The Department of State Security has been in the news a lot recently, and unfortunately, for the wrong reasons.
First, it was the arrest of entertainment mogul Audu Maikori, taking him to Abuja from Lagos and then releasing him a day later with no explanation for the arrest. For the past week, the DSS has detained Babatunde Gbadamosi, a prominent member of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) and a former governorship aspirant. Like Maikori, he was arrested in Lagos and taken to Abuja. Not only has no reason been given for his arrest, Gbadamosi has also been denied access to his lawyer and his family.
In both situations, the best that can be assumed as the reasons for their arrest is their relentless criticism of the Federal Government, or in Maikori’s specific case, his admission that he tweeted a fabricated story of five students who were killed in Southern Kaduna.
However, neither their criticisms or the false story amounts to a crime that warrants their arrests. Even worse, their arrests without an official explanation and without them being charged before a court of law is reminiscent of the military dictatorships that predated our democracy.
It is a shame that the DSS, rather than focusing on its constitutional role of investigating and preventing plots to national security has chosen to become henchmen of the government by clamping down on critics.
In the midst of so many unsolved threats to our national security, such as a Boko Haram terrorist group that still has the ability to carry out attacks, and continuous attacks on communities in Southern Kaduna, those that are simply exercising their right to freedom of expression by criticizing the government should be the least of its concerns.
It is no open secret that the DSS, which emerged out of the defunct National Security Organization (NSO) during the regime of former military president Ibrahim Babangida was given the mandate of identifying critics and opponents and those that seek to undermine the government. It is for this reason it has always concerned itself more with actions in relation to how they will affect the government rather than how to protect Nigerians.
But in a democracy, this mandate cannot continue to be their guiding principle. It is time that the DSS is reformed to focus it on counter-intelligence, counter-terrorism and crimes that threaten national security.
One thing they definitely cannot focus on is wanton, arbitrary arrests of people who are merely exercising their right to freedom of speech, or illegal detentions of people without charging them before the court of law.
This behavior was confined to the dustbin from May 29, 1999 when Nigeria became a democracy. The DSS should not drag us back to those dark years.