Mrs. Tanwa Ashiru is a United States Air Force veteran and founder of Bulwark Intelligence. She has over 13 years’ experience in Intelligence Analysis, working in the Department of Defence (DoD), and the U.S National Security Agency (NSA). Tanwa holds a post-graduate degree in Intelligence Studies from the School of Security and Global Studies at American Military University (AMU). She served 180 days in Afghanistan and has been involved in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations in Southwest Asia, Middle East and Africa. In this interview with ODITA SUNDAY, Tanwa wants President Buhari to engage Niger Delta youths in dialogue, rather than deploy forces to the oil-rich region. She also endorsed the probe of military chiefs over alleged misappropriation of public funds.
How should the Federal Government engage the Niger Delta region; would deployment of troops solve the problem?
THE Niger Delta issue is almost similar to that in the northeast. The socioeconomic conditions in those areas encouraged the problems we are seeing. There is this belief in the mind of every youth in the Niger Delta that blowing up oil pipelines would draw government’s attention to underdevelopment. There is need for total development of the area. There is need for modern schools, infrastructure and others. There is also this thinking by the Niger Delta people that Mr. President wants to take all their resources away to develop the north. There is a general perception that the government is anti-people. I don’t think government can achieve much with the use of force. It needs to focus its attention on addressing the economic needs of the people and changing the perception they have towards the government and the military.
Do you think President Buhari is taking the right steps in fixing the economy and fighting corruption?
I actually think President Buhari is on track in his fight against corruption. One of the reasons the police are not as effective as they should be is poor funding. A study was done and it was revealed that if you break down the budgetary allocation to the police, only N1.3 million is disbursed to a police division to run their office for one year. It is very poor. For a growing medium business in Nigeria, that amount is barely enough to pay for diesel and other operating expenses in one month. There was an instance where policemen serving in the northeast were not even paid their allowances.
There is need for modern schools, infrastructure and others. There is also this thinking by the Niger Delta people that Mr. President wants to take all their resources away to develop the north. There is a general perception that the government is anti-people. I don’t think government can achieve much with the use of force. It needs to focus its attention on addressing the economic needs of the people and changing the perception they have towards the government and the military
Are you in support of call for the recruitment of more personnel for the police?
We have all agreed that we don’t have enough policemen. A nation of over 170 million people deserves to have more. When the former Lagos State governor, Babatunde Fashola, wanted to set up the State Security Trust Fund, he realised 37 rifles were available to 2,000 policemen. So, he came up with the fund and it has turned the fortune of the state around; it has been a success.
It is not that government has not been providing these funds in the past, but because of corruption, the money was not put to good use. There are so many jobless young men in the country but the police have not been able to hire, due to lack of funds. We need to urgently recruit more people into the military, police and paramilitary institutions. What we have is a huge number of people sitting around without any jobs.
A senator from Bornu State, recently, claimed that three Local Council Areas were still under the control of Boko Haram.
After the senator made that statement, the military came out to debunk it. Truly, we need honesty on the part of our leaders. There are a lot of facts people do not know about the northeast. The multi-national joint task force has not been performing as it should, but no one is asking why. There are rumours that one of the countries is not cooperating but no one is being completely honest about what is going on.
The military has always been quick and happy to share their own narrative and they want you to believe their story. But if you approach the people on the ground, they would tell you that things are not the way the government is painting it. Boko Haram has not been fully defeated; what has happened is that the attacks have been brought down. It is commendable but it is far from being over.
As a former member of the United States security forces, what do you think the U.S. is doing that Nigeria is not doing well in the fight against insurgency?
The difference is information sharing among security agencies. One of the major things they did was that they realised that each agency had a different piece of the puzzle. One agency knew that Al Qaeda was planning an attack against America, another agency knew that some individuals of interest enrolled for pilot courses in a flight school, another agency knew that some people were planning to ram an airplane somewhere, but each agency held on to its own piece of the puzzle. So, the American government realised that 9/11 happened largely due to lack of information sharing. What they did was to improve on information sharing among the security agencies.
Nigeria’s security agencies are not sharing enough information with each other. Another question: is Nigeria really ready for the change they need? There is a general sense of relaxation among our security agencies; there is low dedication. It is not only about equipment; some of the good equipment we have is decaying and they are not being put to use. We need to develop a culture of excellence and patriotism. You have to take care of the security personnel and they will take care of you.
One of the reasons I joined the United States Air Force was because of some of the education, travel and healthcare benefits we receive as military people. Do you know that military personnel can eat free meals in many restaurants in America on Memorial Day? People shake your hands as a soldier, thanking you for what you are doing. The citizens value you because of the service you are rendering.
It is not the same case here for Nigerian soldiers, maybe due to the history of brutality by military personnel. The military needs to do more in respecting the rights of civilians, and the public should give more appreciation to military personnel for the sacrifices they make in defending the nation. The thinking, culture and perception need to change.
What should be done to win back the northeast in a sustainable manner?
To win back the northeast, a lot of intelligence gathering is required. The word ‘intelligence’ has been overused. I was doing research and decided to visit the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) website: there is no website! If you open the American CIA website, one of the first things you would see is the World Fact Book, an encyclopedia of every country in the world. The CIA has information about every country, tribe and culture.
Intelligence agencies don’t just gather information for tactical reasons. Intelligence agencies should also have information of general population atmospherics, especially in conflict areas as well. I should be able to go to the NIA website and look out for information about different tribes in Nigeria, cultural intelligence, history and so on. Real intelligence is lagging among our intelligence agencies.
How should the government restore the economy?
A lot of people are losing patience with President Buhari over his anti-corruption stance and insecurity. But all these things work hand-in-glove. We are saying that the naira should be devalued so that investments can come. But investors are not going to the Niger Delta if their pipelines would be blown up. The security of a nation plays a primary role in attracting investors. How can you push tourism when the investors are hearing that there is Boko Haram in Nigeria?
Do you approve the probe of military chiefs over corruption?
The American public does not know the complete breakdown of the CIA budget, but if there is a major hiccup in CIA operations and it hits the newsstands, everybody would get to know about it.
With all the money that has been released to the military in Nigeria for over seven years now, the insurgency is still not over, and that is why people are saying that they should open the books, so that we can see what is going on. Taking money that is meant for the security and sovereignty of a nation is unacceptable.
If we have been seeing results in military operations in the northeast, I am not sure people would insist the military should be investigated. But we are not seeing results. That is why they are asking to see the books. And when the books were opened, they discovered massive stealing. The probe of the military is a welcome development; nobody is above the law.