He flouted the constitution. He disregarded court orders. He grabbed citizens and held them incommunicado without charges. And then, he expressed no scruples about it all.
Lawal Daura is now out of the State Security Service, but his ruthless exploits are unlikely to be forgotten by Nigerians for the foreseeable future.
A native of Daura, Katsina State, who graduated from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Mr Daura joined the SSS in 1982. In 2003, he was appointed Deputy Director Presidential Communication, Command and Control Centre at the Presidential Villa, a position he held till 2007, according to his Wikipedia profile.
He served as the deputy head of security for the Buhari campaign during the 2015 elections, serving under Interior Minister Abdulrahman Dambazau. He had left the SSS circa 2013 after turning 60. He was, however, recalled from retirement by Mr Buhari after winning the 2015 elections, defying concerns that it was inappropriate for a president to appoint someone from his home town in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious entity like Nigeria.
For human rights groups and proponents of the rule of law, Mr Daura’s eventual dismissal, although widely linked to Tuesday’s gambit at the National Assembly, was not condign enough a punishment for the string of reckless deployments of state resources that characterised his slightly over three-year reign at the secret police.
A dreaded state agent who did not flinch from the label, Mr Daura infamously etched his footprints on virtually all the fabrics of a modern constitutional republic, taking on hapless citizens, media practitioners, state and federal legislators and even Supreme Court judges. Many done without any shred of evidence or with confession obtained under duress or with links so thin they turned out worthless in the court of law.
Having been previously retired from service, his announcement to the position by President Muhammadu Buhari in July 2015 elicited divergent feedback from Nigerians. While some viewed the appointment with suspicion, supporters of Mr Buhari said Mr Daura was unjustly eased out of the SSS by former President Goodluck Jonathan, and praised the president for giving him another chance.
But the choices of Mr Daura, who turned 65 over the weekend, since he was appointed on July 2, 2015, have further revealed his person. As debates over his sack and whereabouts continue, here is a recap of the spy chief’s short but controversial career in law enforcement administration since 2015:
Gestapo Assault On Judiciary
In an overnight operation on October 7 and 8, 2016, Mr Daura ordered the SSS personnel to invade the homes of senior judges across the country. The action, arguably the most controversial and highly consequential of Mr Daura’s many actions, ended in the arrest of seven judges, including two of the Supreme Court.
Amidst mixed reactions from Nigerians, the presidency came in defence of Mr Daura, justifying the raid as an attack on corruption and not against the judiciary as being widely peddled. The Attorney-General Abubakar Malami also justified the raids, saying they were legal and that the SSS had its facts before moving against the judges.
But the National Judicial Council declared the invasion unconstitutional and condemned it as an affront on the judiciary. The top judiciary body said the Nigerian constitution was clear on the conditions of bringing errant or corrupt judges to book.
The National Assembly also condemned the raids by Mr Daura. Speaker Yakubu Dogara described it as “untidy” and proposed sweeping legislation to forestall a repeat.
The House of Representatives also set up a panel to investigate the raids. But when Mr Daura appeared before lawmakers, he provided no useful information. Instead, he threatened to deal with Governor Nyesom Wike for disrupting an attempt to arrest a federal judge in Port Harcourt as part of the overnight raid, according to multiple lawmakers who briefed PREMIUM TIMES of Mr Daura’s appearance at the time.
Despite claims by the SSS that its operatives investigated the judges for several months before raiding their residences, no judge was found guilty when the matters went to court. Of the seven judges, only three were charged to court. Two of them, Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court and Sylvester Ngwuta of the Supreme Court were discharged. The last judge, Innocent Umezulike in Enugu, died while the trial was underway. No charges were filed against the remaining four judges.
Even if all the judges were arraigned, their individual cases would have collapsed in court, largely on the basis of the Court of Appeal ruling that no judges could be investigated or charged without first undergoing disciplinary actions by the NJC.
No Road For Magu
Although he was appointed in November 2015, Ibrahim Magu remains an acting-chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission nearly three years later, largely because of Mr Daura. It was the former SSS boss who wrote ‘security report’ twice to the Senate, warning lawmakers not to confirm his colleague’s appointment.
The first ‘security report’ was written in December 2016, and senators quickly rejected Mr Magu based on it. An investigation conducted by PREMIUM TIMES shortly after Mr Magu was rejected revealed that the so-called security report was completely false.
Still, the Senate believed the SSS when the agency wrote its second ‘security report’ to thwart Mr Magu’s confirmation. The president declined to drop Mr Magu despite the rejections, and Mr Daura was not publicly rebuked for apparently undermining the president.
Mr Daura’s frustration of Mr Magu’s confirmation was said to be a fallout of the cold war that had simmered between him and National Security Adviser Babagana Monguno since 2015. The sacked SSS DG declined to report to Mr Monguno as legally required.
What Court Order?
In at least two clear cases of flagrant disregard of court pronouncements, Mr Daura held former National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki, and a leader of the Shiite movement, Ibrahim el-Zakzaky, in custody.
Since the Shiite leader was arrested in December 2015 with his wife, there have been court mandates for the SSS to release the couple, but Mr Daura declined each time. The orders have been issued since 2016, but rather than release him, Mr Daura’s SSS kept him in custody. At some point, the SSS argued that the cleric was being held for his own safety, despite his lawyers strong objections that his client did not give consent to being kept incommunicado for years, after losing his children in the Zaria massacre.
After more than two years of being kept in custody without trial, and with rumours spreading about his death, Mr Zakzaky was paraded before some selected cameramen at the SSS headquarters in Abuja January, a ‘gesture’ his lawyer viewed with utmost suspicion. The Shiite leader is now being tried at a Kaduna court.
On Mr Dasuki, the former NSA has been held at the agency’s headquarters since he was arrested against court order in December 2015. Despite not being able to enforce several court orders in the past, the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court again granted Mr Dasuki bail last month.
Mr Daura ignored the order, and Mr Malami said it was appropriate for court orders to be disregarded in national interest.
Also in December 2015, Mr Daura violated a court order and forcibly ejected one of his predecessors, Kayode Are. Mr Are, DG of SSS between 1999 and 2007, was allocated the property in Ikoyi, Lagos, as part of his retirement benefits from the agency.
Despite yet another court order compelling Mr Daura to allow Mr Are and his family return to their home, the sacked official failed to yield.
Mr Daura sent his men to clampdown on lawmakers at state and federal levels during his time at the SSS. His started with the invasion of Ekiti State House of Assembly in March 2016. During the raid, which was widely condemned, SSS operatives arrested several lawmakers, including Afolabi Akanni.
Other lawmakers were later summarily released, but Mr Akanni was taken to Abuja and held incommunicado for several days. After social media campaign and legal efforts to secure his release failed, as Mr Daura ignored court orders in that respect, the state government raised alarm that he was dead in custody.
It was a few days afterwards that the SSS released the lawmaker without filing charges. He was said to be gravely ill by the time he was released.
The invasion of the National Assembly by suspected thugs in April was also linked to Mr Daura. PREMIUM TIMES findings revealed that SSS operatives were involved in the conspiracy, although the Senate’s primary suspect remained Ovie Omo-Agege, an APC senator from Delta State.
The unconstitutional attempt to remove Governor Samuel Ortom in Benue State last month was also traced to Mr Daura. The former SSS boss was said to have, together with the police, provided security for eight lawmakers to take over the House of Assembly in Makurdi. There are 30 members in the House, and eight members can not form a one-third quorum as required by law.
The presidency condemned the act as unconstitutional, but there was no evidence that any action was taken to discipline those who deployed security resources to that ill-fated mission.
In September 2015, the Akwa Ibom Government House was raided by SSS operatives in Uyo, the state capital. The agency said it uncovered arms, ammunition and huge stash of United States dollars in some of the rooms.
Nearly three years later, the secret police has not filed any charges. Several PDP leaders condemned the action at the time, casting strong doubts on the SSS’ claims.
For Mr Daura, Activists, Journalists Are Fair Game
Mr Daura also ordered several repressive measures against activists and journalists throughout his controversial tenure, with some reports suggesting that he might have held no fewer than 300 Nigerians in prolonged custody without trial. In July 2016, Mr Daura’s SSS arrested Jones Abiri, a Nigerian journalist and family man in Bayelsa State. Mr Abiri’s case has become the most famous amongst all journalists detained under the Buhari administration.
Mr Abiri’s case has drawn particular attention to the repressive tendencies of Mr Daura. The SSS has issued several contradictory statements about his prolonged detention which further raised suspicion and fueled relentless campaign for his release by media rights advocates, including the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York.
The agency initially said he purportedly confessed to supplying weapons to militants in the Niger Delta creeks after his arrest. But when the local newspaper publisher was finally charged before a Chief Magistrater’s Court in Abuja two weeks ago, court filings said he threatened to bomb expatriates in Shell and Eni-Agip unless he received N500 million in settlement.
Mr Abiri was finally transferred to a federal prison in Keffi last week, after spending two years in EFCC custody without access to his lawyers or family members, including his children and aged mother.
Also, between late February and March, SSS operatives arrested Tony Ezimakor, a journalist with Daily Independent. He was also threatened to disclose his sources.
Members of the Ijaw Youth Council are also said to be held in custody by Mr Daura, according to the group. The group threatened serious consequences if its demands are not met.
Mr Daura did all these, and even more, without appointing a spokesperson for the SSS, a situation many describe as retrogressive considering the SSS had a spokesperson before Mr Daura was appointed. The last spokesperson left the agency in 2015. she was amongst those controversially fired by Mr Daura’s management.
Media rights advocates have repeatedly demanded that Mr Daura should resign if he would not be accountable to Nigerians by assigning another spokesperson to interface with the public on the activities of the SSS, calls he failed to yield until his exit Tuesday.
Mr Daura’s crude approach to law enforcement was not restricted to only those capable of defending themselves. In Kogi State last year, SSS operatives arrested a 16-year-old boy on allegations that he plotted to bomb a radio station.
The boy was held for several months at a facility in Koton Karfe, about 40 kilometres north of Lokoja, the state capital. A brief of the case was presented to Mr Daura, and he signed on to it, despite utter lack of evidence by his agents. The boy was arrested in lieu of his even younger brother who was at the time a junior secondary school one pupil.
The matter was charged to a chief magistrate’s court. But for several months, the SSS failed to show up for trial or release the boy. The magistrate eventually dismissed the case, but the boy lost a full session at school.
Mr Daura also spent his time at the SSS taking steps that betrayed his paranoia. Not only was he going after those he presumed were against the Buhari administration at large but those he perceived as a threat to his personal interests.
He arrested and detained at least two persons he believed were too close to Mr Magu and, therefore, considered his ‘enemies.’ One of them was Abba Mohammed, a retired SSS official.
Mr Mohammed was an assistant director at the SSS until his retirement in 2016. He served as the chief of staff at the agency’s headquarters in Abuja until he left service.
His family told PREMIUM TIMES that Mr Mohammed and Mr Daura were allies until the sacked SSS chief started accusing his former subordinate of being an agent of Mr Magu.
It was on the basis of that suspicion that Mr Mohammed was picked up by SSS operatives and held for months without trial. He was subjected to the harsh punishment in custody even though nothing incriminating was found when two houses associated with him were searched, his family told PREMIUM TIMES in September 2017.
Mr Daura similarly ordered the arrest of a lawyer and a chieftain of the APC for allegedly being an ally of Mr Magu and working against him. The lawyer denied the allegations, but was still held cumulatively for almost four months, PREMIUM TIMES learnt from those familiar with the matter.
The SSS never filed any charges against either of them, nor did it pay any compensation for violating their rights by holding them in protracted custody.
Katsina, 51; South-east, 44
One of the most brazen acts of impunity sanctioned by Mr Daura at the SSS was the partisan recruitment exercise he oversaw in 2016. The agency admitted 479 Nigerians as cadet officers at the time, but the list contained disproportionately more northerners than southerners.
PREMIUM TIMES found when it broke the story that Mr Daura did not only flout the federal character principle spelt out in Nigerian statutes, he also failed to employ people on merit.
He admitted more people from his own state of Katsina (51) into the country’s foremost internal intelligence agency than the entire South-east region of five states put together (44).
The presidency defended the controversial exercise after enraged citizens condemned it as further proof of Mr Buhari’s alleged deep-seated nepotism, saying it was done to make up for purported lopsidedness in recruitment by previous administrations.
Nigerians demanded evidence of this, including the a nominal payroll of the agency’s entire staff across the federation, but the administration failed to present any. The recruitment was never reversed, and an investigation that was promised to unravel potential wrongdoings also turned out a ruse.