Renowned anti-corruption crusader, Maj. Gen Ola Ishola-Williams (retd) has declared that imposing a state of emergency on the nation will not solve insecurity and other challenges currently facing the nation. Making the assertion in an interview with TUNDE THOMAS, the retired General regretted that nothing has changed in the polity under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari. Noting that those in charge of the nation’s security are incompetent, Gen Williams asserted that insecurity and other socio-economic challenges can only be surmounted if President Muhammadu Buhari takes timely political decisions on the issues so as to prevent them from festering.
The present state of insecurity in the country has become a source of serious concern. How would you react to the ugly development and what is the way out?
I don’t think we have a problem of insecurity in Nigeria. What we have mostly is problem of public safety. We don’t have insecurity because no nation is engaging us in war. All these problems of kidnapping, and abductions are not that of insecurity but that of public safety. What we have is that the people are not safe. The South West went ahead and created Amotekun, and with the creation of the outfit, security is improving in the South-West. The South East have also created their own which they call Ebubeagu. Some states in the north created Hisbah long time ago. And in every state, there are vigilantes. So there is confusion all over the place as to who is responsible for the public safety. It is for the National Assembly to have a look at the situation and say, with the situation we have in this country now, do we not need to have a law that will remove all these confusions or reduce the confusions to the minimum and remove the issue of vigilantes?
Now that they have set up Amotekun by law in each South-West state, what is left for the National Assembly is to regularise the situation. And for those who are shouting about Amotekun, what is the meaning of Hisbah? Is Hisbah is not a government agency like Amotekun? So why are they crying about Amotekun and they are not talking about Hisbah?
But I also want to emphasise the importance of community policing. Without community policing, we can’t solve most of these problems. If we don’t have community policing, there is going to be serious problems because the Nigeria Police as presently constituted can’t solve the security challenges facing the country. Again because of the corruption going on in the security agencies, they don’t want any change in the status quo, and it is not their fault. The fault is with Mr President.
Buhari should have given a marching order to those in charge of the nation’s security architecture, giving them an ultimatum on the security issues, especially kidnapping, and banditry. The nation’s present security architecture is not working. Those in charge of our security system are not working. They are incompetent.
Anytime kidnapping or abduction happen, the President will address Nigerians and give assurance that the situation is under control but the situation continues getting worse. They keep on holding security meetings but nothing is improving. They keep on spending billions of naira on security but nothing is improving. This is why I’m happy about the recent Southern governors meeting. I’m happy that they eventually met and took far reaching decisions at the end of their meeting. Looking at the situation of things in the country, at times it appears as if nobody is in charge. Buhari has refused to take decisions, often crucial decisions that can help to move the nation forward. As the Commander-in –chief, Buhari has enormous powers to make things happen but he seems not to be keen on doing the needful. We need to re-organise the nation’s security architecture, if we do this, we will see positive results manifesting. But only Buhari knows why he is not taking the right actions.
Are you saying President Buhari is not doing what he supposed to do?
If he has done what he was supposed to do, are we going to be in this kind of situation now? We will not be. There is no doubt about that. Everybody all over the country has told him and even if he doesn’t read newspapers, somebody must have told him about what is happening in the country. So the issue is, he knows what is happening and if you tell him something is happening, he would say we are going to deal with them but that is the end of the story. There is no strategy at all.
This is what is very funny about the presidential system. The people turn the president to a semi-god, who has answers to all the problems. It is a big mistake. That is why he has advisers but unfortunately one single man will take responsibility. If he is old and sick what do you expect and if he has bad advisers and he cannot sack them, then that man is compounding problems for himself. If you are the president and there are so many problems going all over the place, it means your advisers are not in touch nor are they well informed enough to be able to advise you on what action to take. What do you do? You change them for some other people who can do a better job. But he did not and the problem keeps compounding itself and he continues to fill the same people and there is more problem.
On the lingering Boko Haram war, how do we win the battle against the insurgency which has been going on for almost 20 years?
It appears Buhari’s government is no longer keen about the war. They will just continue like that until they hand over to another government in 2023. They are no longer giving the insurgency the attention it deserves, and that’s why they are not tackling it with all the seriousness it deserves. Buhari’s government is more bothered about handing over the war against the insurgents to another government in 2023.
Buhari inherited Boko-Haram war, and so he also wants to pass it to another government. Buhari’s government is not serious about defeating Boko Haram. If this government is keen on winning the Boko-Haram war, the military needs to be re-organised. It is also obvious that the morale is very low among the troops. The military has enough equipment and enough men to be able to defeat Boko Haram but they also need to deploy the right tactics. Secondly, the military are dissipating all their energies on the job which the mobile police should be doing .It is not their business to be fighting bandits and kidnappers. It is not their business to be protecting the highways. The military should focus primarily on fighting the insurgents in the North-East. They should be re-organised properly and focus on the war against Boko Haram. Intelligence gathering is also key to winning the war against the insurgents. Our military should be involved in more of intelligence gathering and counter-intelligence. I believe that with the right strategies, and the morale being high among our troops then taming the insurgents should not be a problem.
On 2023, where do you stand between merit and zoning?
My position is this: we should retain zoning as it has been in practice since 1999. Merit is okay but for equity and justice, and for the sake of the nation’s unity, we should not jettison zoning. My take is that the two political parties – APC and PDP -should zone the Presidency to the South, and when they do that they should take it to the South-East. It should be the turn of the South-East, having being the only zone yet to have it since 1999. The people of the South-East should now ensure that they pick people of integrity as candidates.
Fears are being expressed that the 2023 elections may not hold as a result of the present state of insecurity. Do you harbour such concerns?
For those expressing fears about whether 2023 elections will hold or not, I don’t see any reason for that. Although there have been attacks on INEC offices across the country, especially in the South-East, I don’t think the situation is dire enough to warrant a postponement. Even with on-going war against insurgency in the North, that is not enough an excuse to postpone the polls.
Some have expressed fear that recent agitations for self-determination by some groups could lead to the break-up of the country. What’s your take?
There is nothing new or strange about people talking about self-determination. That happens all over the world. There is nothing new about that. There is no country in the world where people are satisfied with the status quo. People always clamour for change. As for Nigeria breaking up, I don’t believe in it. What we need to do is to address various challenges confronting us as a nation. I don’t believe in secession. What we need to do to stop all these agitations here and there if for us to restructure.
Restructuring will go a long way in addressing bottled grievances among the various ethnic groups across the country. We should return to the true practice of federalism as practised in the First Republic Constitution. I don’t know why this government appears to be foot-dragging on the issue of restructuring. The point is this, there is no alternative to restructuring. Even the President’s own party, APC set up a committee on the issue headed by Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai which recommended restructuring. Almost everybody is now clamouring for it. Even at the recent meeting of the Southern governors, restructuring was one of their key demands for moving the nation forward. Whether we like it or not, there is no alternative to it, and running away from it is like postponing the evil day.
The APC came to office promising to transform the country, but some Nigerians are saying that nothing has actually changed. Do you agree?
The whole system has not changed at all. So when the president is talking that there has been improvements, nothing has changed for Nigeria under Buhari’s leadership. And then you look at the case of corruption. Look at the EFCC, look at the ICPC, they have a backload of cases. They were told by so many people to establish a corruption tribunal, a special corruption tribunal. That has been over two years ago. They have been talking about it but the National Assembly has kicked against it. Nobody is fighting corruption. Corruption has been on the increase, and there is nothing Buhari can do about it. Forget about anybody saying Buhari fighting corruption. There is nothing Buhari can do about it. It is not the same Buhari that Nigerians used to know in the days of the military that is the Buhari that we have today.
Concerns are being expressed over the high rate at which the Federal Government is taking foreign loans. What’s your reaction to that?
It is alarming, and very worrisome. They are mortgaging the future of coming generations. But the point is this: we can never develop. We will continue to borrow money and part of this money will be going to private pockets and people’s accounts all over the world. People are running away from Europe now, but they are putting their money into accounts in the Middle East, Dubai and all those places in the United Arab Emirates. Look at disciplined services like the Armed Forces. They changed the Head of the Armed Forces and those who came after them say the money you gave our predecessor to buy weapons, we can’t found the weapons now. And what did they do? They appointed them as ambassadors! Where in this world can you see that? And the same people now and the same corrupt National Assembly is now asking us to set up a Public Trust Fund for the Armed Forces like they have done for the police. They give out mobile policemen to guide individuals. They pay the police for the services of the mobile police. Is that money part of the police budget? It is not. Where does the money go? It is shared. Or where does the money go if it is not shared and they are not part of the police budget? And when you ask the police, they will say they have no money. But I have not seen any Inspector General of Police or head of any agency that is poor.