The description, last week, by the respected Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) of some funny group of ‘elders’ who have been sounding like a broken record with incessant calls for removal of service chiefs as aggregating to “beer parlour talks” is to say the least, absolutely correct.
Obviously sponsored, some frustrated retirees have found it a lucrative business to, perhaps when their pockets run dry, issue press statements calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to remove service chiefs. One has by now lost count of the number of such groups, but almost in all cases they comprise people who have an axe to grind with the Buhari administration or are being sponsored by politicians who want to use the exit of the service chiefs to cause a disruption to the political system or have our democracy torpedoed. Some are also clearly fronting for a few ambitious military officers whose agenda could well be subversive.
Malam Garba Shehu, presidential spokesman, put it succinctly when he said earlier in the week that the President sees what a lot of us do not see, not because he has more eyes than the rest of us but because more than any other Nigerian he gets classified information on everything under the sun almost on a minute-by-minute basis. What if, for example, the President plays into the hands of these desperate politicians and allows some unscrupulous military boys to topple this democracy, all because he wants to be seen to be politically correct?
At least one thing any discerning Nigerian could see is that it is a global trend to retain military chiefs when a country is facing or executing war against banditry or terror. Only one of the allied forces that successfully prosecuted the Second World War changed its highest military commander, even when Hitler was giving the allied forces a bloody nose. So also when Saddam Hussein was giving the civilized world a tough time. All the allied forces kept their military chiefs in place, until victory was achieved.
All the talks about the presence of service chiefs making it impossible for others to grow is a complete bunkum. After all, is it not only four generals that could at any one time be appointed as service chiefs for the three different branches of the military and the post of Chief of Defence Staff? Right now we have hundreds of generals, all of who are being engaged one way or the other in the planning and execution of the twin war against terror and banditry. There is no way all of them could be service chiefs even at different times, not to talk of one time.
Even as currently as November last year, 33 generals were promoted to the post of major-generals, with tens of others promoted to the post of brigadier-generals. So what are these hungry ‘elders’ talking about? One also wonders whether appointing some ambitious officers to those positions is more important for Nigeria than winning the war against banditry and terror.
Malam Garba Shehu’s statement of fact, that the tenure of service chiefs is not tenure based; that it is at the pleasure of the President, was rebuffed by another group of so-called elders, with them even going to the ridiculous extent of asking that the Presidential Spokesman himself should be sacked. Obviously some of these people, because they have lost touch with reality, think governance is all about sacking people. If governance were all about sacking people for every infraction, America would have sacked hundreds of top security and intelligence personnel when 9/11 happened, and even the Pentagon, the highest security facility in the United States, was attacked.
It is painful when people that should be suffused with wisdom fail to see that it takes money and time to train a military officer, not to talk of a general. It does not matter to them that the experience garnered by these senior officers will be lost on the altar of political correctness, at a time Nigeria should even be recalling its reservists to join and support the war against terror.
Democracy has a simple beauty: it provides for entry and exit of any administration in a legitimate manner. If these elders feel they can do better than President Buhari, and if they think they have any electoral value, why won’t they contest for the presidency in 2023 and implement whatever changes they feel they have for the nation’s growth? Anywhere in the world, taking any person’s advice is never compulsory. Otherwise, there is no way governance could be possible since every human being, young and old, has his views about how government or any system should be run.
But the reality is that most of these so-called elders have failed the basic leadership test, since most of them have not been managing their homes satisfactorily. Why then, do they insist in their own style as their ideal one?
Even the governor of Borno State, Professor Babagana Zulum, who has somewhat been the biggest critic of the Nigerian military, has submitted last month that the Buhari Administration has performed far more than any other one before it in handling the Boko Haram terrorism. And I dare say that if the much-maligned service chiefs were ineffective, Boko Haram will by now have hoisted their flags everywhere in Nigeria, from Borno to Rivers, or Sokoto to Lagos.
And come to think of it: if the present service chiefs have achieved nothing, as these elders want to make us to believe, how comes as recently as two months ago, Borno State, the hotbed of terrorism, conducted local government elections in all its local governments areas? How comes Governor Zulum is resettling internally displaced persons in their localities, and how comes the Governor is asking local government chairmen to operate from the headquarters of their respective local government councils?
These ‘elders’ have forgotten that until the present crop of service chiefs came into being, Boko Haram was attacking Abuja, the most secure city in Nigeria, at will. They have forgotten that even the police headquarters was attacked. So also the United Nations building and several others. Boko Haram was very much effective in several northern states. In one fell swoop, the group killed over a thousand innocent worshippers at Kano Central Mosque on November 30, 2014. Our churches and mosques were being attacked at will. So also our markets.
The fact that Boko Haram has been succeeding in attacking vulnerable areas or soft targets does not in any way make its operations successful. At least since some of these ‘elders’ are educated, they should know that it is global trend for terrorists, especially when they are being defeated, to resort to those kinds of attacks, to create the false impression of invincibility and use that to put pressure on the government.
Exactly nine months ago ISWAP set up a media council that it saddled with the responsibility of intense propaganda against the Buhari Administration and the Nigerian military. I will not want to accuse these ‘elders’ by asking the security services to investigate whether their subversive activities are part of the agenda of ISWAP’s media council. But even if it is not, the fact is they are helping Boko Haram by the efforts they keep making to showcase our military as a weakling while mounting pressure on the government to take the wrong steps.
One wonders where these elders were when some of their sponsors deliberately brought about Boko Haram on us by their reckless politicking and desperation to win elections at all times. None of these elders has ever called on the people of Borno State to provide the main base for our intelligence services to succeed by cooperating with the security services. And you know what? None of these ‘elders’ complained when only about seven years ago, billions of dollars meant for purchase of weapons were shared by the immediate past administration to politicians, in desperate moves to win the 2015 election that they lost.
Sadly for President Buhari, his coming into power has stopped the easy means with which some of these ‘elders’ were accessing free money. My sympathy, of course, goes to these ‘elders’ for losing their means of easy livelihood. But if they were patriotic at all, they should support the government of the day for laying solid foundations for their children and grand children to have the future of their dreams.
President Buhari is toiling day and night to see to that future for our younger ones, and what he needs is our collective support, not incessant distraction and condemnation.
One other thing these ‘elders should know is that President Buhari, more than every other Nigerian, wants the war against banditry and terrorism to be won as quickly as possible. It is his government, and even if he were not a decorated retired military general, he knows more than the rest of us what it takes to win these wars. He knows our limitations as a country. He knows what it costs to get the right kind of weapons to win the war, and the fact that the money is no longer there, since those so-called ‘elders’ never took it upon themselves to warn the previous administration not to tinker with humongous funds earmarked for purchase of weapons.
The same ‘elders’ should also direct their anger at state governors who have deepened frustration in the land by killing the local government system, and our federal legislators who corner most job offers for their wives and mistresses, at the expense of our youths, and will rather spend billions that are enough to make our troops some of the most well-taken-care of, in the name of such frivolities as refurbishing their offices.
War cannot be won by repeated criticisms. Wars are won when and only when every citizen plays his or her part, and thus is more so with the people of Maiduguri, many of who still give shelter to Boko Haram members, who they unfortunately still see and refer to as their brothers. Sadly, nobody is talking about the fact that until that is stopped, winning the war against terror could take much longer than we ever thought.
The American people still give full support to their military inspite of the fact that it has not yet won the one single war against the Taliban, more than twenty years since the war started, and after spending well over three trillion dollars. It took the American intelligence services almost twenty years of intense hunt before it was able to get and kill Abubakar Baghdadi, the terrorist head of ISIS.
One wonders how many service chiefs such ‘elders’ will have rushed us to produce if it were here.
Amotekun as a red flag
The headline above was made by a senior journalist and editor Mohammed S. Tola, a senior staff of the News Agency of Nigeria and also a member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors. He narrated his experience in the hands of the south-western Nigeria’s security outfit, Amotekun. Whereas this column believes Amotekun has come at the right time, we nonetheless believe that the authorities concerned should take proper note of its misdoings and stop living in needless denial of the dangers posed by it. Excerpts:
On Tuesday, January 5, 2021, this humble author embarked on a trip from Abuja to Ilorin. He literarily criss-crossed four states of Kogi, Ekiti and Kwara as well as the FCT. He boarded a commercial dark green painted Sharon vehicle with registration number KWARA: MUN 247 EA from the popular Kwara Express motor park at Jabi, Abuja. His ticket number was 0708, whilst his seat was number 7.
The journey which normally could last about six hours, however took us about nine hours, courtesy of the activities of the newly established South West security outfit, code named Amotekun. The failed portions of the road also contributed to the delay and discomfort of motorists.
My enduring patience was however punctured at a checking point mounted by the Amotekun in Ekiti State. A team of nine persons were seen led by an unidentified Commandant in mufti. The other members were all dressed in incomplete Amotekun regalia, with some just wearing a shirt without trouser, face cap and boot, or a trouser and face cap without other kits, and so on. A first time and suspicious motorist or highly disciplined and concerned security officer could easily mistake them as bandits. Moreso, they brandished weapons including guns, machetes and sticks.
This particular team at Isan Ekiti checkpoint was the worst of all encounters. They flagged our vehicle down and forced the driver to park at exactly 3.37pm. With brazen display of brute, they equally parked about six other vehicles heading towards Ilorin axis, including three coming from same Jabi motor park.
But what is more disgusting and really quite upsetting was the manner they identified and ordered passengers of Northern extraction to deboard the vehicles for isolated searching of what they refered to as “exhibits”. They not only stripped them almost naked, but ransacked their belongings. They shouted on all their suspects, saying “YOU HAUSA/FULANI (whatever that means) COME DOWN”.
It was at this point that yours sincerely momentarily lost his cool and asked the Amotekun personnel “is it because we are Hausa/Fulani that you are ordering us out of the vehicles for searching”? And your guess is as good as mine – dead silence, shunning and unfriendly looks. The lead officer threatened to deal with me if I don’t keep quite or somehow mind my business and cooperate. I rebuffed the threat and kept asking was it because of our origin that we were subjected to such inhuman degradation, humiliation, ridicule and embarrassment.
Behold, at this point my driver (name withheld) got down angrily and engaged the Amotekun team in a verbal brawl after they also ordered him to open his booth for search. I and the driver with two of his other colleagues reminded and cautioned them on the dangers of their discriminatory actions to national unity and cohesion. My driver also threatened to retaliate as an OPC member. He told them that OPC and Aiyeleri were very much around to handle such “miscreants”. Undeterred and as if they were being nudged on by some evil forces, they again threatened to detain us for a minimum of two hours for challenging their “legal operations”.
And what was our offence or rather what did we told them? Our constant reminder was the fact that Yorubas also travel to other parts of the country, particularly the commercial towns and cities of the North, for various businesses, as civil servants or other extraneous social callings. Do they imagine the consequences of their discriminatory actions on their kinsmen resident in or visiting other regions outside their South West enclave, if respective states decided to adopt similar measures? What impression do they think they are creating in the minds of non-Yoruba citizens that suffered or were inflicted with their “stupid” misconducts?
We were eventually grudgingly allowed to proceed with our trip after wasting about 30 minutes at that checkpoint mounted by the Amotekun. I later observed that majority of my co-travellers (about 11 of them) were artisan youths hired for a construction job in Kwara, while other passengers were natives visiting home and workers returning to their respective places.
This nauseating experience is being recorded penultimate week after an Amotekun personnel allegedly shot dead a policeman in Lagos. And just on Sunday (January 10), a report came from Oyo State of an alleged attack and killing of seven Fulani herdsmen in their settlement by same Amotekun officials claiming to be in search of notorious kidnappers.
Again, the outfit is just battling to absolve itself of the alleged killing of a University of Ibadan student, Akin Sarz, on December 20, 2020.
While Retired Col. Olayinka Olayanju, the Commandant of the Southwest Security Network in Oyo State, is engrossed with offering almost a weekly defence trying to exonerate Amotekun, the legion of misdeeds allegedly committed by the new outfit is rising daily with a potential national security threat and social disharmony. Governors of the South West region in particular, and their colleagues in other parts of the country, as well as other stakeholders to urgently tame this monster (State or regional security outfits) before it consumes us all.