From Gyang Bere, Jos
Former Commander, 1 Division, Nigerian Army, Brigadier General John Sunday Sura (Rtd) has advocated the combination of military and civilian onslaught to win the current war against Insecurity in the country. He, therefore, advised President Muhammadu Buhari to look critically inward to bring on board fresh hands with new ideas to urgently change the negative security narrative in the country. Excerpts:
We have a very competent retired Military General as the President of Nigeria and others as Security Chiefs yet the nation has continued to witness prolonged security challenges, do you think the government has done enough to combat these challenges in the country?
Well, I want to look at it from a different perspective. If you are looking at it from the angle of a military man who is a service retiree, he is doing very well. The Service Chiefs will come up to tell you that they are doing very well and then if you come up to look at it from the angle of a pure civilian with the number of killings and attacks here and there, they will tell you that they have not done much and they need to do more. Sincerely speaking from the angle of a person who has just left service, I will say the military needs to do more, they need to do more in the sense that it is not everything that is done in the theatre that needs to be in the public domain. Most of their operational tactics and some of the equipment are always seen on social media and that have not really helped matters. Some of their plans and intentions are always in the public. Again, the discussions of the tactics encourage the people to see that they are doing well and by so doing it’s also discouraging the soldiers that are fighting the insurgents. I want to advise the Federal Government that if need be, they should try as much as possible to conceal some of the armament that they are having. It is normal that if I understand that I am going to fight somebody with a knife and if the person also has a knife, I will go for a higher weapon, either a dagger or a machete and when he gets closer to me I will disarm and kill him. There is no need for the exhibition on all the platforms with equipment and that has not also helped in the fight against insurgency in Nigeria today. For the President and Commander-in-Chief, it is time for us to see if there could be a new tactics, the new tactics I am talking about is that we must bring in civilian component and the military component. It could be through dialogue, it could also be through information gathering so that the military can also do their own part, that is why I look at it as work in progress and it has not got to half of what Nigerians need.
Nigerians and the National Assembly have made frantic efforts to ensure that the president removes the Service Chiefs, yet they are still in service after retirement with no improvement in the security of the country, what do you think can be done?
Rightly or wrongly, I will say it’s not right, but constitutionally the president has the prerogative to retain them and probably whatever informed why he is retaining them is what nobody understands. If you are looking at it from a point of a secondary school where a head boy of a particular set is retained to keep superintending over other sets, you are then not doing an abnormal thing and that is what is happening in the military. Every set in the military aspires to produce the Chief of Army Staff and if at any circumstance at retirement someone is still retained to superintend over the others, it’s not the best. I believe every set has the best that has prepared themselves to give the best service in their father land and also in the system. I advise that some other persons should be given the opportunity to express their desire and the desire of every person is to perform and outshine the other person. For example, if the current Service Chiefs are not given the opportunity they may have retired as Brigadier Generals and not as Major Generals years back and so they have remained to make their juniors to come and go. There is need for the Commander-in-Chief to look at it again, I know it is an issue of trust, but you cannot keep trusting a particular person and think that is the ultimate, you may not get the ultimate from that person again, a new person will come with new ideas that will change the situation. Probably, he will reinvigorate the system again by bringing in new ideas, bringing in new course mates and bringing in younger ones that will also bring in new ideas. It is common that if you keep doing the same thing and you want to have different result, you can’t have it. There is a need for the Commander-in-Chief to toe the line of the people.
You have worked in the finance department at the military headquarters, are you satisfied with the budget earmarked for the Defence in the 2021 budget?
Well, there is no amount of money given to the military that can be enough and to me even as we are at the state of war, that is the asymmetric war that we are having. In normal climes, we should be looking at the operating environment of the military. We are supposed to have got to a level where we will collapse some of the things that we do that are not really necessary so that we will be able to have a secured environment. When the environment is secured, the economy will strive and then we can generate income to also run some aspects of lives of Nigerians. As long as insecurity strives, no external investor will come to say he wants to drop something, nobody will come to say he wants to invest in his business. When you look at the budget even though Defence is having the highest amount, but when you begin to drop it into departments, that is the Army, Air Force and the Navy, it might not be anything to come to and likewise there is a civilian component that is embedded into that budget. If you take out the civilian component, you might not really see anything more and some of those things are recurrent expenditure which affect the lives of the soldiers and their welfare and also probably the logistics that you will need for the deployment of soldiers. Practically, if you go deeply into that budget, you might not really see it in concrete terms affecting welfare, affecting logistics, affecting purchase of some platforms. To me as a person who was in the military, who was in the finance department, I will expect to see more resources allocated and probably monitoring to have the desired security.
Being a retired military officer, are you satisfied with security of lives and property in Plateau State?
There is no perfect security environment, even the America that we referred to as the most policed state is having small problems of insecurity here and there. The one that moves from individuals to groupings are also operational in that place and this is what I referred to as yes, you have individuals and group of persons attacking themselves, we have groups and gangs against themselves, but a situation where we are looking at a secured environment it’s where a group of persons coming to fight against the state is what is not obtainable in that place. Retiring back home in Plateau State, we see a lot of things that are happening that we begin to think that the state is not well policed. We have issues of banditry all over the place, issues of cattle rustling, issues of terrorism here and there; issues of kidnapping here and there which means that if we have been able to police ourselves, we shouldn’t have these on a large scale, but if we want to look at it figurative-wise, one will say it is work in progress. I can say as a person that hardly a day passes without hearing cases of kidnapping here and there, without hearing of one or two persons being attacked here and there. It means that secured environment which we want to replicate from the developed countries is not here. Yes, within the last four weeks, there has been large scale of movement of people to attack villages, probably they are not being published. The last attack we had was around the Bassa area and other communities here and there. For now, we don’t have a perfect environment, but I pray for a situation where we will have a conducive environment where everybody can move to his farm and do his business without being harassed, without fear that somebody is going to beat or kidnap you for ransom. Once we get to that point, we can also have our night activities just like we usually have on the Plateau then, we can say we are almost there, we are getting back to the old Plateau, but for now it’s work in progress. The government needs to do more, the security agencies need to have their eyes around where those things are happening, where the black spots are so that they can also redeploy security and other personnel there.
There is so much hardship and pains in the land due to poor economic policy, don’t you think these woes are as a result of lack of party ideology. What do you think can be done for the common man to benefit from government policies?
You know we do not have ideological political parties in Nigeria, that is the way I think. We have seen in developed countries where the generation unborn come to key into the ideology of a political party. It is an idea of a person just like we have freedom of movement, freedom of speech and when you think you are not comfortable in a particular time at a particular place you are free to move and change your idea. If we have people with ideas who are able to stick to the manifesto of their party, that will help in checking some of these things and that will guide people who will emerge as leaders in those political parties and once the leader is trying to deviate from the norms of the political party, he could be checkmated by the leadership of the party. If that is done we will now begin to see people following the manifesto of their parties by giving to the people what is required for accepting to vote them into position. On the economy, the economic situation in Nigeria is very bad, I remember as a young man, who was reading economics in 1986, that year we saw the budget was very bad and in our analysis, we thought the previous year will be good, but we kept having worsening budget, this year’s own is looking as if it’s going to be worse than last year and that is probably because of the general meltdown that is happening globally and whether we like it or not that situation will certainly affect the revenue of Nigeria and by extension, it is going to affect the deliverable from the government to the people and people will continue to cry. The government needs to think outside the box on the basic needs of the people and should think of how to get it right. I know some time the government came up with a decision to close the border and that stopped things from coming into the country and prices of commodities got up. Recently, the Federal Government has lifted that ban and it is supposed to be a dual function for the Federal Government to raise revenue from the tariffs and import duties that will be coming into the country and by extension to also bring those goods that are so lacking here that are being hoarded for prices to also come down for the masses of the land. When such things are being done coupled with good government policies, that will get the common man smiling. I think the Ministry of Finance, Custom and Immigration must also do their work so that we can get things right.
If you are to become the Plateau State governor, what will you do differently to ameliorate the sufferings of the people?
Well, I don’t want to look at it from that point of view, anybody who sits waiting for people to entrust leadership position to him… it is not a kingship that people will naturally come and give you because it is your inheritance that you need to be King. For me, if any leader waits for the people to ask him and the people do the same, they may not get the best out of him. First, you must desire something and when you desire it, you must have a passion for it and once you have the passion you will begin to think of what you can do for the people. Whether Plateau people will look for me or not, I have the passion and I have seen the lacuna that we need to have people that have the interest of the state and if given the opportunity to lead the people of Plateau State, I will secure and stand by my people. This is a state where alot of people come around for commerce. Plateau State used to be an exchange point for Nigerians, people coming from South and dropping their goods and then pick the ones that are from the Northeast or Northwest and other northern states and by so doing the economy of Plateau was boosted and we had alot of businesses in and out. But with the advent of Insecurity in the state since 2001 we have had alot of people not comfortable to come and do business here on the Plateau and if given the opportunity to lead, we will work to make the environment secured and once the environment is secured business activities will return again into the state. Once there is business, it is a commercial city and the little that is at hand goes round in circulation, it will lift the standard of living of the people. I want to believe that one thing that has led to the downturn on the economy of Plateau State is the insecurity and I know first, we will have to secure and give confidence on our trading partners to come and trade here on the land of Plateau.