The most overwhelming outcomes of the #EndSARS protests must be the stunning reality of “orchestrations by subversive and unscrupulous elements to cause a breakdown of law and order in the country through inciting statements in the guise of political mobilization and supposed pursuit of group interests” which the Department of State Security (DSS) has been alerting the nation to since July, and how a protest ostensibly against police brutality escalated to such levels of anarchy that the dire need for return of law enforcement agents to affected areas became a desperate SOS clamour that is still re-echoing two weeks later.
Faced with the terrifying toll of at least 22 police personnel and 51 civilians dead, 205 police stations razed, 71 public warehouses and 248 private stores looted in 13 states and the FCT, the chilling features of regime change are unmistakable and one shudders to contemplate just how close we were to disintegration. The barely concealed role of #EndSARS protesters in paving the way for the disturbances by inexplicably ignoring the swift scrapping of SARS as they demanded, remains an unavoidable hint of premeditation, which prompted desperate realisation of the indispensability of invincible national defense and security forces for a potent guarantee of sovereignty of the country.
There was also introspective recall of the proactive zeal of the DSS just over a year ago when it questioned Omoyele Sowore as he frantically staged street protests in Abuja and Lagos against “bad governance and corruption”, restlessly agitating for a” revolution”. The ensuing process of DSS questioning and court arraignment squelched Sowore’s scheme by successfully securing restraining bail conditions that barred him from political mass gatherings. The agency came under a barrage of criticism from the CSO associates of Sowore harping on human rights, deliberately downplaying the agency’s expressed concerns for potential escalation into mayhem.
Today, however, the fear of mob anarchy is palpable as frantic appeals mount for the return of policemen who retreated from duty to avoid lynching, to the merciless delight of robbers who have been having a field day in #EndSARS protest zones, especially in Lagos, Benin and Calabar. In its report to the Lagos inquiry, the Lagos military confirmed total breakdown of law and order by the time Governor Sanwo-Olu sought its intervention, emphasising that the police had been overpowered. Under these compelling circumstances, experience of the horrors of anarchy leave no room for doubt or cynicism about the vital necessity of national security and defense forces especially when human liberty is subordinated by insecurity of life.
The strategic importance of institutionalised vigilance, intelligence gathering, proactive deterrence and public sensitization within the national security infrastructure was therefore subtly but deftly upheld by the DSS with particular reference to its tactical containment of overt attempts and subterranean schemes to destabilise the country, sequel to the routine inter-agency exchange of communication for necessary action, in keeping to its statutory functions.
The remarkable thing is that in the context of desirable reforms, the DSS in the last two years or so has reportedly been internalising administrative and operational fine-tuning to smoothen rough edges and enhance efficiency, compared to the observed drift towards uncharacteristic overzealousness that met with avoidable outrage in the past. Notwithstanding the weighty implications of alleged involvement in threats to national security, some prominent personalities who kept dates with the DSS in recent times for alleged inciting utterances gave favourable accounts of the encounters.
Dr Obadiah Mailafiya, who was questioned several times, declared, “I am very pleased that I was treated very professionally. There was no harassment or intimidation.” Also addressing reporters after questioning at the DSS headquarters in Abuja in August, former speaker of the House of Representatives, Ghali Umar Na’Abba, said he was invited to clarify a few remarks, adding that the interrogation was successful, as he had no problems at the DSS and was satisfied with the outcome of the questioning.
Media reports in the last two years also reveal the DSS actively involved in constructive engagements with various important stakeholders in the maintenance of harmony and stability in the socio-economic sector. The National President of Nigerian Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO), Alhaji Yusuf Othman, acknowledged that the Director General of the Department of State Services, Yusuf Magaji Bichi, intervened to forestall the tanker owners warning strike in September, adding “we also demanded that the DSS director should help us instill on the hearing of the appropriate authorities that harassment of our members by operatives of the security agencies must stop. These were brought to the notice of the DSS director and he has assured us of a quick intervention”.
In a similarly significant initiative, the DSS is discreetly backing the success of Nigeria’s economic diversification from oil dependence to agriculture through an innovative anti-smuggling operation in conjunction with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). Isaac Okoroafor, CBN Director, Corporate Communications, explained that DSS investigations uncovered a major loophole in anti-smuggling strategy whereby smugglers circumvent conventional warehousing of smuggled goods by hiring private houses to store them and that “the DSS operatives raided some houses in remote areas being used by smugglers and made recoveries including 1,207 bags of foreign rice, ten jerry cans of groundnut oil, 58 bottles of energy drinks and 83 bags of sugar.”
Capturing the broad spectrum of state security challenges as part of its recent operational enhancement and fine-tuning initiatives with such impressive results was driven by a range of upgrades and innovations in administration, personnel and operations being implemented by the DG Yusuf Magaji Bichi in the last two years. The upgrade and refocusing of the National Institute of Security Studies(NISS) to be at par with the National Defense College (NDC) and the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), renewed attention to improved work incentives, local and overseas training , staff housing and health facilities and enhanced relationship and liaison with sister agencies are among the notable developments.
The #EndSARS episode has served as catastrophic catalyst of long overdue government diligence in prompt redress and continuous reform of identified operational flaws and performance constraints of the Nigeria Police in particular as well as the underrated riotous extremism waiting to explode among neglected majority population of idle and irate youth. The DSS, however, remains a vigilant whistleblower on the reality of relentless “orchestrations by subversive and unscrupulous elements to cause a breakdown of law and order in the country” and, hopefully, a constant reminder to Nigerians of the indispensability of national security, defense and law enforcement agencies as the guarantors of peace, stability and sovereignty. It has also shown that a public institution can, and should, always strive to review, reform and renew its performance parameters.
Luke, a retired civil servant, writes from Calabar, Cross River state.