Olufemi Aduwo is the permanent representative of the Centre For Convention on Democratic Integrity (CCDI) to the United Nations, and president of Rights Monitoring Group (RMG). In this interview with OLADIPUPO AWOJOBI, he speaks on army engagement, #ENDSARS protest, anti-graft war and insurgency, among other issues. Excerpts…
President Muhammadu Buhari recently appointed new Service Chiefs after the exit of the previous military chiefs. Do you think the country will have a breath of fresh air with the new appointments?
Well, there is nothing unconstitutional with it. The President has the prerogative to do so at any time. Don’t forget that he has the benefit of intelligence reports that many of us are not privy to. Those who were removed have done their best. The issue of insecurity in Nigeria can be painted in this way- if you give a gun to an untrained man and you give a trained soldier a catapult and you ask both of them to confront each other you can be sure that the soldier will be killed. So, this has to do with the availability of arms and ammunition, as well as the training for the security personnel and intelligence. Look at the newly appointed Chief of Army Staff, he is such a fantastic officer. He was involved in Lafiya Doyle, he is a field officer that knows his onions. More so, we make mistakes on the structural operation of the military. They operate a bottomup approach in the military hierarchy. In other words, it is given that there was no way the immediate past COAS took any decision without the contribution of these new ones. So, the appeal that we should embark on now is that counter-terrorism involves two options- military prowess and civilian relation. We need to know how to engage and introduce a de-radicalisation process for these terrorists because it’s an ideological, economic and political issue. So, civilians have to get involved especially non-governmental organisations to serve as the bridge, not for propaganda or politicking. I also want to say that we should stop seeing our military architecture from the prism of federal character, politics and ethnicity, but strictly on professionalism and competence. Whatever position you filled through politics and ethnicity, will go the way of such sentiments and we must not leave our security system to luck or chance. The truth is that Nigerians don’t care about who is at the helm of affair, all they want is the result. We have new Service Chiefs now, we should know that they need our support. I think the government should upgrade its diplomatic effort at the global level to acquire military equipment and ammunition. We need to do beyond what we are doing now to get results in this fight against insurgency.
Don’t you think issues like the #EndSARS where the military allegedly shot at some protesters might be used to bar the country from procuring some military equipment using human rights profiling?
For those knowledgeable about military and defence issues, they know that a soldier will not go for riot control operation like the Lekki protest without two gun magazines and each magazine contains 30 bullets. So, if a single soldier is there with 30 bullets and at a very close range, if he shoots into that crowd, a single one won’t kill less than 50 people and tear bodies into pieces. I think something went wrong with the Lekki Toll gate narrative. There is much information around the incident that I will not support but we have made our findings known to the appropriate international organisations which will act in due time. Can you imagine that it was only one person that did the recording of soldiers leaving their barracks at Bonny Camp, she did the recording at 82 battalion at Kofo Abayomi when they took off, then she did the recording at the Toll Gate and we saw the Army shooting into the air- why would they shoot into the air? Did they want to kill birds? According to the government of Lagos State, they said two people died- how did they die? What transpired after the Army left the scene? What happened when Police came to the scene? Who took a record of what happened?
Are you exonerating the Military from the October 20 Lekki Toll Gate incident?
You will agree with me that two weeks before the Lekki incident, the military had comported itself so well across the country until the Governor of Lagos State invited them. I knew the panel set up by the State won’t go anywhere. How could you set up a panel to probe Police and Army? What do you seek to achieve even after trying them? You can now see that the panel is divided already. The Governor who set up the panel also appears to have a case to answer, can you invite him? The answer is no because he has immunity. If there was an error of decision, I think the leadership should accept such blame and stop looking for a scapegoat.
What do you make of conflict of information from the Federal Government, the military and others about their roles in the incident?
At a point, they claimed they were not there, at another, they claimed it was rubber bullets fired… I think this administration should have merged some government organs and agencies for better efficiency. For instance, the National Orientation Agency and Human Rights Commission- why are they having separate offices in 36 states of the country? What values are they adding? They should have been merged and become useful for government’s advocacy issues like during COVID- 19, EndSARS and others. I think the conflict of information would have been b e t t e r m a n – a g e d if left to the Ministry of Defence, as opposed to the cacophony of voices from the government saying different things. Just like we had uncoordinated information channels during the COVID-19, we saw the same at the EndSARS issue.
Some individuals and non-governmental organisations said they have sent petitions of human rights abuse against the military to the ICC and the United Nations over the Lekki incident. What is your take on this?
I think we must first understand the tailored processes in the ICC, UN and other international institutions. For example, Amnesty International is a non-governmental organisation that members are affiliated to. Our NGO, just like others around the world, are members of AI. Our NGO also has the consultative status of the UN which allows us to deploy at least five members to New York, Geneva and Vienna offices annually. We have the duties to engage in political and socio-economic issues and work with the UN. So, not many NGOs have access to the UN and as such, sending petitions via email to ICC and UN is not the way it is done. Many people only make noise about the petition to rake money or clout, many of their so-called petitions remain as email and end there. I am not saying NGOs shouldn’t take the government up for accountability at the international levels, but it is not everything that happens locally you will be calling for foreign intervention. There are processes and we must have significant evidence like clear genocide, ethnic cleansing, human rights abuses, among others.
What is your take on the insecurity in the country?
I think the biggest challenge with our security arrangement presently is that the military has been over-stretched and you can see that they have literally taken over the duties of the police. In the United States and other developed countries, they don’t make use of the army like we do here. In Nigeria of today, there is no state where you don’t see one operation or the other regarding the internal security of states. In Lagos, we have OP MESA and the army is being used to checkmate hoodlums and criminals. This is not their job, they are not supposed to be on the streets. If Army captures a community from terrorists, they are supposed to hand it over to the Police and move to the next assignment. But the reverse is the case; they will still be the ones keeping watch over the community and the people. I have seen a trend where people push too many blames to the Army whenever it has to do with insecurity. The Army is doing its best but they have been over-stretched. We need to address this and also look for new allies and support in our counter-terrorism war. Can we try Israel and see what we can get draw from them given their experience and expertise on same? Terrorism is not a conventional war, it has to be strategic and deliberate. I agree with the ex-COAS, Gen Yakubu Buratai, that this war can last for more than 20 years because it is not a conventional war.
President Buhari recently appointed a 40-year-old as EFCC chairman. What is your take on this?
I don’t believe that age has anything to do with good leadership especially with experiences over the past 20 years. We have examples across the world where the older generation made giant strides in nation-building, ditto for youths. We have also seen the converse for both age-grades. So, nation-building has nothing to do with age range but commitment and competence. I really don’t know much about him but the issue of corruption in Nigeria is like firefighters trying to put out fire. Why do you want to fight fire when you can easily prevent it? The government should create a system where leakages are prevented. The issue is not about appointing a young man but changing our perception of wealth. Society has a big role to play in this and we need to clear the rotten foundation.
What is your take on the election of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as Director General of WTO?
She made her mark as twotime minister in Nigeria. During her time, we were able to secure debt relief which will never come again to Nigeria or any other African country. The only thing we are looking up to her for is that she becomes the President of World Bank or returns to Nigeria as President someday. I think we should commend former President Olusegun Obasanjo for his sense and good eyes for recruitment. When you want to appoint, let us see the best.