The sacked Director-General of the Department of State Security Lawal Daura cut the image of an all-powerful, obstinate and beyond-the-law official who could defy the president, the legislature and the judiciary. That was until Acting President Yemi Osinbajo gave him the boot which forced him to fall belly up on Tuesday, August 7, 2018. There are seven reasons that can be adduced for the air of superiority of the DSS, and they can be traced to the language of the National Security Act of 1986 which annulled the Nigerian Security Organisation (NSO) and replaced it with the State Security Service. The powerful words, phrases and sentences are embedded in the functions assigned to the organisation which are as follows:
(a) the prevention and detection within Nigeria of any crime against the internal security of Nigeria;
(b) the protection and preservation of all non-military classified matters concerning the internal security of Nigeria; and
(c) such other responsibilities affecting internal security within Nigeria as the National Assembly or the President, as the case may be, may deem necessary.
Below is a linguistic examination of the words, phrases and clauses that give the DSS enormous powers:
- ‘The prevention and detection within Nigeria of any crime…’ This phrase is pregnant with a lot of meanings. The first issue is with the order of the nouns that define the assignment. It should have read ‘detection and prevention’… It is not possible to prevent a crime from taking place unless and until the crime has been detected. But the two polysyllabic nouns give the DSS the omnibus powers to carry out their activities with reckless abandon in the name of attempting to prevent and detect crimes. In the process they violate the rights of individuals, pry on people, deny Nigerians of their right to privacy and use all sorts of human agents and gadgets to monitor the lives of Nigerians. In the name of preventing and detecting crimes, DSS operatives seem to have acquired the powers of life and death. No wonder, the fear of DSS is the beginning of wisdom in Nigeria.
- ‘…any crime…’ This phrase is apparently a blank cheque. Without defining the crimes which the DSS can ‘prevent and detect’, its operatives can investigate, arrest and keep in detention any Nigerian or non-Nigerian over anything, so far, to the DSS, such act can be defined as a criminal act. If the ‘offence’ cannot be immediately traced in the penal code, then the DSS has the authority to look for a synonym or a similitude of such a criminal offence and detain such individual for it or them.
- ‘…internal security…’ This phrase is about securing Nigeria, from Lagos to Maiduguri. The issue is that the police derive their legitimacy from ensuring ‘internal security’ of the country. By implication, this phrase empowers the DSS to snake into the activities of the Nigeria Police Force, and carry out the functions that many should expect to be the exclusive preserve of the police. It is important for Nigerians to know the difference between the ‘internal security’ that the DSS ensures and that of the Nigeria Police Force.
- ‘…all non-military classified matters…’ The preface to this phrase is two nouns – ‘protection and preservation’. They give the impression that there is a treasure that DSS operatives must surround with their entire arsenal to prevent it from being spirited away. But what they impress upon the ordinary reader is that there is a foggy atmosphere around their operations. The fog is made cloudier by another phrase ‘all non-military classified matters.’ To declassify this expression would require a study of the etymology and implications of all the thick words contained in it. But so is the extent of secrecy around all that the DSS do in the name of internal security. The secrecy gives them the escape route when their activities are questioned by ordinary mortals. There is need to open up the secret powers contained in the phrase.
- ‘…such other responsibilities affecting internal security…’ Perhaps, this is the phrase that worsens our predicament as a nation. The words and phrases that empower the DSS to wear hoods and block the elected representatives of Nigerians from assembling to deliberate on national issues are not understood. But the elephant is mounted by another undefined phrase ‘such other responsibilities,’ which would be given to them by the President or the National Assembly. So the DSS becomes an instrument in the hands of the president to do whatever he wants. All he needs to do to render such things legitimate is to tag them as ‘affecting internal security,’ and he would go to sleep. It’s not clear why the National Assembly is said to be able to give DSS ‘such other responsibilities,’ because the only way they could do so is by amending the Act of the agency. I think they should do so.
- The worst of all is the complex sentence: ‘The provision …of this section shall have effect notwithstanding the provisions of any other law to the contrary, or any matter therein mentioned.’ What this means is that the powers of the DSS cannot be curtailed by any other law. No wonder, when Nigerians lament the abuse of human rights or judicial processes by the DSS, not much is done to redress the situation. Any one heading such organisation will move with magisterial air because he cannot be questioned by any other law of the land, perhaps, until he is sacked from the high horse.
- Relationship with ‘Coordinator on National Security’. It is assumed that the National Security Adviser (NSA) to the president has powers over the DSS, but the letter and spirit of the DSS Act does not say so expressly. Actually, the Act spells out the duties of the NSA as that of ‘co-ordinating the intelligence activities of National Security Agencies.’ Simply, it is that of [intelligence] data collection, and advising the president on the implications of the intelligence gathered. The DSS Director-General directly reports to the President who appointed him, but he is, by law, under obligation to share intelligence information with the NSA. This way, unless the NSA has an imposing personality and is able to assert himself, the DSS boss may not refer or defer to him on any issue.
Incidentally, the DSS Act has not been subjected to scrutiny by experts. It has become important for the legislature to review and clearly spell out what the DSS should be doing. This way Nigerians can hold them accountable if they cross the borders of their own assignments or when they trespass into the field of other military and paramilitary agencies.
Author: Theophilus Abbah
I’m a journalist, writer, researcher and trainer. My life’s ship has docked in the island of journalism in the last two decades where I’ve snaked through all its compartments – from reporter to newspaper editor. I’ve studied volumes of other people’s writings on Forensic Linguistics and propounded what I’ve titled ‘the language of terrorism.’ I’m expecting an award of a PhD in English Language from the University of Abuja soon in order to console me for my daily sweats and sleepless nights.