Ambassador Joe Keshi is a former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Permanent Secretary Cabinet Secretary Cabinet Secretariat. In this interview with BIYI ADEGOROYE, he examines current security and political development in the country, especially President Muhammadu Buhari’s last minute cancellation of his planned address to the National Assembly
How would you review the current security situation in the country?
Well, like most Nigerians, I am unhappy and saddened by what is going on in this country.
It is unfortunate, very unfortunate that we have over the years simply watched our security situation deteriorate to the extent that it is worrisome, scary, and even more tragic, there is no evidence of a leadership that understands the mood of the nation nor appreciates our fears .
The first obligation of government is security, the protection of lives and property and if a government cannot do that or even attempt, it is not worthy to be called a government.
This is why l believe that we all, we the people need to pay attention to the insecurity in the country and compel government to act To be candid, security is not for government alone, but I think the problem really is that government has not really motivated the people to understand that we all have an obligation to be security conscious, support the men in harm’s way by reporting even the slightest suspicion around us.
But how can that are done when you have a hostile and arrogant security agencies that have no respect for the people they are expected to protect and carelessly treat or ignore information provided to them.
For sure, what is out there is that the security forces seemed not to be capable in managing information given to them and this has been one of the consistent failures both in the military and the police. It was one time British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, who once said that war is too serious a business to be left only to generals, and I think that applies to this country today.
This is because since the military era till date, particularly since 1999, the civilian administration has been reluctant to look critically into the situation of the Nigerian military and I think it is high time we look at the whole gamut of our security architecture. Let me say this about the military. You know I worked very closely with the military in Sierra Leone and I have said this repeatedly, and I will not be tired of repeating it, and maybe I should start from the Nigerian Civil War.
When the civil war started, the Nigerian military was not prepared and understandably so, because we were only six years as an independence country with no external threat insight. However, we ran into challenges because many countries, especially our traditional friends refused to sell needed weapons to the country.
It was only when Russia eventually did, that our friends came back to their senses and sold some weapons to us. You would think that a country that had such an experience will take measures to avoid been caught in such situation again by developing its own capability. We did not. Then fast forward to Liberia and Sierra Leone, we had the same shortage of military hardware in all departments you can think of.
But the most tragic thing for me is the young officers, of the rank of lieutenants and captains, who were deployed to Sierra Leone and Liberia, almost immediately after their training, consistently complained bitterly of the shortages they were experiencing.
There were shortages of everything and to make matters worse, our friends again refused to give us adequate support in terms of sales of arms and ammunitions. In some ways, this seriously affected the air force operations Now, those lieutenants and captains of those years are the leaders of the military today, almost all of them who are still in the military, are Major Generals.
Yet the military is till complaining of the same problem. So what does that tell you of the Nigerian military or the leadership of the country itself? And what does it tell you of us the people that have refused to take a critical look at the failures of our institutions
We all have this fixation of ‘sacking the Service Chiefs,’ that might be a solution, but the military has fundamental problems that must be looked into – the problem of leadership, the problem of motivation, the problem of capacity and proper management of its resources and the problem of capability especially its inability to develop its own capability and consistently depending on weapons thus helping to deplete our reserves.
The military believes in spending money on importation of all weapons and not doing enough to create that military industrial complex that a country like Nigeria requires.
Simply put, the Nigerian military, just like the police, needs to be seriously reformed both in structure, content attitude and operational strategies. I find it funny when the Nigerian military says the Boko Haram groups it is fighting in Bornu State are not conventional forces, what an excuse?
For goodness’ sake, who the hell did they fight in Liberia and Sierra Leone? They fought rag-tag groups for 10 years. So they should have built on their experience to fight the insurgents in Borno State.
What about the complaints that they are not getting the right war planes from the US?
Look, I keep wondering whether those are the planes we need. What we need is not just bombing from the air. They need to occupy and take possession of those towns and villages.
What we need are attack helicopters, lots of them, with which we can pick these rascals from their location, rather than bombing a place, leaving it and these people will return to reoccupy it.
So, there is a lot we need to do to critically reform the military. It is sad that a former military leader that should honestly understand these issues has not deemed it fit to reform the military. And this has been part of the problem.
Would you say the intelligence community has done enough? First there was a mass kidnap of Chibok girls; from there to Dapchi and now Kankara Boys? What has become of the school protection program put in place after the Dapchi incident?
You know there was even another one, a school safety programme that a former British Prime Minister and some private sector elements were involved in; they were supposed to put resources together to ensure that schools in the North were protected. I have no idea what has become of that programs, but the truth of the matter is that if the programs were in place these abduction of school children would not have happened. But to go back to the other leg of your question, again, this is about the failure of our entire security architecture. How on earth can we have such serious security problems in this country and the intelligence agencies are not carrying us along to assure us that they are on top of the situation? They seem not to understand that that is the only way we can have confidence in them. There so many things we do not know about the insurgency in North-East. We only know that Boko Haram has said it is fighting against Western education, but beyond that, who are the sponsors of Boko Haram? What is the source of their arms and ammunitions? They use Hilux vehicles and motorcycles, where do they get them from? There are people providing these things and providing the resources, who are they and who are their sponsors? Why have they not been dislodged or arrested and tried There was a time the Nigerian media reported that Boko Haram’s petrol supplier was arrested. What happened to him? Today you will hear that their food suppliers have been arrested. But what happened to them? No trial has taking place and the question you ask yourself is what information have they gotten from all the people they have arrested and to what extent have they put such into effective use? Now, it goes back to what I said before, we the people should stop being afraid of security agencies and the National Assembly should begin to dig deep into the activities of the security agencies. Look, there is nothing so secretive about security anywhere in the world. In the US, the FBI, CIA and the rest periodically brief the congress. It happens in the British parliament; it happens in the German parliament, even if they must do it behind closed doors. The point is that they provide necessary information that will enable the parliament to make informed decision and understand what is going on in the country. It is only in this country that the National Assembly summons security chiefs, but nothing comes out of what they said. And that is because members of the legislature are not probing deep enough- which also goes to show that they are scared and do not want to go into security operations. Let them not be deceived.
When any government agency or institution goes before the National Assembly, even in a closed-door session, it is compelled to tell the parliament the truth about what is going on.
They, the so-called representatives of the people must wake up and do their duty to they people The bottom line for me is that we really need to look deep into, not just the structure of these institutions but what is really going on there, because they are failing us.
Then what do you make of the cancellation of President Muhammadu Buhari’s planned appearance before the National Assembly and the Justice Minister’s explanation?
You know some people in this government have perfected the art of deceiving people in this country. As a matter of fact, to be candid, they even hurt the President more with their behavior. When the President was advised not to speak to the National Assembly and he agreed it was his reputation, his image, people perception of him that was affected.
Coupled with the way he has reacted to these tragedies people are wondering if we have a president, if he has the capacity to empathize or to lead. The second part of it is that, they have, especially the Attorney-General, succeeded in diverting peoples’ attention – they are very good at doing this – from the issue of security, we are now focused on the constitutional correctness of the National Assembly inviting the President.
The President of a nation has a duty and obligation to talk to the people on serious issues like this at any given time for goodness sake. Let me be very clear, the President was not required to speak about intricate military operations, the deployment of troops, the number of guns and ammunitions they have, no.
It is a very simple 10 or 15 minutes speech that the President could have made. If he and his team were strategic enough, all he needed to do was empathize with those who have lost loved ones, assure us that he was on top of the situation give us reasons to be hopeful.
If he did not want to go to the National Assembly, for whatever reason, he should have made a national broadcast. When they use security as an excuse, they insult our intelligence.
The same President went to deliver the budget speech at the National Assembly, or did he not go? Did they not provide security for him?
That said, all that is required of a President and if you have been watching what is going on in the United States, their President-elect, Joe Biden, has been reassuring Americans ‘don’t worry about the last four years, but look up to the next for years with hope. We are going to rebuild, and rebuild better.’
It is that assurance that Nigerians need from their President. We are not asking for top secrets. Nigerians are just telling him, ‘tell us as our leader that you are in-charge, you are in control, and that you are dealing with the situation. Just give us reasons to be hopeful. Is that what is so difficult for the President and a government to tell the people?
How far-reaching do you think the on-going Police Reform should go?
Look, the Nigeria Police, as I said about the military, needs fundamental reform, not just the kind of reforms that people are talking about.
It needs fundamental reforms; it needs a new orientation; it needs a new structure; it needs to be decentralized and its operation needs to be modernized Power, authority and resources need to be decentralized from Abuja down to the divisional level and in that way we will be able to hold divisional police officers responsible and accountable for breakdown of law and order or any criminal act in their respective jurisdictions.
It is ridiculous that an undergraduate was raped and killed at the University of Benin and four days later, it was the IGP that gave directive that the killers should be arrested. The question is where was the Commissioner of Police in Edo State?
Where was the Divisional Police Officer? In a normal or proper structure, that is not the business of the IGP, neither is it the business of the Commissioner of Police, rather, it is that of the Divisional Police Officer. If he needed help to do thorough investigation, the Commissioner can provide as- sistance.
Of course, the CP and other groups can help to find and arrest the killers. Look the IGP is not a god, but rather a human being who is charged with so many responsibilities. Yet, often we see him giving orders in almost all the states on one thing or the other.
And what is the duty of the Commissioner of Police in the first place? Look, all these are happening because of the way the police is structured. It is time we decentralize power, authority and resources in the force and you will see how it will energize the Police.
One of the reasons I said the Nigeria Police needs fundamental reform is that to a large extent, the force also suffers from limited capacity, indiscipline, from mismanagement of its resources, officers and everything. That was one of what led to these SARS crises.
For instance, any time you are on the road, take a look at police vehicles. Most of the time they are in a bad shape. But guess what, since 1999, most of the state governments have been providing vehicles intermittently to the Nigeria Police in one form or the other.
Because of this, in terms of operational vehicles, the Nigeria Police should be one of the most capacitated in the world if the Nigeria Police has maintained these vehicles in a responsible manner. But I do know that after a few years you don’t even find most of the vehicles provided by the state government anymore, because of poor maintenance culture and reckless driving of the policemen.
When they damage the vehicles, they don’t care to panel beat them and you begin to wonder whether they still have a Works Department and Police Workshops all over the country.
Now if a state Commissioner of Police is poorly funded how you do expect him to run and manage his command, maintain discipline and be effective in the discharge of his responsibility. It is impossible. We need to properly fund the commands to effectively handle operations, investigation, fuel and maintain their formations.
We need to look at the whole security apparatus, and it does not have to be done under this government as some believe, rather they should lay out what needs to be done on short term, middle term and long term bases. Deal with structure, discipline, and funding.
Look, regarding leadership, in some countries like Singapore and Korea, right from the inception of these officers in the force, they begin to look out for those with leadership qualities in them and their area of competence and interest.
Gradually, they nurture them and build future leaders of the force. And since armed robbers, kidnappers and other criminals now use AK- 47 rifles, should it not be better for the police to change their weapons and so on? That might help us to know where the supplies of the rifles are coming from. There are lots of things we can do to rejig our security architecture, the police and the army and my take is that leadership across the board is critical for this.
How do you see the recent allegation by the Police Service Commission that about 980 names were smuggled into the recruitment list by the leadership of the force?
The smuggling of names and irregular recruitment has been going on not only in the police but in all the para military establishment in Nigeria and indeed in the whole bureaucracy. This is one of the reasons our institutions are very weak Let me also make this point with regard to going for the best. I am a little worried, and I think northern leaders of all shapes and characters really need to begin to talk to themselves and address the problems of the North.
It will shock you to know that some of the students of Kankara Boys College who escaped and were interviewed could not speak English. The same thing happened in Chibok when some of the girls could not speak English and you begin to wonder what kind of education they are giving to these children in the North. This will enable you to understand why they are viewed as educationally backward states, hence the caught off point into universities is lowered for students in some part of the country.
We are not doing those kids any favour nor are we been fair to them and the country The North needs to show commitment to development, open up itself. If they do not have enough English Language teachers in the North, they can find and employ teachers from other parts of the country.
I don’t understand why a secondary school student cannot speak English and has to talk to international or local reporters through interpreters. I’m sure the international reporters like CNN and listeners across the world would be wondering what kind of school that is.
Recently, Senator Ajayi Boroffice lamented that graduates of Religious Studies were recruited into the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) instead of scientists and engineers. How do you see this?
You know, for quite some time, when I think about the security of this country and the problem of intelligence gathering, my mind goes to the space agency and the right efforts made under Prof. Boroffice as the Director General, during the government of President Olusegun Obasanjo. But since he left, no one hears about the agency anymore.
This was the point I tried to make about these agencies which just recruits anyhow. Now, let us also be careful, because the said graduate of Religious Studies may have had a flair for the sciences, but was allocated that course against his wish. We need to investigate that. But the truth of the matter is that we have actually derailed from practice of recruiting the right persons with requisite qualifications for the right positions in the country.
It just shows the depth of reforms that have to be done in this country. Look, when I think about the failure of leadership in this country, it is not the failure at ministerial level, rather it is the failure in all leadership positions in this country.
This is because if the space agency has a serious leadership which understands the mandate of the agency, that leadership will be interested in bringing in the best scientists in almost of relevant fields to the agency and not graduates of irrelevant courses.