A group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SEERAP has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to exert his authority and curb what it described as the excesses of some security agencies.
Operatives of the State Security Service, SSS, and the National Intelligence Agency, NIA, prevented anti-graft detectives from arresting the former heads of the two agencies on Tuesday in Abuja.
The EFCC was at the home of Ita Ekpeyong and Ayodele Oke to apprehend them when their security orderlies stepped in to thwart the process, creating a day-long stand-off that nearly turned fatal.
Mr. Ekpeyong led the SSS from 2010 when President Goodluck Jonathan appointed him until 2015 when Mr. Buhari replaced him with Lawal Daura.
Mr. Oke was fired on October 30 as part of the fallout from the N13 billion cash haul which EFCC recovered from an apartment in Ikoyi, Lagos, in April.
SERAP said the action of the SSS and NIA operatives was deplorable and a mockery of both the anti-corruption drive of Mr. Buhari and the rule of law.
“Obstructing the work of anticorruption agencies is a text-book case of interference with the orderly administration of law and justice, which can send a particularly damaging message that the government may not be truly committed to the fight against corruption”, SERAP said in a Wednesday evening statement signed by its deputy director, Timothy Adewale.
The statement said Mr. Buhari should waste little time in taking decisive action that would send an unambiguous signal about where he stands on corruption matters.
“By moving speedily to stop this kind of behaviour by the SSS and NIA officials, Buhari would be making clear that under his watch, those accused of grand corruption would not be allowed to circumvent the law no matter their status in the society”, Mr. Adewale said.
Mr. Adewale said the SSS and NIA should ordinarily be a part of the efforts to drive out corruption from public service, decrying the fact that they are now being seen as obstructing justice.
“Nothing more fundamentally undermines public confidence in the fight against grand corruption and trust in government than to see state security agencies paid for by public funds apparently aiding and abetting those suspected of engaging in corruption to escape justice.”
The EFCC had previously invited Mr. Oke and his wife, Folashade, for questioning shortly after the former intelligence chief was relieved of his job.
It remained unclear why the EFCC operatives stormed his residence and why his security detail frustrated the move to take him into custody.
A spokesperson for the EFCC, Wilson Uwujaren, did not immediately respond to PREMIUM TIMES requests for comments Wednesday evening.
Very little has been heard from Mr. Ekpeyong since he was removed as SSS director-general in 2015, and the EFCC has not disclosed the specific allegations of corruption against him.
The incident has drawn divergent reactions from Nigerians since Tuesday afternoon.
On Wednesday at the plenary, a senator from Ekiti, Biodun Olujimi said it was a clear indication that Mr. Buhari had lost control of his government and the National Assembly should move to rescue the country from a potentially dangerous situation.
The controversy adds to the growing cases of inter-agency rivalry which has characterised Nigeria’s public institutions under Mr. Buhari.
The SSS and EFCC have regularly clashed since 2016, with the secret police twice blocking the confirmation of Mr. Magu as EFCC chairman in scathing security reports to the Senate.
Resolving the legal questions around the rivalries could prove even more difficult due to the ongoing acrimony between Mr. Magu and Attorney-General Abubakar Malami.
Mr. Malami had accused Mr. Magu of insubordination after allegedly failing to turn in “high-profile” corruption cases for superior vetting. Mr. Magu denied the allegations, saying he had often cooperated, ”where necessary.”
Mr. Malami said the EFCC regulations (2010) define affected cases to be those involving N50 million and above and mandates the anti-graft office to inform the AGF of those cases prior to or during investigation.
Nonetheless, SERAP holds Mr. Buhari responsible for the conduct of agencies under his control.
Mr. Buhari should “end this face-off if his government is to successfully stop the spread of corruption in the country and protect the integrity and authority of anti-corruption agencies”, Mr. Adewale said.
The presidency is yet to react to Tuesday’s faceoff between two critical security agencies under its control.