Tanwa Ashiru is the founder of Bulwark Intelligence and Information Service Company. It is a company that renders intelligence and threat assessments to the Federal Government and private companies. She is a U.S Air Force veteran with over 14 years of experience in Intelligence analysis, working in the U.S Department of Defence and the U.S National Security Agency (NSA). She served 180 days in Afghanistan and was involved in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations in Southwest Asia, Middle East and Africa. In this interview with OLUWATOSIN OMONIYI, Ashiru speaks on the security situation in Nigeria
Why are we now as a nation?
We are Nigerians and our resilience as a people is strong. I believe that when you compare us to other African countries, you will notice that we are a unique breed of people. Other African countries are very laid back and relaxed. Nigerians, on the other hand, have a way of pushing through no matter what they face.
But the tougher the challenge…
The truth is that there is a threat that it will become bloody before it improves, and we are all working to ensure that it does not reach that point. If there is a war, there will be fatalities and it will affect a large number of people but if we can talk now and put our heads together, I believe it will not reach that point.
How should the media assist in reporting the current security challenges as you seem not to agree with profiling of a crime?
If an Igbo man committed a crime, it shouldn’t be an Igbo man, who committed a crime but Chukwudi committed a crime. You understand what I mean? What I’m trying to say is that people are very sensitive and upset that they are labeling the entire tribe as the problem and we live in a country where tribalism still exists, with over 250 ethnic groups.
We must be sensitive as a people if we are to have peace, and it is a part of peace building. We must have that sensibility that we are all different people. Like, I want to address that there is a problem here but we don’t like the name of the problem. Fine! Let’s change the name, so that we can still tackle the problem.
That doesn’t change the fact that the problem still exists but if we don’t, you and I will end up arguing about the name while the problem persists. So, what I believe the media can do is help us. The media is the ones who turn points. They are the ones, who give names and labels to things. They gave 9/11 a name, and it became a name. We find new names and call it by that.
Do you think the media is involved in the current security problems in Nigeria?
To be honest, the media is aware of the problem; we know that justice is not being served and I don’t think it is the media’s role to pass justice. That is the role of the courts, role of the police and law enforcement.
However, it is the media’s role to call out people, who are not doing their jobs. They are also part of the people’s voices. Right?
So, we, the Nigerian people, hire someone to represent us and if the person goes and does a bad job, we sack him and hire someone else to go back there four years later. That’s how democracy should work.
But what happens if the person there is doing a bad job and we find the media’s allegiance to the person, and the person wants to call you and pay you to tell the society you are doing a good job.
The media is supposed to be our voice for it’s supposed to pour it out as it is and not be biased about anything; report as things are going.
So, we will say that even the media has to tradein caution and it is not helping us if the media has a strong powerful voice and is not allowed to speak. Who is an ordinary man to speak?
And you don’t think the media is already a voice for the voiceless and paying a price for it?
This is when the power of number comes into play. I believe the media as a whole do speak the same language, stand hand-in-hand, and know that one thing is for sure; we are competitors, which is understandable but at the same time, you must realize when collaboration is the only way for all of you to move forward together. I will give you an example from us the security industry.
Many of us security consultants are all in groups together, even though we’re all competitors working for different clients but the truth is that we all need the information that each of us has, and if we have a platform and speak with one voice, we are stronger together.
For the media, they should work handin- hand within themselves, stand hand-in-hand together, and say you know what it is our role to ensure that there is freedom of the press; let’s do what we can if we don’t boycott.
For instance, recently, MTN and the banks had a disagreement. You could see how the banks stood together and fought for each other. They didn’t win the fight but we witnessed the teamwork, and I believe that more of that should happen.
What do you think the Federal Government should do to curb the losses?
You know our problems are numerous; it follows that the solutions will be numerous as well. I tell people this because everyone is waiting for that one blazing gun, the panel sawyer, that one item that will fix the entire situation.
One thing exists but it is a long-term solution and that is what we call education for all: high-quality education for everyone. I’m telling you, the only difference between Nigeria and Germany or Nigeria and Norway is the ordinary person’s head and intellect. When you can think, reason, create, and invent, you are too busy inventing new things,
not to take up guns and start fighting over whether you are an Igbo or a Yoruba person. No, we have progressed past that and this type of stuff is developed. Think about patriotism. How can one become patriotic? I’ll give you an illustration. My kid had to go to school while we were in America.
One day, my daughter returned from school and said: “Mummy, today I learned about veterans, who are people who serve in the military, and today was Veterans’ Day. You know Americans don’t play with their military. So, today I learned about them,” and she showed me the colours of the veterans’ uniforms and said: “Veterans fight for our freedom and veterans are heroes.”
So, you can see where the indoctrination begins- at young age, and she was taught that if you ask her what she wants to become in the future, she will say, “I want to be a veteran,” and she has been taught this for months. So, I had to inform her that, based on the manner she was enthused about it, your mother is a veteran.
So, it’s from that age that it is developed and the only time I feel we have a role in Nigeria is when children should be in school during school hours. But, they would be selling on the streets and some will be carrying bowls digging through rubbish, looking for food to eat. We are already dooming the generation, and Nigeria’s future is in jeopardy.
So, the only thing I think the government needs to do is privatise as much money as it is pouring into security and match it with education and you will find that if you give it 30 years; look at China today. 30 years ago, they were seen riding bicycles up and down the road.
But China today is a force to be reckoned with and that is because if you look at what has happened in China in terms of manufacturing, education, technology, defence, and everything else, you will see that they have put a lot of effort into it.
So, if you ask what the government can do, one thing is that we should invest in education.
The second thing is that the government needs to recognise where, what is working, and what isn’t working in terms of policing and law enforcement. There are laws in this country and people are breaking them left, right, and centre, and nothing is done about it.
This is why it’s a bad thing because Nigeria is known for these things and we see it all the time when we travel. We often find out that because Nigerians do get away with things here, hence, they believe they can do the same nonsense abroad and get away with it.
You will get caught and killed or punished and so, I believe the government should focus on strengthening law enforcement, the courts, and localise policing as much as possible. I believe we are not doing it correctly right now and it is not working now.
So, let’s try something else and that’s what I tell people, especially when they say, “Oh, state police are not on the state police list in weather mind.”
If what we’re doing isn’t working, let’s try a different strategy. If you’re concerned about the state government abusing state police, let’s change the dialogue to how do we make sure state police is not abused by the state government and when you change the dialogue to that, you’ll find that we’ll start talking about how to put checks and balances in place and what we can do to make sure that the state government doesn’t hijack it.
So, we change the notes, so that we can now put a structure in place and put measures in place to make sure that it doesn’t get hijacked by the state government; that it’s in line with the goals of the country’s Federal Republic. Then, wait and see if we can get results with that manner.
Why is our security establishment succumbing to ISWAP, IPOB and others?
Why is the system crumbling in the face of security threats? I’ll tell you about an analysis we did where we looked at all of the incidents that have occurred in Nigeria over the last 10 years and saw one activity of non-state arm and state actors; which is, we have state actors who are people from the government, the state security forces and government security forces and you have non-state actors, who are people that are armed carrying guns but they don’t represent the government of Nigeria.
We observed the actions of such persons to be a lot greater than the actions of the government security forces. Therefore, the moral of that observation is that our government security enforcement is unable to keep up as of right now, for a variety of reasons.
Again, insisting on making governance or security forces a central thing isn’t going to work. So, it needs to be extremely decentralised. We need to deal with things on a local level with time and that is one of the key reasons that we desperately need State Police right now.
The other thing has to do with intelligence. As you know, this is what I do, and I’ll tell you about a book I recently finished. I recently read a book that piqued my interest because, as you may know, there was an abduction of an American in Niger Republic, and the victim was relocated to Sokoto, Nigeria.
The United States of America dispatched Special Forces to Sokoto to rescue their citizen, and I’m sure they took out the bandits in the process. Now, I don’t have much to say about all of these because such an operation was classified. But I came upon a book about a woman who had a similar scenario, except she was adopted in Somalia, and it was the same thing.
The Barrack Obama administration dispatched a Navy team to go rescue her and when I read the narrative of her rescue mission, I reminded myself that we still have a long way to go when it comes to intelligence. I will tell you what happened before they arrived. She was held captive for three months during which time America, you know when former President Goodluck Jonathan said ‘America will know,’ yes, America does know.
They don’t always involve themselves in other countries because they can’t always do that but they do observe. So let’s take an IQ from that and learn what they knew within those three months. They knew the client and who was responsible for the abduction; they knew what is known as paddling of life, or what
day-to-day activities are; they knew exactly how many people were camped; they knew roughly how many people would stay with her during the day and how many would stay with her at night; they knew all of that; and they knew her health status at the time. Don’t ask me how they knew; it’s all intelligence and I know, the technology and equipment they use for these things are already in the world but they were able to figure out her health issue.
And let me tell you how detailed these people were. She was battling with bladder issues, and they sent medicine for her but they knew the kidnappers would not give her the medication. So, she was deteriorating. Now, the Special Forces team that they deployed had a medic on board, and the medic had already taken the bladder infection medicines with him, so that when they rescue her, they can immediately start giving her medication.
That’s how detailed it gets. Meaning that they knew at the point where they needed to act. Let me tell you the final thing that eventually gave them the thumbs up and they said okay, let’s go get her.
Her health was deteriorating. Negotiation has stopped and then, they went briefing the president and said sir, ‘we also know that in two days’ time, it is going to be pitch dark; there will be no moon and that is the perfect time to conduct the rescue operation. They will not see us coming.’ Now, what equipment do you need to execute that kind of operation in peach darkness?
There is equipment for that as well but they are the only ones who can see themselves. So, nobody else can see anything. You get what I mean? This is what I mean by technology. You’re asking how ISWAP, IPOB, Boko Haram are operating in our territory and we’re doing nothing or little about it?
This is where I point to intelligence here. You know there’s a saying that the budget of the slavery thing only exceeds the entire bodies by the real cord. It’s just a saying. It may or may not be true but everyone knew what their budget was
But these are people who are constantly training, which means there is a lot of money up front and they don’t always deploy but they have to stay ready because it’s called stage of readiness all the time, which means they can go across the country, as we saw with the Western operation in Captain Philip. They even created a movie about it, which is the one I just stated that took place in Somalia and they’re the ones that took place in our Sokoto backyard. So, you can see that this thing may happen at the end of the day. These terrorist groups cannot be defeated at our border.
All that can be done is for intelligence agencies to focus on what needs to be done. I’ll tell you what the problem is and I’ll tell you what I discovered, and it’ll all come back to that education thing I mentioned earlier because you have to think about how the average Nigerian thinks and we have this mentality cut across all agencies, all industries, and every aspect of our society.
Where you are not even allowed to think creatively, you are afraid to speak to your superior, and things like that. These are things that if you ask the average American child or how are you, he will respond, “Oh, I’m fine.” I had a wonderful day at school today, and let me tell you about it
. They express themselves, which implies that as the child grows older, he will know how to ask the appropriate questions. He knows how to think about drones because he has to operate in the dark and needs proper night vision equipment to give him the upper hand in such a situation. He also knows how to think about drones since we just want to sit here and wait for the US government to sell us all this equipment.
How soon do you see us actually getting into this informed state of making use of technology and intelligence?
Some of this technology, particularly in the case of kidnapping, I discovered that Nigerians have the tech. I’ll tell you how.
Whenever there’s a kidnapping situation and the police want to conduct a rescue operation, they tell you, “Okay, you know what, do anything to get your loved one out, get them released, but don’t worry, we know who those kidnappers are; we know where they are and I’ll tell you how.
And you’ll often hear that the police have apprehended the kidnappers after the victim has been released. So, they do have that technology. It’s just that there is other infrastructure that needs to be put in place, like specialised training for you to be able to go into and then conduct the rescue operation while the victim is still there. It takes special skill set to do it.
So, maybe, we are not quite there yet or maybe we are there but they can only do for one victim or hostage at a time.
All the things that need to be put in place-emergency response system-too many ungoverned spaces your forest that are not properly secured or observed. There is no surveillance around your forest area and there is a lot of that, that is going on.
That means we are in danger?
I believe that if we do not learn very quickly how to join our hands together and have a common vision and say no matter who comes into power, this is our plan for Nigeria and let’s stick to it. I believe that there will be some form of continuity, which is what I believe is needed.
That this is why people feel like democracy has not served us well. It sounds like each person that comes in, has an agenda of his and it’s hurting us as a people. So, at what point do we all sit down together and say listen, you have your agenda, family, tribe, your goals in life, I know I have family.
I know I have everything but I think together as a people let this be the plan for Nigeria and let’s all swear that no matter what happened, nobody will come and destabilise this plan and we will see to it till the end. That is what made Dubai what it is today.
Their leader had a plan and stuck to it for many years. Looking at it years later, we are now going there to buy land and Dubai got their independence afterward.