Partisanship in the security and law enforcement agencies: a clear and present danger!

“Thank God the APC won the Osun election or else…(APC’s loss would have been blamed on the N14 million bribe which SSS personnel refused to collect?)” – SSS spokesperson, Marilyn Ogar

“Thank God, the APC won the Osun election. There was no bomb blast” (But there were bomb blasts in other states lost by the APC, especially, Ondo captured by the Labour Party, Anambra won by APGA, and Ekiti won by the PDP) — SSS spokesperson, Marilyn Ogar

If the two pull-out quotes reproduced above reflect Ms Marilyn Ogar’s true feelings, the spokesperson for the Directorate of State Security/DSS has two reasons to thank God–not once, but twice–for one favour. The favour is the APC’s victory in the recently concluded gubernatorial election in Osun State. No matter whether she was genuinely elated by the APC’s victory, or she was just being cynical and downright deceitful, Ogar will soon have additional reasons to thank the Omniscient, undeceivable, and justice-dispensing God. Enraged by her persistent violation of public service professional and ethical code of conduct—specifically, by her inability to distinguish between her role as SSS spokesperson and that of a typical PDP propagandist–the opposition APC has not only threatened to institute legal proceedings against her, but has also demanded her immediate separation from the public service of Nigeria.

Does the APC have a case it can successfully make against Ogar in a court of law? Probably. Although I know a thing or two about the law, I would prefer that litigation issues be handled by those duly called to the bar. Besides, if the case is already before a judge by the time this article is published, we don’t want to be cited for contempt! Readers can therefore understand why I have decided to leave the broad legal issues to the lawyers, and proceed quickly to the next question, which is whether the APC is right to demand the SSS spokesperson’s voluntary resignation, or failing that, her instant dismissal. On that latter question, I can say without any fear of contradiction (and as one who has researched the subject thoroughly and advised inter-governmental organizations in different parts of the world) that Ogar should have been separated from the public service of Nigeria the instant she embroiled the DSS in public and political controversy. Under the rules, the very minute a public servant issues a statement that could be “reasonably interpreted” as endorsing or opposing a political party’s stand on any subject, that is the minute s/he ceases to be in the public service of Nigeria. The rules should have been applied to Police Commissioner Mbu when he unilaterally inserted ‘making political utterances’ and ‘locking partisan political horns with the Executive Governor of Rivers States’ in his job description as Police Commissioner. That is, of course, by the way.

In retrospect, and with what we now know about the disproportionate amount of time and resources spent peering under private tents to ferret out “PDP enemies” (to the neglect of the substantive terrorism tracking functions), it is no wonder that we have made little headway containing the insurgency in the North-east, and confronting sundry security challenges (like armed robbery, kidnapping for ransom, ritual killing, and oil bunkering) in other parts of the country.

In the latest case of goal displacement, Ogar threw caution to the wind when, without producing any evidence, concrete or circumstantial, she not only accused a political party of trying to bribe SSS officials, but also implied that the APC was behind bomb explosions in states where election results didn’t go the party’s way. She claimed that the SSS officials dutifully turned down the N14million bribe that the unnamed political party offered to swing the Osun election to its side. Oh yes, she remembered all the bombs that went off in Ondo, Anambra and Ekiti states where the APC lost, but she left out one crucial detail, that is, the blast that rocked Ile-Ife a few days to the conduct of the Osun State election which the APC won! She also conveniently forgot to underscore the point that the APC was not the only contestant in Ondo, Anambra, and Ekiti, much less the only party that lost. If bombs went off in the three states, what evidence is there that implicates the APC but exonerates the other losers—i.e., evidence that exonerates the PDP in Ondo; the same PDP in Anambra; the Labour Party in Ekiti; and the PDP, the Labour Party, and the remaining competing parties in the Osun State’s gubernatorial election?

The same Ogar regurgitated the PDP’s unproven allegation linking the APC with Boko Haram! Again, it escaped her memory that the Presidency had once pinned the Boko Haram label on Muhammadu Buhari only to retract the allegation abruptly and to plead with the APC chieftain to let the matter be settled out of court. In any case, now that Modu Sheriff, the alleged sponsor of the Boko Haram insurgency, has finally decamped to the ruling party, the world is waiting for the garrulous Ogar to say something–this time, something logically sound and empirically verifiable. After all, Modu Sheriff’s membership of the opposition party was the smoking gun that the ruling PDP (and its self-appointed mouth-piece, Ogar) gleefully and persistently held aloft to link the APC with terrorist acts.

As if she had not done enough damage, Ogar went on television to justify the unjustifiable—notably, the illegal detention of Lai Mohammed, the APC spokesman, in Osogbo. Ogar wanted to know what Lai, a Kwara State indigene, was doing in Osun State and in the wee hours of the morning at that. To legitimize the curtailment of Lai’s personal and citizenship rights, she invented a crime, “loitering”, and promptly accused the APC spokesman of committing it. She also abruptly and retroactively imposed a curfew which she found Lai guilty of “violating”!

The Gestapo tactic applied in Osun State is reminiscent of the do-or-die measures applied by the Presidency in recent months to give the PDP undue advantage over its rivals. Among these measures are the restrictions imposed by the police on Nasir El-Rufai and other APC leaders during the conduct of the Anambra State governorship election, the ban on flights that would have brought Governors from APC-controlled states to support their Ekiti counterpart’s re-election efforts, and the increasing militarization of the electoral process.

The strong-arm methods applied by the government have the potential of hindering or halting our democratic advance. Regretfully, spokesperson Ogar either thinks otherwise or does not care what harm the measures portend. Regardless of what she thinks or feels, the DSS should act quickly to salvage what is left of its reputation. Here is why the DSS should put a distance between itself and Ms Ogar. As the spokesperson of a crucial public agency, she should have exercised the discretion befitting an official of her status. She ought to have refrained from issuing statements that remotely suggests her political leanings or sympathies. Rather than subscribe to the time-tested principles of impartiality and anonymity, she exceeded herself by making highly provocative and overtly political statements—and on prime time television for that matter.

Even on the assumption that public service rules are silent on transgressions such as the one Ogar stands accused of committing, the sensitive nature of the DSS mandate requires an official of her calibre to exercise the utmost restraint in making public utterances. The DSS is, after all, a law enforcement outfit. It is an abomination for any of its officials to act as if s/he is above the law. When any high-ranking DSS official gets away with clear violation of public service ethical and professional code of conduct, s/he is likely to leave the impression, though erroneous, that law-breaking pays. It is of little consequence whether the law-breaking outside the DSS is on a small or large scale. The reign of impunity inside the Directorate is likely to have a devastating impact not just on the DSS’s public image but also on the Directorate’s intelligence gathering capacity. If the DSS turns a blind eye to Ogar’s transgression, it risks alienating the public that it was created to serve and on whose cooperation its success depends. Since DSS staffers come from diverse background, Ogar’s partisanship is also likely to undermine the Directorate’s internal esprit de corps. How the Directorate can fulfil its mission when its chain or unity of command is constantly threatened is anybody’s guess.

The DSS spokesperson’s penchant for political grandstanding is a clear symptom of a deeper psychological malaise–narcissistic personality disorder, to be precise. That of course is none of our business. In fact, rather than focus on her psychological condition, we should consider yet another reason she needs to be separated. The second reason for recommending her removal is the certainty that her constant violation of the rules would sooner than later hold the entire public service to ridicule. Under the extant rules, her persistent tendency to curry the ruling party’s favour constitutes gross misconduct. This is by far a more serious offence than plain ‘misconduct’. For according to Rule 030301, the run-of-the-mill misconduct is just “any act of wrong doing or an improper behaviour which is inimical to the image of the service and which can be investigated and proved.”

Most of the failings that the rules classify as ‘misconduct’ can be rectified by a combination of counselling, on-the-job training, and exercise of self-discipline by the erring official concerned. Examples of acts of misconduct listed under the civil service rules are drunkenness, use of foul language, habitual lateness to work, improper dressing, insubordination, tardiness in the treatment of files, failure to keep record, and negligence.
Compared to ‘misconduct’, ‘gross misconduct’ is a deep-seated character flaw that wreaks greater havoc not just on the image of a specific agency but also on the esteem and credibility of the public service as an institution. Gross misconduct is a personal indiscretion that is capable of distorting public purpose and eroding citizen faith in state institutions. Ogar’s transgressions (in particular, her uncontrollable habits of identifying with a political party and making political utterances) fall squarely under ‘gross misconduct’ which is punishable with immediate dismissal.

I won’t be surprised if the DSS and the public service top brass treat Ogar’s offence with levity. After all, Police Commissioner Mbu breached the rules (of impartiality, anonymity, and professionalism) and got away with it. In fact, instead of being axed for embarrassing the police command with his public outbursts, he was rewarded with redeployment to a more prestigious, higher-profile, post at the Federal capital (see http://balogunjide.net/nigeria-2015-making-tomorrows-history-today-part-ii/). That is Nigeria. Ours is a country where top officials are rewarded for licking their political superiors’ boots, and penalized when they shield their organizations from political interference. That is why it is rare to find agency heads willing to provide the leadership needed to build and sustain mission-oriented institutions, meaning, institutions that are managed based on the paramount considerations of excellence, integrity, professionalism, competence, and cost-effectiveness.

Pending the emergence of such committed leadership and of achievement-oriented organizations, the public service rank and file must rise up and face a clear and present danger. Unless career officials insulate themselves from partisan politics, every job would ultimately be politicized, and therefore, imperilled. The public service is yet to recover from the seismic effect of the 1975 purge. That purge would pale in comparison to the danger lying ahead if nothing is done to stem the rapid erosion of public service professionalism.

It was in an attempt at pre-empting the undesirable effects of politicization that our founding fathers set their political differences aside and settled for the adoption of the Westminster public service model. The key attributes of this model are integrity, professionalism, merit-based recruitment, competence, political neutrality, impartiality, legality, accountability, responsiveness, and, naturally, security of tenure. If truth be told, that model has crumbled—with plum jobs going to candidates with strong political backing but weak productive capacity, and attention-seeking officials crowding out the truly loyal and dedicated officials. Can the decline be halted? Yes, but… For Nigeria to bring back the public service once known for dedication and for impartial and courteous rendering of service, we should start by cleaning out the Augean stable of politicization, partisanship, nepotism, mediocrity, and corruption. What better way to start than by showing Ogar and others like her the way out of the public service?

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