Major Gen. Ishola Williams (rtd) is a onetime Commandant, Training and Doctrine Command, Nigeria Army. In this interview with JOHNSON AYANTUNJI, he bares his mind on the worsening insecurity, attacks on police and police stations, 2023 elections and the call on United States of America to help fight Boko Haram
Nigeria’s security situation, rather than abate is getting worse by the day, with the attack on policemen, police stations, kidnapping, banditry, insurgency and what have you on the increase. What do you make of these?
We have two separate events here. One is the unending Boko Haram issue in the North East, which has extended to Niger State. The second aspect is the banditry, kidnapping, cattle rustling. The difficult thing is where you place what is playing out in the South East now.
Are they bandits, insurgents or what? This is a group of people who on daily basis are looking for policemen to kill and burn their stations. This has gone beyond banditry. It has now become insurgency in itself, creating a new front for the military to deal with. This is coupled with the banditry in the North West and insurgency in the North East; we also have some elements of it in the South South apart from the issue of piracy going on there.
If you put all these things together with the hullabaloo from the Attorney General and Minister of Justice over Amotekun; initially, they wanted to create a South West security network which constitutionally was not right. But then, they did a right thing by creating it at the states and these states would cooperate together to form that safety network that we are looking for and coordinate. It is working. Nobody can convince me that Amotekun is not working.
It has reduced to a great extent, everyday Fulani did this! Fulani did that! We have seen some cases of when people were abducted in Oyo, they found them in Osun. You also see that the Communities are getting to know Amotekun.
Unlike the Police, they are working with Amotekun because they are their own people. I said it some years back that any state that does not create something in the mold of Amotekun will not know peace whether in the North,
South East or South South. Lagos has created the Neighbourhood Watch but confused with what to do with them. If not, there should be no crime in Lagos State. The South East is trying to emulate what the South West has done in creating Amotekun, to a great extent very successful.
The South West governors have realized that it is working for them. What they need to do more, I am still warning; do not give guns to Amotekun. It will be disaster.
There are so many types of nonlethal gadgets that they can use. 1. In the South East, the mistake they made is that IPOB (Independent People of Biafra), saw a gap and created the Eastern Security Network. The governors made a mistake by proving that they were obeying the Constitution by not doing what the South West did. They are paying for it now.
All they ought to have done, if IPOB created ESN, the ESN is there with you. You should be able to negotiate with the leaders of ESN, who are your own people. You should ask them which are paramount – the safety of your people or your political ambition? Decide so that we can work together for the safety of our people.
ESN would have agreed. Now, they are creating their own Tiger or Lion. Apart from that, they had some Vigilante group before. There is no way the South East can get out of the problem they have without some form of negotiating with how they can merge Ebubeagu with ESN.
The ESN said that they refused to join the State government because they wanted to use them for things which are against their own goals and objectives
(Cuts in) If ESN comes out openly to say that, it means that they have become political insurgent group. They claimed that they are for the safety of the South East. What they are saying is that they want to take over the government of the South East. They cannot be allowed to do that. To a certain extent too, the police have been careless.
The intelligence system has been careless even though they said they told the Governor of Imo State (Hope Uzodimma) of what was going to happen weeks ahead, but he did not take any action. But the Governor of Imo State too has a problem of legitimacy.
That is why Imo State is the hot spot of whatever is happening in the South East. They are going to Abia, going to Anambra, they are going to everywhere now. It is not only Imo State.
If that is the situation, then Ohanaeze and some Igbo cultural group have got to come up and talk to the leader of IPOB in London, the leader of MASSOB (Movement for the Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra) and all those who can talk to these people and see how they can work together.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Professor Wole Soyinka have warned that the current situation should not be allowed to degenerate into a civil war because Nigeria cannot afford another Civil War. What do you say of this?
The question is very basic. If they are saying that at their own level, do they with all sense of respect, done some in depth thinking? For a civil war to happen, there must be political differences, there must be some form of army or fighting groups of both sides, and they must be clear about what they are fighting for.
Let’s take the South West as an example. If they want Odua Republic and they hold a referendum tomorrow, are you sure that all the Odua speaking people will agree? On whose behalf will they raise an army to fight the Federal Government for them to be able to secede?
If Obasanjo is talking about civil war, who is fighting who? How will the war start if there are alternatives? It appears to me now that the president (Muhammadu Buhari) and his advisers are confused and do not know what to do.
They may not even know what to tell the president because if the members of the House of Representatives could wake up and say that the president should declare a state of emergency, do they know what they are talking about? The president should be ruling by decree?
He should close down the National Assembly. Second element of it is that there have been unconfirmed reports that Nigeria should seek help from outside to be able to fight insurgency. From notes of the discussion between the president and Secretary of State of the United States, that the US should relocate its African Command Headquarters to be located in Africa, of course not to Nigeria.
But Africom is not like what you do in Nigeria. You throw money at problem when you have it. They have been talking about the relocation of Africom for a long time. The Americans say they do not have the money to come and build a whole new base for Africom. Also, they do not want to get trapped like France in the Sahel.
They have been there now for over 10 years. There are no signs that they are going to get out. I remember the case of Mali, when UN (United Nations) wanted to go into Mali; I was telling very high level people bringing the UN would not solve your problem.
UN is still in Mali till today. And without France, Germany, European Union, Mali could have gone into the hands of Jihadists. The basic question military people like us – retired and serving should ask is: What is wrong with African military? What is wrong with African Police?
Are they competent and capable to perform their functions? They have shown over the last 10 -15 years that our armies cannot overcome terrorism and insurgency without outside help.
You take the case of Nigeria, where the officers believe that you just need technology; technology does not give you advantage over low intensity conflict. The other day, Boko Haram displayed the vehicles they captured from Nigerian Army. Incredible!
The way they attack bases, the way they ambush soldiers, this again like I keep crying out, there is problem with our intelligence and counter intelligence. This entire cry about insecurity, it is not a problem of insecurity.
It is the safety of the people that is at stake. Nigeria is secured; nobody is attacking us from outside. It is her own people that are attacking Nigeria. We ourselves cannot solve our problems.
Does Nigeria need foreign help to survive the spate of insurgency confronting her? Some are of the opinion that Federal Government should engage the services of military contractors…
Where in the whole world have you seen outsiders coming into a country and solving the problems of the country?
How long are they going to stay there? It would have been better for Nigeria to ask Britain to come back and recolonise us, or better still, the president should step aside, send a representative to come and govern Nigeria, withdraw all the Service Chiefs and replace them with the outsiders.
But they forget, will those outsiders too, bring all their people to come and do the fighting? Is it not the same people that you will use? Will they not get any advice from the same people? Those are the types of questions we need to ask. It is impossible.
You know the funny thing is that if those outsiders come, and they make the same suggestions which have been made, the government will take them. It is not the message, it is the messenger. It is a consequence of inferiority in thinking, combined with inferiority complex. That is what is happening at every level in Nigeria today.
Another thing has been thrown into the mix; bandits now attack tertiary institutions and kill students like they did recently in Kaduna and Makurdi, where students were kidnapped. Five students of the Greenfield University, Kaduna were killed and others still in captivity….
(Cuts in) Whenever they appoint a new head of police, he will tell them, withdraw all the policemen from the checkpoint, from some individuals. The police are being paid for the special protection they offer such rich individuals. It was revealed some time ago that they were making huge sums of money.
They would say they were going to withdraw the policemen. It would not happen. Are the police, especially at the head, a serious organization? We have a saying: There are no bad soldiers or bad policemen.
There are bad officers. What do you mean by that? What I mean by that is that a soldier or policeman is trained to obey orders. If a policeman collects N500 as bribe and gives N300 to his superior, case closed. Or if in the case a soldier, the insurgents attack a base and the officer takes to his heels, the soldiers will follow him.
That is why it is well known fact that whenever they attack a base, our soldiers run away. You then ask yourself, what are those soldiers trained for? Is it not to be able to defend their locations? If they are not succeeding in doing that, why don’t you look at the reason and then draw up a new training system from lessons learnt to be able to stop that incursion.
In the case of ambush, what is wrong with our intelligence and counter intelligence? What are we doing about it? Is it improving? From what we are hearing and seeing every day, it is getting worse. Recently, when they were talking about Damasak, that they drove away our soldiers, they said our soldiers went back. What did Governor Zulum do?
He went to Damasak and gave the unit there 12 vehicles. For what? Nobody knows the amount of money being spent on the military and the police. When you come to the Police, separate MOPOL (Mobile Police) from the Police, as a separate Command – a para military force. Their focus should be on banditry, armed robbers and kidnapping. Policing, leave it to the state.
The minister of Information said that the worsening state of insecurity was as a result of the 1975 coup d’état which brought in the Late General Murtala Mohammed. What do you say of this?
I do not see any connection there at all. In fact, Murtala Mohammed is being considered a hero both within and outside Nigeria.
We shut down government for three months. It did not matter where he came from. You need to see the outpouring of emotion and love for the man. What is Lai Mohammed talking about? He is the only one who understands what he is talking about. There is no in-depth thinking in what he is saying. From 1975 and this is 2021, how many governments have we had?
At least, since 1999, there has been no coup in Nigeria. We have had stability in government. What he is doing is that he is indicting everyone who has been in politics since 1975 and if not so, since 1999. And that again, Obasanjo who took over in 1999 and ruled for 8 years did not lay a good foundation for democratic continuity or good government continuity.
The Federal Government is against Britain and US, saying that they would grant asylum to IPOB members and others they perceived to be in danger with the current administration but the government is uncomfortable with it, saying that they are harbouring enemies of the state?
They are justified because any reasonable leader will look at the situation we are in, the agitations of the people for constitutional amendment, restructuring, and the government – the president did not even talk about it. Osinbajo, who is his vice president, seemed to be afraid to discuss it. The governors due to their own selfishness and the money they receive from Abuja tend to be aloof all in the name of unity.
It is all nonesense. There is no country that is talking about unity. The United States of America is not unified- is a federal system in which the Federal Government respects the state governments and does not push anything down their throats.
The states too, know their limits; they know what to get from the Federal Government. They know that they have to look after themselves. That is what is missing in Nigeria. Anybody going to ask for help from United States in terms of security is wrong.
The system is clearly different from ours. We have an American type of Constitution; we have a British system of security and safety. The British left us with Inspector General of Police, which we are still carrying on for 60 years, no change. What does the police do like the Army?
They create new commands, new promotions. You have DIGs all over the place. You have AIGs everywhere, and Commissioners are all over the place. Some funny people are asking for more states. Most of the states today are not viable. There is something wrong with Nigerians too.
Just this morning (Thursday, April 28) a national newspaper reported that the NNPC said that the subsidy on Premium Motor Spirit (petrol) gulps more and as such, there is no revenue to run the government and some states too are insolvent.
There are some political decisions that need to be made by courageous and bold leadership. That is missing in Nigeria. If you ask most Nigerians today to remove subsidy, the savings alone to make from it, will impact health sector and education. In Franco-phone countries, fuel is very expensive.
If you do not have money to buy the fuel, keep the car in your house, take public transport. Since most states like Lagos State, are introducing public transport system by road, by water and by rail, you can’t fuel a car, keep it. But then, the government must make the public transport affordable.
They should remove subsidy. The political leadership believes that they are helping the people. It is not true. But that is the story they have been feeding the people with that when they remove the subsidy, they will plough/ invest it in critical infrastructure, but that is not happening.
The people cannot feel the impact of the removal of subsidy since the late 80s. The issue in this is: We never bothered to ask any question. If every month, state governors send commissioners of finance to Abuja to go and collect money, who asks them what they use the money for?
Since the money is being reduced now. (Nasir) El – Rufai said he is going to sack so many workers. Whether they like it or not, they have to sack workers. It is stupid of any state to say they are going to pay N30, 000. It is like asking every company in Lagos to pay their workers the same salary, no matter how rich or poor the company is.
It is impossible. You can establish a national standard but you cannot tell what a state should pay. This is coupled with the fact that the governors themselves are kleptocrats.
They are like demigods. They can spend the money on anything they like. What we do in Nigeria is that we put all the money in one bag. Governments, even though they have budget, do not respect the budget. What about auditing? How many times have you seen the accounts of a state being audited; even the audit report of the Federal Government?
It is not even in the archives. What is happening in is that the generation coming after us is learning a bad habit. Rarely do you talk about models the young ones can follow or emulate in Nigeria.
Despite the hue and cries of Nigerians against the NNPC rehabilitating the Port Harcourt Refinery, they have gone ahead to sign the $1.4 billion contract for the same purpose. Yet, Nigeria still import refined petroleum product.
Some of these issues are technical which I do not understand very well. But from the layman’s point of view, there is no need for any reason to establish any refinery. Today, if you put out an advertisement for people to come all over the world to come and establish a refinery in Nigeria, they will come.
The crude oil is there. Also, no sensible person will find crude oil in the South South and pipe it to the North to go and refine there. What are they doing in the North? They are establishing a refinery in Katsina with Niger border. They are building a rail system to Niger and bringing crude oil from Niger Republic to that refinery.
Is that not political. It makes economic sense for Katsina State and Niger, but does not make economic sense for Nigeria? That is why political leadership is important in all ways. If you have a selfish, ethnocentric political leadership, you have a problem with the federal system. It is not only that. You must cut away from putting all our resources into one bag which we share to everybody every month.
Lagos will collect most of the VAT (Value Added Tax) and will share it with everyone. Why can’t Lagos keep the VAT instead of sharing it with everybody?
The Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami is in the eye of the storm for his beliefs and views in supporting Al Qaeda and terrorism. He even said that he rejoiced at the news of the infidels being killed. But he is now a changed person. But Nigerians are saying he should resign or be sacked by President Buhari. Government said that was in the past. He should be pardoned. What is your take on this?
If you look at the past statements of the president, he should step down himself. If Pantami should step aside, the president too should step aside. If you look at the statement he made during the Sharia saga in 2000, and on behalf of Boko Haram, that is the president of the country.
At one time, Boko Haram nominated him to be their intermediary. If a Jihadist group nominates you with or without your permission, they know that you are going to represent their interest. What is the difference between Pantami and the President? Is
that not why this issue is becoming complex?
There is nothing complex there. The President is not on any moral height or has he got the conscience to ask Pantami to go? I have been on one workshop and two conferences with him. I can get you a copy of the paper which Pantami presented on how the Islamic Conference is looking at Jihadist. He made solid recommendations but nobody has taken those recommendations.
At the workshop on which he came to do a presentation on extremism and how we can use digital to solve it, I did not see anything extreme about it. Let us separate his belief from what he is doing as a minister.
If you are have grievances against him and his work as a minister, and the funny NIN and BVN, that is another issue all together and his belief. That is what the people are saying that his belief would compromise his work and that Nigerians are at risk since he is in custody of their data.
But you see, the issue is this, we have technocrats working under him, who can say no! I have always believed, when in 1993, when I discovered that the Army was not a place for me to stay any longer, I left. Only few Nigerians have done that. When are we going to have that?
Some are saying that we should forget about 2023 elections if the current worsening insecurity persists. What do you say about this?
I keep saying one thing and I still believe it. Nigerians should be ashamed of themselves to believe that Buhari can bring about a change. He cannot. The governors and the National Assembly can bring about a change. I tell you how. Buhari came up with the idea and issued executive order on the judicial, local government and the legislative autonomy.
What did the governors say? They said no! Why? Because of the money they are making. When they wanted to create Amotekun in the South West, the Attorney General said it was unconstitutional, illegal and ultra vires. The governors went back and made their state Houses of Assembly to pass a bill which they signed into law.
Why should they blame Buhari? In fact, people say the crisis in Kaduna is as result of his stance that bandits deserve to die and that anyone found negotiating on behalf of the government shall be prosecuted? They held a meeting and they made Amotekun into law. Why are they waiting for Buhari? It is the National Assembly that is vested with the power to make law for the country by altering the Constitution. Are they performing their functions?
(Femi) Gbajabiamila (Speaker House of Representatives) and (Ahmad) Lawan (Senate President) have not said word on that meeting in Kaduna that urged them to create State Police. Then you blame one old human being like me who is counting days. When you are above 70, you are just counting days; to go any day you wake up.
He has displayed that he leaves most of the things for his advisers. A very good example is when (Chris) Ngige, Labour Minister wanted to see him on the JUSUN crisis. He asked his Chief of Staff and Ngige to go and resolve it. How many times have the state governors gone to see him on the issue of the autonomy of the judiciary?
Governor Sani Bello of Niger State said that they were overwhelmed by the activities of insurgents who are just two hours’ drive away from Abuja, seat of power. What does this mean?
I do not think he is a serious person. Governor Bello himself attended a military secondary school. In 2015, we had a workshop in which he spent the whole day with us. He warned about the future consequences of the activities of the bandits. He said he was going to task the traditional rulers and give them powers to be able to deal with the issue of intelligence.
How did it get to that level six years after? That means that he has been careless. For the past 2 to 3 years, he has been asking the Federal Government to come and help him when he knows that the Federal Government cannot help him. Like the case of South East now, how many times have the South East been asking the Federal Government for help?
The interesting thing is that the NSCDC (National Security and Civil Defence Corps), which was not created to be a security agency is now being used as a security agency. Civil Defence is for disasters, emergency and protecting critical infrastructure. Now, they turn them to forest rangers; they want them to defend schools and things like that.
What is your take on a member of your constituency, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, who negotiates on behalf of bandits. He visits them in the forests, and he insists that the Federal Government must grant them amnesty?
Rather than bring outsiders, any insider, irrespective of who he is that can stop the kidnapping of these children, should be allowed to mediate with that group too.
Sheikh Gumi said one thing-that he has negotiated with them to stop their criminal activities. Has that been proved? If that is proven, if that is true, give him the role of official mediator and allow him to do same.
He can use them for his evangelism. Let him turn the whole of Kaduna to Muslims, as long as that can stop the senseless killings. They cannot continue to kill these children every day. He has washed off his hands; the security agents too are quiet. May be, they are planning too. No one knows.
Those people are so confident that no one can touch them. Even though in Kaduna State, there are vigilantes there in the form of Hisbah. There is so much pretence and hypocrisy and playing with the lives of the people. The fact remains; let the states have State Police and Community Police at the local government level