When President Muhammadu Buhari pulled out his kinsman, Lawal Daura, from retirement to head the Department of State Services (DSS), it did not come as a surprise to many.
The DSS with Ita Ekpenyong as Director General had become overtly partisan in the run up to the 2015 general election and the moment former President Goodluck Jonathan and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) lost the vote, it was apparent that Ekpenyong’s days were numbered.
It didn’t also come as a surprise to many discerning observers of the country’s security and power architecture when about 40 DSS top ranking personnel, including its rambunctious and noisy spokesperson, Marilyn Ogar, were sacked or compulsorily retired on August 31.
What many Nigerians did not foresee, however, was what happened two weeks later.
On September 11, the appointments of 60 trainee officers out of 452 that belonged to Basic Course 28 of 2014 codenamed COBC28/2014 were whimsically terminated and the trainees thrown out of the State Services Academy (SSA) in Lagos.
Those dismissed had only one month of training to undergo before their commissioning as senior intelligence officers on October 26, 2015.
Those whose appointments were terminated had not only undergone the basic training in the academy but also the three-month attachment at DSS state commands nationwide where they learnt how to handle high calibre weapons, detonate bombs and all sorts of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
Security experts from the British Secret Service were also hired by Nigeria to take them on special intelligence gathering courses in counter-terrorism and insurgency. They had been on this since December 2014 and many of them were already in celebratory mood, having only one month left.
Then, the shocker.
None of the trainees had an inkling what was in the offing. It was just like any other normal day in the camp until about noon when some officers (messengers of death) arrived from Abuja, called out their names and handed them their dismissal letters.
They were marched to their various rooms to pick their personal belongings and thrown out of the camp, under the rain, with the gate shut behind them. Just like that!
Even the pictures they took with their colleagues while in training were seized. Their laptops and cellphones were thoroughly pored over. The victims were not told what the issues were. It was all about national security and the DSS did not owe them any apologies.
But one thing was certain. Many of those rusticated were not found wanting. They were not thrown out of the service because they performed below expectation in training.
In fact, some of those sacked had already been commended by their course advisors. They were some of the best trainees, already proficient in the use of sophisticated weapons.
These are young men and women, Nigerian youths, who had looked forward to serving their country with all their God-given physical and mental abilities being treated so shabbily by a country that expects them to be patriotic.
Many Nigerians didn’t get to know about this injustice. It was done in a hush-hush manner. The media has been largely silent over it. There is no outcry possibly because a new sheriff who can do no wrong is in town.
No reason was given for the shabby treatment meted out to the youths, our so-called leaders of tomorrow.
The termination letter dated September 4 and signed by one GK Mohammed on behalf of Daura simply read: “I am directed to inform you that the Director General, State Services (DGSS) has approved the termination of your appointment from service with immediate effect.
“You are, however, required to hand over all government property in your possession, including your study guide/note books to the Director of Studies, State Services Academy (SSA), Lagos, and obtain appropriate clearance before your final exit please.”
Didn’t they have a right to know what the issues were, why they were sacked without any notice?
To add insult to injury, the victims were demonised after they had left camp because the instructors reportedly told those left behind that the rusticated trainees had fake certificates and gained admission through the back door.
But that was an after-thought because many of them had genuine and verifiable certificates.
In any case, shouldn’t anyone who gained admission to any institution, particularly the country’s foremost secret service, with fake credentials be punished beyond mere rustication?
In the same vein, it amounts to being economical with the truth for the service to claim that some of the trainees came through the back door (whatever that means) because truth be told, none of them came through the front door, figuratively speaking.
The DSS does not advertise vacancies and the process of recruitment is always secretive.
The trainees were told it was “Executive Recruitment”, and in one of the forms they filled to gain admission, they were asked to name their sponsors, the person through whom they came to the academy. You must have a godfather to be there.
If sponsorship was the crime committed by those sent parking, then all the 452 trainees were guilty. So, why were some kicked out and others allowed to stay?
When I met one of the victims last week, she was distraught.
“What kind of life is this? Which other country will treat its citizens like this? Where do I go from here?” she asked.
Of course, I knew what she was talking about. Nigeria, her country, has treated her unfairly since she graduated from the university some years ago. With a good first degree and a Master’s to boot, she had looked forward to living a fulfilled life.
But that is quickly turning out to be an illusion.
Her stint in the banking industry was a nightmare. She almost had a nervous breakdown because of the tyranny of deposits. The DSS job was, therefore, God-sent and she put everything into it and had already been commended by her instructors for her dexterity.
And now, this!
Last week, she looked like a ghost. I barely recognised her. The vivacity had gone. The liveliness, the get-up-and-go spirit, had vanished. There was no sparkle in the eyes. The energy was no longer there. There was no laughter.
She was a broken woman. She still does not have any idea why they were sacked but she was emphatic that most of those asked to go are from a particular section of the country.
Those from the right neck of the woods are still in camp, even those that are not supposed to be there.
For instance, one of the rules, I am told, is that the trainees must not be married before coming to camp. But some of the trainees are not only married but also have children. And those who ought to know are aware.
But not to worry. They share kindred spirit with the new sheriff in town. That is all that matters. They understand his body language and he knows theirs.
The flip side is that no country runs on these paradigms ever achieves greatness.
History is our witness.