In Nigeria’s contemporary history, nothing brings to the fore our penchant for self-destruction as Nigerians than the kind of false narrative and, these days, several physical attacks on our security and intelligence institutions. The whole of this page may not be enough for us to catalogue the acts of destruction visited on these institutions, especially in Lagos and other states in the South-East.
The two security institutions that have suffered most are, on the part of the intelligence community, the Department of State Services (DSS) and the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), as well as the Nigerian Police Force, which has seen tens of its personnel killed in cold blood and many of its stations destroyed and/or burnt to ashes.
The Nigerian Army has seen a drastic reduction in the number of such false narratives spewed against it, though we still publish or circulate on the social media, doctored videos and pictures of events that took place in another country or even far away continent, making them appear as if they took place in our shores yesterday, all in desperate bid to cast that critical institution in bad light.
As latest as last week, the Nigerian Army was compelled to issue a statement denying the reality of many of such false videos in circulation. The DSS has had to also issue two statements in just one week, denying outright injurious falsehood spread about it, just as the DIA did the same penultimate week when it extended a friendly invitation to a retired military officer seeking clarification on some knotty issues he raised in the public domain. In all of these cases, many Nigerians behaved as if these institutions were not in existence to protect us from harm, and that the personnel working in each of them are not putting their precious lives on the line in our collective defence.
In this column two years ago, I narrated the amazing story of what happened when I was traveling in company with a close friend from Kano to Zaria. The guy was at that time a state chairman of one of the major opposition parties in Nigeria, and the topic of discussion was the insecurity of Nigeria. Curiously, I asked him the question: would he want to see an end to the Boko Haram war that has been ravaging in our land for ten odd years? As most Nigerians would answer, his response was positive.
But I find his response rather very shocking when I asked yet another question: as an opposition element, would he accord the credit to the Buhari administration if the Boko Haram terrorists are totally wiped out? In other words, doesn’t he think winning the war at this point in time could aggregate to a major plus for the Buhari administration that I know he hates with a passion? He answered without any equivocation that rather than have President Buhari score a plus through a total defeat of banditry and insurgency, he will rather have the twin evils continuing to abide with us.
And if one takes a close look at the social media, especially opinions emanating from many political enemies of the government of the day, one finds the tendency on the part of some Nigerians to go on a celebratory mood whenever our troops are attacked or killed. They do this first by making the news of any attack go viral, at times even jerking up the casualty figure to make our security and intelligence services appear weak. For them, the difference between President Buhari and those institutions is that between six and half a dozen. For them, they are one and the same, in as much as he remains the commander-in-chief of the Nigerians armed forces.
But only less than seven years ago someone else was the commander-in-chief of these same armed forces. And less than two years from now – no matter what – someone else is going to be the holder of that post. So it simply means the armed forces do not belong to any individual.
Globally, these institutions are expected to show absolute allegiance to the country setting them up. And the president of any country is always the face or representation of that sovereignty. That informs why they can be accused of supporting any government of the day. Where they disagree with government, you don’t expect them to go to the social media or any other market place of ideas to say so. In the days of old, the military simply upstages any government its top echelon disagrees with. That is no longer fashionable, and so, what it does is a constructive engagement. But even at that, the civil authorities always have the last say.
So if President Buhari was not the commander of the armed forces seven years ago, and less than two years from now someone else is going to take over that responsibility from him, what it definitely means is that these institutions belong to you and me. They belong to every Nigerian, irrespective of background. If we destroy our intelligence services by politicizing them and urging the personnel to rebel against their commanders or the government of the day, what happens if you, the instigator, becomes the next commander-in-chief?
In December of 2018, something instructive happened in America. President Donald Trump was visiting Iraq secretly, and leaking the news could expose his life to serious danger. And so, the government sought the cooperation of the American press in general to keep the trip a top secret. None of the newspapers or radio or television houses reported it until after the US President safely returned home. That is, in spite of the fact that President Trump was openly at war with the American press. He could be rightly described as Enemy Number One to the press. If it were here, just in the bid to be the one to BREAK the news, some mediums would have published the story and damn the consequences, knowing they could easily blackmail the government and get its personnel released, even if detained.
There is also this story I always tell, about a sponsored trip I, as the then editor of the daily title of Leadership newspaper, undertook to Turkey in 2012, alongside editors of nine of Nigeria’s biggest newspapers. On a visit to the Journalists and Writers Foundation, which was the preeminent association for all media personnel in that country, the President of the body somewhat accused the Nigerian press of supporting Boko Haram. He explained that he and his colleagues in Turkey were always amazed that in Nigeria, we always accord prominence to dastardly activities of Boko Haram in our newspapers. I personally asked whether anything was wrong with that, and the man explained that terrorists globally thrive in publicity, and by publishing the stories of attacks they carry out, we are inadvertently helping and encouraging them. He cited an example of the PKK terrorists group that was very active in Turkey, saying that whenever the group carries out any attack, they publish the story deep inside their newspapers and only give it a scant mention in radio and television.
It is instructive to point here that in Turkey, too, the government of the day was (and still is) enemy number one to that country’s press.
Yet, the President of the country’s journalists was emphatic that when it comes to matters of their security and intelligence institutions, they (the press men and women) set aside their differences with government and simply support the military.
The reason is simple: these institutions are the symbol of a nation’s strength, and its members or personnel are staking their lives to make sure you and me continue to operate safely from our comfort zones. Without the sacrifices of their personnel, the truth or mischief we dish out everyday from the comfort of our offices or homes will not have been possible. If you are in doubt, ask Rwandans during the genocide of the 1990s. There won’t even be the electricity to charge our cellphones, with which we share fake or unsubstantiated news just to spite political enemies and cause disaffection.
Theoretically, every Nigerian will tell you he or she wants banditry and terrorism to end. But hardly does anyone ask what contribution he or she gives towards the realization of that. We seem not to know that by spreading negative news about our military or the police force or any branch of the intelligence community, we are inadvertently encouraging the same terrorists that we accuse the armed forces of not defeating or wiping out. This is because with every negative information shared on the traditional or social media, the enemies are getting emboldened.
Now, for the past one year, the security situation in the country is worsening as the security services, especially the police force personnel, are afraid to do their job for fear of the unknown. They can’t even defend themselves when attacked, because there are civil society organizations that are waiting to report them to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity.
In Nigeria today, the only life that is not important is that of our security and intelligence personnel. As a result of that, many of them have abandoned their duty posts, with the result that crime has continued to worsen across the board, inspite of best efforts to curtail it. The security services have for example, before now, been able to effectively stop incidences of kidnappings on the Abuja-Kaduna highway. But even three days ago, the kidnappers operated on the highway and even kidnapped the emir of Bangudu.
And you want the government to believe this is not in furtherance of an agenda to destabilize the country and plunge it into civil war? There are many things that are happening beyond the surface. Government knows more than we do. It has a duty to ensure that foreign interests are not the ones funding the opposition to cause the nation all sorts of problems. We all know about a prediction, made by an American group, that Nigeria would come to an end a few years ago. Of course we have crossed that threshold, but who knows if other foreign groups are out there insisting in a doomsday scenario for us all?
In the United States of America, a country we always like to copy things from, it is an unforgivable crime to kill even one security or intelligence personnel. All hell will be let loose if that happens. But here, owing to our capacity to deploy the social media for mischief, many such personnel have been killed without it even been reported by the media.
At that time you claim that the Nigerian army or police is operating with weak or obsolete equipment, the armed forces were probably at the verge of totally wiping out a particular territory of the enemy. But by this information that you now make go viral, the enemy will be encouraged to do more to kill the troops or inflict serious damage on them.
Similarly, when you decide to keep the information on terrorists movement or plans to yourself, you are helping the terrorists and weakening our armed forces. The army, the DSS or the DIA will definitely not frame you up when you pass information to its top echelon. The armed forces of other countries that we admire are also not magicians. Their success stem purely from the fact that they get the full support of their compatriots, not only psychologically but more so in passing important information to them.
For example, if the people of Maiduguri were not inadvertently supporting Boko Haram by seeing the terrorists as their own at the very beginning of the insurgency eleven years ago, the monster will definitely not have blossomed to what it became. The truth is bitter. But eventually the same boys that the people were supporting started turning their weapons on them. There were Boko Haram boys whose level of indoctrination reached the level where their first victims were their very parents who brought them to this world. Others started by killing their close friends and relations. An adage says when you play with a tiger, you always end in its stomach. Now only few people in Borno State support Boko Haram, but it came too little too late.
No matter what, the fact remains that the Nigerian Intelligence community, working closely with the military and the police are our pride as a nation. These personnel are our sons, brothers, fathers and friends. They are members of the society like you and me. They are humans who make mistakes, and mistakes are meant to be forgiven. The late Nelson Mandela said something to the effect that the weak does not forgive. Only the strong does.
And if your hatred is rooted in political opposition, you need to reflect on what would be your or the nation’s fate when the person you support becomes the commander-in-chief of the armed forces that you are now working so hard to destroy.
This column commends Alhaji Yusuf Bichi of the DSS, as well as Major-General Samuel Adebayo of the DIA, for providing our security services with the actionable intelligence that has seen to the nation’s enemies being routed more than at any other time in our history As a nation. Courtesy of them and owing to their professionalism, bandits and terrorists are now surrendering in large numbers, and God willing, in a matter of weeks, this whole cycle of violence will be over. Of course that can best be accomplished if we all extend our hands of cooperation by providing timely and useful information to the intelligence services.