Comrade Oladimeji Odeyemi, a security analyst and a counter-terrorism expert, is the Convener of the Coalition of Civil Society Groups Against Terrorism in Nigeria. In this interview, he speaks on the war against insurgency, alleged lopsidedness of appointment in the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, among others. WALE ELEGBEDE reports
As a counter-terrorism expert, what are your thoughts on the relocation of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt. General Tukur Buratai, to the North-East?
I can only describe the movement of the COAS to relocate to the North-East as brave, resilient and patriotic. His two months stay at the war theatres in the region has definitely boosted the morale of troops and it has triggered a monumental turnaround in the fight against Boko Haram/ISWAP in the region. From our independent research, the COAS movement to the war theatre has made a visible difference. He successfully led his gallant troops to the battlefield and inflicted heavy losses on the terrorists and this is no mean feat. I think we should laud such patriotic feat and not allow some social oddities to ridicule the efforts.
As we speak, he has taken a break after two months to re-strategise because the remaining areas are delicate and there is a need for proper homework. The feelers we are getting is that this might be the last of terror fight in the North-East. However, the offensive by the military must be sustained because the insurgency war is not a conventional war.
What is your take on a particular video shared on social media making a caricature of the press briefing by the COAS during his meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at the presidential villa?
Our coalition was among the first set of Nigerians to condemn the edited video, which tried to douse and make a mockery of the serious issues of security as being propounded with the seriousness it deserves by the COAS. It is rather unfortunate that some Nigerians still feel this is still about politics or jokes. I think it was an unpatriotic outing from these elements who do not appreciate the sacrifices men and women of the Nigerian Army are making for us as a nation on a daily basis.
It is mischievous and evil to make mockery of those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice and those who are still on the battlefield ensuring that Nigeria defeats its enemies; it’s nothing but reprehensible. Like we said in our statement on that kindergarten act from the enemies of this country, the authorities should investigate the source of the video and bring those responsible to book. That is the only way to create a system of sanity. It looks as if there are orchestrated media attacks against the military and the fight against insurgents in the North-East.
What do you think informed this development?
I think we must, first of all agree that Nigerians are entitled to their opinions under the right to freedom of expression. Thankfully, the current administration also holds the freedom of expression of Nigerians as guaranteed under the constitution in high esteem. But that right does not give anyone the acquiescence to bolster the activities of those against the interest of Nigeria. It is such a heart-rendering development to see some people deliberately pushing the narrative of falsehoods and mendacity from the comfort of their homes and then feeding some members of the public with their concocted lies.
This web of fake news has its implications and those spreading it among the populace should know that they are only fanning the ember of terror and they are enemies of truth. These people use a different medium to spread falsehood against the military and what the troops are doing in the warfront. They are on social media, traditional media, and so on. But if there is any time for Nigerians to be on the same page with regards to the prosecution of the war against terrorism in the country, it is now. If we don’t support our troops, who do you think will support them?
With the benefit of hindsight, I think some political tendencies and interests are actually the masquerades behind some of these concocted lies against the military and ongoing military operations in the North-East. I believe they are spinning all those falsehoods to discredit the government of the day and all its achievements including the war against terrorists. For example, there is one fellow that usually appears on a television programme. If you see the way he pontificates and assumes monopoly of knowledge, you will then wonder if the military even exists at all.
Without any verifiable research to back up his claims, this fellow picks on the military and he makes the unsuspecting public believes that there is nothing the gallant troops are doing on the frontline. But overall, Nigerians must know that it is not every comment or statement about the insurgency war that is objective or a true reflection of what is happening. In that regards, not every view should be taken as a true picture of what is going on in the North-East.
A former military governor of Kaduna State, Col. Abubakar Dangiwa Umar (rtd.), recently wrote an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, in which he alleged that the President’s appointment of Service Chiefs is lopsided. What do you make of his position?
I read the letter too and I think he was only playing to the gallery by skewing the narrative of appointments in the country, especially when it comes to a sensitive terrain as security. However, I want to implore Nigerians to resist any narratives of divisiveness such as this. How can any objective mind accuse President Buhari of bias in the appointment of his service chiefs? Who are President Buhari’s service chiefs? They are Chief of Defence Staff, General Gabriel Olonisakin, a Christian from Ekiti State; Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai, a Muslim from Borno State; Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas, a Christian from Cross River State and Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshall Sadiq Abubakar, a Muslim from Bauchi State. How is Nigeria divided with the North and South, Muslim and Christians, each having two service chiefs out of four?
There have been reports of an upsurge in Boko Haram and Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) attacks in Borno and Yobe states. What can this be attributed to?
From the tactical point of operation, what we are having now is a pocket of isolated attacks on some soft targets by the few remnants of the decimated but now very desperate Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorist and we must eulogize the military, especially the officers and men of the Nigerian Army for this audacious feat. I think we must first cast a glance at the back and look at where we are coming from as regards the timeline of insurgency in Nigeria; that way we can appreciate the enormous work, the Chief of Army Staff and his troops are doing on field, which is still in progress.
The relocation of Gen. Buratai to the North-East in early April to oversee and coordinate troops of the Nigerian Army in the counter-insurgency war against the Boko Haram and the ISWAP has seen the decimation of the terrorists, their hideouts and collaborators. The Boko Haram issue first started as an uprising in 2009, in what was a conflict between Boko Haram, a militant fundamentalist group and Nigerian security forces. The violence occurred across several states in Northeastern Nigeria, which resulted in more than 1,000 dead, with around 700 killed in the city of Maiduguri alone. That was how a full-scale war had ensued since then.
Boko Haram appeared in the consciousness of most Nigerians outside of the Northeastern zone, for the first time toward the middle of the year in August of 2011. The escalation of what started as a mere uprising developed into a full-scale war toward the end of 2012 in which from Bornu state the Boko Haram Terror spread to the whole of the Northeastern states. It was this situation that became the focal point upon which the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan lost the 2015 elections after a three year period that produced minimal victories that left open the vulnerability of the military, especially the army, resulting in heavy casualties, low morale and mismanagement of resources. A dangerous situation it was for both the fledgling Nigerian democracy and the continued existence of a United Nigeria.
That is why we are urgently calling on the Federal Government to raise a strong intelligence force within the army, other security agencies and the citizens so as to immediately commence identification of those unpatriotic elements who may now want to hide under the banner of Boko Haram/ISWAP to destabilize the country and expose our people, particularly our brothers and sisters in the North-East to series of renewed attacks for their own selfish political gains.