The scandalous incident at Abuja’s Asokoro District last Tuesday when heavily armed agents of the Department of State Services [DSS] stopped agents of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission [EFCC] from arresting DSS’ former Director General Ekpeyong Ita should be extremely embarrassing to the Presidency and was the height of indiscipline in inter-agency relations. All Nigerians should be appalled by it and we urgently expect the Presidency to step in firmly before these two armed security agencies engage in a war on our streets.
According to reports, EFCC agents arrived at 46 Mamman Nasir Street, Asokoro, residence of Mr. Ita and tried to arrest him. They said they had both arrest and search warrants and they wanted Ita in connection with the arms procurement scandal under the former National Security Adviser Colonel Sambo Dasuki. However, armed DSS agents thwarted the mission. It was more than a case of the normal guards at Ita’s residence preventing his arrest because reports said shortly after the EFCC agents arrived, DSS reinforced the guards at Ita’s house with another 30 heavily armed agents. At the same time and at another location in Asokoro, armed guards also prevented EFCC agents from arresting Mr. Ayo Oke, who was recently sacked as Director General of the Nigeria Intelligence Agency [NIA] following the discovery of $40million hidden at a flat in Ikoyi, Lagos. Oke said through his spokesmen that the money belonged to NIA for certain secret operations but an investigation panel led by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo indicted him and recommended his dismissal. It was not clear from the reports if Oke’s arrest was thwarted by DSS or NIA guards.
This matter had been brewing for some weeks before it reached a shattering climax last week. Newspaper reports three weeks ago said a clash was imminent because DSS refused to hand over some of its men to EFCC for interrogation. EFCC reportedly sent a request for some DSS men to be released for interrogation but the report quoted a DSS official as saying the invitation was “an attempt to rubbish the Service since DSS is not answerable to EFCC.” He even said, “What are they trying to do, audit our operations or what? Did the service report any financial infraction to them and call for their intervention? It is just a case of overzealousness and lack of professionalism and we won’t allow that, because what you allow is what will continue.”
That there is bad blood between DSS and EFCC is known to the Nigerian public even though both DSS director general Lawal Daura and EFCC’s acting chairman Ibrahim Magu are Buhari regime appointees. The feud blew into the open when DSS twice sent security reports to the Senate saying Magu was not qualified to head EFCC because of some issues that it raised. This was despite the fact that President Muhammadu Buhari nominated Magu and sent his name to Senate for confirmation as EFCC chairman. DSS’ report provided Senate with a very convenient excuse to reject Magu’s nomination. To Nigerians’ amazement, the Presidency did nothing about it. It neither withdrew Magu’s nomination nor removed him from headship of EFCC and nor did it prevail on DSS to withdraw its report.
Ideally, if EFCC has reasons to interrogate anyone, it should invite the person to report at its office. This is something it routinely does and according to reports, EFCC did invite both Ekpeyong Ita and Ayo Oke to report to it but they refused. It is most unbecoming of any citizen, much less a former holder of a high security office, to refuse to honour an invitation from a security agency to explain his role with respect to any matter involving public money. Indications are that DSS encouraged both men to shun the invitation. In that case DSS’s stance is not very different from Oke’s stance when $40m was found at the Ikoyi flat, that it belonged to a security agency and EFCC should never have been involved in the matter. We reject this stance as illegal, unreasonable, self-serving and a major dent on the anti-corruption campaign of the Buhari regime.
What we cannot understand is the Presidency’s seeming paralysis in the face of this major national scandal. President Buhari’s two spokesmen, who are quick to react to charges made by political opponents and media commentators, have kept sealed lips since this scandalous episode. The presidency has not instructed DSS to allow EFCC to interrogate the men, even though its own probe panels indicted them and it promised not to cover up for anyone indicted by corruption probes. It instead left Acting EFCC Chairman Magu huffing and puffing that the former top intelligence chiefs will be arrested as planned. He said on Wednesday that EFCC had concrete evidence against Ekpeyong and Oke and that there was no going back on the plan to apprehend them.
Instead, the presidency looked on askance while Senate took the lead in probing the incident. It resolved on Wednesday to set up an ad-hoc probe committee following a motion raised by Senator Dino Melaye [APC, Kogi]. Melaye described the clash as a national embarrassment and a recipe for disaster and called on the President to intervene. He said, “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!” At least for once Melaye is entirely right. The Presidency has sprayed deodorant on too many scandals involving its key officials. We demand for once that it visits this one with insecticide before these two heavily armed agencies resort to war on our streets.