Nigeria is experiencing an unprecedented wave of insecurity as the Boko Haram insurgency, banditry and the armed Fulani herdsmen continue to attack communities across the country. In this interview, a security strategist and one of the survivors of the 1990 military coup,t (rtd), takes ONWUKA NZESHI through various perspectives on the conflicts
President Muhammadu Buhari made security one of his cardinal campaign promises. How much of that promise has the government kept after five years in office?
I have learnt from my training and professional background not to be partisan on matters of national security. I am afraid that in terms of speaking truth to the power that be, General Muhamadu Buhari is yet to keep his promise.
Here is a General Muhamadu Buhari who promised to lead the counterinsurgency war from the front and assured Nigerians that he would wipe out Boko Haram within a short time. So far, he has not lived up to that expectation. Today, the North, Middle Belt, South-West, South-East and the South-South people cannot rely on that promise any longer because when the innocent farming communities across the regions trusted him, they were dangerously disappointed at the level of insecurity in the country.
The situation became so bad that General Buhari’s key supporter, and indeed mentor, General T. Y. Danjuma called on those being repeatedly attacked by the AK 47 wielding transnational Fulani mercenaries, to resort to self-defense. So far, President Buhari has never said anything which the victims of national insecurity can believe. Such is the sorry state of national security under his watch in the last five years.
What would you consider as the major security challenges faced by the government and your assessment of the government’s approach in tackling them?
National security is much more than the security of the government or the Nigerian state. National security includes the important aspects of the people’s security, such as human security, the security of the human right to education, diseases prevention and control, national economic security.
However, I can give you highlights of the current challenges to national security in Nigeria. They include political leadership failures arising from the lack of sincerity of purpose, lack of political will on the part of leadership and the exhibition of conflict of interests.
President Buhari has allowed partisan politics and nepotistic approach to governance becloud his judgement even in an area as sensitive as national security. Look at the appointment of service chiefs in the armed forces and other branches of national security. It exposes the influence of the often hidden ‘pedophilia’ and other ‘bottom power licentiousness’ in the corridor of power. A clue to deciphering this coded wording of the stranglehold these lustful men have on Nigeria’s political and economic system, is in the Holy Koran (Surah 7:80-84) which is a good source of wisdom for those who care to read it.
The management of national security issues has been so poor that it has created extreme mutual distrust between the far northern rulers on the one side and the leaders of the Middle Belt, South- West, South-South and South-East, on the other side.
The distrust remains a wide-open door through which those who do not wish Nigeria well, might enter and cause harm to the generality of Nigerians.
What do you think is missing in the handling of our national security system?
I feel that there is an absence of a functional High Command Structure in the management of defense and other national security crises.
There are barriers to effective decision-making in the security circle. This could be as a result of the absence of National Security decision making organs such as a dedicated and permanent National Security Threats Assessment Group (TAG) that produces comprehensive weekly, and quarterly, reports to the President and the National Security Council (NSC). I also think that there is no dedicated National Security Threats and Crisis Management Team that should be working with the information from the earlier proposed Threats Assessment group (TAG).
There is need for well researched studies to back up Defense, and National Security, policy makers. Officials charged with National Security Strategy designs do need to go beyond government own research institutions, to partner with appropriate Independent Think-Tanks or Research Institute’s resource persons. This is one way of coming up with the most useful policy options.
Why do you think Nigeria has not won the counter insurgency war in the North-East in spite of all the resources deployed to it?
The war against the Boko Haram is war against an irregular army. It is a war that has thrown up the challenges you encounter when fighting with unconventional armies. The absence of the right orientation, a fit for purpose structure, and suitable type of forces, for waging this much more complex battle is a challenge to our troops.
There is a general low morale among officers, senior non-commissioned officers (SNOS), and the other ranks, arising from the regime’s nepotistic style of appointments, posting, promotion, retirements and dismissal of officers and soldiers.
Indeed, it is demoralising for officers and soldiers to be posted to the war front to combat the Boko Haram insurgents who are better armed and kitted than themselves. There are also recurring intelligence failures, arising, from internal leakages of actionable information to the Boko Haram insurgents and above all, the lack of an Executive-Coordinator of the various operational efforts.
We still have inter-service rivalry, especially between the Army and the Air Force. There is, therefore, the need for appointing a Chief of Joint (Armed Forces) Operations to head a statutorily established Joint (Armed Forces) Operations Command with a clear responsibility.
There is also the public perception that some top generals are more interested in corruptly enriching themselves from the North-East War, than ensuring that the long drawn conflict is brought to a successful close.
How do you explain the continued attacks of the Boko Haram, the rising cases of banditry and mass movement of youths towards the southern region?
The ruling elite has been unable to create the enabling environment for businesses or industries to thrive so that our youths can be employed. For many years, we have been warning that the poor level of education in the North and the fast growing number of jobless youths is a time bomb waiting to explode. I think that bomb has already exploded.
There are diminishing opportunities for the human capital development of the children of the teeming population of the poor. Most of these poor are in the North-East and North-West and they are easily recruited into the Book Haram, ISWAP and other armed groups. Don’t also rule out the conspiracy theories surrounding Fulanisation of the country.
There are currently pent-up social-political grievances caused by the tribalistic monopoly of the hold onto political power by a minority tribe. This started long ago, first in Hausa-land and there after the rest of Northern Nigeria. Now some of these groups are going for the broke in their attempt to covet the more lucrative lands of southern Nigeria. But I can tell you that the Nigerian people are fed up with these internal colonizers.
When you mentioned conflict of interest in the management of national security, what do you mean?
There is conflict of interest when there is lack of sincerity of purpose and political will to tackle national security challenges decisively. The identification of the national security challenges we face cannot be effectively carried out, without some unveiling of the hidden thoughts and motives of the cabal of influencers who President Buhari relies heavily upon. The inspiration to do this, comes from the biblical teaching that: “as he thinketh in his heart so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). Similarly, there is a corresponding Koranic teaching on the need for having God guided motives and it is where the Holy Koran states: “Never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves” (Surah 13:11).
True one cannot read the minds of the influencers of Buhari’s thinking, but one can identify clearly the actions which are a consequence of the cabal’s collective mindset. President Buhari has never been able to correct the impression that he and his native people are more concerned about the pursuit of their ethnic national interest. It’s this descent into or chaos of colliding interest that is engendering the confusion we are experiencing in the management of our national security.
A good evidence of the regime’s lack of sincerity of purpose is, in their treatment of AK 47 wielding transnational Fulani herdsmen as sacred cows. When these transnational tribesmen are not attacking the innocent people of the Hausa, Middle Belt, South-South and South East, they are forming alliances with other North African nomadic tribesmen, so as to resort to banditry attacks on the Hausa, and the Middle Belt, people of the North-West region and Niger State in the North-central region of Nigeria. Another evidence is that over 80 per cent of the national Security Services Chiefs have been appointed in a nepotistic way.
The continuous retention of the armed forces chiefs, stagnates the careers of the other senior officers and junior officers who need to grow up in the profession. This is a major cause of low morale. The President has been prevented from doing what is necessary by those who are financially benefitting from the attendant scam. The COVID-19 induced lockdown has further cut him away from knowing actually what is going on, on the floors below. Lest we forget, most of the Service Chiefs’ tenures have far exceeded their services run out dates (ROD) which is the mandatory 35 years of military service, and the additional discretionary extensions which are themselves generally time bound.
What is your view on the welfare of the troops at the frontlines of the war in the North-East?
The welfare and conditions of officers and men of the Armed Forces, and the other National Security Services, have, for years been yearning for improvement.
One must confess that General Muhamadu Buhari has done a lot to improve the situation. However, the problems often come from some members of his kitchen cabinet who are preventing him from knowing the extent of corruption going on, in the name of fighting the North-East War. Hence, there is a need for us to also monitor the processes of procurement of arms and other national security equipment used in this war.
We may need to emulate the United States of America by establishing the Office of the Inspector General of the Armed Forces. In the US, the Inspector General of the Armed Forces has the training and skills for auditing financial transactions going on the Ministry of Defence and ensuring that procurement processes are subjected to standard operating procedures (SOP).
What is your view on the current move by the Nigeria Police and the states to create community policing to stem the tide of insecurity in the country?
The much ado about community policing, is simply a deliberate and disguised mischief. The suspects of mischief here are traceable to the ranks of beneficiaries from the anomaly of having only a centralized Nigerian Police Force in a nation state that is supposed to be a federation. Policing is a state matter in most successfully governed federal systems of government around the world.
It’s high time the Federal Government realizes that State Police or local government or regional police, is inevitable. The benefits of having locally recruited police officers, and a Police Service that is primarily accountable to the locals it serves, are innumerable.The benefits of having a locally recruited police officers, and a Police Service that is primarily accountable to the locals it serves, are innumerable. There is the need for always involving the locals of a community in the effort of bringing about their Home Land security. Thus, the civilian Joint Task Force in the North East are better organized in the area of para-military training and for the defence of their communities.
What is the way forward for Nigeria?
There must be reconciliation of ethnic nationality interests with the collective, national interest of Nigeria. The current government of President Muhammadu Buhari has been too focused on serving the interest of the people of his tribal clan.
We need restructuring of this federation to make it more manageable for everyone. True federalism is imperative in a multiethnic and plural society like Nigeria
We need to restore genuine free and fair elections and we also a transparent national census. Above all, federalism is imperative because the current over concentration of powers at the centre has not helped us as a country.
The few beneficiaries of the current system might think otherwise but they will soon realise that Nigeria will be a lot better for everyone if it is restructured and every component unit is allowed to develop its potentials to the fullest.
Finally, the social and economic injustices which the people of Niger Delta and Lagos State have been subjected to for decades must stop. It reminds me of Jean Jacques Rousseau’s observation that: “The man who eats in idleness, what he does not produce is a thief.” We need fiscal federalism. The current state of our economy can no longer support the extravagant system we are operating.