ABUJA — THE Senate Committee on Ethics and Public Petitions has decried the alleged involvement of the Department of State Service, DSS, in election petitions in Rivers State and asked President Muhammadu Buhari to call officials of the service to order.
Members of the Senate Committee on Ethics and Public Petitions headed by Senator Samuel Anyanwu (PDP, Imo East) insisted that the DSS involvement in post election matters portrayed grave danger for the nation’s democracy, saying it should rather focus on how to end insurgency and other security threats confronting the country at the moment.
They spoke when the Director of Operations of the DSS, Mr Godwin Etim, representing the Director-General, Mr. Lawal Daura, appeared before the committee to defend allegations of intimidation and harassment of Independent National Election Commission, INEC, officials in Rivers State by the state House of Assembly.
Lawal had submitted before the panel that the agency acted according to the provisions of its act, to forestall threat to national security.
The committee had summoned Daura to appear before it, yesterday, for interrogation over allegation of interference in the affairs of the Rivers State Election Petition Tribunal based on a petition before it from the 31-member state legislature.
Allegations unfounded — DSS
The petition alleged, among others, that the DSS had arrested some officials of the INEC and members of the Election Petition Tribunal.
But Daura, through Etim, said that the allegation of interference against the service as contained in the petition was “unfounded, spurious and frivolous as there is no truth in it whatsoever.”
He said the operatives of the DSS in Rivers State acted based on a voluminous petition received by the agency on July 15 from the state chapter of the All Progressives Congress, APC, alleging that staff of the INEC in the state had refused to release relevant documents needed to prosecute their case before the election petition tribunal.
Don’t try charitable interpretation you’re doing —Senate
Speaking during the committee’s sitting, Deputy Senate Leader, Senator Bala Ibn Na’Alla said: “We all love this country, I am saying this with all sense of responsibility.
“Your interpretation of the provisions of the Act establishing the DSS is the most charitable interpretation of the law. When power is conferred on an individual, the interpretation should be done restrictively.
“The power is conferred on an institution not on an individual. There is the restriction in the provision which has to do with the threat to national security.
“The constitution recognises the Rivers State, the commissioner of police and the army formation.
“The most charitable interpretation of the law does not give you the power to do what you did. What is wrong with somebody to rain fire and brimstone? The attention of the police should have been brought to this.
“But if you have received an information that some people would converge on Abuja to prevent National Assembly from sitting or to ensure that the President of Nigeria will not pass through a particular route, that is strictly threat to national security.
“You cannot take a localized issue that has all the interregnum to take care of it and begin to act as a big boss and tell people that you are acting on a provision that is a derivative of the Act and cannot be more powerful than the act.
“We cannot continue to be where we are because if care is not taken, someone can just approach the court and claim gross abuse of office.
“Nigeria is a democracy and we will continue to march towards the freedom of individuals. Don’t try the charitable interpretation you are doing and think you are comfortable.”
There was no arrest, we only invited them
But Etim said: “With all due respect to the distinguished members, there was no arrest made by our officers. They were invited and we carried out our investigation. We did not also keep anyone overnight. We also carried out investigation before we invited people for questioning. Rivers State is highly volatile.
“We don’t have members of Rivers INEC under our custody but we invited them but not in custody.”
He acknowledged that although the DSS had on July 15, received a petition from the Rivers State APC alleging sabotage of tribunal, the service had not arrested anybody in that regard.
Mr Etim said that the APC petitioners had in their petition, threatened to resort to self-help which may lead to breakdown of law and order unless the DSS intervened.
He said: “The service instituted investigations into the petition to ascertain the veracity of the allegations while prevailing on the petitioners not to take laws into their hands.
“Mindful of being drawn into partisan political dispute, the service has confined it investigation to purely ascertaining whether or not there had been a criminal infraction.
“At no time did the service invite any judicial officer or member of the Rivers State Elections Petition for questioning concerning their handling of election petition before them.”
He explained that although the Rivers State Resident Electoral Commissioner,REC, and staff were orally invited to aid the investigation, none of them was arrested nor detained.
Members of the Senate committee individually berated the DSS for their action.
The committee said it would come up with a final position on the matter after it has heard from all other parties.