By Chukwudi Nweje
Major General Henry Ayoola (Rtd), former Commander (Special Task Force), Operation Safe Haven in Jos, Plateau State is the National Coordinator of Initiative for Peoples Rebirth (IPR) and National Chairman, Restructure Actualisation Movement (RAM), both non-governmental organisations focusing on charting a way forward for Nigeria. In this interview, he highlights how to forge stronger national unity and among other national issues.
How do you see the present condition of the country?
It is very obvious to everybody, concerned citizens and spectators alike that we are at the edge of the precipice as a nation; we have been in a stage of war for sometimes now, though it appeared it was a one-sided war in which the other party was not even conscious since they were not actively fighting. It is now clear to everyone that we are in a state of war whether they are passively or actively fighting. The vicious cycle of security challenges and blood-letting in the country has never been this bad; as a people, we have become increasingly incapacitated to even be outraged or scandalised by our timidity, docility and otter insensitivity; it is a very sad situation.
Why do you think Nigerians have remained timid and docile in the face of these challenges confronting the country?
Nigerians are generally peace-loving people, they are very easily led, our demands are not very stringent even on the leaders and that is why our leaders are often carefree, insensitive or easily get away with blue murder. The people have not been very demanding, we can easily be convinced and carried along; sometimes we even find excuses for our leaders on why they have not performed even without waiting for them to make the excuses. Maybe, the docility is because the people have become overwhelmed; it is like the people think they have tried all they know and nothing is working, that is one way of explaining it. It could also be that the people have become victims of despondency, have given up hope and are waiting for the worst to happen. Perhaps, it could also be the effects of spiritual manipulations, machinations, divinations or enchantments or a combination of these. Depending on the level of your spiritual sensitivity, you could be a victim of any of these without knowing it or understanding why you are so placid and unresponsive to what is happening.
Insecurity in Nigeria has spread from the North East and gradually enveloping the entire country, what do you think is responsible?
You are correct to say that the insecurity has spread from the North East to the entire country. Today, you have sporadic incidents all over the country with varying gravity and that is why it appears we can’t even keep a tab on all of them. What is happening is that when there is an incident in one part of the country before the security agencies can react to it, another incident will occur in another part of the country and it will appear that they have forgotten the other one. The speed and concurrence at which they occur are frightening that it appears that insecurity has been let loose on Nigeria; it is unimaginable. How can one explain the situation, it is strange that there is no visible matching response from the government and it explains why the perpetrator is having a field day; it even emboldens them and they have become more creative in the ways they launch their attacks because there is no deterrence; it is only when evildoers know that they will meet stiff resistance that they will be deterred.
There are these reports of Boko Haram fighters overrunning a military base in Niger State and the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) fighter jet shooting at ground forces heading to reinforce troops, what is your take on those incidents?
We must disaggregate these issues; the first is that it is a military outpost, not a barracks and there is a maximum strength of soldiers you put in an outpost. You have to understand that we are facing is an unusual situation where there are no forward edge or lines of battle; you don’t know who the enemy is because he is not wearing a uniform; he sees you because of your uniform but you can’t see him. In this situation, the enemy will easily study you because he is moving around like a normal civilian. The enemy can easily muster a number that is far more than the number of soldiers in the outpost and you will not stand a chance. That is the bad situation we find ourselves in, not only is the military overstretched, you cannot have men on every inch of Nigeria’s land space but there are Nigerians everywhere and among them are these elements who are watching and studying your every move; so that inherent advantage is already there on their side. This is a situation that should not have been allowed to happen, but now that it has happened, we have to do some serious thinking and take emergency action. Just like we addressed the civil war, I don’t know why there can’t be emergency recruitment and commissioning of officers so that we can create a swell of critical force to deploy to have an overwhelming force to handle the situation. I will not want to comment on the airforce incident; I prefer to wait for the investigation of the Nigeria Air Force to come out.
Former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu has suggested recruiting more youths into the military, how sustainable is that resources-wise?
In war, you have to consider what you use daily, the overall loss and particularly the invaluable cost of human lives viz-a-viz the money you have to solve the problem. Before the Civil War, there were only five battalions in the Nigerian Army but by the end of the war, we had four divisions; each division is a minimum of nine fighting infantry or armoured battalions not to talk of the support, the artillery, the engineers, the signals and others; so we had a swell from five battalions to over 100 battalions. When you are faced with a problem like we have, you don’t start counting the cost of salaries or barracks; you first solve the problem and talk about disbandment and disarmament after. When your house is on fire, you don’t consider the cost of getting water.
What of the call for a state of emergency, will it involve martial laws and soldiers in the streets?
Declared or undeclared, we are already in a state of emergency, maybe the official declaration will bring an added sense of responsibility and general sensitisation on the need to divert resources to solve security problems. I was a commander in Jos during the last emergency in Plateau State when Jona Jang was governor; the emergency affected about three local government areas and it gave some freedom to troops in the field to arrest without warrant, holding a suspect without charging him to court in 24 hours. In the older one, when Joshua Dariye was governor, he was removed for some time and of course that tested some of our laws and lessons were lent I believe we will never do it that way again; It is better understood now how a state of emergency can be implemented without disrupting the democratic process.
How do you see the separatist agitations across the country?
I believe that God has a purpose for Nigeria, and it is for the entire country, not a dismembered country. There are many advantages for the oneness of Nigeria to be desired by everybody; there is the economy of size and the politics of size. I believe that most of these calls are expressions of displeasure born of frustration because they have expressed their displeasure and were not heard. If things were fine and everyone was allowed to ventilate his talent and optimise his potentials and the country is doing well, nobody will be talking about wanting to carve one small republic in one comer somewhere.
What does the Initiative for peoples Rebirth and Restructure Actualisation Movement plan ahead of 2023 to douse the tension in the country?
In the IPR and RAM, we believe that what Nigeria is passing through is a transition crises and the country must pass over that defining moment to become a modern nation that is knowledge-based, technology-driven and provides an enabling environment for the citizens to actualise their potentials and optimise opportunities available and give back to the nation so that Nigeria will emerge as the pride of Africa and the black race at large. For us, the election is not really the thing in view; you have to be alive to conduct the election. Our focus should be on how to solve the security problems and craft a new Nigeria. Part of our problems is that we have never taken serious steps to craft a nation out of this multi-national entity we call a country. We lack those core shared values that will be the foundation around which we will rally and create a nation. It is after we do this that it becomes meaningful to talk about who leads us.
Do we as a people really have any core shared values; the North and South of the country are entirely different both in interest, culture and mannerism?
There is nothing precisely put forward as our core shared values, but several of our statutes including the constitution talks about what we call national ethics; Section 23 of the constitution lists national ethics as – discipline, integrity, dignity of labour, social justice, self-reliance, religious tolerance and patriotism. We must ask ourselves whether they were deliberately put in the constitution or just copied from somewhere. In a multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-ethnic setting like ours, we must be able to identify certain things that all of us agree on that will make light our differences; these seven values can be a starting point; if we all agree that these things will bind us together as a nation, those differences can take a back seat.