Segun James, Lagos
For watchers of the power configuration in the Buhari administration, the sack of Lawal Daura, former Director-General of State Security Services, yesterday was the end of a chapter in a complex power play at the presidential villa.
Recalled from retirement on July 2, 2015 by President Muhammadu Buhari to head the secret service, Lawal, a close associate of the president from his Daura homestead, was destined to be a major pillar of the power structure of the Buhari presidency.
And in the bipolar struggle for power at the presidency, Lawal understandably aligned with Mamman Daura, an erstwhile journalist and powerful business mogul nephew of Buhari, whose enormous influence on the president is well known. On the other side of the polar was Babagana Monguno, the National Security Adviser, who had on his side, Ibrahim Magu, the controversial boss of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Coming from the Daura homestead of the president and being a close ally of his powerful nephew, the former head of the secret service easily became the feet of the ‘cabal’ at the villa with so much gut and gusto that he could take any of the other power contenders without much ado.
This much played out in two instances. First was the controversial security report the DSS wrote to the Senate that effectively blocked Magu’s confirmation as the chairman of the EFCC. This brought him eyeball to eyeball with Osinbajo, who was favourably disposed to Magu’s appointment. In spite of the efforts of the vice president, who clearly by implication had pitched his tent with the NSA camp, Senate confirmation was withheld. But using his vast knowledge of the law, the vice president exploited a loophole in the 1999 Constitution to maintain Magu in office in an acting capacity.
That fight was barely over when another battle front was opened through the clash between Magu’s EFCC and the National Intelligence Agency over the latter’s safe house that was invaded by the former where about N13billion in several foreign currencies were seized. With the Director-General of the agency, Ambassador Ayo Oke sent on suspension and made to face an administrative enquiry at the instance of Osinbajo, who headed the panel with Monguno and the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami, as members, the stage was set for the second fight.
Perhaps motivated by the need to protect the independence of the intelligence community, Lawal stood behind Oke and offered to appear before the panel. Osinbajo working with Monguno blocked Lawal. And in spite of his working alliance with the Malami, Lawal could not stop Osinbajo from producing an adverse report on Oke.
But as it happened in the Magu’s confirmation fight, the NIA investigation has effectively ended in a stalemate as nothing concrete has happened since the report was submitted to the president more than a year ago. Osinbajo, no doubt, saw the hidden hand of Lawal in this.
While Osinbajo might have seen Lawal as a law enforcement officer who seem to have taken undue advantage of his close association with the president to become a law on to himself, answerable to no one, the former head of secret service felt he had a responsibility to defend the independence and integrity of the intelligence community from the prying eyes of the non-initiates, including Osinbajo and Monguno.
Intelligence community watchers think though that Lawal was on the right path and they praised him for elevating the status of the DSS and preventing it from been humiliated. But he probably allowed such silent praises to get into his head and thought he could act with impunity. During the DSS invasion of the residence of some justices of the Supreme Court and judges of high courts, Osinbajo was said to have expressed deep concern quietly that Lawal was going too far outside the law. But Magu expressed his own objection openly.
Meanwhile, the DSS under Lawal had become bad news in the human rights community, with most abuse of law that had darkened the image of the Buhari administration attributed to it. Its refusal to release former NSA Sambo Dasuki and Shiite Leader El-Zakzaky after several courts had granted them multiple bails were the main reference point of anyone who wanted to carpet the administration for rights abuse.
But had Lawal limited his fight to struggle for power over security issues, presidency sources revealed, he probably might have survived. He was said to have strayed into the political tough, allying with Mamman Daura and a governor from the South-west to shop for a South-east replacement for Osinbajo in the impending 2019 presidential election. This, more than anything else, the sources said must have put him at loggerheads with south-west leaders in the APC.
Yesterday when the siege to the National Assembly occurred, with the attendant embarrassment to the federal government. The former DSS boss feeling not particularly responsible to the acting president, sent his men to the National Assembly, without the authorization of the acting president, to provide safe passage for federal legislators, who wanted to effect leadership change at the Senate.
The move backfired hugely, and the public outcry as well as the anger it generated within the international community was the perfect chance Osinbajo needed to ease out Lawal, who hitherto had become untouchable and above the law.