Today is the last day of the year 2021. In a few hours, those who God has blessed are going to cross over to 2022, a brand new year that Nigerians strongly hope will witness a resounding end to our socio-economic misery, which has deepened the nation’s insecurity and made life one hell of an experience for millions of hapless compatriots.
In 2022, the first mistake President Muhammadu Buhari must refrain from making is bowing to pressure from unscrupulous politicians to remove any of the serving security or intelligence chiefs from office. Lately, some phoney groups, styling themselves as civil society organisations, sponsored by disgruntled politicians and some desperate ambitious military officers, have been calling for the removal of General Faruk Yahaya and Major-General Samuel Adebayo, Chief of Army Staff and Chief of Defence Intelligence, respectively.
It is to the credit of the President that he has asked his service chiefs to prioritise competence, and not just seniority, in their appointments of those who would manage the security situation. Some of the service and intelligence chiefs are themselves not the most senior in the military, but they are reputed to be among the very best in the country. What the nation needs right now is not the most senior person without the hunger for success.
Given the current plethora of propaganda in some sections of the media, it should be expected that other sponsored groups are likely to pretty soon spring up to demand for the removal of the other service chiefs, including the Chief of Defence Staff and the Inspector-General of Police. Indeed, another group has been calling for the sack of the boss of the Department of State Services (DSS), and we have seen how they have succeeded in putting the service on the defensive almost all the time by creating one falsehood or the other against it.
By now, discerning Nigerians must have realized that the whole thing, even our national security, is being turned political. And nothing is more dangerous for a nation virtually at war than allowing politicians with vested interests to determine the tenure of office of those making deep sacrifices in defence of the Nigerian nation.
This time last year, Nigerians were all over themselves calling for the removal of the then service chiefs. Analysts and experts, and indeed many politicians, assured us that that was all that was needed for the nation to turn the page and experience peace. The voices of a few of us calling for caution were dwarfed and silenced.
On January 27 of the outgoing year, all the four service chiefs were retired from service. Many Nigerians wildly celebrated their exit, with many genuinely thinking the peace we all craved for was finally coming to fruition. But, alas, we were mistaken. Things soon after started taking a turn for the worse.
One fear those of us calling for caution expressed was that a change of guard at a time the military was making serious headway in the war against terror would create a gap that would naturally be exploited by the nation’s enemies. The new set of people appointed needed time to settle down and study the situation, and that is the time-lapse the terrorists will exploit and consolidate to inflict on us a mortal injury.
Let me make one thing clear: the service chiefs that were retired had made a lot of mistakes as human beings. But mistakes and imperfections are part of what make us humans. And because those opposed to them had seized the entire public space, we blatantly refused to see or appreciate their many positive sides.
Another factor we refused to appreciate was the fact that the war was being prosecuted with limited funding, inspite of all the hysteria about a billion dollars contributed by federal and state governments, which was never remitted to the former service chiefs. We have seen how America, with all its accountability and sophistication, ended up wasting trillions of dollars in Afghanistan, in what President Biden describes as that country’s longest war that lasted more than twenty years and ended up strengthening the enemy.
On the day the former chiefs were retired, both ISWAP and Boko Haram summoned meetings of their Shura Councils. They celebrated the exit of those four patriots making life very difficult for them and strategized as to how to take advantage of the gap created. And predictably, before the new set of appointees could settle down, the enemies capitalized by increasing the tempo of their attacks on the nation, and also establishing new frontiers of war.
Separatist groups like IPOB was largely non-violent in its operations up to that time. But from that January twelve months ago, the Eastern Security Network that was birthed as a militant arm of IPOB seized the initiative from the military and took firm control of some parts of the country, killing military, police and para-military personnel in large numbers. Till today, the group has continued to wreck havoc, and other groups, said to number about forty, have also been set up in the southeast, confronting our security forces and ensuring maximum damage.
We all will also recall that up to January of the outgoing year, banditry was never as escalated as it is today. Perhaps more than everyone else in this country, President Buhari knows that losing the momentum in war can be pretty costly. Sadly, that is the painful reality we got confronted with when we forced the hands of the President to accept the sudden retirement of the former service chiefs.
Definitely one is not suggesting that the former holders of the offices should have been allowed to stay forever. Far from it. The argument here is that they should have been allowed to finish that phase of the war that was yielding huge dividends for the country. In other words, the President will have given them perhaps two or three months to finish off the war, and if they fail, deal with them officially. That is, if all that they needed to win the war was provided to them.
Those appointed to replace the former service and intelligence chiefs are definitely some of the best that the Nigerian military boasts of. They are doing their best against all odds, and the fact that Nigeria is still a sovereign state is down to their individual and collective efforts.
Those pushing for another change of guards in the security and intelligence services are probably agents of foreign interests that are sponsoring the current banditry and terrorism in different parts of the country.
If I were President Buhari, if there is some truth to the allegation that some Boko Haram sponsors can be found in his government, the best way to detect them is to pick out those in the security circles writing memos for the removal of one security or intelligence chief or the other, most often on primordial or trivial grounds. If anyone needs to be removed from office, it has to be those writing these petitions purporting to be doing so in national interest. If anyone has failed, it must be those that should coordinate our national security that are busy doing something else. So if anyone would be said to have overstayed in office, the President should look no further than the one or two individuals whose incapacity is all too glaring.
As we have argued severally in this column, neither the past nor present or future heads of our security and intelligence services can conclusively win and totally stop the war now being waged on at least three fronts – terrorists, bandits and separatists- until Nigerians themselves are re-oriented enough to see ourselves are indispensable partners in the battles for the nation’s survival.
For those on the lower rungs of the societal ladder, they must accept that only in providing credible and timely information to our intelligence services can they have the needed tools to process and use it to stop the bandits from harming and killing them at will. Neither Israel’s MOSSAD nor America’s CIA, the two intelligence agencies reputed to be the best in the world can make any headway when those they are suppose to defend are the very ones providing information on troop movements to the enemies.
There is little or nothing that can be done by our security personnel when the best we can do is creating confusion by raising false alarms, makings calls aimed at misleading our security and intelligence services from, for example, point A, where they should be headed to, to the wild goose-chase that point B aggregates to.
At a point last year, the Nigerian Airforce was forced to stop operating from Katsina Airport, within the theatre of war, because many of the locals living around the airport were fond of informing the bandits that war planes had taken off and headed to the forests to strike at their secret locations. The intelligence services only got wind of what was happening when they realized that most of the attacks were being carried out without success. The force had to shift its operational base to faraway Kano, adding to its operational cost, at a time funding was severely limited.
Apart from the need for the security and intelligence services to work in harmony without any bickering, there is also the necessity for our political actors to play their part and ensure all acts that deepen frustration and hopelessness are dealt with, with dispatch.
With Nigeria having a rate of unemployment that is one of the highest in the world, it is not surprising that the country has since 2020 been dubbed as the poverty capital of the world. This alone underscores the depth of frustration in the land. President Buhari’s efforts to address some of the acts of serious injustice and imbalance in the country have been met with a brick wall.
The governors are averse to a functional local government system that was giving lots of hope to ordinary Nigerians. Sons and daughters of the have-nots have risen to become local council chairmen or councillors. So also access to contracts and other privileges that have direct economic impact in our localities.
But we now have a system where our legislators, whose salary and humongous allowances are the highest in the world, also greedily denying almost every opportunity for ordinary Nigerians to thrive. Most job offers are being snatched by them.
So also the social investment programmes under which the government of the day has spent trillions of naira so far. Our legislators have also turned themselves to contractors, as accounts from the Niger Delta Development Commission have proven. Yet, even at that, many of them are so callous as to blatantly refuse to discharge the contracts, even after collecting full payments for them. The story is the same in many other federal agencies.
Rather than create jobs by patronizing goods that are made in Nigeria, our politicians have a mad taste for foreign goods, including for the most expensive wines and beer, that is the highest in the world. When the House of Representatives was purchasing hundreds of cars for its members, it refused to patronize our own INNOSON Motors, which will have created thousands of jobs and reduce our insecurity.
And yet, this country has a very active population, with 32 years old and under accounting for a whopping 72 percent of our national population. What these mean is that criminal elements will always find it easy to recruit soldiers from among our teeming idle youths, including out of school children that number about fourteen million, one of the highest in the whole world.
Other indices that make winning the war beyond the exclusive means of our security and intelligence chiefs include the rate of drug addiction in the main theatres of war, though the new Chairman of the National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency General Buba Maria, as well as such voluntary non-governmental organisations as Youths Against Drugs Abuse Foundation headed by the versatile patriot Fatima Bature are very busy reversing the trend.
But we cannot expect a service Chief or Intelligence czar to reverse the poverty rate, said to be 86 percent in the North, with Sokoto, currently the main theatre of banditry accounting for a whopping 86.10 percent as the state with the highest incidences of poverty in Nigeria. Incidentally, Zamfara is third on that infamous list. Of the fourteen million out of school children in Nigeria, nine million are from the North, with northwest, the main theatre of banditry, accounting for 4.9 million. Whereas states in the southern parts earmark the average of 43 percent of their budget to education, the highest such figure in the northern states is a dismal 17 percent.
It is clear therefore that all of us have a role to play in putting a permanent end to the raging insecurity bedeviling the Nigerian State, and resting the blame on the doorsteps of those doing their very best in quenching the fire started by irresponsible governance in many states of the federation is a task for all, not few of us. We must therefore redirect our attacks to those causing the problem from its foundation, if we are truly serious about ending the current era of insecurity.