being arrested, detained and questioned on politically motivated corruption allegations, is worrisome and spells doom for our democracy unless the trend is reversed. No democracy survives without a viable opposition in any part of the world. INEC is supposed to be an independent commission and its officials ought to be shielded from partisanship.”
Senator Akpabio was merely re-echoing what many Nigerians have seen as actions by the Secret Service, posing imminent danger to Nigeria’s fledgling democracy. From Akwa Ibom, Rivers to Abia states the story is the same. Officials of INEC who participated in the conduct of elections in the aforementioned states won by the PDP have been guests of the State Security Service (SSS) where they are arrested, harassed and in some cases detained for their roles in the elections conducted over three months ago and which the losers have taken the cases to the election petition tribunal. And according to Senator Akpabio: “Reports reaching the Caucus has it that INEC officials are being forced by DSS to produce falsified documents to support APC candidates’ cases before the tribunals.”
The Akwa Ibom state chairman of the PDP, Obong Paul Ekpo had similarly cried out that the state was under siege by the SSS. According to him, “we wish to use this opportunity to alert the nation and the international community about the undisguised display of partisanship by the agents of the DSS at the electoral tribunal currently sitting in Abuja. Our members and agents have been hounded, harassed, and threatened by agents of the SSS. The Resident Electoral Commissioner has been equally hounded and unfairly singled out for interrogation. We want to put it on record that what the opposition is doing in Akwa Ibom and Rivers State is against the spirit, ethos and values of democratic norms and traditions. Nigeria is not a one-party state and any attempt by the opposition to use the state security to subvert the will of the good people of Akwa Ibom State as expressly given on March 28 and April 11 will be resisted squarely,” Obong Ekpo said.
These cries cannot be dismissed with a wave of the hand as shadow chasing or wolf crying, like the Akwa Ibom State chairman of APC, Dr Amadu Attai did in his publication in VANGUARD newspaper of August 7, 2015 titled: “Alleged harassment by security agents: PDP is chasing shadows”. In trying to justify the arrest and detention of INEC officials by the DSS, he said: “INEC disobeyed three valid orders of the tribunal authorising us to conduct the forensic examination. After discovering that we had taken photographs of ballot papers from Itu, Ibesikpo, Ika and Uruan that showed the twisted and hodgepodge state of the elections materials, they stopped us from scanning the remaining local government areas. On the few days INEC allowed the forensic examination, their staff turned up several hours late,” he said.
This appears the most illogical, unreasonable and disingenuous justification of the brigandage by the DSS. Even if for the sake of argument we accept here that some staff of INEC disobeyed orders of the court, or act in a manner that is disrespectful of the court, is it to the DSS that the APC should run? With the array of learned Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) and other lawyers paraded by the APC at the tribunal, the resort to the Secret Service for assistance in matters that are being handled by the tribunals can only show their lack of faith in the judicial process.
The functions of the DSS are clearly spelt out in Section 2, sub-section 3 of the National Security Agencies Act, Cap 74, 2004. According to the law, the duties of the DSS are mainly limited to crimes bordering on the internal security of the country. It is a fact that there has been a resurgence of Boko Haram insurgency since the present administration took over on May 29. The insurgents who now appear more emboldened have launched out beyond their traditional bases of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe States, and have wrecked havoc in other states like Plateau and Kaduna States. Hardly a day passes without reported cases of insurgent attacks. At the last count, more than 800 lives have been lost through insurgent attacks since May 29.
According to THISDAY newspaper editorial of July 15, “the apprehension is that the security forces are not getting the right information concerning the insurgents’ activities. And where they are getting such information, they are not well processed. And even when they are, the courage to carry them through is grossly lacking.” This we believe should be the concern of the DSS and not the hounding and intimidation of electoral officials in states where the APC had lost.
The case of Akwa Ibom State is particularly interesting. APC pundits believe the state must be captured at all costs. According to them, it is very strategic as one of the highest revenue earners from the federation account. This explains their desperation, hence the clandestine moves to use compromised and partisan security agents to intimidate electoral officials and obtain “favourable” verdicts at the tribunal.
This obvious resort to underhand tactics must be as a result of the crumbling cases of the APC at the election tribunal. The party and its candidate in the April 11 governorship election, Mr Umana Okon Umana have insisted that there was no election in Akwa Ibom State. But at the tribunal, even some witnesses they procured have agreed that elections were held in the state, which they had participated. In any case, they are hard put to explain how a member of the APC who won the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly seat for Orue-Offong/Oruko State constituency is sitting pretty as a member in the House and yet they insist there were no governorship and House of Assembly elections. Is this a case of double speak or political hypocrisy?
It is noteworthy that the dust raised by the alleged membership of the Director General of the SSS, Mr Lawal Musa Daura of APC is yet to settle. When PDP first raised the issue, the national publicity secretary of the APC, Alhaji Lai Mohammed denied that Mr Daura was a member of his party and challenged the PDP for proofs. When the PDP responded with pictures and other publications of Mr Daura as a member of the Intelligence Committee of the Buhari Campaign Organisation, APC docked and asked for his membership card of the party. But if any evidence is needed of Mr Daura’s partisanship, the meddlesomeness of the DSS under his control in matters at election petition tribunals to obtain victory for APC, offers a sad proof of Nigeria’s decent into political abyss under President Buhari. This trend must be arrested forthwith otherwise Nigeria’s democracy stands the risk of being truncated by a partisan security agency.
But it is doubtful how the DSS can capture Akwa Ibom for APC. Akwa Ibom is a core PDP state. Twenty-five out of the 26 members of the House of Assembly are of the PDP stock. All the 10 members of the House of Representatives and the three Senators from the state belong to the PDP. And the state chief executive whose position APC is coveting is a PDP man.
Even the governorship candidate of the APC, Mr Umana Okon Umana was a PDP man till few weeks to the election when he defected. He had served the PDP administration as the Secretary to the State Government for over six years. There is a consensus of sort that even if election was to be conducted 100 times in Akwa Ibom, PDP would win the same number of times. The effort of the DSS has only succeeded in denting the image of the Service, it cannot possibly upturn the collective will of the Akwa Ibom people who had freely entrusted their political destiny upon Mr Udom Gabriel Emmanuel for four years and are resolute to defend the mandate.
Mr Ekong, a media practitioner wrote in from Abuja