By Peter N. Afunanya
Recently, the media is awash with various commentaries about DSS disobedience to Court Orders. These accusations, as wrong as they are, have peaked in the Emefiele saga. It may interest the public and indeed the avowed critics of the Service to note the following incidents and timelines to show that it has religiously obeyed Court orders in respect of the case and even others.
In 2022, the Service commenced the investigation of Mr Godwin Emefiele on suspicion of Terrorism Financing, Money Laundering among others and subsequently applied to the Federal High Court, Abuja for his arrest and detention. But the Chief Judge objected to the order and clearly stated that the Service did not need an order to investigate or arrest him. Emefiele was to later obtain a restraining order issued by Justice MA Hassan of the FCT High Court against the Service. Instructively, the DSS obeyed this Order and did not arrest or detain Emefiele.
However, on 9th June, 2023, Emefiele was suspended as CBN Governor by the President. Based on new information and suspected criminal infractions, the Service, as expected by law, arrested and detained him using a Magisterial Order. On 10th July, 2023, Justice Hamza Mu’azu of the FCT High Court, while recognising that the DSS had every legal right to arrest, detain and investigate Emefiele, ordered for his release or prosecution within seven days. The Service expeditiously and expressly complied with the order and charged him for illegal possession of firearms and ammunitions being one of the criminal suspicions. The Muazu Order had, by implication, extended Emefiele’s detention by seven days with effect from 10th July, 2023 when the initial detention order had expired.
Within the same period, Justice Bello Kawu of the same FCT High Court, while dismissing reliefs sought by Peter Abang, Counsel to Emefiele on 14th July, 2023 ordered for the release or prosecution of Emefiele within 48 hours. However, the Service had complied with the seven days ultimatum issued by Justice Muazu. In obedience to rule of law, Emefiele was arraigned before Justice Nicholas Oweibo of the Federal High Court, Ikoyi, Lagos, on 25th July, 2023 for illegal possession of arms and ammunition. The Service had long issued a press statement over the incident that happened at the Court between its staff and those of Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) and pledged to investigate it. Though the investigation is ongoing, the preliminary findings are quite shocking considering the ignoble roles played by some public officials.
As normal with criminal investigations, security agencies re-arrest suspects when there is adequate suspicion of commission of a crime or as may be revealed by an ongoing investigation. Emefiele was re-arrested on the basis of this. Even though the re-arrest was tainted by the overzealousness of personnel of the Service and NCoS, it was nonetheless legally procedural.
Later, the Service applied for an Exparte Order at the FCT High Court presided by Justice Edward Okpe (and not Justice Mu’azu as erroneously and massively reported in the media) to detain Emefiele for 14 days. Against the established rules regarding exparte applications, a lawyer suddenly appeared in the Court for Emefiele. While the Judge did not outrightly reject the DSS request, he struck out the motion upon its withdrawal by the Service counsel. But this is not without his guidance. Earlier, the Judge had drawn the attention of the Counsels to Section 293 of Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) which also recognises the Magistrate Court as a competent Court that can first be approached for an order for custody of a suspect under investigation.
In other words, the Service, having taken the hint of the Court, took the right steps. What transpired at the Court was, thereafter, variously misrepresented by some mischief makers. Part of the disinformation is to the effect that the Court “struck out the application and stated that it was an abuse of judicial process”. That was not what the Court said. What Justice Okpe said was “the Applicant having withdrawn the application, same is hereby struck out”. That was all. The Court records are there. But purveyors of fake news distorted the message to suit their intent; just to make the Service look bad – a sort of giving the dog a bad name in order to hang it.
Many had gone to town with stories of DSS fragrant disobedience to Court Orders especially in view of the last episodes at the High Courts in Lagos and Abuja. With what played out at the Court on 27th July 2023 under Justice Okpe, the Service immediately applied and obtained a detention Order from a Magistrate Court. So, Emefiele is legally detained. For reasons that the Emefiele case is subjudice, the Service will restrain from making further comments on the subject matter.
For either lack of knowledge or deliberate act to ignore the truth, there has been sustained bashing of the Service and its leadership in the media and public spaces. It is ironical that the same people who condemn media trial are daily taking the Service through the same. The actual points are however, not lost on the Service. It is aware of the depth of the orchestrations and even deeper plot to incite the judiciary against it.
Targeting DSS DG, YM Bichi, for insidious media attacks is needless. Any DGSS, even if brought from heaven among the angels, will discharge the DSS mandate. There isn’t a time in our national sojourn for greatness that key organs of government will cease to exist or not needed. The DSS, like the CIA, FBI among others, is a major and positive instrument of State administration and management.
It is essential for statecraft, governance, stability and public order. Scraping it as being canvassed by the uninformed is unreasonable. It is indeed obvious the DSS is misunderstood. It is obvious there is a mob action against the Service. Allow the DSS be. Allow Bichi, a fine gentleman officer, be. Support DSS. Support Nigeria. As in the national anthem, Arise, O Compatriots.
Some critics have made varied insinuations including abusing the Service, its leadership and completely distorting the significant historical role of the Service in nation building. Others have said it is wobbling and of no relevance. Laughable. The DSS is not tottering. It is standing and firmly too. Even the worst of its critics knows that the Service has played (and still plays) stabilising roles for the nation. Its loyalty and patriotism are incomparable.
The Service is a stabilising force for the country’s democracy. Same for the indivisibility and indissolubility of Nigeria’s sovereignty. Only a collaborative support from stakeholders will strengthen this. The Service does not claim to know it all; a reason it allows for constructive criticism and makes out time to explain itself in line with transparency and democratic accountability.
Whether on Emefiele, Bawa or Kanu, the Service has obeyed judicial orders and handled the cases procedurally and in accordance with the rule of law. Critics are encouraged to be a bit more discerning and up their research capabilities. Doing so will reveal that the Service obeys orders.
The Court of Appeal judgement on Kanu is recommended for detailed study. Maybe, we can decipher the difference between Discharged and Acquitted and what the use of either or both mean in the final order of a Judge. The DSS is an ardent respecter of the law. Anyone may argue this but it is true. It is in this regard that it has applied for either a stay or notice of appeal on some of the matters. One who does not obey the laws will not resort to legal procedures like the DSS has done.
Let those seeking justice not intimidate the Judges or derail law enforcement efforts. Judges deliver justice without fear or favour and should be allowed to discharge their duties honourably. For the umpteenth time, the Service reiterates its unequivocal stance on rule of law and respect for the judiciary. This position remains unchanging despite the futile attempts to paint it otherwise.
Dr. Peter Afunnanya is the Public Relations Officer
Department of State Services (DSS)