A viable state is a function of its institutions; indeed, states only fail because the institutions fail to live up to their billing.The challenge of our democracy then is how to build the viable institutions, at all levels, that will withstand the influences of the strongmen of power, who insist that they are synonymous with the state.

In practical terms then, the challenge would be  how we evolve to that level of self-assurance and stability to be able to stand and challenge the strongmen. In this context, we are concerned over the unfolding issues in the Department of State Security, DSS, since the coming the Muhammadu Buhari presidency.

To be sure, the problems with the department did not altogether begin with President Buhari‘s era. We recall, for example, what happened in the course of the Osun State gubernatorial polls where the agency was accused of partisanship.

Indeed, so bizarre were the happenings then that even the agency’s spokesperson, Ms. Marilyn Ogar came out to assert that the All Progressives Congress, APC, had tried to compromise operatives of the spy agency by offering them gratification of about N14 million. That was received with a pinch of salt, particularly when the department made no further effort to either name the alleged culprits in person or take steps to subsequently prosecute them.

In the run up to the 2015 general elections the agency also invaded the APC’s data office in Ikeja, Lagos on the equally bogus allegation that the party was cloning Permanent Voters Cards, PVCs, already issued by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. In this instance, a show was made of arresting and prosecuting some staffers of the party’s data centre but not many were convinced that the raid was anything but a politically motivated action; more so, when no evidence was adduced or tendered by the agency to back up its claims.

But recently under the Buhari administration, we have had issues where there were reports of conflicts between the agency and the military over the protection of the president, such that operatives were not allowed to go beyond certain areas in the Villa culminating in the sack of the Director General, Ita Ekpeyong.

As a newspaper, we believe and hold that all of these developments are bad for the institution and by extension, our democracy. The agency is a state institution that had been put in place at taxpayer’s expense to protect critical institutions and officers of state as well as the mass of the citizenry and the greater good of the nation.

It is therefore, very critical to the survival of the democracy that we practice and should be insulated at all times from whimsical genuflections and contradictory reflexes. For the DSS to be a top-rate institution of state all care must be taken to ensure that it be allowed to run within the framework of time-tested rules of engagement that robustly approximate the best practices known to institutions like itself the world over.

In this wise, we counsel on the need to critically revisit the modes of recruitment, postings, promotions and discipline within the department as well as the unseemly proclivity of its officers to engage in underhand lobbying for so-called ‘juicy postings.’

Operationally, we equally advocate a comprehensive revamp of strategy by shielding the agency from political exposure, since by nature they are supposed to be covert. The idea of wearing disguise masks and brandishing heavy weapons in the open without any provocations as was the situation in the Osun governorship polls is evidently very wrong and obnoxious and must never be repeated. By their design and orientation, spy policemen are not to be seen. They should therefore remain undercover.

Indeed, there is a sense in which the colossal problem of the Boko Haram insurgency that the nation is presently at its wits end over how to resolve is simply and squarely a failure of intelligence. With the good old community-based intelligence gathering mechanisms that were in place in the days of the defunct National Security Organisation, NSO, and the State Security Services, SSS, the very incredulous rise and flourishing of the insurgency, virtually under our noses – would have been most incomprehensible.

And the blame for this state of affairs falls primarily on the doorsteps of the DSS. The thing to do, therefore, now is for the new leadership of the department to return to the drawing board to ensure that it gets its acts right once again, and even does better.

To achieve this overriding objective, we call on the government to consciously desist from involving the operatives of the department in partisan issues and to allow them concentrate on their core duty of undertaking covert operations on behalf of the government and people of Nigeria.

A spy police was not established to first of all provide bodyguards for state officials. Its nomenclature defines its primal role: it is a spy police. The DSS should therefore not be heavily involved in despatching its officers as body guards instead of the core duty of gathering intelligence. This, for us, is the heart of the matter.

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