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 with OLADIPUPO AWOJOBI, he speaks on the recent editorial of UK-based Financial Times on Nigeria, the efforts of the Nigerian Army in the north to curtail insurgency, banditry, among others. Excerpts…
The Financial Times of London in a recent editorial described Nigeria as a country plagued by terrorism, banditry, and kidnapping and risks becoming a failed state. The UK-based newspaper also said contrary to the government’s claim, Boko Haram remained an everpresent threat. Did you see the report and what is your reaction?
First, I saw and read the editorial from Financial Times on what they referred to be the state of Nigeria, and they touched on almost every sector but I will talk about the security aspect. With all due respect, I think there is a script being acted and some international media agencies have already been conscripted to play it out, amazingly, they push out the scripts without any recourse to rules of engagement in the media which includes verification of all indices to be addressed to ensure credence of the report.
From my little knowledge, I am aware that the editorial of any news medium is the heart of that media organisation because that is the position of that newspaper on the topic of consideration.
If FT could churn out such editorial as their position on this same Nigeria that we are currently living in, then there is much to be desired. Beyond that, I think the editorial veered off some of the key happenings in Nigeria and that has been the bane of many foreign media reports on the country, lately. The truth is that you cant rely on resources from the internet to form either a news or editorial reportage.
Yes, we still have pockets of security challenges, but the reality on ground is that the level of security in Nigeria has over time improved, especially in the north east and this is due to the pragmatic approach of President Muhammadu Buhari and his service chiefs.
Except we want to lie and deceive ourselves, is the north not better, especially north east than it was before 2015 when Boko Haram had over 14 local governments in its custody? I think Nigerians should ignore the poorly thought-out editorial as well as the groups who are gleefully hailing it. It was a wasted effort.
The successful rescue of the abducted Kankara school boys generated drama as different security agencies, sociocultural organization and even state governments lay claim to the rescue. Does this suggest that the Nigerian Army played little or no roles in the rescue effort?
I think we must first of all thank God and commend President Buhari for providing the leadership that led to the rescue of the boys. However, I want to applaud the Nigerian army over the release of the abducted students. The saying that success has many relatives is trite here but we must give honour to whom it is due. The army showcased a high level of human rights compliance, professionalism and proactiveness in carrying out its responsibility of securing the lives of the abducted schoolboys.
I really don’t want to get into the politics of the issue but the Nigerian Army was responsible for the release of the boys. The Nigerian Army was able to track the abductors with the boys, they were pinned down and surrounded. You know there are a lot of strategy in warfare, we have the kinetic and non kinetic. The Nigerian Army under General Tukur Buratai deployed the best of strategy, and more importantly, the boys were rescued without any collateral damage. We must commend the troops and the COAS. These things work with collaboration but I think we must becareful not to politicise it.
How are the civil society groups monitoring the progress of the army in the Exercise Sahel Sanity aimed at stabilising the Northwest zone?
Our coalition has been monitoring the exercise and we can see from field reports that the Nigerian Army had been able to stabilise the security situation in the North West since the commencement of Ex Sahel Sanity in July.
I think there is need to explain what it entails to Nigerians. The Exercise Sahel Sanity is a realtime military operation inaugurated by the Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen. Tukur Buratai in July to decisively deal with the menace of banditry, kidnapping, cattle rustling and other criminal activities in Katsina, Zamfara and Sokoto States. The exercise was initially planned to terminate by the end of 2020 but because of likelihood of resurgence an extension has been done to March 2021 to completely knock out bandits from the North West. I think troops had displayed high level of professionalism, loyalty and commitment to the exercise. The bottom line is that everybody has a responsibility to ensure that the activities of the criminals are checkmated because there must be timely information sharing from the community, the police and the last point is the military.
How can you describe the progress of the war against Boko Haram/ISWAP in the Northeast?
I think we must first cast a glance 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, which is still in progress, that the Chief of Army Staff and his troops are doing on field. I think a major boost to the war was the relocation of Gen. Buratai to the North-East early April to oversee and coordinate troops of the Nigerian Army in the counter-insurgency war against the Boko Haram and the ISWAP, and it has led to the decimation of the terrorists, their hideouts and collaborators. I want to urge the Federal Government to raise a strong intelligence force within the army, other security agencies and the citizens to finally nail the activities of the insurgents. More than ever, intelligence gathering is crucial at this stage and I know that such collaboration will return peace to those parts of the country. But if there is any time for Nigerians to be on the same page with regard to the prosecution of the war against terrorism, 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 the concocted lies against the military and on going 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.
What is your take on the persistent attacks on the nation’s troops and service chiefs by Senator Kasshim Shettima and Governor Babagana Zulum?
First of all, Senator Shettima dived into treasonable territory with his latest utterances on national security and acted in an the unconstitutional and selfserving manner by trying to dictate to the President the tenure of service chiefs whose briefs start and stop at the table of the President and Commander-in-Chief. In fact, as Nigerians, we have to seriously interrogate the motive of Senator Shettima in his apparent attacks on our Service Chiefs.
I’m equally using this medium to call on our security agencies, the Department of State Service, the Directorate of Military Intelligence and others to begin to ask the former governor some questions such as, what is his interest in the national security architecture? Can he appoint new Service Chiefs for the President? Is he the one that appointed the Service Chiefs? What is his interest in the Service Chiefs? Is he aiming at overthrowing the democratic government, if the Service Chiefs are not removed?
I found it appalling that this same Shettima who was shedding tears like a baby when Boko Haram overran his state pre-2015 before this same President Buhari and the current Service Chiefs he is now vilifying came to his rescue by reclaiming the local governments taken by the insurgents and restoring peace in the state.
He has also forgotten too soon or refused to remember the current set of service chiefs ensured that his second term as governor was relatively secured and elections were peacefully conducted to bring in his successor and he also won his election to go the Senate under this current military leadership. I believe that Shettima was only playing to the gallery to shore up his personality in the North ahead of the 2023 race, though that’s left for our security agencies to determine, otherwise, how and why would he be dictating to President Buhari who he should appoint or work with?
I think the basic question to ask is why is Shettima raising his voice at a point like this, soliciting for media appearances when there is a sitting governor in the state? Does this not indicate clear politicking? Can’t he seek an audience with the President or is he trying to be more democratic and more representative than the President who got the highest votes of over 15 million across the Country compared to his votes of just a Senatorial zone of less than 300,000? On Zulum, I think he should know that a house divided against itself cannot stand. If there is anytime that intense synergy is needed, it is now. He shouldn’t forget where the state is coming from. It will be a big oversight on his part to allow those who are apparently envious of him to misguide him in what they themselves couldn’t do.