Gyang Bere, Jos
Commander of Operation Harmony during the Bakassi Penisula crises between Nigeria and Cameroon, and Coordinator of “Operation Rainbow”, a homegrown security outfit in Plateau State, Major General Stephen Gu’ar (Rtd) has given suggestions on how to contain insurgency in Nigeria.
He spoke on various issues in this interview and stressed the need for security agencies to respect and implement the directives of President Buhari towards curtailing the security challenges in the country.
When President Olusegun Obasanjo peacefully ceded Bakasi to Cameroon, it was reported that it was the first time a country will handover part of its land to another country without war; as the Commander of Operation Harmony that ended the Bakasi crisis, what were your challenges in terms of the restoration of peace in the area?
Well, let’s get the history correct. History has it that Bakasi was a Nigerian territory, though not properly documented in the archives of history by the colonial masters. On the heel of the Civil war, in order to protect and guarantee a corridor, so that the rebels do not use the corridor to bring an attack on the South East, the Head of State then, Gen. Yakubu Gowon gave that land to Cameroon so that they will form a buffer; it was poor documentation that led into the contest but to say that it was handed over freely, we have to look at the two sides of it. The then Head of State Gen. Sani Abacha under which Nigeria fought for the Bakasi Penisula had captured three quarters of the land.
Was it out of fear that Nigeria ceded Bakasi to Cameroon?
No, it was out of respect for International rules. The bottom line was that, Cameroon went to court and judgement was given in their favour, modalities were made and it took a long time before they handed over; we only respected International Court, which was tagged the Green Tree Agreement. The agreement was to set a timetable for the disengagement of the presence of Nigerian Military and was to give a timetable for the pull out, it has to be done systematically, there were Nigerians occupying that place. How do you tell them that you were moving away to leave them; it had to be in phases, and I happened to be there to conduct the phases of the Green three, so all that President Olusegun Obasanjo did was to obey the Court Judgement.
Was it a coincidence that General Yakubu Gowon, the then Head of State who was from Plateau State, signed the agreement with the Cameroon to freely allow Bakassi to be part of Cameroon and you, again from Plateau State supervised the pulling out of Nigeria Military?
I never look at it that way, it is just providence that the peacemakers had to come from Plateau State. Yes, this was because Plateau is known as Home of Peace and Tourism; it shouldn’t be out of place by design that peace makers come from Plateau State.
But should we say that the ceding of Bakassi to Cameroon during the civil war was absolutely for peace making?
That was just to contain the war so that it will not spill over; so that the rebels should not overrun the South East axis.
From your wealth of experience in the Military, how do we tackle the current insecurity in Nigeria, raging from Boko Haram, herdsmen killings, kidnapping and banditry today?
Now, let me move away a little, with all the antecedents of my service externally about peace enforcement, peace keeping, some of which are sub regional arrangement, some of which are UN operations, the bottom line was managing crisis to an end. My recent appointment as Coordinator of Operation Rainbow, another security agency on the Plateau, I think whoever gave me that appointment, probably looked at my antecedents during my Military Career which is putting a round peg in a round hole and I actually took that as a challenge because I have done that in other countries with successful results and then coming back to my country and my home state for that matter. I have the passion that I have to make the difference to bring about peace and security in the state, if we have done it in other countries, what will stop us from doing it in our own state.
What will you say is your achievement since your appointment in the last two years as Coordinator of Operation Rainbow?
Operation Rainbow which has been approved, is an intelligent gathering outfit and as it is now, early warning agency for early response. On my assumption of duty, we had synergies with other security agencies in Plateau, wherever we sensed some situations that are likely to cause crisis and insecurity; we inform the relevant agencies to take necessary measures.
So, what have you done differently?
There is something that I have done differently that has helped tremendously in maintaining the calm that we are currently enjoying. Apart from just giving information, we have gone extra mile of sending my people to scenes of upheavals as soon as I get the information. Other agencies will come to meet us there but we are there first to contain the situation. I am sure that is why you have been seeing our presence almost everywhere that is rumoured to be in crisis; if you go there, you must see my people there. We might be there at the same time but in most cases, we are there before anybody. But what we do now is involve the means of containment of situations that will otherwise escalate to crisis; we are always there to contain so that it will not escalate and when other agencies come, our men will withdraw back and allow them to take full charge.
Will you say this was lacking before the crisis that was boiling in the state?
I have just said that we were intelligent acquisitions outfit; we just get information and pass it to other agencies.
Will you say that the Operation before your appointment as Coordinator was not doing what you are doing now?
I wouldn’t know because I wasn’t there. But all I know is that I can take full responsibility of what is happening and account of what I have done; we operate at a containment posture.
What will be your advice to the government of Plateau and other security agencies?
What we should really work on which we are already doing are synergies with other security agencies but we need to work more on the confidence building on each other and to be more proactive; we need to go beyond when situations are reported in the night and we wait until tomorrow morning before we go. I know the damages that would have been done; this is where we differ. But for us, whenever it is the time that we get distress calls, we go there to contend with the situation before it escalates.
From your overview of the security architecture in Nigeria, will you say the Commander In-Chief, President Muhammadu Buhari has actually rallied round the security agencies to contend with breakdown of law and order perpetrated by kidnappers, Boko Haram and bandits in the country?
As a leader, he takes full responsibility of action and inaction. The President, who was a Military General has very good intentions of a peaceful atmosphere in the country. But Nigeria is not in isolation of the vices of criminalities, that happen in every country, all urban areas and now it is going down to all rural areas. There is no leader that will want to see people under his leadership being torn apart. President Buhari cannot come down himself to take a rifle and start pursuing criminals on the streets; he passes the instructions. The constitution spelt out the responsibility of every agency and as security agencies, you have what the constitution says you should do but what is generally observed is the implementation, which at most times fall a little bit short. I remember sometimes in the past, the Chief of Army Staff was said to have said it was lack of commitment that led to the reason why the insurgency has refused to be subdued; he was quoted to have said it was lack of commitment of the troops but he said he was taken out of context. There are some concerns about the implementation; the individuals should do what they are supposed to do, what they swore to do and are paid to do, it is individual problem.
Before now, Nigeria was respected in the international community and had no such security challenges like what we are facing today, where did the country miss it?
There are so many factors responsible for these; if we are to talk about it, it will take us the whole day. There are so many factors leading to these. First, over population which is not properly harnessed, the population is not properly put into use. If you talk of those days where a man would have so many wives and so many children, he put them into use, they go to farm and they all benefitted rom it; somebody will have about 34-40 children and he will put them into use. They will produce all kinds of farm products and they will benefit from it. Population then was an asset, it was properly harnessed but now, we are growing at a rapid rate population. I am sure you are aware of the percentage of youths in this country; they are not harnessed, they are not used and what do you expect. If you are talking about the past days, once you finish secondary school, there was a job waiting for you. If you finish secondary school, whether you had GCE or not, there was job for you to do; there was something for you to do even if your certificate was not at hand. That goes along with the amenities coupled with the kind of governance we adopted; everybody’s eye is on government job and government cannot employ everybody; many people are running away from the villages to the cities; urbanization is the order of the day and they have locked the cities and there is no job to do. So, what do you expect, they have to survive, that is why we have criminalities and crimes. Then, you have the stress also on the facilities, the medical, transport and so many other sectors of the economy that cannot contend with the growing population; we can go on and on, there are so many narration of where we got it wrong but the bottom line is that where you have a grown up population that is not put to use and it is not harnessed, you always hav problems; they will find jobs for themselves including crime and criminality.
With this trend of events, where is the country heading to, some people in their opinion said the country will break up, do you share their fears?
These are prophets of doom. God knows what he made Nigeria to be, God knows why we have all these differences, the whole thing is that we should learn from the mistakes and correct them, we should be able to have the mindset of correcting our wrongs. We need to look at our traditional rulers, religious leaders, our elders in the communities and put our heads together and find out where did we go wrong and how we can correct it. Parents in particular have abdicated their duties in the family; they only produce a child and hand him over to the society, sometimes pay school fees and that is all. Whether the child goes to school or not, whether the school passes through him or not, they don’t know. Parents should go back to Parenthood; families are torn apart, once families are torn apart, the society is torn apart; the family, the home is the beginning of the society and once families have lost it, the society has lost it, it is not the government, it is not churches, the mosques and not the schools but the parents should take their responsibility; this is the nucleus of all these things I have mentioned.
How will you advise the people of Plateau State on the need to sustain the relative peace the state is currently enjoying?
Now, I am glad that we have relative peace, whether is relative or not, it is peace; peace is peace and it is very obvious that people have known the difference between what we are now and what we were and what we will not want to go back to; nobody has to tell us that. It is left for us to choose which path to go; should we go back to turmoil, killings, maiming, destruction of properties and lives or we should make sure that the level at which we are is sustained, the choice is hours. We have tasted both sides between 2001 and now; and then Plateau State and Jos North in particular in 2010, so the choice is yours. If we enjoy the situation we are now, let’s try and sustain it but if we don’t, it means we want to go back to the dark days where everybody will be saying they have started, they have started and we will have self imposed curfew so that 6pm doesn’t meet you outside. We now know the both sides of the coin, it is left for us to choose. Whether we should accept the way we are now and improve on it or we decide the other way, the choice is ours. There is nobody that will want to go back to the dark days; we will rather do whatever we can to continue on the present peace we are enjoying.
How do you feel that the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari was reaffirmed at the Supreme Court?
We are not a lawless country, so whatever the law says, we go by it. That is the law, we cannot contest, we are law-abiding country, so whatever the courts come up with, we accept it. The message I come with is that there has never been a bad loser; in a game, somebody must win and another lose. So, whatever side we find ourselves, we should take it in good faith but if we think that it is either me or nobody else, that is when we will get it wrong. It is only one person that will be on the seat at a time and it is the majority of the people that voted the President, so let’s accept it. I know those who did not get it will fell hurt but it is a game. In football when a team loses, do you tear the net, the ball and burn the boot? No; you start practising for another game. You take a deep breath and find out where did I get it wrong so that you work on it and then the next election is more refined, and then we go. During President Goodluck Jonathan’s time when there were still some few states that are yet to be counted, he congratulated Buhari but the votes were still countin; people should be magnanimous when the chips are down.
Can you tell us briefly about your experience in the military?
I Joined the Military in 1972 through the cadet, and I got Commissioned as Second lieutenant. During the course of my sojourn in the Military, I had a very rare privilege to have served in many capacities as a young officer, vibrant Captain. I was posted to a crisis-riden area in Ndjamena, Capital of Chad Republic, that was my first point of duty. There was coup there and Nigeria sent me there with a mission to enforce a ceasefire and ensure that there was peace; I was able to do that within three days. When I came back, as a compensation to the success recorded, I was sent to Southern Lebanon, we are all aware of the crisis there. I stayed there for about eight months and I made positive impact; I was able to curtail excessive attacks on communities. I also went to Liberia where I was part of the stabilisation force there; we intervened and stopped the crisis during the era of ECOMOC and I later went to Sierra Leone for disarmament, rehabilitation, reconciliation leading up to election that brought Charles Taylor as the President. As if that was not enough,I came back and I was posted as a Commander of the Minor River Union crisis, the Minor River Union that was a triangular Union crisis between Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea; that corridor survived as a minor river crisis. We did not get deployed there because of some political disagreement between the leaders on where we should be deployed. Charles Taylor said if we were deployed into Guinea, he wouldn’t guarantee our safety and the Guinea also said if we are deployed into Sierra Leone, they wouldn’t guarantee our safety; that was the political wrangling that existed during that time. But I ended up in Bakassi in Cameroon; Bakassi then was contested between Nigeria and Cameroon, I was the Commander of Operation Harmony there, I ended the crisis in Bakassi.