By Dare Babarinsa
Few people would have expected that Omoyele Sowore would linger on in the public space after his poor showing at the last presidential election in which he scored less than 10,000 votes. Sowore wanted to be our President. Nigerians elected General Muhammadu Buhari instead. Sowore retreated to his base in the United States where his media outfit, the Sahara Reporters, operates from New York. Then he decided to torment the winner with his call for a revolution. Few people took him seriously, not even the people of his home local government area in Ondo State. But then Buhari took Sowore seriously and since then, this Republic, struggling to find its space under heaven, is in trouble. What was meant to be a storm in a tea cup is now developing into a proper storm. Thanks to the storm troopers of the Directorate of State Services, DSS.
The DSS has undergone great mutations since Nigeria became independent in 1960. During the First Republic, it was known as the Special Branch of the Nigeria Police. One of its best known commanders was Mohammadu Dikko Yusuf, who was made the Inspector-General of Police after General Murtala Mohammed fired Alhaji Kam Selem and his deputy, Chief Theophillous Fagbola in July 1975. On the day he was to attend the first Supreme Military Council meeting at Doddan Barracks M.D Yufuf’s aides scrambled to get a fitting uniform for the new Police Chief who had stay so long in the Special Branch that he had no suitable police uniform! Then General Mohammed was killed in the coup-attempt of February 13, 1976. In the aftermath, Mohammed’s successor, General Olusegun Obasanjo decided to form the National Security Organisation, NSO, independent and co-eval to the Nigerian Police. Its first commander was Major-General Abdullahi Mohammed.
Under General Obasanjo and President Shehu Shagari, the NSO was an almost invisible organization. It came into public view when it became the iron fist of the Major-General Muhammadu Buhari junta which toppled the Shagari regime on December 31, 1983. Its boss then was the unsmiling Ambassador Mohammed Lawal Rafindadi, a steely sleuth who would not allow the law or decency to debar him from achieving his objectives. His instrument was the notorious Decree 2 and Decree 4. The politicians were his main targets.
In truth, the Buhari junta of 1984 did not consider anything sacred or fundamental enough that cannot be attacked. Three of our editors in the Concord Group of newspapers; Yakubu Mohammed, Dele Giwa and Ray Ekpu met General Buhari at his office in Dodan Barracks. Buhari told them frankly: “I will tamper with the freedom of the press!” He did. He did not ask for debate on the matter. He needed none!
That was the genesis of Decree 4 which stated that the truth was not a defence in court as long the story cause “embarrassment” to a public officer. It was on the strength of this decree that Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor, two journalists with The Guardian newspaper, went to prison. They were the lucky one.
The Unlucky ones were three young men were standing trial before a Lagos high court for drug related offences. The regime past a decree, which was backdated, and the three men suddenly found themselves before a military tribunal. Their offence, bail able before the decree, now attracted the death sentence. They were sentenced to death. Their trial and execution was the first cover story I did for Newswatch magazine. It was a horrifying experience that Nigerian citizens could be killed on the strength of a retroactive decree. That violation of human right was not only against the Nigerian Constitution, it was against international law.
It was clear then that the Buhari junta had fallen under the spell of those who regarded “security” as the ultimate reason for the existence of the Nigerian state. Early in 1984 when all the civilian governors were safely in detention, Major-General Babatunde Idiagbon, the Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters and Buhari deputy, announced at a press conference in Lagos that three former governors have confessed to receiving a bribe of N2.1 million and have agreed to refund the money. The affected governors of Ondo, Ogun and Oyo, Chief Adekunle Ajasin, Chief Olabisi Onabanjo and Chief Bola Ige respectively, were members of the outlawed Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, under the leadership of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the first Premier of the defunct Western Region (now Delta, Edo, Ekiti, Lagos, Osun, Ogun, Oyo and Ondo States). Awolowo quickly reacted asserting that at the time of Idiagbon’s gleeful press conference, none of the governors had been interrogated nor asked to make a statement. In retaliation, the regime seized Awolowo’s travelling passport and barred him from leaving the country. Similar measures were meted out to Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nigerian first titular President. The two surviving founding fathers of Nigeria were thus humiliated by one of their proteges. The third founding-father, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, the first Premier of the defunct Northern Region, had being killed by soldiers during the coup of January 15, 1966.
Such was the reluctance of Buhari and his junta to confront the truth to the extent that it refused to free Chief Michael Adekunle Ajasin from detention even after three military tribunals tried, found him not guilty and gave orders that he should be freed. Alhaji Kayode Jakande, the Governor of Lagos, like hundreds, if not thousands of other detainees, was never tried and yet was in detention throughout the months of the Buhari regime. The Buhari junta, which called itself an offshoot of the Murtala-Obasanjo regime, never announced any plan to return Nigeria to democratic rule.
It was a regime stepped in hypocrisy and double-standard. The junta barred under-aged children from performing the holy pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina. Yet when the regime was finally toppled by another junta headed by Buhari’s Chief of Army Staff, Major-General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, it was revealed that the no-nonsense Idiagbon had travelled with his 14-year old son to perform the Holy Pilgrimage!
Now that Buhari is a born-again democrat, I wish he had time to reflect on the past. At the beginning of the democratic dispensation, President Olusegun Obasanjo set up the Justice Chukwudifu Oputa Panel to review the activities of past military regimes. Buhari was invited to testify before the panel. He like, General Babangida and General Abdulsalami Abubakar, declined to appear before the panel. Yet Nigerians, tired of the inanities of the old Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, voted for Buhari and his party, the All Progressive Congress, APC.
Now it is becoming increasingly clear that the old SSS is becoming the ultimate transmutation of the renamed Directorate of State Security which is now under the supervision of the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno. Its Director-General is Yusuf Magaji Bichi who took over from acting DG Mathew Seiyefa last year.
The DSS great appetite for disobeying court order is even getting more ferocious. I cannot remember any instance during the Abacha era when the operatives of the SSS invaded the hallowed chamber of the court to arrest any of its prey. It happened in Ghana under Jerry Rawlings. It happened in Uganda under Idi Amin Dada. It happened in Nigeria last Friday in the court of Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu. The prey was Omoyele Sowore who is now back in the DSS detention. Like in the days of old when Buhari was in uniform, Sowore is being held in defiance of the Nigerian Constitution.
The DSS and the Buhari’s government have been speaking in tongues in order to explain this desecreation. The question is why do we have this terrifying reluctance to obey court orders? Why should the prosecuting Federal Government and its agents not be willing to present and defend its case in court and allow the law to have its way?
When General J.T.U Aguiyi-Ironsi came to power in January 1966, he suspended the Constitution but kept alive the areas dealing with our courts. All his military successors, including Abacha, have kept to that faith in varying degrees. Why should a government that came to power through a democratic mandate develop a sudden appetite for strange meals? Are we witnessing the transformation of Buhari, the Incorruptible One, into an Orwellian figure who has fallen prey to the corruption of power? Or is our beloved President now a prisoner of despicable and desperate group bent on destabilizing our democracy?
In the way the Republic is going, we need to be afraid for our democracy and the Rule of Law. Our President increasing hunger for extra-judicial power ought to fill us with dread and primordial fear. President Buhari should wake up from his slumber and save us from this nightmare. He needs to order proper investigations of the apparatus of power and unveil members of the Fifth Column who are bent on sabotaging our democracy. It is the members of this Fifth Column who should stand trial for treasonable felony.