Colonel Yakubu Bako (rtd) served the Nigerian Army in different capacities including being a Military Administrator in Akwa Ibom State. He spoke with MUHAMMAD KABIR on the raging insecurity in the nation. Excerpts…
In 2005 there were jubilations across Nigeria that the military were up and doing to curtail insecurity, but now, the enthusiasm seems to have faded away. What do you think the problem is?
That jubilation was born out of the fact that a General was elected as President and the anticipation that with his military knowledge, the insurgency would be checked. And actually, we were initially having successes, but all of a sudden, the whole thing fizzled out. I think one of the causes may be the lack of motivation and modern equipment, lack of encouragement and sabotage within the military. That could be the result of what we are seeing now. And also, the Service Chiefs were new then; they were ready to make their impact felt. But after having served on the same seat for so many years, may be they have nothing new to offer, because it is the same levels of operations they have been sustaining in the war.
Could you please expatiate on the lack of encouragement and sabotage within the military?
Encouragement is not only associated with serving troops. It boils down to nonserving troops, including the military retirees. Encouragement in the sense that serving personnel see how the retirees are being treated, they will naturally give all they have to make sure they succeed. But if they see that the retirees are being neglected they will have a rethink. Some would say; “Why am I going to kill myself or why should I give my life when those before me are not well treated? And in terms of Sabotage I think it has to do with present system of operations. It is an unnecessary strategy, we repeat the same thing and that brings about sabotage because the soldiers are saying we have done this before, so what next? During our time, there was no strategy like ‘repel’. We read in the newspapers that troops have repelled the insurgents. In the NDA, there wasn’t anything like repel strategy, there was nothing like that. It is either you attack or you defend, and the best form of defence is attack. When you are overwhelmed, you can retreat and then re-attack, that’s what we were taught. But now, you read that soldiers have repelled, so I don’t know where they got that. May be it is a new strategy that was introduced in the military after we left.
The Governor of Borno State recently accused the military of complicity in the attack on him. Do you think that is possible?
I read that story and I was waiting for reactions from the military and there were no details coming from them, but I’m not in the theatre, so, I cannot speak much on that. But what I want to emphasis is that in fighting insurgency, the armed forces and the police must be able to turn the present battle into a war of unity, not war of division.
I read in the papers that the Air Force went to neutralise the base of the insurgents, but at the end, what happened? After neutralising, what did the ground troops do? In the infantry, they call us bush rats. What did bush rats do after the neutralisation? Nothing! So, there is no unity among the services, including the police. In one of the papers I wrote in 2015 when we were members of the Buhari Transitional Committee, it was made clear that the military should be the last resort for any operation.
They will go in and finish the job, and then the Mobile Police would be the one to take over. By the time you see the military going, people will say this is the end because the military will run an order, that this is their operation. But right now I have seen lots of duplications here and there, you have operation Save Haven, Operation Crocodile Dance, operations this, operations that. All these operational strategies, are they under the GOC of that area of operations or they are independently answerable to Chief of Army Staff or Chief of Air Staff? Like what happened during the Maitatsine crisis In Kano, the order came from Army Headquarters to the GOC to curtail the insurgency in Kano, then One Div to 3Brigade to contain the insurgency in Kano, then 3Brigade to the CO; the CO retired as a Brigadier General and he is from Kano. Immediately he got his orders he prepared everything. Sequence of orders; that is what we went to do and they neutralised and withdrew.
As a result, the CO reported to the Brigade that mission was accomplished, then Brigade to One Div in Kaduna and then to Chief of Army Staff. Right now, if Operation Crocodile is set up in Katsina, I’m just giving an example, is it answerable to the Brigade Commander in Kano? Or is it answerable to whichever Brigade Katsina is? And is the Brigade answerable to GOC? So it is duplications. The Chief of Army Staff will give order ‘go to Katsina make sure you eliminate all the insurgency.’ is One Div is in charge of Katsina and the GOC will prepare his men and get the Brigade and say this is the situation if he needs additional troops from outside 3Brigade if they are in charge but now I don’t know how it works. May there’s a new formula introduced when we left.
This lack of synergy in the military, is it responsible for the lack of resounding success in the fight against Insurgency?
Lack of synergy is part of the problems we are facing in trying to tackle Insurgency in Nigeria. I expected the intelligence agencies, starting from the Office of National Security Adviser, the Military Intelligence, Naval and Air Force including the Police and DSS to come together and map out the role they are going to play, and in the Intelligence Circle, I don’t know if they are still using it, it is called Clagent “supportive Employees.” Also they use what we called Dry Cleaning, a technique that was used to detect the surveillance by the enemy; well I don’t know if they are using that now. Our own intelligence group will be out to see what the insurgency intelligence group is doing, so they will able to map out that side. They ought to have set up what we called ‘Up Site.’ I’m using example of Sambisa Forest, close to that we should have what is called Up Site Intelligence Circle, which is site located where intelligence officers engage in activities to see what the enemies are doing and this is something that has to do with the synergy with other services including the Police and DSS but I don’t know if that is been done now. And there is what we called then Recruitment in Place (IRP) in the Intelligence Circle and it means the military may require the services of DSS, get them to go and do something for the military after which they go back; they are still part of the DSS but they are doing something for the military. And so that lack of synergy has brought about everybody do your own and let me do my own but it’s not going well for the military and the nation because insurgency is something that instills fear into the people. Every Nigerian is saying the country is not safe. From the highest to the lowest, this is what everybody is saying. The insurgency has created fear in the public; this is one of main mission.
Nigerians are saying the President seems to have some laxity in doing what is right?
Well I’m not in the Presidency so I’m not qualified to talk about the President, but the President will act based on reports he receives from his Service Chiefs. If you are my Service Chiefs and I told you go to so, and so place, for instance go to Race Course and see if there are people playing around and then you come and tell me everything is normal I will believe you. So my action to what I asked you is based on what you told me; so it’s likely the President may be acting based on what Service Chiefs have been telling him.
But the same President has queried the Service Chiefs that they are not doing well…
May be after the queries there may be, in a week or two, an impressive outing and the press will report that they are doing well and so by the time the President hears that he will believe that the armed forces are doing well. And this is an opportunity that something that had never happened before could have happen now. In the history of Nigerian armed forces, the President is always sacking the Service Chiefs and having stayed up to five years I taught it would honorable for the Service Chiefs to go, tender their voluntary retirements and everybody will clap for them. The Chief of Army Staff, we worked together at the Villa; I was a Colonel and he was a Major and PA to late General Kwambe. I know him. I was expecting that after five years, even if the President is saying stay, the Service Chief must go through and make recommendations that ‘Sir I want to go and these are possible persons for replacement.’ That has not been done and the President is not asking them to go and they are not ready to go. We are like in a Circle. And Nigerians are the victims, people are not safe, peoples can’t travel. I don’t know if they benefit from that if they are benefiting from it is so unfortunate.
Yes that an area I was trying to touch because there is this allegation that some the Security Officers are benefiting from the Insurgency…
I think it’s the present situation in Nigeria that brought about that, if you look at the military in those days peoples joined because of the love they had for the military, young boys left their jobs to join the military, to go to NDA. I was working with Nigeria Broadcasting Organization and left for NDA; there were a lot of teachers, headmasters who joined; there were those who were civil servants like UF Ahmad and they left to go and join the military because the passion was there that I want to be military officer. I was trained at Federal Training Centre Kaduna, and there we had people like DB Dabu from FCD to NDA, even late ADC to IBB. So it was like this NDA ‘let’s see what it is.’ But now NDA is a source of employment, those who don’t have anything to do, they go to NDA; they are not joining the military because they like it, no but because they don’t have anything doing. So you see the difference: we had something doing but we left and joined the military but now they are joining not to have a career in it but to get something out of it.
Retirees like you are not been utilized by the government, why is that so?
In those days the Brigade Commanders in various Co Services, the Infantry Co Commanders once in a year they gathered retired military officers in Jaji and they rubbed minds. The Armored Co will do that, the Artillery Co will all do same; it’s a sort of get to together but if that is not being done it’s a great disservice to the nation. The Senior Officer who led Maitatsine battle is a retired General in Kano but I don’t think if anybody has ever called him to ask how he did it and that guy has so many things in his brain. Even the present Minister of Defence, I don’t think he is doing so.
The President could say ‘I have done my best, I have given you all the Service Chiefs from North…
Yes, he could say so, but if it is not working he should change them we called it stratagem, if the strategies of operations is not working he should revert to former military strategy of using the hierarchy. And due to the asymmetric forces at play in the hands of terrorism, military solution is not the best, it is less effective in the sense that where the operations of intelligence is they will go to the area of operations to be able to scoop information, it is more viable than military operations- the applications of adequate intelligence, coverts operations of infiltrating the rank and file through some people within the terrorist group, and most importantly denying the terrorists their means of money and food, this will surely make them surrender. In Sambisa we could cordon off the place and deny them everything until they surrender. So it’s not physically fighting with guns that will solve the problem, we can use other methods.