Last week, the news came that the Inspector General of Police dragged eight suspects, with another at large, to a Benin Magistrate Court on a nine-count charge of armed robbery, rape and receipt of stolen items. The suspects, all male, were Mohammed Ibrahim Abdullahi, Raymond Onajite Origbo, Edeh Chikezie and Saidu Yakubu.
Others were Hassan Bashiru, Lawal Abubakar and Adamu Musa. There should have been nothing extraordinary in this act which should be regarded as a routine police business. However, the special thing is that those were the same suspects that the State Security Service operatives had, at a televised press conference on August 1st, paraded as the suspects, which from their investigations, were said to have been responsible for the celebrated murder of Comrade Olaitan Oyerinde, who until his murder in Benin on the night of last May 4th, was the principal private secretary of the Edo State Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole.
According to the SSS, different stolen items were equally recovered from those suspects. The Police had earlier announced that it had concluded its own investigations and had arraigned a different set of suspects for the murder of the same Comrade Olaitan Oyerinde. A big furore had been generated by the Police action when they also arraigned, Rev. David Ugolor, a popular Benin-based human rights activist, whom they accused of having masterminded the murder of his friend, Oyerinde, with whom he had in fact gone out on the very night of the dastardly crime.
There was so much outcry, such that in an unprecedented move, the Edo State governor openly campaigned for the innocence of Ugolor, who was ultimately granted a bail before even the start of his trial, alongside the other suspects which the Police had arraigned for armed robbery and the murder of the deceased aide to the governor. Under such a seemingly confused state, the Nigerian public was thrown into an understandable confusion, as it became difficult to decide on which to believe, between the Police and the SSS.
Many discerning Nigerians were clearly embarrassed by the sight of two top State agencies in whose hands we have resigned the security of our lives and property, squabbling over what, to us ordinary beings, should be a very simple matter. Nigeria Police Force and the State Security Services (SSS) were flexing stout muscles over the result of their parallel and separate investigations on the dastardly murder of a top aide to the Edo State governor, last May.
As should be expected, the Police High Command had assured the nation that it would leave no stones unturned in efforts to find the authors of the dastardly act and bring them to justice, having ordered what it described as a high powered investigation into the crime, leading to the arrival in Benin, on the same day by the Police team led by Mr. Peter Gana, a deputy inspector general who led a crack team of his special anti-robbery operatives and detectives, signaling that a high-powered police probe was underway. When Marilyn Ogar, the SSS spokesperson, told the nation on August 1st, that her Service had arrested and was ready with the case files of the suspects to the murder in Benin, as the Police was making similar claims, the nation was faced with a clearly embarrassing situation.
The first reaction of many was to wonder: “since when did the SSS start investigating and arresting ordinary criminals?” When it was learnt that the SSS, had soon after its press conference, asked the Police to take over the prosecution of the suspects from a case they had not investigated, the situation became even more confusing, even to the most casual of observers. To make matters even more complicated, the Police investigator had suspects who were totally different from the ones that the SSS had paraded to the Nigerian public and were handing over to the Police.
With the event of last week, which was the Police arraignment of the suspects handed over by the SSS on charges totally different from those which the SSS had claimed, it becomes obvious that there had been avoidable errors in the whole circumstance that are capable of bringing the security agencies into disrepute, especially at this time when they require enormous public confidence and trust like never before. The greatest puzzle in the whole imbroglio was why such a conflict and confusion could ever exist over the line of demarcation in the responsibilities of such very important agencies of the State. For, while the public might not be generally abreast of the full responsibilities of the SSS, mainly due to secret nature of its activities, the activities and modus operandi of the Police, as an organization whose activities touch on the everyday life of the people, are well known.
So, it was normal that the attack on Comrade Oyerinde’s home which resulted in the loss of his life was reported to the Police, resulting in the intervention by a police patrol led by the DPO of the nearest station. That, to most Nigerians, is the way it should be, and that was also why everybody saw it as normal that the Inspector General of Police immediately mobilized a high powered investigation team to Benin from Abuja to handle the investigations. Nevertheless, as a legal institution of State, the SSS has an enabling law which determines and defines its responsibilities. Actually, the SSS came into being through Decree Number 19 of 1986 which abrogated Decree 24 of 1976 which had set up the National Security Organization (NSO). The enabling law which set up the SSS alongside the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) and the Nigeria Intelligence Agency (NIA) defined clear-cut responsibilities for the SSS, which, for the avoidance of doubt, provides for:“ the prevention and detection of any crime against internal security of Nigeria” and the “protection and preservation of non-military classified matters concerning internal security”.
The SSS is equally empowered to handle “such other responsibilities affecting internal security within Nigeria as the National Assembly or the President, as the case may be, may deem necessary.” It would be very difficult to identify how and from where the SSS would draw the powers to investigate a routine case of murder, and one would be safe to state that if there had been a precedent in the past, it must been done outside the public purview and obviously not with the fanfare and gusto that attended the Oyerinde case. Judging from the hydra-headed and horrendous dimension the scourge of terrorism is taking and for which the SSS and other security agencies have been making enormous sacrifices, the SSS obviously has its hands more than full should hardly have any reasons to distract itself by saddling itself with such extraneous issues like the investigation of a murder case and armed robbery which the Police is adequately equipped and experienced enough to handle.
It has been severally touted that the SSS could do with more personnel and resources, hence, it should not make any sense if it continues to dabble, as it has been accused of, once in a while, into areas that are out of the legal purview of its responsibilities. I was saddened when I read last week that the SSS would be superintending over the distribution of materials by the Universal Basic Education authorities! By spreading itself thin with things that should not concern it, when the battle against terror and other types of subversive and disruptive elements across the nation, have not been adequately attended to, the SSS would not be doing itself any good.
There is no doubt that in such crucial issues as the internal security of the nation, inter-agency cooperation is not only inevitable; but even a sine-qua-non. However, such needed cooperation and interaction become both sabotaged and compromised when inter-agency rivalry and conflict are given reasons to set in. Such a situation could be easily brought about through such unnecessary rancour and unnecessary public derision which was brought to the national security infrastructure by the Oyerinde murder affair. It is a very dangerous thing for any arm of the national security set-up to be subjected to ridicule in the minds of the public and the outside world.
The consequence of such an occurrence, if not stopped forthwith, is the installation of negative and hostile feeling amongst the personnel of the different security organs, leading to a situation whereby some of them might be tempted to frustrate, rather than further the activities of their sister organizations. Before the last rescheduled gubernatorial election in Edo State, I had the privilege of being part of the team from the Office of the Special Adviser to the President on Inter-Party Affairs that conducted a sensitization workshop for the political parties in the state. The main event took place on 18th June at a time the political tension in the state was palpable.
You could feel the tension with your hands as the belligerent jingoism of political actors created the blade-sharp situation in the state. But thanks to such initiatives by the likes of Chief Ben Obi and the gallant efforts of the Police and other security agencies, the expected ugly outcomes from the election did not materialize even as it turned out to become amongst the most peaceful to be experienced in the country. It goes without saying that the murder of Comrade Oyerinde was one of the issues that added to the tension, as many people I spoke to were of the view that the crime was not just an ordinary one but that which could be related with the disruptive activities of some political actors.
My imagination was that the same suspicion might have motivated the SSS to wade into the investigation. But even at that, it should have been better coordinated with the Police which have the statutory right to do it. While in Benin I observed the tension that held sway, as well as the extraordinary efforts by the Police High Command to handle the situation. It was at that stage that I also became aware of the dynamics of the high-powered nature of the Police investigation into the Oyerinde murder which was then the talk of the town. It was then that I learnt that the Police investigations were being headed by an acclaimed detective of high reputation who had been used by the Police when confronted with similar and knotty issues in the past.
Mr. Chris Okey Ezike, a deputy commissioner of police who was drafted from Abuja has had a track record and reputation which clearly precedes him, and obviously so. If, as a one-time president of the Students Union of University of Nigeria, Nsukka, the vibrant and very brilliant Okey Ezike had decided to join the Police after his youth service, he must have had a clear ambition to make the best out of it. After all, he had the future beckoning from many other directions. So, when at the Cadet College, Ezike emerged the best all round graduate and won the Inspector General’s sword, it was obvious that he had started on a good foot. When the confusion started with the SSS announcement, I really felt sorry for Mr. Ezike, a fellow lion and somehow, I believed that he could not afford such a shoddy job of pulling in the wrong people in such a high profile case. However, when the task of reinvestigating the suspects that were handed over by the SSS also fell on his team, the Police got a golden opportunity to clear its image and redeem its name.
From the Police re-investigation, and as the SSS had allegedly not handed over any case files along with the suspects, the SSS suspects were indeed deadly armed robbers but were said to have had nothing to do with the robbery at Oyerinde’s home which had resulted in his death. Rather, according to the Mohammed Abubakar’s men, the killers of Oshiomhole’s aides were those who the Police had already paraded. The lesson of all this, though unsavoury, is clear. Never again should the different agencies of the State which should be working hand in hand, act along parallel lines or in indecent competition. Such unnecessary dissipation of useful energy and resources serves only the criminals and enemies of this nation, and hardly the nation nor the agencies. For now, let’s see how the cases go.
As it seems, the big salutary development from all this is that we now have two sets of suspects, instead of one, to answer to their alleged violent crimes. Let them have their days in court. And when finally justice had been done, the Oyerinde family would at least console themselves that all the agencies meant well. The enormous zeal on the side of the SSS might have been caused by its determination to ensure quicker march of the wheel of justice. Hence, the SSS mistake should be taken as that of the head, not of the heart.