Channels TV: Diminishing the National Security State

September 25, 2008
6 mins read

Most appropriately, in my view, the voices of condemnation of the closure of Channels Television, by the State Security Service, have far outnumbered those who stood for the Gestapo- like over-zealousness of the security outfit. Even those who felt that the faux pas of announcing a scoop that turned out to be a major hoax, was unfortunate, missed the post, that the political ambience of the past one month in particular and the general tone of the lack luster regime of Makam Umaru Yar’adua, has largely been responsible for  the emergence of the hoax and the faux pas. What was most ridiculous in the affair was the gung ho manner, that the State Security Services went out of its way to impose the closure. It was a page taken from the days of military dictatorship in our country’s past. One got the feeling that elements within the service had been suffering the withdrawal sysmptom of not being above the law, which democracy theoretically ensures, and were missing the arbitrary methods of the past which thoroughly discredited the organization and in real terms, diminished the entire concept of the national security state.


The excuse given by the security outfit for the closure was also laughable, as it was absured; the rumour of Malam Umaru Yar’adua’s resignation, according to the SSS, “were being teleguided by some disgruntled persons to mount campaigns of calumny against the first family and some top government functionaries with a view to cause disaffection in the country”. If the last refuge of scoundrels is appeal to nationalism and jingoism, the cover for mischief in security circles, is often appeals to “national secrutiy”, as defined by goons who operate under the delusion that the security definition cannot be interrogated by citizens of a democratizing society. Otherwise, why didn’t the security outfit expose those “disgruntled elements” it talked about? Isn’t the security outfit aware that Malam Yar’adua and his publicity-hugging wife operate in the public space and would naturally receive both positive and negative publicity? In what ways can the so-called ”campaigns of calumny” that the SSS talked about, lead to or “cause disaffection in the country”? how did that justify the closure of a television station?


The falling off of the gloves and exposure of the cohesive side to the regime exploded the illusions about adherence to the rule of law, by the Yar’adua regime. And without intending it, the regime exposed just how weak it really is and how challendged it is by its lack of legitimacy. It was an indication, that when the chips are down, regime survival (no matter how faulty its definition) becomes more important that adherence to the fine points of the law. President Yar’adua exposed himself as not better than previous leaders when caught in the vortex of crisis. The sloganeering about adherence to rule of law and against arbitrariness exploded like soap bubble.


It is quite important to point out that the operatives of the national security state doctrine, all around the world, have always tried their desperate best to undermine the basic elements of the democratic process. At the heart of that process is dissent; it is a concept which is quite difficult to handle for the security mindset. The 9/11 attacks in the United States for example, have led to a systematic strengthening of the security state; the erosion of the basic liberties of American citizens and around the world, American security operatives have been kidnapping people on the streets of cities; have done renditions; water boarded detainees and have generally hidden behind the wall of strengthened security, to flout municipal laws in respect of the civil liberties of the American people and international law, by holding and torturing people in Abu Ghraib, Baggram and Guantanamo. Using the cover of security to erode democratic liberties in society has been the hallmark of the right-wing atmosphere which the Bush administrations and its neoconservative core, has facilitated in the past eight years.


Nigeria’s security apparatus, especially the State Security Services, is a direct product of military dictatorship. Its methods were developed in the authoritarian ambience of military rule and it was the front line institution deployed to fight democracy activists in Nigeria and its notoriety reached a head, in the manner that is as used to close media institution,s through most of the nineties. From the outside, we cannot speal of efforts made, if ever there were, to re-oreintate the security apparatus, to behave in a different manner during a democratic transition and the processes of democracy consolidation. But the lame excuse which the SSS gave last week as its reasons for closing Channels Television, betrays a problem of institutional adaptability in a period of democracy consolidation. Even when there is the difficulty of finding balance between security problems and the openness and dissent of democratic culture, it works better to err on the side of the liberties of the citizens, than to use the jackboot approach, such as the SSS employed last week. The reason is simple; a national security state apparatus must also earn the trust and sympathy of the citizens of the country it says that is is securing.


One of the major expressions of state legitimacy, is that even the coercive apparatus endeavours to find a route to earn the respect of the social forces of the society; and what social forces can be as strategic in its values as the media, which the constitutional order of bourgeois democracy describes as the Fourth Estate of the Realm? The Nigerian Constitution even with its imperfections accepts that the media has a duty to the society and that is codified in its Section 22. The exercise of rights and responsibilities does not depend on the say so of the security apparatus. The use of the jack book method by the security service, in relation with the media only helps to underline the crisis of legitimacy and sense of insecurity of the regime; it also damages the badly handled PR efforts which the State Security Services had embarked upon, at the inception of the Yar’adua regime. The inability to stay within the ambits of democratic norms and be guided by the mantra of rule of law, exposes the SSS as being insincere in its pronouncements and it sets back the confidence of civil society in the nation’s security apparatus.


It is important to remind our security apparatus, that a democratizing society is a complex one that cannot be dealth with, in the black or white, either-or, prism that is so much part of the security perspective. A democratizing society is one where dissent and consent seek hegemonic relevance; it is a society thtat does not recognize sacred cows and neo-feudal throw backs of over-veneration of “Mr. President” or the so-called “first family”. There are uncomfortable facts, but they must be stated in order to help our security apparatus to become truly modern and able to worl within efforts at consolidation of the democratic process. The state security agent who has nostalgic feelings for the days when journalists were arrested with impunity; or media houses closed in a gangster manner andthey generally short-circuited the liberties of the Nigerian citizen, is lost in a time warp. Nigerians have made far too many sacrifices to be ruled by the jackboot method. The Nigerian media has been at the forefront of the struggle against colonial rule; it was the scourge of military dictatorship and by virtue of Section 22 of the Nigerian Constitution, it is obliged to hold government accountable to the Nigerian Constitution, it is obliged to hold government accountable to the Nigeian people. The legitimacy which the media has earned in the evolution of Nigerian society makes the jack boot approach of the security services, an unforturnate mistake.


What has been said  here does not absolve Channels Television of the mistake which it made of running a story of such importance, without doing the necessary multi checks. The media have a duty of going the extra mile to check the veracity of stories and finding all the sides to accurately disseminate news. Anybody familiar with the working of the media will know that the allegation by the security service of the media “being teleguided by some disgruntled elements” is not the way the media operate. Unfortunately, media workers are the only professional shtat every layman thinks he can teach how to work! The operatives of the security system must realise that the ambirnce of secrecy, half-truth, and lack of openness in respect of President Umar Yar’adua’s health has largely conditioned the events of recent days. The wild rumour which stole the thunder from a calm and rational attitude, were facilitated by the excessive secrecy of the regime.


The Nigerian security apparatus must find ways to clean up its acts and make the transition away from the crudely cohesive approach which betrays its origins in the wombs of military dictatorship. The security of a state comes from a combination of factors; the economic well-being of the citizenry; their patriotic education; the responsibility of the ruling class and its ability to achieve hegemony through creative handling of dissent; a painstaking construction of consent and the creation of the feeling that the citizen has a stake in the well-being of the state and its continued survival. To reduce state security to regime survival is a major mistake; but to go to the absurd level of attempting to prevent “campaigns of calumny against the first family” is to destroy the entire basis of the national state security system. Our country has been showing worrying sysmptoms of a failed state: a weak state, unable and unwilling to take care of the citizenry; a bandit propensity without he ruling elite who prey on the resources of the state to loot; the deepening of non-state actors’ criminality against the state and the emergence of low-intensity rebellions in regions of the country. These are the issues that should concentrate the minds of our national security planners. When they zealously close down media house, as the SSS did at Channels Television last week, they made the grievous mistake of chasing phantoms; and not only that, they diminished the credibility of the national security state.


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