Last week was very busy and intense in the political arena and one of the highlights of the week was the celebrated invitation of Nasir El-Rufai for a chat with the SSS. It was a bad move by the State Security Service and a deviation from their transformation agenda, which is to make the service an instrument for promoting the security of all Nigerians rather the interest of persons who are in office. The SSS takes its transformation agenda seriously and since 2009, they have invited me a number of times as a resource person to talk to their executive cadre course participants at the Institute of Security Studies. The usual topic they give me is “Striking a Balance between Human Rights and Security Operations.” My presentations have always been centered on the argument that by being agents for the protection and promotion of the rights of ordinary Nigerians rather than their rulers, they would be making a huge contribution to promoting human security. I always conclude with the words that you cannot choose between human rights and national security, we need both and cannot sacrifice one for the other.
The problem with the invitation to El-Rufai was that the public impression created was that he was being invited for harassment because of his political engagement in the APC and against President Jonathan than for what he actually said. The Department of State Security (DSS) gave the impression that he had made provocative utterances, which could incite the public. I am not sure what exact quote offended them but the possible quotes I have seen from what he said at a Symposium organized by a group of National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) members are as follows: “I have no confidence in the level of preparedness of the INEC, security agencies and others to conduct elections based on the experience of the other elections they have conducted so far, but they have the time to clear their act. It’s up to him, “This is what caused problems in the 2011 elections that we had post-elections violence. I see the same thing happening in 2015 unless elections are free and fair.” It is difficult to construe these comments as inciting the people.
In September last year, former militant and leader of the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDPVF), Mujahid Asari-Dokubo, declared that unless President Goodluck Jonathan was re-elected in 2015, there will be bloodshed and he was not arrested. It is this type of behavior that gives the impression that the problem is not really what El-Rufai said but who he is opposing in his politics. In my political analysis, I have myself said things similar to what El-Rufai was saying because the fact of the matter is that Nigerians are fed up of fraudulent elections and are likely to react is their mandate is stolen and no one should be interrogated for correctly analyzing our politics.
The problem for the SSS was that El-Rufai simply did not know the normal script. When you are invited by the SSS for a chat at the annex, you are supposed to go quietly in fear and trepidation. You are supposed to keep the invitation to yourself, endure the interrogation and keep quiet after your release and stop annoying them later. Apparently, no one had schooled El-Rufai on the expected mode of behavior. He was out of his house when they visited and on hearing the news immediately tweeted on his handle that they had gone to pick him up. I was on twitter when it came in and within seconds, El-Rufai’s 262,600 twitter followers were tweeting the information to their own followers. As of yesterday afternoon, El-Rufai who is a formidable communicator had sent out 31,000 thousand tweets to his followers and all of them appear simultaneously on his Facebook page. On his Facebook page, 291,000 have indicated that they like him. This does not mean that they all actually like him; it simply means they appreciate some of his messages and analysis. No wonder SSS got into trouble as the story of the harassment of El-Rufai went viral on the Internet within minutes.
El-Rufai went to work. He used twitter and Facebook to demand why he was being arrested without an arrest warrant and this question was being re-asked hundreds of thousands of times. In panic and totally out of character, the SSS went to obtain a warrant and this was also used against them. If they did not have a warrant, why did they go to arrest him in the first place? I don’t even know whether they actually went to arrest him but by articulating his voice and by their resounding silence, the onus was on the SSS to defend themselves. El-Rufai made huge political capital from Friday through Monday morning challenging the SSS before finally responding to their invitation and as we all know; he went in pomp and pageantry accompanied by Governor Amaechi, Senator Ngige and other APC stalwarts. El-Rufai spent the day with the SSS and was released at 12.35 a.m. Within minutes, the tweets were back and he was back with his message that no security agents can stop him from struggling for free and fair elections.
I think it is important for the consolidation of our democracy that the SSS makes an effort to return to the path of reform and broaden their approach to security. In one of their publications, Professors Okey Ibeanu and Abubakar Momoh have argued that Nigeria has state centric rather than a people centered approach to security: “Security is seen as the exclusive preserve of the state; indeed, it is treated as a state secret. State security is not often discussed in a democratic manner or perceived as part of the democratization agenda.” They add that: “National security is equated to state security, and state security is viewed as the security of those who occupy public office. Rarely is national security viewed as the welfare and happiness of the citizens, neither is security viewed as ‘community security’, ‘societal security’ or securing the ‘common good’, defined in the most generic way. In other words, security is viewed in purely state-centric and military terms and not in social and developmental terms.”
This attitude to security must change. Indeed for too long, the Nigerian citizen has endured a culture of intimidation by the country’s security forces. Law enforcement agents have since colonial times developed a culture of reckless disregard for the rights of the people. The legal framework has not helped matters given our colonial heritage of laws against vagrancy, illegal assembly, wandering, and illegal procession. The state is constructed as an edifice against citizens who are assumed to have a natural tendency to break laws and must therefore be controlled, patrolled and constantly surveyed. Not surprisingly, citizens learn to fear and avoid law enforcement agents. The ordinary Nigerian sees security agents as potential violators of their security rather than providers of their security. The reality of state security for ordinary people then becomes the perception of insecurity. It is in this context that the State Security Service and other security agencies have to rethink their approach and actively pursue a more pro-people agenda.
As a nation, we must learn the reality that security is a good thing and not something to be feared. It is the function that guarantees that people and states are free from violence at the local, national and international levels. This means that the purpose of state security is not to protect the people who occupy positions of state power but to protect the ordinary people. The democratic imperative in Nigeria therefore requires Security Sector Reform that would enhance the human security of all citizens rather than limiting itself to the interests of the ruling class. Human security involves not just national security but also the promotion of economic development and the human rights of citizens. It is in this context that I have repeatedly told the SSS that I reject the notion of a choice between human rights and security operations. All legitimate security operations in a democracy must follow the rule of law and should protect the human rights of citizens. This requires that security forces are responsive to the security needs of the ordinary people. That they are neutral in their operations and do not act on the basis of political considerations. My good friend and schoolmate in Barewa, Nasir El-Rufai, please tweet this out and post on your Facebook. Help them understand that the world has changed.