The Directorate of State Service (DSS) – the ‘Eyes and Ears’ of the Nigerian State – is on an unusual warpath. It has gotten everyone worked up by claiming that proponents of an Interim Government are on the march towards its realization. Presumably, such can only be those who are not comfortable with the legal route to determining the petitions against a president-elect already declared. But, instead of parading such actors, the DSS is issuing what is neither an alarm nor an alert, properly speaking, since the DSS has both the authority to sniff and also to act. If the DSS has to resort to reporting to the public, then logically the resort to that mode of work must have something to do with either subterfuge as a typical intelligence ploy or severe institutional constraint on action. The question now is which is which?
The People’s Democratic Party and the Labour Party have all reacted by Thursday evening, (March 30th, 2023) saying it is a ground-preparing ploy ahead of the arrest of their leaders and perhaps, clamping treason charges on them subsequently. Timi Frank, speaking for the PDP said the DSS is behaving true to type in terms of pre-empting or bursting popular protests. He says, inter alia, that “The only time you see the DSS coming up to talk about intelligence is whenever Nigerians are preparing to either protest against obnoxious government policies, rules, human rights abuses or carrying out lawful political activities. The DSS must stop this method of intimidating Nigerians, especially politicians, whenever they want to exercise their constitutional rights”
The Labour Part is saying nearly the same thing. Its own spokesperson, Yunusa Tanko said in his own outing that the “DSS and other security agencies should come out and protect us even if we are on the streets protesting”. He implies that the securitization rather than the security of protesters is what the DSS statement aims to achieve.
Although none of these statements said anything about how they came to the conclusions they are marketing, the hint in what they are saying is of a countdown to the explosive dimension of intra-elite squabbles over the February 25th, 2023 presidential election. Nobody can predict the dimension it can take since we live in an age in which boundaries have largely yielded place to incredible flows. But it would not be out of place to speculate that an intra-elite blow out in Nigeria will amount to no threats to the social order. That is simply because there are few or no Nigerian politicians for whom the people would roll up the sleeves and enter into combat in defence of. Even Muhammadu Buhari who had that privilege was still tossed around for a long time and even when the post-election revolt occurred, it was not a spontaneous outpouring of the people genuinely protesting Buhari’s defeat.
To that extent, the DSS summoning of Nigerians would only make anyone develop goose temples if it is an indication of power struggle within the Nigerian State for and against the principle and practice of an Interim Government. In that case, the DSS might have resorted to reporting to the public because it is on the side of those against an Interim Government but not powerful enough to stop those angling for it. If this is the scenario, then something serious is happening or might be about to happen.
The idea of circles, cabals or fractions opposed to anyone of the three leading candidates – Atiku, Tinubu and Peter Obi – succeeding President Buhari has been in the air. Those who claim to know the details have even named names or give very close hints of who is involved. Two great powers even joined the speculation at a point, one of it suggesting a coup could be in the offing. So, there is a case of fire without smoke going on.
One puzzle here is why those actors have still not been successful in stopping the transition process at any of its crucial moments, particularly the party primaries around mid-2022 and more so the election itself. Does it suggest the incompetence of the fractions/cabal/circle or they are still bidding their time? Is this just a case of an interest around power which is afraid of change and is manifesting but a feeble resistance to it? But if it can only muster feeble resistance, why is it so difficult to pacify or dislodge it?
The second puzzle is why they have not fizzled out even after repeatedly failing to move and behead the process at crucial moments. The best evidence available that they have not fizzled out must be the DSS’s SOS as it were.
At a time of a complicated brew of (1) the absence of any fraction of the power elite exercising hegemonic control over that category; (2) a near complete fragmentation of the elite into incommensurable entities, (3) an assertive anger from below and (4) high degree of institutional fragility, intra-elite/intra-state power struggles can be frightening signals of crisis. The assumption is that certain individuals will take their jobs seriously enough to safeguard order and authority, the minimum requirement for those Nigerians who must go out daily to eke a living.