Is it possible that the DSS might also be insensitive to its own institutional image as to get involved in the turbulent politics of meaning? It is true that, at the end of the day, intelligence is all about interpretation and meaning making. Still, the assumption is that the DSS will maintain the difficult balance in the conduct of its difficult task of securing the state in an over-contested space such as Nigeria. This expectation is no longer academic idealism at a time the intelligence fix to governmentality has become all too pervasive and spectacular, transforming spy agencies from close circuit television approach to a centrality stretching from conduct of war to formal diplomacy, negotiation, transitional justice practices and reconciliation. If any country exists today where the intelligence community should be involved in all these, it may as well be Nigeria. Nigeria is not at war in the Clausewitzian sense but it is in the Hobbesian sense – a war of all against all arising from discursive rupture between and among citizens/groups.
In such a situation, truly modern institutions such as the armed forces, the intelligence community, the police and the universities are expected to intervene from behind the scene and act as moderating influences on nation building. This is more so that Nigeria has not been lucky to have had leaders. It has not had leaders to the extent that, apart from the first generation, all other Nigerian leaders were thrown up by circumstances beyond the control of the individuals who then emerged as military Head of State. General Yakubu Gowon had nobility of mind and excellent training as a soldier but became Military Head of State without his own making. This is also the case with each and every other of that club. That has rubbed Nigeria of the emergence of father figures from among past national leaders. That is father figure in the sense of persons whose moral authority is such that they can talk to anyone to act in a particular way without resistance from such persons because of the power of agency deriving from such great moral authority and the binding force of their narratives when it comes to national consensus from incongruent self-understanding.
Nigerians deserve commendation for managing themselves and keeping the country this far without the benefit of such facility. Many of the countries that are reckoned with as great today would never have made it if they did not benefit from the wisdom of father figures whose moral authority was such that their words were binding to even the most rebellious component of the citizenry.
It is true that there are many false heroes pumping the air and pushing options about Nigeria that they do not even understand when situated in the paradox of the nation state in the world today. While many of those are just simply being mischievous and many more are genuinely ignorant, a large percentage of them have no idea of the violent implications of such options when the shove comes to push. The task of building a nation would, however, insist on a more constructive role by state institutions, particularly the security establishment in responding to all such tunes.
It is in that context that arresting a citizen at the airport on arrival from outside sends a signal that just doesn’t suggest a tough grip on the challenges in town. The DSS might have its own information or facts but facts are never meaningful in themselves. They are only meaningful in relation to some other discourses and boundaries. It is not only the DSS that may know Chido Onumah who is the latest evidence of what looks like speculative intelligence practice. He would not appear to be a darling of some sort among the radicals to which he belongs, going by the reactions to his arrest, if he were known to habour anti-statist views. The radical or activists constituency in Nigeria as in all other parts of the world is a combustible combination of tendencies but one thing that can be said for nearly all of them is that they share the belief that Nigeria has a date with history. God cannot put 200 million blacks in one country for any other reason than for Nigeria’s date with history. If, along the line, some start singing out of that tune, it can only be temporary and manageable rather than something that gets hooded operatives waiting for a haul at the Airport.
That tradition of business has not been the DSS’s identity in the history of Nigeria. Until recently, SSS operatives were everywhere picking up the drop of a pin of subversion but without anyone seeing them at work. And yet, that was when Nigerians slept with all eyes closed than today when the DSS has become entangled with the tradition of use of force, perhaps under influence of CIA methodology in the post 9/11 mentioned earlier here. But the CIA is a great power’s big brother with interests across the world corresponding to American self-conception as a ‘city set on the hill’.
State institutions such as the DSS are established and funded to keep working on concepts and practices such as peace, security, stability and progress which need to be nurtured. Nurturing cannot be achieved by the agencies responsible for that if they are still of the ancient school that those who break laws did so knowing the difference between the law and lawlessness and must, therefore, be punished. That is ancient jurisprudence and uncritical sociology. The more modern jurisprudence is the pastoral theory of state power.
The book that might have brought Chido Onumah within the surveillance radar of the DSS must be his We Are All Biafrans. But no book has just one meaning permanently. What that book meant yesterday in some quarters is not what it would mean today in several quarters. Whatever meaning of the book the DSS has, it is their task to manage it, not to make itself an anti-free expression force by developing a static meaning of the text.
No other country in the world has the chances that Nigeria has in terms of breaking through the barriers and obstacles that have been placed on an industrial leap. From what has happened so far in the last 59 years, it is now debatable if the politicians are still the ones who can lead the process of this break through without institutions in the intelligence, armed forces, the civil society and the universities defining and imposing conceptual red lines from behind. Of the coalition, the security establishment ought to be in the forefront given their formal training in practical state processes. To that extent, any display of the use of state power against a citizen from the military and the paramilitary institutions as Nigerians see now and then diminishes the essence and the great expectations drastically. Nigeria can still break through without bringing anyone within the experience of rough arm tactics. It is uncalled for because that’s not the spirit of the investment.