A security consultant and fellow, Institute of Security, Nigeria, Mr Chigozie Ubani, shares his thoughts on the solution to the renewed banditry in the North and other insecurity issues in the country
There has been a resurgence in banditry in the North which many thought had abated towards the end of last year, what is responsible for the renewed killings?
Until we get to the root of the banditry, we will not know exactly why, because none of us is part of the system or their ideology. However, we can adduce some explanations, based on patterns, happenings and the directions they have taken. I have always asked; who is their sponsor? The Office of the National Security Adviser is supposed to have done its job; do the intelligence work and submit the report to the President, but for the President to make the statement he made recently, succinctly, that the best of the service chiefs is not good enough shows that he has intelligence and probably would have directed them on what to do but that their efforts at achieving those directives are not yielding the desired results. It could also mean that the intelligence report might be faulty, but the President himself has failed the nation in one major way.
In what way?
The service chiefs have overstayed their welcome. National security is not a private business, where you are the Chief Executive Officer and the Managing Director at the same time for as long as you live, whether the company is making profit or not. The security of lives and property is the primary reason why Mr President, Major Gen Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), was elected into office. He upheld it by drawing a three-point agenda. When you talk about revamping the economy, you do that to sustain the citizens, which boils down to security. When you say you want to fight corruption, the end result is security, because if people loot without repercussion, the system could collapse and that would create anarchy. So, in this regard, he has failed. He has kept these men (service chiefs) for too long as if there is something else behind it. I also feel we need to find out the agenda of certain groups that make up the Nigerian nation. Until we dig into that and find out what some ethnic nationalities in Nigeria want, we may not be able to effectively deal with these situations. For example, if you are in a contest as a politician, the goal is to win the election, but from what we have seen, hiring thugs to attack the opponent has become part of the process. Don’t forget, the goal was not to sustain criminality. But when you win an election and get into office, those criminals are not going into government house with you. They would then sit down on their own criminal enterprise, leaving you with serious security challenges to contend with. Therefore, we have to trace the root cause of all these challenges. When we arrest these elements like we have seen, what information do we extract from them and why are we not dealing with them as criminals that they are, whether they were hired as mercenaries or they were the masterminds. Why are we not trying to find out the big shots who live in Chad and Niger but come in here as Nigerians? Who are they? In fact, my question is this; what is the agenda of the Kanuri man in Nigeria? I see a Kanuri agenda in the whole of this challenge.
Some people have argued that the removal of the service chiefs may not be the solution to our security challenges, what do you think?
We cannot make that assumption until we experience it. Whoever tells us that it will not be the ultimate solution should tell us if they have tried it before. Thousands of people have died, and hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions, have been displaced; what is the big deal in taking the risk to remove about four men? The refusal to do this doesn’t add up. Anybody with that line of argument is part of this agenda I’m talking about or is completely ignorant of what the situation is. If the President removes them, he should simply let those who would take over know that those before them were removed because they failed. It makes a difference if he tells them that.
When it seemed the police were overwhelmed, soldiers were deployed there but not much has changed, because people are still being killed. Can these bandits overwhelm our soldiers, too?
Let me remind us that the police we have today is not effectively and adequately equipped to deal with the security situations in Nigeria. When you say police being equipped, what comes to the mind of many are pick-up vans and communication gadgets, no. I’m talking about capacity building. We have not built the capacity of the Nigerian Police to deal effectively with this situation. A few officers that are privileged to have attended courses returned and stayed in Abuja, Lagos and other big cities and they operate at the top while some of them are rendering services to politicians. However, when you look at the average policeman on the street, you will agree with me that they are far less equipped to deal with insecurity in a society as complex as Nigeria. Another thing is the recruitment process. If you go to the Police College, you would be surprised with the orientation. If you look at the budgeting; what does the police budget say and what do they receive? Just 40 to 50 per cent, when we have a legislature that gets 100 per cent of its own budget?
But the soldiers that are better equipped than them have not been able to defeat the insurgents, especially when Senator Ibrahim Gobir from Sokoto State raised the alarm that soldiers from Niger Republic were the ones that saved his constituents from bandits.
That is correct and that was why I said I was worried about the agenda of certain ethnic nationalities that make up Nigeria, especially from those fringes where we have those challenges, in addition to addressing the issue of the service chiefs. Retire these men, and not just them, overhaul the system. It is better to take this risk than remain in the quagmire we have found ourselves in the last 10 years. Another thing is the background check of personnel being recruited into the security agencies and it is unfortunate that we take these things for granted. Who tells you that organised criminals are not infiltrating our forces? Why should we assume that our enemies are not infiltrating our forces? It will be easy to ask me how I came about that, but why should you even assume that it is not possible if you are truly conscious of security man. Who does not have an enemy, be it an individual, corporate body or a nation? If you don’t have enemies, you would have competitors and if the competition is not healthy, it breeds bad blood. So, Nigeria has enemies, and who says the enemies of Nigeria have not organised themselves in a manner that they infiltrate our security agencies from the police to the military. That is why you find that some elements within the military or other agencies would be working against the interest of the state. When the commander-in-chief of armed forces says close the border, some fellows would still violate that because they are an agent of an organisation or a system or an agenda within your territory. So, I strongly believe that we have been infiltrated. We need to look at our recruitment processes, do background checks and build a police that can stand the challenges of a fast approaching 22nd century.
There was a time the IGP suggested that governors should engage in dialogue with the bandits and indeed banditry subsided before it spiked again, should dialogue be an option?
Dialogue becomes an imperative and about the best you can do when you don’t have capacity. But should they do that? In my view, it shouldn’t have occurred if they have the capacity. Our governors lack the capacity to deal with criminals as they should be dealt with, which is the reason why many who understand this thing said the security architecture should be decentralised. We have the Inspector-General of Police in Abuja, whom zonal heads and state commissioners are all loyal to, not the governor of the state they are serving. I have worked with some states, so I know. The governor does not also have the power to control the police and that is why they toy with the idea of engaging vigilantes, even though they cannot prosecute. The much they can do is to hand over the suspect to the police and whatever the police do with that person is beyond them. So, the governors will only embrace dialogue because that is the only thing they can do and that is why most people are talking about regional security.
Boko Haram insurgency has yet to end after several years of sustained military action, in your view, is this a challenge Nigerians may have to live with for the rest of time?
First, let’s talk about what Boko Haram wants. Some people feel that the western style of running Nigeria is secular and it does not suit them; that Allah has directed them to wage a jihad, take over territories and enforce a Sharia government. If you don’t understand it from that angle, you would be looking at the criminal elements and the activities of their mercenaries. Don’t let that deceive you. If we get distracted with mercenaries coming to bomb schools and kidnap children, we will lose focus of the main issues. That’s why I said we cannot win this war until we find out the agenda of certain elements from Kanuri.
Won’t that be viewed as ethnic profiling?
No, it is not, neither is it a divisive statement. It is a reality that some people are propagating Sharia government, the raw Islamic form of governance and they have hired idle mercenaries. They are providing the funds with which vehicles, bombs and all manner of sophisticated weapons are being purchased. Who is sustaining them, buying the hard drugs and sponsoring them? That’s why I said you need to find out what they want. If you’re willing to, you could sit with them and discuss so as to end the needless killing of people, but if you are not ready, there is the need for you to generate capacity and exhibit it by flushing them out and killing whoever needs to be killed. If there are people whom you have arrested as prisoners of war, you try them accordingly and build the capacity to incarcerate them according to the provisions of the law, and not to give them scholarship. If you continue to give scholarships, you are giving scholarship to criminal elements to come and infiltrate your system and the security agencies. It is an agenda that they have sustained for over 10 years, which means they are willing to go the whole hog; they want to achieve something. So, they are willing to infiltrate your security agencies and they ensure their spies are promoted. That is why I said we have not done adequate intelligence work, and if we had and submitted the report, that could be the reason the president said their efforts were not good enough. If we want to win this war, apart from overhauling what we call the security architecture, we must develop the capacity to identify the infiltrators and deal with them accordingly or negotiate and accede to their demands so we can have peace.
Kidnapping has continued to thrive and some people feel that the SIM registration made compulsory by the Nigeria Communications Commission would address it by making it easier to trace those calls for ransom, what’s your view on that?
Many years ago, the then president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, said Boko Haram had infiltrated his government. It was the same way government penetrated the student union movement and today that movement is destroyed. That is what the entity called Boko Haram has done to the fabric of the Nigerian nation. They have infiltrated us. When you say SIM registration, are you surprised that certain SIM cards in use are not registered and when you try it on Truecaller it doesn’t bring out any name? So, it’s a problem if Boko Haram has its men within the telecoms industry. That’s why I said disband this team, bring in a new team and let them know what you know. If you do that – not like Jonathan who merely expressed his frustration; he expressed intelligence instead of acting on it – you may be able to achieve something.
If you were the president, what would you have done?
I would take the risk; pick some young persons and flush out the rest. Nigeria can afford to pay their entitlements if they leave. Shake the armed forces and the security architecture and bring in new ones. Tell them the things you like to achieve. I maintain that we need to take initiative and disband this current team. - Punch