Men in black. Hooded like goons of robbers. Eyes pop as though out of the dark. Mute, ominous guns like growls about to be heard. Gates on lockdown. Lawmakers cannot cajole but holler in vain. A dawn undone.
It was not a building complex that was under siege. Not the brick and mortar of the National Assembly. It was our memory. The fired DSS director, Lawal Daura, harked us back to our jackboot days. Do you remember June 12, and its many sieges? The siege of the press, the siege of the labour union, the streets as blood pedestals, the arrests of dissenters, the cacophonies of clampdowns. Smackdown on fragile voices.
It was no joy. As George R. R. Martin wrote in A feast for Crows, “A siege is a deadly dull.”
When you lay siege to a memory, you lay hold on a people’s future. So, that morning, when hooded men cordoned off the lawmakers access to their chambers, we were reminded that our democracy operates still without self-confidence. Behind it stood shadows of hooded men. Daura was, perhaps, a chief hooded man, more hooded than the muscular presences that morning. We saw them. He hid in the shadows. You will not see him and live.
We had seen it long ago. His defiance, his sense of primitive entitlement, his patrician airs, his disdain for the rule of law. The media cried, the civil society wailed, the law squealed. Daura’s ears could not hear. He did it with the dollars in Nigeria’s most famous apartment. He was stung by an onslaught on judges. He bifurcated the presidency. He became both the executive and legislative branches. He became the dispenser of religious justice to el-Zakzaky. He roared in steely silence to the courts by keeping Sambo Dasuki under leash.
He probably had read or heard of a French philosopher called Montesquieu, who gave the world the doctrine of the separation of powers. If he had heard of him, he had contempt for him. Hence he acted as though the government is one lumbering bully of a monarchy, where the people account to the rulers. Hence he by-passed his bosses and acted in cahoots with Saraki over the nomination of Ibrahim Magu as the EFCC boss.
He had no regard for the concept of a secular state even when the constitution is unambiguous in that sphere. So, he treated el-Zakzaky as though he manipulated Islam, thereby suffocating the secular commands of the law.
August 7 was only an emblem of his serial contempt for the higher principle of democracy. What he did first was to take a full measure of his bosses. He saw he could get away with insolence. The world was open for his antediluvian horrors. He took advantage.
We all saw on television as the female lawmaker screamed in a hysteria of rage and righteousness against the hooded men. They neither flinched nor assailed her. They planted their feet, their eyes unfazed, their guns unstirred. They knew all she could do was rant. Her voice would expire. Her muscles would mellow. She would acquiesce to superior arms. She did. That was how Daura behaved. The civil society would scream and media would rage but Daura did what Daura would do.
Of course, until the reckoning. It came hours later when Acting President Yemi Osinbajo whisked him out of office. To those who first heard it, it was as though they dreamed. Daura probably thought that Osinbajo was a figurehead, and he, Daura, a figurine in the sacred grove. The figurine inspires worship, trepidation and veneration as the symbol of the gods. No one eyes the statuette, not to talk of touch it, a sanctuary unto himself.
But the so-called figurehead Osinbajo knocked off the divine figurine Daura out of the grove. The figurine dropped and broke into a hundred splinters. How are the sacred fallen!
Questions have been raised about Daura’s collusion with the PDP folks. Some have even said that the APC folks had met and the PDP men were there early to overthrow an attempt to impeach Saraki. The interim report from the inspector general of police has not answered the questions. Is the IGP, a fellow traveller and partner in impunity with Daura, capable of a believable report? I doubt it.
First, what were the lawmakers, who usually traffic in absenteeism and often never show up at all or show up in late morning and afternoon, doing very early in the morning? Ben Bruce made a laughing stock of himself when he announced that APC folks were inside. How foolish the assertion! No such evidence unless the APC folks turned into spirits.
If the DSS men were there to stop the PDP men from frustrating the APC men, it clearly is not true because they were not inside. The APC has not the numbers to remove Saraki, and any such meetings will make no sense unless the APC plots of a kangaroo session, which will be unconstitutional. So, whose interest was Daura serving? Was he acting alone?
It still baffles many why Daura would want to embarrass his own mentoring figure, the president, especially when he was out of town. If he wanted to do in Osinbajo, he had his comeuppance. What is obvious is that the vagrant was allowed too much elbow room for too long to foment nuisance. He should not have been allowed if he was not endorsed. He had already done so much havoc and thrown the administration in defence mode. The case of Jones Abiri hangs over the government still. Even the NUJ and the information minister had been caught in the web of authoritarian lies. It is not over until a new atmosphere of rule of law prevails. It is then we shall know whether it is just Daura’s stone-age volition, or whether others buy in who have not freed themselves from the impulses of the barbarian.
Osinbajo would not have fired him if he cleared from him? We need to get to the bottom of this. Saraki “Eleyinmi” has denied any hands in it. But his name has figured because the former DSS chief seemed to have cooperated with him more than Buhari in the course of his disgraceful stewardship. But no evidence. So, the charge makes little sense.
Daura has gone, and I hope he has gone for good. He held periodic meetings with editors and acted as though he was a feudal lord talking in contempt as though he owned the country. I had told some of my colleagues that if I ever attended any such meetings I would have been walked out after giving him a piece of my mind.
August 7 should never come our way again. It was a caveman’s moment in our democracy, what Joseph Conrad calls “a night of first ages.”
Seiyefa, the man of letters
Mathew Seiyefa, who replaced Daura as DSS chief, was my classmate in Government College, Ughelli, and I was pleasantly surprised to hear of his new posting. Nothing about him made us think he would end up as a secret service mogul. To us, he was a man of letters. He was perhaps the best student in the whole class of September 1973 in English. He wrote clear, elegant sentences with an eye for images and ear for music.
I recall his essay published in the school magazine, The Mariners. It was titled, “Guy way: an incessant cankerworm.” It was an essay that I read many times in those days for its beauty and message. The term “guy way,” as he put it “entailed extremely immoral acts,” and described the guys as “social misfits” “never-do-wells,” “the most undesirable” persons who “were in the wrong place at the wrong time”. He also said they had no place in civilised society. Seiyefa earned A1 in English at school certificate and no one could expect anything less.
I recall once when our English teacher, a Ghanaian named Tieku, who graduated from Pennsylvania, asked us to write an essay. He singled out Seiyefa’s as a model essay and read it out to the class.
With the benefit of hindsight, I should have seen the secret service in him. He was a cheerful and dignified introvert, a lethal virtue in a secret service person. From his essays we also could have gleaned his social conscience. The guys, Seiyefa wrote, were antipodes of revolutionaries.
One of the images of him was when we were preparing for school certificate exams. The introvert walked up to the blackboard and wrote, “Barely three weeks to exams, boys still unprepared.” He verbalised it with an impish smile.