By Emeka Francis
There is no gainsaying that the rule of law is the foundation upon which modern and contemporary societies draw their meaning and essence. This much was accentuated by the French philosopher and Judge, Baron Montesquieu in his book, The Spirit of the Laws.
According to the 18th century historian, “the use of political power is subject to the formal constraint of standing rules that are codified in the positive laws of the land. It means that no one is above the law and that the actions of the state must conform in a consistent way to publicly known standards. The rule of law is the single most important factor, as Montesquieu sees it, in establishing moderation in government and therefore in protecting political liberty.
It is interesting to note that, as a non-profit and independent civil society organisation committed to the deepening of the rule of law and democratic governance in Nigeria, we had undertaken the task of assessing critical institutions of government, especially security agencies, based on their compliance with the rule of law/due process.
During this period of discreet monitoring that spanned between August 2018, and August 2023, the Coalition for Peace In Nigeria (COPIN) found the State Security Service (SSS), also known as the Department of State Services (DSS) to be outstanding in that regard.
Consequently, our team took particular interest in the SSS because of the August, 2018 violation of the sanctity of the Parliament by hooded and fierce-looking personnel, who blocked the entrance to the hallowed institution, thereby preventing lawmakers from accessing their “sanctuaries”. Clearly, the intelligence agency descended into the arena, even as the development remains a sour point in the annals of the nation’s history.
The period under review coincided with the appointment of Alhaji YM Bichi (fwc, CFR) as the Director General of the State Service (DG SS), by former President Muhammadu Buhari, on September 13 2023; he resumed on September 14 2018. This explains why this performance score revolves around the spy master
In the course of our evaluation, we discovered that suspects in the custody of the Service, especially high-profile ones, are held pursuant to properly-secured, valid orders of courts of competent jurisdiction.
Under Alh. Bichi, our observation team found that, before suspects are taken into custody, preliminary investigations into pending cases would have been concluded, and prima facie evidence established.
In line with its standard operating procedure (SOP), which accords with global best practices, the suspect is then invited to appear at a convenient date for what is referred to as “interview”, in security circles. Adherence to these processes and procedures are a defining characteristic of due process, and the rule of law by any responsible agency of the State.
Without prejudice to the current status of the trial of the leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, we are aware that, upon his re-arrest sometime in June 2021, the Federal High Court in Abuja had granted the DSS the permission to remand the separatist agitator in custody.
In a similar vein, and having shown more than passing interest in the case involving the suspended Governor of the Central of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, we realized that the Bichi-led agency was in possession of a valid order of court, to hold the apex banker pending arraignment, which has since happened.
We found it curious, however, that the remand order granted by a court of record, was not given as much publicity as other instances, which portrayed the secret organisation in negative light, thereby suggesting deliberate put-it-down campaign by those the institution that is charged with the responsibility of detecting and prevention of crimes and threats against national (internal) security, refer to as subversive elements.
For instance, on the lawful arrest of Emefiele, we discovered that a competent court, in a ruling, had refused to grant the following reliefs sought by the Applicant: an Order setting aside his arrest and detention by the Service; an Order setting aside the detention Order obtained by the Service; an Injunction restraining the Service from further arresting and detaining him. The Court, however, noted that since the detention Order exhibited by the Service has expired on 10th July 2023 the Service is hereby Ordered to arraign him within 48hrs or release him on bail. Investigation revealed that that order has since been complied with.
We seize this platform to note that a recent opinion article written by the Public Relations Officer of the SSS, Dr. Peter Afunanya, corroborated our finding of adherence to the dictates of the rule of law, as well as due process, which is the fulcrum of democratic governance.
For the sake of clarity, the relevant aspects of the write-up are reproduced herein: “The Service operates on the basis of rule of law. Its operations are rule governed. As required, it obtains arrest and detention warrants when and if needed. For the fact that such instruments are not advertised does not suggest otherwise. Critics should get conversant with the law and rules of engagement and desist from misinforming, misleading or inciting the public.
“Those seeking to weaken the Service through premeditated reforms may be on a wild goose chase. Consistent attack on it based on ignorance, unrealised interests and emotional assessments and judgements does the country no good. The DSS has stood so firmly for Nigeria. It will continue to.
“For those who canvass the opinion that the DSS has no business in investigating the matters referred to it are obviously not taking seriously the omnibus powers of the President, as enshrined in the enabling Acts of the SSS and the NSA”
The Coalition for Peace In Nigeria will not end this piece without reiterating our non-aligned, non-profit, and patriotic disposition in the quest to berth a Nigeria that will assume her pride of place in the comity of civilized nation’s.
While encouraging other agencies of government to emulate the fidelity of the DSS to the principle of rule of law, we congratulate Alh. Bichi on his 2nd year anniversary as the head of the foremost domestic intelligence agency.
Francis, the National President of COPIN wrote from Abuja, the nation’s capital