By Omoniyi Salaudeen
The time is now for the civil and military authorities in Nigeria to leave politics behind and collaborate to rescue the country from the abyss. The future is full of dark forebodings. Something urgent needs to be done to change the current narrative about the unacceptable level of insecurity across the states of the federation.
This is the position expressed by concerned security experts and eminent statesmen who spoke to Sunday Sun on the worrisome state of the nation.
The recent massacre of 102 innocent rice farmers in Borno State by Boko Haram insurgents in just one swoop is a quick pointer to the seeming state of hopelessness of the security situation in the country. Before then, the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar, had openly raised the alarm that armed bandits roamed the cities of Northern Nigeria, demanding for ransom.
And, of course, when embattled Governor Babagana Zulum ostensibly vent his frustration and called on the Federal Government to consider the possibility of deployment of mercenaries to rout the Boko Haram in the Northeast, it sounded like an eccentric joke.
But in reality, the situation in the country and the Northern region in particular is very dire indeed. Zulum’s plea is a polite way of passing a vote of no confidence in the capacity of the army to tame the monster that is holding the North by the jugular. It is a subtle way of sending the feedback to the Commander-in-Chief that his field commanders are losing the war. It, therefore, speaks to the urgency of the need for the Nigerian army to redeem its image as a professional institution that had hitherto commanded global respectability among comity of nations.
For the likes of General Ishola Williams (rtd), an old warhorse, the governor’s suggestion for engagement of mercenaries is not only demeaning, but also an assault on the integrity of the Nigerian army, which according to him, already had more than enough of what it required to win the Boko Haram war.
He said that for the Chief of Army Staff, General Tukur Buratai, to have condescended to the level of raising coup alert at this point in time gave a clear indication that something fundamental was wrong within the Armed Forces and, therefore, called for a quick action.
His words: “I do not subscribe to the idea of mercenaries. Besides, there are no mercenaries any more, but there are private military companies that can be hired or contracted. They are all over the place in the United States, Europe, and South Africa. When Jonathan was the president, they hired private military company from South Africa and comparatively they did well. But Buhari came and sent them packing. Why he did that I do not know. It may be to save the face and integrity of the army.
“The army has lost its integrity for a governor to be asking for deployment of mercenaries. This is the same governor who said Buhari is trying his best. He is speaking from the two sides of his mouth. Nigeria is full of hypocrites and pretenders and that is why we are not getting anywhere.
“There is a need to believe that there is something hidden about this Boko Haram insurgent. I am only sorry for those who are really suffering in that area. It is very sad.
“The army has got sophisticated equipment, which it does not even need to fight the Boko Haram. But it is curious to see the officers getting promotion, but what we would use to judge them they are not doing it well. On what basis are they being promoted? How can a Chief of Army Staff be talking to new generals about not having a coup? It is not generals who make coup; coups are made by Majors, Lieutenant Colonels and so on. By mere talking about coup he is giving us an impression that there is something wrong.”
According to General Williams, what the army authorities need to do to scale up the war against the insurgents is to collaborate with the multinational joint task force to crush the Boko Haram. “We have a joint multinational force with Cameroun, Niger and Chad. Are the Nigerians troops fighting with this multinational force? What is it that Chad has got that we haven’t got? Chad is not as well equipped as our soldiers. How come the Boko Haram is begging Chad that they should leave their territory alone? When Chad defeated Boko Haram, they were begging the Nigerian army to come and take over from them. If the army is working with multinational joint task force, what is the need for a private army? The headquarters of multinational joint task force set up is in Chad and a Nigerian General is in command. There is something both political and military authorities are not telling Nigerians about this Boko Haram.
“The army is doing what it is not supposed to be doing. They should leave the issue of bandits, kidnapping and armed robbery to the mobile police so that they can deploy soldiers to overwhelm the Boko Haram,” he suggested.
He also carpeted Buratai for initiating the campaign for spiritual warfare, saying “if the Nigerian army is thinking that spiritual warfare is going to help them, they are wasting their time.
“They had a conference last year on this same spiritual warfare. Did it work? Governor Zulum brought an Imam from Saudi Arabia to join Imams in his own state. Why didn’t it work?”
Also fuming on the botched appearance of President Buhari before the joint session of the National Assembly, he said: “I don’t know why they are inviting the President to come and say what? The Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives have had several meetings with the president. Has anything changed? So, what is the new thing he is going to tell the House? You cannot continue to do the same thing like a fool and expect to get a different result.”
Similarly, another renowned security expert, Mr Simon Udie, while corroborating Williams’ submission, said: “From my own professional point of view, the idea of mercenaries is nothing but the best rubbish I have heard for a very long time. Are you telling me that the well trained Nigerian army is not up to the job of crushing the Boko Haram? Forget about the issue of mercenaries; let us arm the soldiers with the political will to go out there, I bet you, the Nigerian army that I know and work with, and I have been a part of, will not take two weeks to complete that campaign in the Northeast.
“But the truth of the matter is that if they are actually up to their calling, will somebody be requesting for mercenaries to be deployed to fight an internal war? There is a big problem out there in the North. And it is nothing other than political war, propaganda, and so on. The Nigerian Armed Forces is well equipped enough to crush and overrun the whole territories around the country’s borders. But without the political will to do it, they will never achieve anything.”
Lamenting the vicious circle of killing and sending of condolence message, Udie declared: “They will never deploy political will because there are people that are benefitting from the spoils of this war. The Service Chiefs are benefitting from it, the politicians are benefitting from it and the government of Nigeria is benefitting from it. People are being killed and nothing is being done other than to send sympathetic messages because lives don’t seem to matter anymore in a country like Nigeria.
“If America can send their troop to come and rescue one person with the assistance of Nigerian military in Niger, then it goes a long way to tell you that there are countries that value the lives of their citizens. Nigeria does not value its citizens.”
On his part, an elder statesman and notable leader of thought in the North, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, blamed the rising security challenge on the dearth of security personnel to police the ever-increasing population of the country.
In his opinion, there is a need for effective collaboration among the federal, state and local government authorities to deal with the rising spate of crime and criminalities in the country.
To do that, he advocated the setting up of a special fund from the federation account with a body to coordinate the distribution and utilization of the funds.
He explained: “What the country needs in my own opinion is to expand the size, equipment and training of the Nigeria police. This country is expanding in terms of population and, therefore, the problem of security is also expanding because the more people we have the more security challenge arises. But we are not increasing the number of policemen and other security agencies that will cope with the increase in the size of the population. And we cannot do that without increasing the financial allocation to security sector. We need to set up a special fund that will be dedicated to security issue from the federation account as well as a body that will administer the funds to the states and local governments.”
Legendary labour activist, Frank Kokori, also lent his voice to the call for a more proactive approach to the issue of insecurity in the country, blaming the worsening situation on corruption, which according to him, has eaten deep into the fabric of the society, including the Armed Forces.
“Nobody will tell me that Boko Haram insurgents have more sophisticated equipment than the Nigerian military. Bandits and insurgents don’t have better equipment than government funded security agencies. But then, there is corruption everywhere, including the Nigerian army,” Kokori said.
On the desirability or otherwise of engaging mercenaries to confront the insurgents in the Northeast, he added: “There is nothing wrong about the use of mercenaries, but you have to pay them very well. Ojukwu hired mercenaries during the Biafran war to fight for him. So, if the country wants to hire mercenaries, they are free to hire mercenaries. But it is not automatic that they will defeat the insurgents. To defeat insurgents, you need determination.
“I don’t think this government is very serious in fighting this war against bandits and all that. Everybody knows that security situation in Nigeria is very dire and people are not happy about it. My opinion is that the government should be a listening and responsive government. We don’t want a deaf and dumb government. They should listen to the cry of the people and do the needful because we don’t want to be reading in the papers everyday about the alarming rate of avoidable death of innocent citizens.
“I think Buhari should up the standard of his governance. He is thinking that Nigerians should be grateful to him. We cannot because it is a privilege to govern a country like Nigeria. He should engage his security chiefs to do their work. I am not impressed with the present state of security in the country. He should try to leave his name in gold the few years that is left for him to spend in office so that he will not be on the wrong side of history.”
He threw his weight behind the use of local vigilante groups to complement the efforts of security operatives, arguing that they are more familiar with their terrains than any other person.
“If vigilante in every community is refined, and given adequate support, training and equipment, it can help the government in the fight against bandits, kidnapping and insurgents because they know their terrains more than any other person. The governors could reorganize the vigilante groups in their states and local government and give them logistic support,” he said.
Life in Nigeria has become short and brutish, wailers are crying.