Thanks to the high-pitch effervescence of the contemporary Nigerian socio-political terrain, the public space is always enriched with a continuous flow of new terms and experiences. Perhaps, to many Nigerians, one of many of such new shows is the term ‘sting operation’. Just as the word ‘sting’ connotes pain so can a sting operation by whatever consideration, not take place without some bitter after taste for the victim, and often for the executors of the exercise as well, depending on the circumstances of the operation.
This scenario may be playing out over the recent night time raid by operatives of the Department of State Security Services (DSS), at the residences of some judges in various parts of the country purportedly for arresting them in respect of the alleged crime of collecting bribes. Prominent among the many features of the exercise was the role played by the Rivers State governor who intervened at grave risk to his life in order to stall the arrest of one of the affected judges in Port Harcourt. The merits or otherwise of Wike’s intervention have been exhaustively reviewed in the public domain with various commentators swinging in as many directions their convictions dictate.
The high drama that was associated with the exercise has enjoyed rave reportage and reviews in every platform for disseminating information such as the newspapers, television, radio, social media, churches, mosques, market, town and village squares as well as the ubiquitous, traditional gossip centres – hair salons and beer as well as massage parlours. Perhaps the ripple effects even outweigh the main events themselves as the former have left the country highly polarised along the line of positive and negative rating of the action of the DSS operatives, their responsibility of safe guarding the nation’s common wealth notwithstanding. Talk of occupational hazard for the men in black!
In one context it can be said that virtually all that needs to be said about the spectacle has been exhausted. Yet from a deeper perspective, Nigerians may be seeing just another new face of the war on corruption especially if the syndrome is seen beyond a narrow take, but adopts the proper meaning of the word corruption as whatever constitutes a deviation from the ideal. It is in that context that the sting operation of the DSS qualifies for further review.
Sting operations are defined as deceptive actions embarked upon by law enforcement agencies and officers to lure people suspected to engage in criminal activities into arrest and possible prosecution. Even as the term may be new to most Nigerians, sting operations have been standard operational manoeuvres in use by virtually uncountable security officials, especially the police, to track down highly elusive felons and in the process crack otherwise difficult cases. Even in the ongoing war against the Boko Haram insurgents, sting operations are constantly being deployed by soldiers and other assets to facilitate military assignments aimed at entrapping the enemy.
In the same vein, sting operations constitute perhaps the most potent option for driving the war on corruption given the usually surreptitious disposition of corrupt practices, especially in high places and by highly placed public officers. After all what better way to catch a thief than to set another thief after the felon. It is in that context that the anti-corruption fight can often assume different shapes that may look strange to the uninitiated.
As for the case of the judges, the fallouts from the raids on their premises have churned out significant lessons that are enough for all to share, at least courtesy of the perhaps unexpected twist and turns from the aftermath of the actual sorties. In the multiplicity of views over the issue, can be seen two major directions. One school of thought holds that the manner of the raid remains unedifying for public officers in the calibre of judges under consideration. Others contend that as far as the law is concerned, nobody except the President and the Vice President is immune from arrest and prosecution, while in office. Even as this forum may not be most appropriate for addressing the wisdom of creating this corridor of infallibility for only the President and Vice President to the exclusion of the presiding officers of the National Assembly, and the Chief Justice of the Federation, the scenario clearly leaves questions for another day.
Nevertheless, the trend of public take on the matter evokes concern for a syndrome that needs to be exorcised from the country’s security establishment and that is inter agency rivalry among our security services. In the first place the DSS operatives may have embarked on this ordinarily altruistic mission with a mindset that the end justifies the means. But with the after-taste from the exercise, especially the discordance between it and sister agencies such as the Nigeria Police Force and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), it is doubtful that the agency bargained for the backlash. However, if it anticipated such and still went ahead to execute the action, then it has delivered a grave disservice to the country; not because judges or anybody are bigger than any security operation – be it such a sting or bite, but that this particular exercise did not enjoy a clinical finish. Clearly, from a purely operational perspective they could have done better.
Even before this development, several observers have drawn attention to the issue of interagency rivalry and sub optimal collaboration among agencies in the nation’s security architecture, even as it is yet to enjoy the deserved attention. For instance, the immediate past Inspector General of Police (IGP), the erudite and cerebral Mr Solomon Arase, had raised the matter several times in as many occasions. In one of his comments he stated that“there are no medals to be won by anybody for competition among the security agencies”.
As some observers have noted it is a manifestation of the diminished collaboration among the security agencies that has inspired some commentators to question whether the DSS should mind the security of the state without bothering over the loot of public funds even as they have capacity to multi-task in that direction. In this case the role of the DSS operatives in the matter of the judges is similar to the case of an armed policeman who is on guard duty at a bank, and joins in fighting dare-devil armed robbers operating in a building under the purview of a sister security agency, and adjoining the bank. Some call it collateral liability.
In a welcome development however the National Assembly has come to the rescue through the initiatives of the Senate and House of Representatives to intervene in the matter. The Senate condemned the clampdown, saying the service acted outside its mandate while the House of Representatives is carrying out an investigation into the entire episode. This is an opportunity for all stake-holders in the matter to co-operate with the nation’s central legislature, in yet another of its initiatives to restore sanity in the polity.