By Chukwudi Nweje
Major General Henry Ayoola (Rtd), former Commander (Special Task Force), Operation Safe Haven in Jos is currently the National Coordinator of Initiative for Peoples Rebirth (IPR), a non-governmental organisation focusing on inculcating a change of attitude in young Nigerians as well as National Chairman, Restructure Actualisation Movement. He explored the Boko Haram insurgency, why the war is raging without end and submits that Nigerians should find out the mandate given the Service chiefs by the Commander-in-Chief before accusing them of failure. He spoke on other national issues.
The spate of insecurity in Nigeria is so embarrassing, hardly a day passes without reports of abductions in different parts of the country. How did we get to this sorry state?
This is a pertinent question every Nigerian should be worried about. How did we get to this state? Simply put, I will say that the chicken has come home to roost because there has been consistent and systematic laxity in our security infrastructure; it is not something that started yesterday, it happened over time under different administrations and in different forms; it is long-time neglect of statutory security services and agencies. Maybe because we didn’t have any potent or imminent security threat we shifted our focus to other areas since different sectors were competing for attention. But we shouldn’t wait for anybody to tell us that security should be prime in choosing our priorities. We have seen it now that without security, we will achieve very little in other sectors. That long time neglect has been there, but, I hope we can read the handwriting on the wall now and make the necessary amendment and give the required priority to the security sector. It is just like Steven Covey said, if you don’t pay the price initially, you will pay the price eventually. I think we have come to that stage. We need a strong will on the part of the government and the people of the country for rigorous, constructive and decisive engagement to address our security infrastructure rather than the paltry measures we are taking now.
Recently, Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the kidnap of some 300 students of Government Secondary School Kankara, Katsina State and as they were being rescued or released as the case may be, a joint security task force foiled an attempt to kidnap another set of 38 students.
All these happened when President Muhammadu Buhari was in the state?
The immediate thought that will come to anybody’s mind will be what have we done differently since the first incident, what have we put in place that was not there before? We seem to be going through the same vicious cycle over and over. The simple conclusion one can reach is that we are not learning sufficient lessons or we have not deployed the lessons learnt to upgrade and update our security infrastructure and modus operandi. However, we must understand that Kankara is about 120 kilometres from Katsina, so despite President Buhari being around, whatever security put in place to safeguard him around the state is not likely to extend to Kankara. But it still boils down to the need to re-jig our security infrastructure to cover the loopholes.
You have mentioned two things that can be done to defeat the terrorists/bandits, strong will on the part of the government and re-jigging the security infrastructure. We have Service chiefs who the president admitted that the best they have done is not good enough, why are they still retained in office?
When people ask me about the Service chiefs, my first grouse is that they always ask it on the wrong premise or they insinuate that the Service chiefs are incompetent, which is far from the truth. I know these service chiefs personally and I know they are better than this, the armed forces are better than this and our armed forces are better than this. We should be asking the right questions. We should look at the whole issue top to bottom and see where the blame should be apportioned; there are lots of connivances around the whole thing that you don’t even know what to believe. Look at the narrative of the Kankara abduction, it doesn’t make sense, how can over 300 boys be abducted on motorcycles and taken as far as Zamfara? Even though Boko Haram has claimed responsibility, we know that maybe they did that to boost their ego. There is so much fault around the narrative that it needs the conscious, deliberate effort of the intelligence community to resolve the puzzle for us.
Talking about the Service chiefs, they were appointed July 12, 2015. We must know that the president exercised the powers conferred on him by the laws relating to the control of the armed forces, that is the constitution and the Harmonised Terms and Conditions of Services (HTACOS). They have spent two tenures which the president has the power to grant and the President Commander-in-Chief reserves the prerogative to extend the tenure of Service chief irrespective of age or length of service. These provisions are on page 38, chapter 11, paragraph 11, 8 and 9 of the HTACOS. We need to get these facts because I have heard people argue and express opinions without looking at the laws that regulate these things. The president has also said that changing Service chiefs at a time the nation is facing a crisis will not be pragmatic.
The president also admitted that the Service chiefs’ best is not good enough?
That is true, but let’s look at this; the president appointed them and he also has the power to sack them, is that not so? Is any of us privy to the national security directive the president gave to the service chiefs relating to the operation; are we aware of the content, what did he tell them to do? These are the questions we should be asking, not whether they failed or not. The president is the one that knows their directive, he has their scorecard and will know whether they have failed or not.
The Boko Haram war has raged for so long that some people feel that there are deliberate efforts to keep it on because some people are profiteering from it. We have seen cases where troops complain of inadequate weaponry and they are punished. The case of Maj Gen Olusegun Adeniyi easily comes to mind. What is your take?
That will take me back to my response that maybe we should be looking somewhere else to find out why the war has dragged for so long. There has been cumulative neglect and that is what we are suffering. We need a drastic, rigorous, constructive and decisive approach to solve the problem, we need an all stakeholders approach to solve the problem. Even without Gen Adeniyi, the fact that we are not adequately equipped to fight is well known. If the nation is willing to divert resources from other sectors to beef-up the military, there will be a better result and that is the way to go.
How can the intelligence-gathering efforts be strengthened?
I analysed Boko Haram, it is on eight levels. We did a thorough intelligence analysis in all the services we have and it will require a multi-lateral effort. We have been fighting more on the level of foot soldiers; there are seven other components of Boko Haram that we have done little or nothing about and that is why the efforts put in so far is not yielding much result. If there are eight components of a problem and you are dealing with just one component for this length of time, then you are not cracking the problem. I have made recommendations to the appropriate authorities even before I left service. We must take on the other components and address it holistically instead of just focusing on one component. We need to expand our intelligence-gathering efforts. The problem we have here is that some people feel they know everything. In America, the intelligence community has 17 agencies and beyond that, there are other non-governmental agencies.
You were in the field as Theatre Commander, and you spoke about eight components of Boko Haram including the foot soldiers level, what are the other seven?
These are operational secrets, we can’t discuss them.
You were in the field as Theatre Commander, Operation Safe Haven for one year and a half, how did you manage your assignment?
My theatre was in the Middle Belt, Plateau, Bauchi and parts of Kaduna States not in the North East proper. But of course, we had cases of Boko Haram, bandits and all of that. It was during that period that I developed the eight stages of fighting Boko Haram which I can’t talk about openly. But, the long and short of it is that there must be a strong will to deal with a situation. Field commanders should have the free hand to finish a war that has been committed to them without intemperance that will help the operation to be successful. There is the example of Gen Douglas MacArthur of the United States and Gen Ariel Sharon of Israeli Defence Forces; they were ready against all odds to finish the battle they were fighting. Gen Sharon for example was taking the battle to Cairo, Egypt even after the United Nations had called for a ceasefire.
What is your position on the calls for restructuring?
There is an urgent need to restructure because it will help resolve a lot of our current challenges. Some people will call it devolution of powers, some may call it reorganisation, you can call it re-jig, re-evaluation or review of the union. This is something we all do. As the year is coming to an end now, you will look at the targets you set for yourself at the beginning of the year and see how well you did. It is a normal process in life, everything in life can be improved upon. For us in the Restructure Actualisation Movement, having taken an overview of the state of the nation and with a resolve to avert the looming dangers of disintegration, we need to quickly restructure. There are certain things we all agree on. We all agree that this country should be a federation, so let us start from there, what are the components of a federation? What are the functions that should be performed by the Federal Government and what functions should be performed by the component units? We can take a look at the Exclusive Legislative list, particularly in the area of security. Even the Federal Government is talking about community policing today. Not long ago at a function at Arewa House, Gov Nasir el’ Rufai was talking about true federalism, the report of the committee that he led is there for everybody to look at, the 2014 National Conference is also there. All the socio-cultural groups have had a dialogue with their people, so it is not new, we had this before between 1963 and 1966. We will have the National Restructure Actualisation Summit in February which will bring every part of the nation together to make their presentations; at the end of the day, we will take the outcome down to the local governments and then come back up to present the final report to the nation.