Nigerians are worried that the fight between the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on one hand and the National Intelligence Agency and the Department of the State Security, DSS, on the other, may put the nation at risk
By Olu Ojewale
THE showdown caught Nigerians by surprise. On Tuesday, November 21, a combined team of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and police officers deployed to the residences of Ita Ekpeyong, the retired director general of the Department of State Security, DSS, and that of Ayo Oke, the dismissed director of the National Intelligence Agency, NIA, who had attempted to effect the arrest of the former heads of the two agencies were repelled from carrying out the assignment by armed DSS officials. After a standoff that lasted for more than 10 hours, the EFCC agents withdrew from the scene.
The public show of disrespect for the anti-graft agency has caused tongues wagging on the level of impunity in the government, while it has also raised some concerns about the loyalty of the agencies and their bosses.
According to the EFCC, Ekpeyong who headed the DSS from 2010 to 2015, was said to be involved in the billions of naira arms scam in the office of Sambo Dasuki, a retired colonel and former national security adviser, who is currently on trial.
The anti-graft agency said other service chiefs from that period had since been charged to court for the same offence but that Ekpeyong has refused to turn himself in for questioning.
Similarly, Oke who was recently sacked by President Muhammadu Buhari for allegedly keeping N13bn in a house in Ikoyi, Lagos, had for more than three weeks ignored the EFCC’s invitation for questioning.
Although the Presidency was yet to say anything on the matter at the time of writing this report, Ibrahim Magu, the acting chairman of the EFCC, has vowed that the anti-graft agency would soon return to arrest Ekpeyong and Oke.
Magu, who spoke after he attended the inauguration of the Audit Committee on the Recovery and Management of Stolen Assets within and Outside Nigeria at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, on Wednesday, November 22, said nobody, no matter how highly placed, was above the law of the land.
Besides, he claimed that the commission had concrete evidence against the former DGs of the DSS and NIA. “There must be reasons, strong reasons before we go for an arrest,” he said.
Notwithstanding the situation, the EFCC boss said the agency was not discouraged by the Tuesday face-off with the DSS officials. “We are not discouraged at all. The law must take its course, nobody is above the law,” he said.
So far, the DSS has kept mum on why it refused to allow the EFCC operatives to arrest Ekpeyong and Oke, but the information in the public domain claimed that the anti-graft agency did not follow the due process by first writing to the DSS on the need for Ekpeyong to appear before the EFCC.
“The EFCC knows that the DSS operatives are guarding Ekpeyong. The normal thing is for it to write to the DSS, instead of resorting to lawlessness. The anti-graft agency should learn to embrace the rule of law,” a DSS source was quoted in the press. Nobody spoke about why the agency also prevented the arrest of Oke.
Making a case for the DSS, Mike Ejiofor, a former director of the agency, said in a newspaper interview that the EFCC had no right to investigate how the DSS funds were spent.
He said the Act establishing the DSS clearly stated that only the president could investigate the agency.
Ejiofor said: “I don’t have a problem investigating anybody but due process must be followed. By the DSS Instrument 1 of 1999, no person or agency is empowered to investigate the spending or operational matter of the DSS except the President. It is only the President that can ask for investigation. The DSS makes returns of its spending to the President annually.
“I am surprised with what is happening. We have never had it before. He (Magu) has no power or mandate to investigate the spending of the DSS. It is not done anywhere in the world.
“If he had the power, he should have gone to the DG DSS. Possibly he wants to settle scores because he was indicted by the DSS report which barred his confirmation. It has never happened in the history of this nation before.”
But Femi Falana, SAN, a human rights lawyer, disagreed with the argument. He said in an interview that the issue was not a mere inter-agency face-off, but a flagrant disregard for court orders and the rule of law.
He said: “Since warrants of arrest and search were validly issued by a magistrate court, the prevention of the arrest was a clash between impunity and rule of law. The security personnel who shielded the suspects from arrest committed the offence of obstruction of justice punishable under the EFCC Act.”
Besides, the human rights activist said since the Presidency had said the EFCC was free to investigate the former NIA boss, the DSS had no reason to prevent the anti-graft agency from doing its work.
Similarly, Abiodun Owonikoko, SAN, described the situation as “a matter of grave security implication” for the country.
He argued: “Officials of the security agencies involved in this ugly saga bear arms; and supposing the EFCC officials attempted to force their way into the residences of the indicted persons, what would have been the result?”
He also condemned the unhealthy inter-agency rivalry between DSS and EFCC, which, he said, started with the damning security report against confirmation of Magu as a substantive chair of EFCC by the Senate.
Owonikoko said the anti-corruption agencies should be allowed to do their assignments without any hindrance.
On his part, Sola Oremade, a retired colonel and security expert, described the clash as a shame and an indictment on the two agencies and called for the dismissal of their leadership.
“This is a shame and the incident is indefensible. It is a ridicule to this government and an indictment on the leadership of the two security agencies. The heads of the EFCC and the DSS should be sacked for this shameful display and indiscipline,” he said.
Oremade said the incident clearly indicated that the president had lost control of his security officers, and described the situation as very dangerous.
That notwithstanding, Itse Sagay, SAN, the chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, PACAC, advised Magu to report what transpired between the EFCC and officials of the DSS to the president.
Sagay, in an interview with a newspaper, advised Magu to write a letter on the clash between the EFCC and the DSS to Buhari being the overall boss. “I think the EFCC should refer the matter to the President so that he can take action because the President is the overall boss and if people are misbehaving like that, preventing agencies from doing their work, then there should be a penalty for misconduct,” the law professor said.
Besides, Sagay, who described the incident as unfortunate, insisted that no one was above the law. “We all know that the law empowers the EFCC to investigate, arrest and prosecute and they have the right to interrogate and invite you and if you refuse to come, they can arrest you. So, anybody, who refuses, that is engaging in lawlessness and is trying to turn the country into a chaotic state of lawlessness which is certainly not good for the country.
“No one is immune from arrest except the president, vice-president, governor and deputy governor,” he said.
He also disagreed with those saying the EFCC should have written to the DSS before attempting to arrest the former director general.
According to him, the DSS procedures do not supersede the laws of the land. “The EFCC Act does not require the agency writing to anybody first. They cannot make a law that supersedes that of the National Assembly. The excuses of the DSS are just a way of covering up sheer lawlessness,” he said.
Supporting, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, warned that the face-off could be counterproductive if not quickly resolved and, therefore, urged the government urgently to instruct the leadership of the DSS and NIA to allow the EFCC to carry out its mandate without any interference.
In a statement on Wednesday, November 22, signed by Timothy Adewale, its deputy director, the organisation said that preventing the arrest of the two former civil servants was “patently contrary to Nigerian law and international standards such as the UN Convention against corruption to which Nigeria is a state party.”
The group, therefore, asked the president to show that he would not allow anybody to “circumvent the law no matter their status in the society.”
In the same breath, the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, said the clash was an embarrassment to the president and the nation at large.
Describing the development as ugly and sickening, Malachy Ugwummadu, the CDHR president, said that the DSS should caution its overzealous officers.
He said in an interview: “The repeated and clandestine approach where DSS officers mask themselves is also becoming very worrisome.
“We, therefore, call on the DG to tame the excesses and allow law enforcement agencies to carry out their functions without hindrance to avoid any further form of embarrassment that would send the wrong signal.”
Irked by the showdown of the government agencies, the Senate on Wednesday, November 22, resolved to set up an ad-hoc committee to carry out a holistic investigation into the face-off and described the issue as an embarrassment to the country because of the wide publicity it attracted in national dailies and social media.
Bukola Saraki, the Senate president, who disclosed that the ad-hoc committee would be set up, however, failed to name members that would discharge the assignment and report back within two weeks.
Resolutions of the Senate were sequel to a motion of urgent national importance raised under Order 42 of the Senate Standing Rule by Dino Melaye, a senator representing Kogi West.
Melaye described the clash as a national embarrassment and a recipe for disaster and called on the president to intervene.
“We have been embarrassed before the international community. That two sister agencies will engage in a fisticuff; arrest and stoppage of arrests. Mr. President, this is a recipe for national disaster,” he said.
Contributing, Biodun Olujimi, the deputy minority whip and a senator from Ekiti State, said it appeared the president was losing control.
“Right now, we have a situation whereby nobody is in charge of anything and we cannot honestly blame anyone for what is happening. The truth is that you cannot go to the house of a security agent, a man who had kept the secrets of Nigeria for so long and just try to arrest him like chicken.
“Mr. President, there has to be someone that we can hold responsible when two brothers are fighting. The person that is supposed to be held responsible has not done anything, is not doing his work.
“This is the first time we’ll see gross irresponsibility in government whereby there is no arbiter; no one to come in between two agencies that belong to only one person. The two agencies report to one person, the Presidency and now we find them fighting on the pages of the newspapers, it’s a shame,” he said.
But Ahmad Lawan, the Senate leader, cautioned his colleagues against apportioning blames and called for a thorough investigation of the matter.
“It is one rare motion brought by Senator Dino Melaye. I support that position. But let me say this, President Muhamadu Buhari is in full control of the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
”Even when Mr. President was away to attend to his health, the acting president, Yemi Osinbajo was in full control. The statement by our colleague is unacceptable.
“This senate is highest lawmaking body in Nigeria. I would urge us to calm down especially the opposition, as it appears rather here nor there. Let there be an investigation before we apportion any blame,” he said.
In his remark, Bukola Saraki, the Senate president, Bukola Saraki aligned himself to the position of the Senate leader on the matter.
“Leader has said it all. Anything we are adding now is just assumption. Let us take the prayer. The ad-hoc committee will report back in two weeks,” he said.
Nevertheless, officials of the two agencies, DSS and NIA, believe the EFCC was on a vendetta mission, which led to the face off on Tuesday,
It would be recalled that reports by the DSS, led by Lawal Daura, were the basis used by the Senate to reject Magu as the EFCC chairman twice. But the Presidency has insisted that Magu should remain in his as acting chairman of the EFCC despite the Senate rejection.
The discovery by the EFCC of money in different currencies (about N13 billion in all) in an Ikoyi apartment in Lagos further worsened the situation. While the EFCC said the money could have been the proceeds of corruption, the NIA had claimed that the money belonged to the agency and that it was properly declared to President Muhammadu Buhari through Mohammed Babgana Monguno, a retired major-general and the national security adviser.
In any case, Oke was removed by President Buhari based on the controversy while the EFCC was asked to continue its investigation.
With the recent face-off of the EFCC and the DSS, Nigerians are concerned that if the cold war should be allowed to continue it would portend serious implications for the country.
Ben Okezie, a former editor and security analyst, said in an interview that it was unfortunate the DSS had been antagonising the EFCC since and nothing was done to quell the conflict. Hence, Okezie urged the president to call the two agencies to order and sanction them appropriately for embarrassing the country.
He said: “It is very unfortunate that the two security agencies cannot see eye to eye. In other climes, such things don’t happen, you hardly see the FBI antagonising other agencies. The president should intervene and caution them. He should rebuke or sanction any officer who puts his office to ridicule.” Is the Presidency listening? Time will tell.
– Nov. 24, 2017 @ 13:25 GMT /