Sue them The Nation

  • DSS has done democracy no good by arresting rather than prosecuting social media ‘subversives’

The rule of law remains the lynchpin of order, even in a democratic society. What the Department of State Services (DSS) has done by arresting those they describe as working against the harmony of the Nigerian society runs counter to this norm.

By its own admission, it has arrested some persons who have turned the social media into a platform of discord and has vowed not to relent in unleashing the coercive and punitive powers of state on such citizens.

Hear its statement: “The DSS has observed with concern the deliberate plots and attempts by some subversive and undemocratic elements to incite and pit one ethnic group against the other by stoking the embers of tribal sentiments to cause disaffection and violence across the country.”

The statement, signed by its spokesperson, Peter Afunanya, neither mentioned the number of the suspects nor their names. It did not specify what they posted, their websites or social media handles.

To be clear, no society should condone any act of divisiveness, whether it riles a person, a group, a faith or a tribe. The platforms have, for sure, turned into an outlet of effusive rants, insults and perversions of many sorts. They have projected false narratives, libelled the innocent, victimised the vulnerable, injured families, tainted celebrities, made celebrities who should be none, and dug a graveyard of icons.

They have also elevated mere matters into cause celebres while canonising miscreants. This is so because the media is an all-comers’ affair, and anyone with a thumping finger and any mind, whether sane, well-adjusted or subversive, can have their five minutes of fame.

Yet, when such deviants flourish, it is not anyone’s place to use arbitrary powers. That is where the DSS has gotten it wrong. It is going to be listed as one of a list of official subversion of the rule of law and the constitution. If anyone violates our codes of coexistence, it is not the place of the DSS to clamp down.

The recourse should be the court of law. The DSS ought to have handed this matter over to the third arm of government for adjudication. But the DSS, from its statement, has already become a judge in its own cause. Afunanya was right when he stated that the DSS mandate is “to detect and prevent crimes.” Its task is not to judge or punish. The law provides enough material for such a course of action.

The Buhari administration has not shown from this action that there is a strong outcry against the defiance of the judiciary. Recently, the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission shut down a prominent television and radio corporation – AIT and Ray Power – on the view that it had flouted the codes of decency and unity. It became an arbiter and judge, a double threat to the core of republican values.

To have these two incidents barely a month into this administration is a cause for concern. We should not be a country of laws that mean something only when the government of the day loves it. The idea of freedom abides basically because many utterances and publications will offend some and please others. And the test of a mature society is how it turns it into an advantage for free speech in which progress and general wisdom results after rancour.

To say that a democratic society should have rancour or disagreement or even foul and potentially aggravating language is to deny our humanity. It behoves us then to use the law to provide limits rather than the strong arm of an oligarch.

If the suspects erred, the DSS should let the court decide. The country is awash with bandits, and they can benefit the country by identifying them rather than keeping watch over those who should be in court.

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