Lt.-Gen. Chikadibia Isaac Obiakor (rtd) was the former Commander of the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) and Military Adviser, Peacekeeping Operations to the United Nations (UN).
In this interview, the former Assistant Secretary General, Military Affairs, UN, said that the Nigeria military went into war against Boko Haram unprepared.
He also gave his invaluable advice on how to decimate the dreaded terror group.
The astute military officer said that Nigeria witnessed aggressive development under military regime than during civil rule, saying that military intervention may have interrupted democratic governance, but is not the reason for lack of good leadership.
He also noted that the majority of Nigerians don’t love their country hence the reason for agitation and insecurity. Excerpt:
The security situation in the country is giving a lot of people concerns, as a security expert, what do you think we have not done to arrest insecurity?
We cannot address insecurity properly without casting our minds to the couple of years back. Security is not a business that you deal with over-night. You have to articulate plan towards executing the situation and other security matters that may arise in the future. The security structures are not what you deal with in ad-hoc manner. Indeed, if we must consider our performances security-wise in the country, we must know where and how we have arrived at the situation we find ourselves. I don’t want to talk about the causes of insecurity because we all know it. When people are not getting what they desire, starting from basic things they feel deprived and that brings about agitation in all forms. Eventually, there are people who are ready to assist such people to create insecurity. Because in that insecurity is where their wealth grows, that is where they make profit and live a better life. I want to remind you that before 1985, Nigeria could be considered as a very strong nation in terms of security outfit. We were good in terms of capacities and capabilities in military warfare. It was that good because coming out of the civil war, we had over 250, 000 men and women particularly in the army. We tried to re-assess and reduce the number, but in terms of capacity, I mean men and women who are groomed and trained to handle the equipment they had and being proficient. We had all those equipment we lack now and it was so good before 1979. My brother, we had them, it was so good through to 1979, when President Shehu Shagari added more to our military capabilities. May his soul rest in peace. Equipment were introduced into the system and people were properly trained to handle those military equipment such as tools, arms and all the service requirements were there. They were properly serviced, we had maintenance culture in service as the gun system, aircraft were serviced and the Nigerian Army was good.
When and where did we start getting it wrong?
We started degrading after the last exercise called “Exercise Iron Hammer,” which we had in Baga in 1985 under the current President (Buhari). It was that capacities and capabilities exhibited that gave us the drive to be able to move into Liberia and Sierra Leone. Indeed, I like looking at those operations and that was where we dumped those capacities and capabilities because both men and women trained to handle equipment that we acquired after the exercise were retired due to old age unfortunately; correspondently we did not replace both men and material. That is the gospel truth. I mean, correspondently we did not replace both men and material. So, the glory of what we did drove us into peacekeeping and we became one of the largest troop contributing countries to the United Nations. We were ranked 5th in the world and in Africa we were number one. But we did not re-equip, we did not re-train our men and women. Field trainings were minimized. So, we lack capacities and capabilities because we couldn’t replace or maintained the old and fantastic systems we had. When we got involved in the United Nations peacekeeping, we could not meet the contingent own equipment not understanding the Memoranda of Understanding we went into with the UN. As a force commander in Liberia, I had a bitter experience of commanding a force of more than 49 nations, but our own country couldn’t meet the agreement they signed with the UN.
What was responsible for Nigeria’s inability to meet those conditions?
I will say that it was an act of irresponsibility. That is the way I can put it because you can’t get into business and sign an agreement only for you to fail to meet your own part of the agreement. Why did you enter into such agreement in the first place? Therefore, we got into the war with Boko Haram ill-prepared. Our military status of readiness was degraded when we got into the war with insurgents. In fact, let me borrow the word some people use, we are in a degraded state.
But we saw Boko Haram gradually taking root in Nigeria, why didn’t the military up their game seeing the activities of the terrorists in other countries?
One thing is to see something coming and another thing is to prepare to prevent that thing from coming. I cannot talk more about this in the sense that the government at the time probably did not prioritise how to deal with the insurgents. When you talk about Boko Haram, when did we define what Boko Haram is? It took us many years to agree on one definition of what Boko Haram is. We couldn’t even define what Boko Haram is because it was and still politicized. A lot of reasons were given, but one thing we forget is that you cannot deal with any problem if you don’t have a clear and correct definition of what that problem is. And if you are not the only one tackling the problem, you must as a group, all agree at a common definition then you can now deal with the issue. But if you Dickson have a different idea of what we are talking about and I have a different idea, how can we tackle the problem?
What is the accurate definition of Boko Haram?
Boko Haram is like every other insurgent group with their purpose, they have their partners and supporters. It is business and their business is to do what they want to do. They have an estate where they define what they want. They said they wanted to carve a caliphate or to carve out a state in a state for themselves. So, we should have defined properly, planned and executed a complete and holistic war against the insurgent groups.
President Muhammadu Buhari has come out to say that members of Boko Haram are splinter groups from Libya and many sees the statement by the President as a sign that we are in a hopeless situation, has this government failed Nigerians on security?
President Muhammadu Buhari has not failed on security, rather we did not define properly what is Boko Haram on time. No matter where they come from, they have a common goal. People must know that ISIS has some Nigerians as member and when I say Nigerians, I don’t mean exclusive group. Virtually all the groups that make Nigeria unsafe are members of ISIS and Boko Haram. We must see them as a common enemy because an enemy is an enemy no matter the colour, tribe or religion and you must deal with your enemy appropriately.
Recently, the nation lost some military officers in Borno State, it seems our military was over-powered by insurgents, are we in a helpless situation?
I’m not the one to answer that question. You should ask the people who are dealing with them to tell us what their status is. But I want to believe that our approach now is not the delivering the expected result. The reason is very clear. Number one, you don’t have the manpower; secondly, you don’t have the equipment. Three, you don’t have the training and we lack the concept and idea of operation on how to confront the issue. We need to really work harder. Let me tell you something, security is in phases. You are talking of the armed forces, what about the police? What about the other security agencies? Are they functioning the way they are supposed to function? Show me one organization that is functioning properly in Nigeria?
At what point did Nigeria derailed as a nation because from all you said, there was a time Nigeria was a beautiful bride globally?
You are making me to talk. This is another aspect of the whole thing. There is a problem; I must tell you that we lost focus as a nation. I will tell a story so that you will understand what I mean. A Nigerian who was outside the country was asked about what went wrong with Nigeria, he said yes, the man who committed the offence is from ‘A’ state. They asked him, are you not from the same state? He said, we are from the same state, but he is from a different town. Again, he asked him, is he not the same town as yourself? He said he is from a different village. And he asked him, but the man’s name sounds like your name? He answered, yes, we are from the same family, but he is from a different mother. So, who is a Nigerian? One thing we have not tried to understand is that nations are groomed, nations have some philosophical leanings, nations have values that impact the people and translate to the way they do things and through this you can define a man from this country. Nigeria doesn’t have a clear-cut definition. That can only come as a result of good leadership. A leadership that can define what a country stands for and work towards that the people will key in and drive the vision.
What is your assessment of the Buhari-led administration in terms of security?
They are trying their best. They are doing the best they can only that they don’t know the way to go about it.
Is there any other way they would used to tackle insecurity?
You can’t give what you don’t have; you will give the best you have. One thing I know is that for Nigeria to regain security of the state, we must be bold. Apart from national reform, there must be security sector reform without which we can’t get out of this quagmire. Any security expert knows that there are laws that are not in place. A typical example is that the military is in 32 states. If you have effective police, would there have been military in the states? Are we doing well in intelligence? That is why I say the entire security system needs to be reformed. We can start by identifying who we are before putting up policies and programmes that we need to take care of different sectors of our security.
Many will attribute the nation’s slide into backwardness after independence to military interventions hence we are yet to overcome military hangover, what is your take?
That is a fantastic one. Now, we are in democracy close to 20 years and we did not see any miracle happen.
But we are still dealing with military hangover?
You call it military hangover? You people should go and find out how to deal with military hangover (he laughs). Why is it that people will always look for excuses? If really you know what is wrong why not deal with it? Must you say because something happened yesterday then you cannot build a new life? Is that how some nations are built? Rwanda should be dead by now or they should lie in the graves of the one million people that were killed during the civil war in that country and not move forward.
Do you support the Federal Government to declare state of emergency in some states where people are being killed by unknown gunmen such as Zamfara State?
I won’t answer that question because government knows what to do. How will state of emergency change the situation? They should know what to do to stop the carnage. That is the essence of governance because the image of Nigeria is at stake. I don’t know where to classify us now because externally we are nowhere. The little we know we exhibited during peacekeeping and we are no longer there. As at three weeks ago we are ranked 44th in the world, and in Africa we are about 20. They need to sit down and articulate how to end the killings across the country and stop politicizing it. We politick a lot because national security is not what you politicize. National interest should be above every other interests. That is why I told my friends that I don’t think we have more than 200 Nigerians who love Nigeria and I make bold to say it. When you love your country, you are ready to give your life for it and you will do everything humanly possible to protect her unity and uphold her honour.