By Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye
National Security Adviser (NSA), Maj. Gen. Babagana Monguno , has reassured that despite attacks on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), that 2023 elections will be held. He spoke on various issues at the 60th State House briefing by the Presidential Communications Team.
What are you doing to get those still in captivity freed especially the children that were kidnapped in Niger S tate, the Chibok girls etc
For those who are still out there in the hands of these vicious animals, the security agencies will have to continue to work with the governments at the state level, not just using the kinetic effort, but also the non kinetic means. It is basically an intelligence-driven process, which means that it’s going to be, unfortunately, painstaking because sometimes, you can end up having, you know, attracting collateral issues but I can assure you that they’re working on that.
Recently, President Muhammadu Buhari raised the alarm on emerging threats due to the Russian/Ukraine war that it can aggravate terrorism especially in Lake Chad. How serious is this threat?
President Buhari spoke about the threat. But when President Buhari was making that speech, he was making it at a multilateral engagement. And basically, the focus was on the essence, on the need, on the importance of multilateral action, especially in the face of great contemporary global problems of Russia, and Ukraine. And what President Buhari basically was saying, is the same thing that we’ve been saying before.
Conflicts in the context of the political centers are transnational in nature, thanks to a lot of things, technology and other things. So what’s happening over there certainly will affect other parts of the world, even in areas that are seemingly benign, whether it’s shipping, commercial activities and other things, but right down, it is the requirements of collaboration, continuous cooperation, because the fallout of these things can aggravate an already delicate situation, such as the one we found ourselves in.
Remember, the conflict in Iraq, led also to other issues, the issue of Syria, then the issue of Libya, with all those foreign terrorist fighters; what happened in Libya, especially after the capitulation of Gadaffi; the inflow, the southward movements of small arms and light weapons, drugs and other things at a rapid rate, and obviously, Nigeria, by virtue of the fact that it has a very large economy, a large population, a large number of youth that are out there hanging in the wilderness, living the type of life that I mentioned, should not be lived; people who have gravitated into a situation in which that sense of morality is completely out of the window, people who are living a life, which you and I recognize as being far below accessible decent area.
So these are people who have been the magnets for these components. Again, I’ve spoken about the flow of these entities who are land borders, remember, were also facing issues through maritime borders. So we’re kind of compressed. That is the reason why there are lots and lots of groups coming up, collective security groups like the Accra Initiative. So what the President basically is saying is the importance of multilateral action, cooperation, collaboration at the local level, at a regional level, continental level, and indeed international level, so that the venom of whatever is happening in Europe does not hit us unexpectedly.
Are there any non-kinetic measures being taken by the government to ensure that farmers can access their farms and how is the government planning to address the incessant herders’/farmers conflicts?
Your concerns are also my concern, because they overlap; security, the issue of food, the issue of agriculture, the issue of the right of everybody to go about his legitimate undertaking. This is not something you can take away from anybody. Every farmer needs his arable lands to work on, considering the difficulties we’re facing with climate change, and for someone to come and trample and destroy whatever he is working on, I think, is the height of unfairness. Let’s just call a spade a spade.
Now it is up to the government at the state level, particularly to find a way of stopping this thing, while at the same time, the government at the federal level working hand in hand with the Presidential Committee on Food Security must find a way of harnessing resources working to obviate, alleviate any further issues of acrimony that exists between farmers and herders. The truth is that we’ve moved into the 21st century, things can no longer be the way they were, when our population was not as large as it is now, when people could go about their daily undertakings unhindered.
Today, there are so many issues, climate change and other things. But what we need is a strategic policy decision, which the Ministry of Agriculture and other entities of government are working on. It’s actually beyond my own immediate scope. But I know they’re working on that. The government had already taken steps in that direction with the National Livestock Transformation Plan and I think at the end of the day, working with the communities, working with government and civil society organizations, we will come to an understanding.
Nigeria uses 0.2 percent of its population to defend itself. How about using the youths to defend the nation and what is the update on those involved in oil theft in the Niger Delta?
The military is employed for operations, physical kinetic operations, to secure the territorial integrity of the nation, that is fundamentally primarily the reason why we have the military and we are supposed to have able bodied people. Now, we find ourselves in an asymmetric conflict and of course, the conflict appears never to end. And that raises questions, questions of insufficient numbers of personnel and so on and so forth. In this type of war, it is important to have physical presence, soldiers carrying guns and so on and so forth. But there are other attributes that are required – technological intelligence, human intelligence, signals intelligence, and so on and so forth. Now, even if you recruit more people, which the government is obviously embarking on, it’s a process that repeats itself.
The truth is that our population, what type of youth do we have? What is the quality of the youth we have? What are they engaged in doing? It is extremely important to understand. And one of the elements of national power is your population. There are other elements but population is extremely essential, it’s critical, it can make or break a nation. Now, if you have a large population, it is assumed that out of that population will come a critical mass of good quality people that will drive the nation forward, not just in terms of security and those of other things that are related to security.
Where you have a large population, and that large population, primarily, a large part of that population is out in the wilderness. It consists of young boys, young girls, who are living a life of hopelessness because of the type of antecedents where they’ve come out from. Parents giving birth to children, without guidance, and so on and so forth. And so you have a large population, just like ours, a large population out of which you have a large number of youth that you cannot actually employ. And when you say defending the country, I’m sure you’re also referring to providing intelligence, using the social media in a responsible way, avoiding drugs and all those pitfalls.
Now, it is the combination of all these things I’ve mentioned that has resulted in our young boys, young girls, our children, plunging, sinking inexhaustibly to a very low level; a condition which makes them impervious to decency, a condition which makes them to acquire spectacularly unpleasant characteristics and in the process, they begin to imbibe traits that are associated only with the jungle.
We have such a number of young boys and girls, who if ab initio had been given the right type of counselling, guidance will not find themselves exposed to the elements. Now, the vulnerability I’m talking about here is the type which squeezes, forces our children to evolve, to develop into extremely reprehensible creatures capable of doing anything wicked, anything vicious, anything iniquitous, fired up by drugs, motivated by an unbridled lust, thirst for blood, which leads them into a malicious, spiteful, sinful, savage and generally obnoxious existence with all their instincts operating in the wrong moral direction.
This is the depressingly dark reality we are confronted with today in Nigeria, and it is not just confined to one part of the country, it is everywhere. The entire landscape is perforated by these elements. And so, we are yet to realize the importance of a whole of society involvement. This goes beyond, it is outside the scope of the government and its institutions.
So, we are confronted with a very desperate situation, and unless the larger society understands the need to draw our children back from the brink, for as long as you want to play the ostrich, for as long as you want to shield your son with a drug addict, you’re only extending the table for final catastrophe and this is where we need responsible people at the local level. It is extremely important that we understand this because it is beyond the government and institutions. It is that end product that we try to deal with. It is like living in a house infested with cockroaches. You could empty a can of insecticide, but you’ve achieved your aim. It’s just going to be transient, because unless the entire environment outside your house, your neighbours, the entire estate, we all work together to get rid of these bandits, forget it.
The question on oil theft, what will happen to those who are caught? Those who are caught will be prosecuted and they will be tried. We’re clear on that. The President, I believe is working with the relevant organizations on this matter.
Can you give an update on the security alert issued by the US and UK and tell us what the current situation is?
From that time till now, nothing dramatic, nothing theatrical has happened so far. That alone tells you that the security agencies are working round the clock and really we’ve had meetings with these embassies. We’ve had several meetings with the Chief of Staff to the President and those embassies involved. I doubt if there’ll be this type of issue you know, unless it’s a hit and rush very soon. And in any case, the advisory was issued to their own people, not to our people. But let’s leave that for now.
It’s curious that the security has suddenly back-pedalled on the issue of Tukur Mamu after the euphoria generated by his arrest. What’s actually happening here?
On Tukur Mamu and his travails, yes, he is in the hands of the Department of State services; I have not received the outcome of the report. So maybe, we should allow them, maybe talk with Sheik Ahmad Gumi; he is helping them to clear the air. So let’s give them a little time but I have faith in the DSS.
How concerned are you that a few months before elections there are attacks on INEC facilities and what are the guarantees that elections will hold in most of these places especially in the North-West and North-central where some of them have fled their communities?
The elections will take place, we have said that. By the grace of Almighty, they will take place in an atmosphere bereft of intimidation and violence, we’ll try as much as possible to maintain that. For those people who’ve been going around burning offices, killing people, I have already said it, the security agencies have been given that instruction. Visit them with all you have and let them understand that there are consequences for bad behaviour; that we are determined. Everybody is a Nigerian, everybody is free to do whatever he wants to do, but don’t cross the line and move into another person’s territory. That you want to destroy government property, property set up by taxpayers money? How dare you? Who the hell are you? In a normal society, this is not tolerated, and I believe we’re normal society.
Is vandalisation of pipelines in the Niger Delta over and when do we expect the full production of crude oil?
We’re all aware of the security situation in the Niger Delta; it’s a combination of so many factors. It’s not something that started today; it’s been going on for a very long time. The security agencies have tried various methods, working with international oil companies with the State governments; entities have been created, like the Ministry of the Niger Delta, the NDDC, the Amnesty Programme. Nothing seems to be working, because the result that is required, of those people inhabiting those areas, we have not been able to actually help the security agencies to solve this problem. Everything is about intelligence, and people go about vandalizing pipelines and other things. For as long as the security agencies are shielded from getting the information, as long as the oil companies…oh, yes, obviously, there will be collaborators, undoubtedly. But the best way to deal with this situation, is to work with the security agencies, the intelligence agencies, and also self help in the sense that each small community needs to get the type of information it needs to block the emergence of these activities.
Let me just inform you that the Ministry of Niger Delta as well as the Minister of Petroleum Resources, and these other entities that you have mentioned right now, are working on something; they are trying to use a method that has not been used before. I’m not at liberty to say what but we’re hoping that before the end of the first quarter of next year, there will be a significant improvement.
Some people are saying that the challenge of insecurity in the North-east has lingered for so long because of the government’s policy of de-radicalization, reintegration and rehabilitation and that those criminals granted these privileges are the same persons causing problems for the security agencies. Has the intelligence community been able to establish this opinion?
On the de-radicalization, reintegration and rehabilitation, this is usually a phase in asymmetric conflicts, especially where you have a large number of people who have participated in murderous activities, criminal activities, who are willing to shield their swords; lay down their arms. And as long as it’s sincere, it is genuine. Again, there’s no gauge to measure what is in a man’s heart and this is where you require the efforts of the local community, the efforts of the experts, religious leaders, traditional leaders, Ulammas, Baales, whatever; they need to be involved in this. Obviously, like you said, there will be those people, those fringe elements, who will bounce back to their old ways. It happens everywhere. It is up to the wider society, the local community to spot those people and then bring them back. So it’s not a very, very straightforward thing. It’s something that you match over time before you get to the promised land.
The intelligence community, of course, is aware of these characters, because there’s a stratification or compartmentalization. There’s a level of involvement. There are some who are just sympathizers, there are some who are just noisemakers, and there are some who are active participants, violent people, murderous people, some who have crossed the rubicon in terms of being addicted to substances, and helping them is going to be quite a while.
How can the local government chairmen serve in this non-kinetic approach by the government at the grassroots?
You have hit the nail on the head. Today, I’m just coming from the president’s parley with the participants, of Course, 44, of the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies. The paper they presented to governments, basically, on the need to strengthen the local governments. The
local government is the most critical component of governments. For as long as it is bereft of autonomy, for as long as it is emasculated, for as long as it has been driven underground and it is not functional, a lot of things will follow. The harder we will try to solve the problem of insecurity, the more aggressive it becomes at the local level, because these elements keep popping out of local government levels, before they reach areas that they’re not supposed to reach. They must have manifested in many ways at the local, it is extremely important. I know that some arms of governments are also working to see how the local governments can be strengthened. Obviously, they have a vested interest, there will be resistance, but the only way in which we can secure this country, outside the traditional methods that have been used, is to strengthen the local government. The quality of people who preside over the day to day affairs of the local government must be people of impeccable character; must be people who have the interests of the local community at heart; people who are accountable. And for as long as the local governments are suffocated, strangulated and made incapable of carrying out their functions, then, of course, these places become vulnerable to the vagaries of society.
Of course, this is a democracy. Unless the people understand and accept they’re able to realize the efficacy, the importance of the local government, and gravitate from the federal and state to the local government to give power to the people, because that is what democracy is all about, we will continue to be in a political wheelchair.
A number of state governors are preventing opposition politicians from campaigning in their states. What will the security agencies be telling governors involved in this knowing the security implications ahead of 2023 elections?
Well, it’s not something that’s new to us. It’s been like that, going all the way back to 1999. And if you want, you can say going all the way back even to the Second Republic, probably the first republic.
We had a press briefing with the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission about a week ago and we emphasised the need for everybody to operate on a level playing field. One thing I can assure you is, the President has given clear directives. The people’s will must prevail. What happened in Anambra or Osun and Ekiti is what we want to happen all over the country. Let the people choose their leader, whoever they want, then later, they can decide. But in the process of electing who governs them, we must be mindful of the fact that there are people who are hell bent on forcing or bullying and cornering their opponents. It’s not even a function of numbers or a function of money. It’s a big problem. It’s a problem that’s also linked with complexity. Because if you are really who you are, you don’t need to hire thugs. If you cannot restrain your thugs, the government will do that for you. And you will be called on the carpet and you will answer questions.
We have a lot of politicians and I’m not being specific about any politician or party. This virus has to be contained. I have given a clear warning to any politician who engages in any unpalatable activity, the use of thugs and I know we have a lot of political thugs, straining at the leash, foaming at the mouth, desperate to bite and taste blood. But we’re going to apply everything within the powers of the government. And I’m not saying that we’re going to just operate in a manner that is not regulated.
The government is not going to embark on anything that is uncontrolled, we will operate on the straight and narrow, confining ourselves to legality. That I can assure you, the President has given his directives. And we’re working on that. So, those elements who think they can deny other people the political air to breathe and reach out to the local community should have a rethink. And I’ve said it before, and I’m saying it again, these political elements should call their thugs, their Capo regimes to order. They should have a nice, quiet fireside chat with them, and advise them that when the law enforcement agencies come, there’ll be no hiding place.