By DARE ADEKANMBI and IMOLE OYEDEYI
A Professor of African History, Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Ibadan, Isaac Olawale Albert, was a member of the Presidential Committee on the Review of Defence Policy in 2014/2015. He speaks to DARE ADEKANMBI and IMOLE OYEDEYI on the battle against insurgency and banditry as it relates to the appointment of the new service chiefs, the Ibarapa incident in Oyo State, among others.
WITH the appointment of new Service Chiefs, should we expect a change in terms of security, an end to kidnapping, banditry, insurgency and other crimes?
Well, let me say that it is not going to be an El Dorado. I think if the new service chiefs are seeing it from that perspective, then there is the need for them to wake up from their slumber. Generally, when you are dealing with insecurity, the insurgents are happy when you have a change in security system as we just witnessed. Now, they would want to prove that the change is inconsequential. Therefore, I see Boko Haram actually scaling up their attacks. If the bandits are just ordinary criminals, we shouldn’t be expecting serious problems from them. But if they are agents of Boko Haram, they will scale up their attacks just to prove that what the president has done is inconsequential.
Now, let me also warn that the removal of the service chiefs is not to say that our problems have been solved. What we should rather be saying is that one of the problems has been solved. When you analyse the problems scientifically, you will realise that what we are facing with our security architecture in Nigeria is that, first, we do not have enough arms to fight the enemies of the country. Second, we do not have enough soldiers to fight the enemies of the country. Third, I do not believe that all those fighting the enemies of the country are not even part of the problem. I am of the belief that the security system in Nigeria has been infiltrated by the enemy. So, let us wake up from our slumber and shun the belief that the removal of service chiefs will translate into the reduction of our problems. If we are not careful, the scale of the problems will go up.
You said that our security operatives don’t have arms even to deal with the enemies of the country. But we all know that over the years, including when President Muhammadu Buhari came on board, defence has been taking the lion’s share of our yearly budget. One now wonders what those billions of naira are meant for when you are saying now that our security agents don’t even have guns and the necessary weapons to face the enemies.
Well, I am saying this from several contexts. In 2014/2015, I was a member of the Presidential Committee set up to review the defence policy of the country. And in the course of our sitting and interaction with the security chiefs in the country, we realised that we did not have enough arms to fight the terrorists in the North-East then. By then, we didn’t have what we now call banditry and whatever. We then recommended what should be done and within that period. Nigeria ordered two Tucano fighter jets. We were told that the jets would be provided in 2021. If we have not received the Tucano, that is to say that even by the calculation of the Federal Government, we do not have the machinery to fight the enemy.
The second one is that on a regular basis, we see soldiers running away from the battlefronts. It is no longer made public. But I believe sincerely that some soldiers are still running away because they do not have sufficient arms and weapons. And we are also told that the enemies they confront at the battlefront are better armed, which also tells you that we do not have sufficient arms.
The third perspective, I think, will come from what Senator Ali Ndume, chairman of the Senate Committee on the Army, has been saying. For the past two years, he has consistently been saying that the army is not sufficiently armed. He reiterates this all the time and that there is the need for us to budget more funds for arms.
Now to the issue of corruption you have raised, every year, we are told that billions have been budgeted for the military. We even hear about extra budgetary allocations and billions of dollars being given out in exchange for arms. And I agree with you that if such a humongous amount of money is being mooted for acquisition of arms, you will want to ask yourself: why are security agents still complaining? I think the issue of corruption is well established because not all the money given to the military leaders actually goes into operation. This afternoon, I was reading a report about the current Chief of Army Staff. Some people criticized him that he had formerly been sacked as a commander. People were asking why bring such a person to come and lead the army. But some people that spoke on his behalf said that he was sacked not as a result of incompetence but because he was blocking corruption. I don’t know whether this is true or not, but those saying this are actually calling our attention to the fact that indeed corruption exists in the system and that it is not all that we give to the military that actually goes into the acquisition of military hardware. So, the issue of corruption cannot entirely be dismissed.
There are those that have raised issues with the composition of the new service chiefs, particularly people from the South-East who have raised the issue of federal character not observed in the appointments. What do you make of this?
There are two issues in this. The first is that it has become a recurring decimal because in the appointments of people into federal establishments and portfolios, people of the South-East are often being left out of the selection process. They do not get what they are entitled to have. To explain this, I will like to make reference to one of the statements that the president made on an international television programme. He was asked about the appointments he has made and the perceived discrimination against the people of the South-East. And the president openly said that he would only give better attention to those who gave him votes and not those who didn’t vote for him. So, the president himself actually said it openly that he was not going to favour people of the South-East as expected in the constitution.
Now, when the new security appointments were made and the people of the South-East complained, I remember Femi Adesina responded by saying the new service chiefs were appointed based on merit. And we hear the Federal Government all the time saying this. A Yoruba man is removed from office and replaced with a Northerner. An Eastern man is removed and then replaced with a Northerner. And when the people complained, what we get from the presidency is that the appointments are based on merit. Now, are we saying that it is only the North that can produce competent people? Are we saying that the rest of the country does not have competent people? My simple explanation to this is that the current government has not been treating Nigerians equally. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo and several others have said that this is not a government of the people. It is rather the government of a few, for a few. And I think this is not helping the integration of the country. Rather, the country is continuously becoming disintegrated.
With the non-inclusion of the South-East in the service chiefs, what the government is saying is that people of the region are not competent enough to occupy a position among the service chiefs. I know some have argued that General Lucky Irabor is an Igbo from the South-South. But the point the people of the South-East are making is that an Igbo from their region is not the same as an Igbo man from the South-South. That is why they have insisted that they are not well represented in the service chiefs positions. Even if you look at the former service chiefs that have just been replaced, there is no representation of the South-East there as well. But I think these people deserve more of our attention, more so, considering the fact that they have been agitating for secession from the Nigerian state. So, I think what is needed now is for us to stretch a hand of fellowship to these people, not for us to be discriminating against them as we are witnessing. Even with that, we should not further insult their intelligence by saying that they do not have competent people. That is not good.
If you have the opportunity of having a one-to-one discussion with the service chiefs, what will you tell them in terms of how they should go about their assignment of ridding the country of banditry and insurgency?
Well, I think the only advice one can give them now is for them to learn some lessons from their predecessors. They should find out in what areas their predecessors succeed and fail. So, I expect them to spend the first three days doing a scientific analysis of the operations since 2015. What are the lessons learnt from 2015 to 2021? For the operations that failed, they should find out why they failed. And why those that did not fail succeeded. At the end of the day, you will want to say what are the lessons for motivating your troops? What do you need to motivate them? What kind of actionable intelligence do you need to change the game? You are told in warfare to know your enemy. They should find out what is left of the enemy that is needed to be known, especially of Boko Haram and other enemies of the country. Also, they need to find out why the international communities are not providing arms to the country. They also need to go to the national armoury to find out what the country has and decide on their capacity. Then, they should determine what they need and how they can get the executive as well as the legislative arms of government to make the provisions.
Meanwhile, the international community has been accusing the country’s military of violating the fundamental rights of Nigerians. And this is affecting the kind of support that the Nigerian military gets from the outside world. There is the need for them to scientifically look at the problems now and say, okay, if we are being so accused, where did this happen? What are the adjustments we need to make? How do we win the heart of the international community and those of the people in the local communities where we carry out our operations? How do we adjust our system so that within Nigeria, people will begin to like us when we are engaging in military operations and people in the international community will stop demonising us? These are some of the things and questions they need to ask themselves.
In other words, they should see themselves as game changers and game changers don’t come and reinvent the wheels. They shouldn’t come back and begin to repeat what the past service chiefs did and expect to see different results. They need to create their own new platforms and systems. They should let the soldiers they are leading know that there are new commanders in charge. They should court the friendship of the fighters and actually get everybody to be on their side. But if all they are just doing is to just occupy the offices left by their predecessors and begin to act as those people acted, I give them just only one month before the criticism against them will start. And when it starts, it may be more deadly because now if they fail to perform, Nigerians will treat them worse than their predecessors were treated. Above all, the government of Buhari may be the main loser for it.
As a security expert, does it bother you that in 2015 prior to the advent of the Buhari presidency, what we used to have is Boko Haram insurgency in some states in the North-East. But now, in addition to the insurgency, we now have banditry in the North-West and kidnapping almost in all zones.
(Cuts in) There is a breakdown of law and order all over the country. And I think that is why some of us wonder whether Lai Mohammed has relatives, because each time, he comes on air to say that things have improved, I honestly ask myself: does this man have children? Does he have relatives at all? Before they came in, the problem we were all worried about was Boko Haram insurgency. But these Boko Haram members are now scattered all over the country, kidnapping and killing people. They come in the name of herdsmen. And all over the country now, there is insecurity. So, I don’t know why our leaders have elevated deceit to a philosophy of governance, telling lies every day. When you are sick and you fail to let the public know that you are sick, I think you are in a greater problem. Your healing process starts from the day you begin to admit that you are sick. What is expected is for this government to admit that the problems have increased and ask for the support of Nigerians to get out of it.
But this idea of saying when we came, we met greater problems won’t solve anything because even the blind know that they are telling lies. And if the Minister of Information can be telling lies, it means the Presidency should not be trusted. Outside Nigeria, people laugh at us. So, I think the new service chiefs should distance themselves from those misrepresenting this regime because if they too come in and start telling lies like their predecessors and the minister, I don’t see the situation getting better. The minister keeps saying things are getting better. That’s why some Nigerians have challenged him and the like of Garba Shehu to drive their cars from Kaduna to Abuja without any security escort. Let them try it. We didn’t have Kaduna road and Kaduna/Zaria roads as problems before they came in. We didn’t have banditry on this scale before they came in. But here we are today, many people cannot go to their villages or travel out of the cities where they are. And yet some people sit down in Abuja and insist that things have improved.
You will recall that they campaigned on the military background of the Buhari as a strong enough magic bullet to end insurgency. Maybe they feel they need to sustain the argument.
There was a campaign for the reduction of our problems. But if the problems have not reduced, they should be able to provide a more scientific explanation from the system. Nothing stops them from confessing to the people what is happening and get the support of the people to renew the fight. But for them to be deceiving us by saying that things are improving is not helping the country, because the international community will not help us. So, we must not continue to live in this perpetual state of denial.
I am sure you followed what happened in Ibarapa area of Oyo State when a self-styled freedom fighter, Sunday Adeyemo (aka Sunday Igboho), went to Ibarapa and gave a quit notice to the Fulani headship and also went back there at the expiry of the ultimatum to effect the order. What do you make of his action and the counter actions from the state government as well as the threats of the Arewa Consultative Forum that if Igboho is not arrested, there could be reprisal against Yoruba in the North?
To me, I don’t think there is anything happening now that is strange to a scientific analyst. When a Federal Government fails to listen to good people, opinion leaders and traditional rulers, non-state actors will rise to occupy the space. It is established in extant literatures. If you don’t want to have the like of Igboho, then you must have a state that has the capacity to respond. So, when the state is not responding, non-state actors will fill the space. And I think that is what we are witnessing. Sunday Igboho wouldn’t have been as popular as he is and be followed by so many young people in Ibarapa and Oke-Ogun areas if there was an adequate response to the problem. I don’t want to go to his past. But what I just want to say is that he took advantage of an existing gap in the security architecture.
The lesson we need to learn from it is that those who are in power should use their power more creatively to win the confidence of the people. I listened to what the Security Adviser to the Oyo State governor and former Commissioner of Police, Fatai Owoseni, said on television. He explained that the government had intervened in the insecurity in the land and that there were several cases in the court and many people in detention in relation to issues in Ibarapa and Oke-Ogun. But I think the state government missed it by not letting the people know what it has been doing to deal with the problem. The sin of the Federal Government now is being visited on the governor, Seyi Makinde.
We know the governor to be active, but recently we have been having security breaches all over the state not due to the incompetence of the governor, but because despite him being Chief Security Officer of the state, he doesn’t have the resources to act powerfully in that capacity. So if people were being killed and kidnapped in Ibarapa and Oke-Ogun, the governor doesn’t have the wherewithal of going there to arrest the kidnappers. The best he could do is to talk to the commissioner of police and the security agencies in the state. But if these people have not been able to arrest the problem, there will be an escalation of the problem and the interpretation of the people will be that the governor has not been defending them.
Meanwhile, when the governor was trying to call Igboho to order, I think the governor was doing what is expected of him because no governor will sit down in an office and watch a non-state actor take over the control of the state from him. The going of Igboho to Ibarapa to issue a seven-day ultimatum which even the governor doesn’t have the constitutional power to do is an element of security breach itself. But this breach was created by the way the Federal Government has abandoned the people. The Federal Government is in charge of the police and the army. So, if it is not able to use them to protect the people, then the people will protect themselves.
So in resolving this issue, the governors of the South-West met in Akure and banned open grazing, insisting that herdsmen in particular locations must be documented and those who fail to be registered will have to leave. What do you make of this decision against the background of extant law in most of the states which bans open grazing? This law has not been enforced.
The law hasn’t been implemented because the Federal Government has been encouraging the herdsmen to believe that they are above the laws. Even the resolutions passed in Akure on same open grazing won’t work if the Federal Government doesn’t support it. This is because the governors of the South-West states do not have the police under their control. Forget about Amoketun corps. There is a limit to its powers. After those resolutions, if the Federal Government can come in to make a general announcement that henceforth, we don’t want open and night grazing and it is pronounced at the federal capital in Abuja, these herdsmen will comply because the government will send the police to go and enforce the order. If they can’t enforce it, the army will come in to assist them. But when you have a presidency that is saying that the herdsmen are entitled to where they are and what they are doing, it is like you have a presidency that is supporting criminality.
So, how do you manage those two extremes? The state governors are saying we don’t want this around us and the Federal Government is saying you must have it around you. This is what is emboldening the herdsmen because they know that the governors are just making noise which will not amount to anything.
So what do you advise the governors to do?
(Cut in) Let me tell you, to me, I believe there is little the governors can do. But there is a lot that the like of Sunday Igboho can do because if the Federal Government fails to support the governors in restoring laws and orders in their jurisdictions, non-state actors will just rise up and fill the space. So, if the Federal Government wants the state governments to succeed and the like of Igboho to be less troublesome in dealing with the situation, then the Federal Government should provide the governors with the needed security. But if this isn’t done and the governors are unable to address the situation while people continue to get killed, harassed and driven away from their farms, the people will rise up and defend themselves. And that will further increase the popularity of the like of Igboho. Let me give you an example. In 2000, the people of Oke-Ogun drove herdsmen away from their communities after many of them lost their farms and relatives to the herdsmen. Then, the people stopped talking to the then governor, Lam Adesina and the Federal Government. They instead went to the farmers’ association and the Oodua Peoples’ Congress (OPC) who both teamed up to drive the herdsmen away. I was part of the group that helped to settle the problem. So, if the government is not there for the people, the people will resort to self-help which was what gave rise to Igboho as he never went there on his own. The people beckoned on him. And as I recently heard, there are thousands of ‘Igbohos’ everywhere who could rise to defend the people if the governors are not defending them. So, if we want law and order to be restored, the Federal Government should do the needful by allowing governors to maintain laws and order in their states and support the governors to take full charge of their states.