‘Boko Haram is still active, but limited’
Onyekachi Adekoya, Managing Director of PR24 Nigeria, a security and risk management firm, Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Industrial Security and Zonal Provost Marshal of Licensed Private Security Practitioners of Nigeria, Lagos, spoke to DANIEL ANAZIA on burning national security issues.
The killing of over 43 farmers in Garin Kwashebe in Jere Council of Borno State once again showed that the war against insurgency in Nigeria is far from being won and over. What is your take?
Much as we are not in any doubt that the war against insurgency in Nigeria is not yet over, we should also be factual and honest that insecurity has trended downward to some extent, if you look at cases of bombing and attacks in some strategic states and places, like the nation’s capital, and Lagos being constantly threatened.
If we want to talk about the state of insecurity in Nigeria, I think we should segment and look at it in context. If you look at the theatre of war in the northeast, with a focus on Boko Haram, I will say the government has done a decent job in containing the operations of the insurgents to Lake Chad. So, in that aspect, I will say government has significantly done well to curtail them.
However, if we look at the other context, which is dealing with armed banditry, kidnapping, rising level of violent crime, incidences of unemployment, ritual killings, which some would argue is also fuel by the macro-economic conditions, it will not be out of place to say that the way the economy is manage and the negative fallout of some of the policies that government has sought to implement has been contributory to these issues.
Crime rate is up and the trend rate has been at least in the last one year. If we look at the polity, it will not be out of place to say that crime ranges between medium to extreme rates, depending on what country you may be looking at.
There are a number of issues with the incident of the farmers that were killed. Some reports indicate that the incidences in Borno State are happening in the Kanuri ethnic part of the state. So, even within Borno, there are also smaller minority issues and what is happening is that some persons join insurgent groups, like Boko Haram, and come back to carry out some attacks against their family members who had refused to join the insurgents with them. As such, they see and consider them infidels.
So, some of these also fuel the communal killings in the northeast, especially in Borno and Adamawa states.
There is the belief that government has not done enough; hence calls for President Muhammadu Buhari to resign or sack the service chiefs. Do you think these would bring an end to security challenges in the country?
From my personal viewpoint, the issues right now are beyond the service chiefs and I can understand the sentiments, which they base on the premise that if a system is not working, there is a need for a bit of shake-up.
Sacking the service chiefs will be likened to a white elephant project. You can paint up a decayed structure, but that doesn’t change anything.
Fundamentally, the structures upon which the assumptions of national security have been held for the past 60 years of our independence are rather shaky at this time, because the dynamics and complexities of the Nigerian society have changed. We cannot put new wine in old wine skin, rather, that will cause more problems.
I think we have achieved some level of stability, so unnecessary issues should not come up, particularly when you are prosecuting a war. Nigeria is at war in the northeast. So, I do not subscribe to the flimsy reaction of sacking the service chiefs.
We must understand that these service chiefs report to the Commander-in-Chief, who is also the President of the Federal Republic Nigeria. If the C-in-C is maintaining them, then it must mean that he is happy and satisfied with the job they are doing.
The question of quality of work shouldn’t be with the personnel; it should be with the person who engaged them to explain the reason why he has continued to retain them, and perhaps there is something he, the C-in-C know, sees that we the citizens don’t see or know.
If you have not given a person the required equipment to carry out the task you assign to him or her to do, you cannot just turn around and say that person is not working. So, my take is that there are lots of issues behind the scene.
How would you rate the service chiefs?
I think basically and momentarily, looking at where we are and where we are coming from, we have peaked, in terms of what we can do with what we have based on the conditions on ground. In economics, we talk about the law of variable proportions, so we have fixed our approach to security and personnel for too long, but the conditions on ground have continued to change over and beyond what we have fixed.
It is not about the service chiefs or the individuals occupying the office of service chiefs; it is about the structure of security, the tools that the personnel have to work with.
Recall that Maj-Gen. Olusegun Adeniyi, a former Theatre Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole, was recently court-martialled by a military tribunal for putting himself before a video recording to tell the military high command what the troops need to prosecute the war in the northeast.
We all know what the rank of a Major General is in the Nigeria Army. It takes a lot for someone who has attained such rank and level in the military to put himself before his troops and the camera to say, ‘we are here and all we need is equipment. If Nigeria gets the required set of equipment, Boko Haram will be a thing of the past.’
What was he asking for? Attack helicopters that will help provide clean air support to the troops in the trenches on the ground, so that they can prosecute this war. You can just try somebody at his back and accuse him for nothing. So, this issue of sacking the service chiefs is just dancing around the bush.
Do you think Boko Haram has been decimated or degraded, as claimed by the Federal Government and its officials?
What the Federal Government has said was that insurgents have been degraded and they are not holding territories as they used to before. My take on this is: Have the insurgents been degraded? Yes, to the extent that they have been limited to the Lake Chad region. Have they been completely taken out? Not at all, because if they have been completely taken out, then who killed the 43 or 67 of the 110 farmers?
They are still there. If they have been eliminated or decimated, what forces have been taken out by the Nigerian Army, leading to the change of strategy, where we now have the super camps?
I think Boko Haram is still active, but limited to operating within a certain area and also limited to opportunity to attack and gorilla style warfare. Yes, they have been degraded, but they are not out; they are still maintaining a very effective fighting force with international support from some quarters, which is regarded as cross-border support.
So, they are still there and still a factor that we have to deal with. We are seeing a movement from the northeast to the northwest and certain people are trying to set up shops in some areas around the criminal enterprise. Analysts are beginning to suggest that some of the high level bandits that we see in the northwest are splinter groups from the insurgents.
Even in the northeast, we are also beginning to see splinter groups, which may be called armed opposing groups. The risk is that the entire northeast, northwest coming up to north central run the risk of being enveloped in serious armed conflicts.
The north is suffering insecurity like never before. What is the way out?
First of, we have to take short-term, medium-term and long-term look at how we address the issue. In the near term, let us consider allowing the private security companies to carry arms. That way, we can free up the Police to state functions.
The mistake the politicians are making by using the public protection assets for private use is causing the general environment to become exposed and make people to become susceptible. When this happens, there is not enough Police you can have in close measure detail that can protect you fully in a hostile environment.
We are beginning to believe that despite the presence of the Police, even armed guards or military convoys, violence is becoming very daring by the day. So, in our collective interest, we can free up the Police, so that they can deal with general issues of internal security.
If the Police are fully and properly equipped and deployed as they should be and private individuals or VVIPs take private security arrangements, licensed and regulated by the government, we will find a better handshake between private interest and public interest.
Should we go this route, we will free up our military from massive internal security operations. Right now, we run a risk of overtly domesticating our military forces, thereby exposing us, I mean our national security structure.
For instance, if one of our neighbours all of a sudden becomes an aggressor, we may not have the military with the right mindset to protect the sovereignty of Nigeria, because of their excessive domestication. The military has been involved in one operation or the other in over 34 states across the country as it is today.
It is too risky; our posturing is wrong. That is happening because the Police have been taken out of its space and assigned a private interest and the military has been brought in to fill the gap, and we are all helping ourselves in the long run. We need to begin to drive a policy thrust approach to security in this country.
As it stands, we have over 26 security agencies in Nigeria, but there is a discordant tune amongst them. Almost all of them are singing from different sides. Seemingly, coordination is not right. The office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) should be the clearinghouse. I like to make a case that going forward, we don’t need a retired military person as NSA. Dictates and dictums of civil leadership in security is that every agency or force must be under the control of the civilian and that is why we call it civil rule.
So, until we get there and we have a civil approach to security, the emphasis to security will not be on the people, if they continue state protection. These approaches will help us with posture, particularly with the issue of the Police, because based on some reports, over 50 per cent of the Police are deployed to serve and protect private interests.
Every time you see a signal from the Inspector General of Police (IGP) asking the Commissioners of Police and Squadron Commanders to dominate the space, but they cannot dominate the space, because resources to be called are lacking and personnel are over-deployed.
The rising insecurity across the country is likely to constrain many people from travelling this Yuletide season. What is your advice to those wishing to hit the road to visit their place of origin this season?
My advice is that we should raise our level of alertness, which we refer to as situational awareness in the security world. Secondly, people should understand the time and current challenges the Nigerian security forces have to confront and not push their luck too far. People should join hands in community effort to improve security around them.
More importantly, if you don’t have essential business, I will advise that people should find other alternatives to travelling at this period, and if at all they must travel, what are the modes of transportation suitable at this time.
Where it is essential, I strongly recommend that people go by air, if they can afford to. To start with, you must first ask yourself this basic question: Must I be on the road at this time?
With the United Nations (UN) projection of Nigerian population at 220 million, there will be lots of traffic congestions on the roads, because the population has increased and the infrastructure is low to meet the demands. The traffic situations leave people as a sitting duck in the middle of nowhere sometimes and then also increase the exposures of risk of insecurity.
Overall, people should improve the lighting in their compounds and environments, whether or not they have to travel.
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