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Insecurity: The danger of fifth columnists within 

By Editorial Board
12 February 2024   |   3:50 am
Plateau State Governor Caleb Mutfwang’s allegation of fifth columnists within the Nigerian security agencies is not new; it only adds additional voice to a long standing suspicion by many people within and outside Nigeria.

[FILES] Security personnel stand guard in the Kukawa Village in the Kanam Local Government Area of the Plateau state on April 12, 2022 after resident’s houses were burnt down during an attack by bandits. – (Photo by AFP)

Plateau State Governor Caleb Mutfwang’s allegation of fifth columnists within the Nigerian security agencies is not new; it only adds additional voice to a long standing suspicion by many people within and outside Nigeria. Since the time of President Olusegun Obasanjo who alleged that criminals were being recruited into the police force, through President Goodluck Jonathan’s admission that there were Boko Haram sympathisers within his government, to the tragic Buhari government during which many citizens, high and low, had even stronger reason to believe in the presence of ‘enemies within’, it is hard to believe that the governor’s claim cannot but be true. Indeed, retired Major-General Henry Ayoola, a former General Officer Commanding (GOC) Operation Safe haven in Plateau State had in a TV interview expressed his suspicion that military effort is compromised by personnel with terrorist loyalties. He should know.

Mutfwang spoke up only because his people are the latest victims of the calculated gradual extermination of Nigerian lives by terrorists. Recently, over two hundred were murdered across 23 villages by yet to be apprehended persons who operated methodically and unhindered for 48 hours. This is despite a much hyped Operation Safe Haven military presence that is charged to keep the state and its environs safe. The governor said pointedly that, by the admission of the general officer commanding the operation, 36 distress calls were received on the day before the heinous act was carried out. But, in an evident betrayal of its mandate, the military did nothing. An apparently distraught Mutfwang  said directly: ‘fifth columnists have infiltrated the security agencies … There are many people who should not be there [who] are agents of these criminals and [who] sometimes compromise their colleagues…when[they] are going on operations’. A few not so recent examples of inexplicable dereliction on the part of security agencies come in for mention.

In 2019, Emir of Bungundu in Zamfara State, Hassan Attahiru accused the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) of ignoring distress calls when terrorists attacked and killed, in daytime, 15 people in communities under his control. In the same state, state legislator Anas Sarki-Fada alleged that security forces ignored his and other calls for help when his constituency was attacked. Many were killed, many others were abducted. In 2018, Amnesty International (AI) accused the Nigerian military of failing to act on advance warnings that a convoy of terrorists were moving toward Dapchi; 110 school girls were abducted. Earlier in 2014, similar warning on an impending terrorist attack in Chibok, Borno State was manifest; but the government deployed a paltry number of troops with inferior weapons to the place. As may be expected, they were overrun by the terrorists who abducted more than 200 school girls, most of whom are still missing today. In several other cases, the security forces were alerted, would respond but arrive long after the criminals had done their heinous deeds. Middle Belt Forum official Stanley Kavwam maintains that in the late December incident, the military was aware of the terrorists and their hideouts and even received 37 distress calls. They did nothing.

It has been over a month that this unpardonable failure in the security architecture has happened, there is nothing to show that the government  has instituted an investigation into  why and how of it, if only in order to avoid a repeat occurrence.  Country Director of Amnesty International, Isa Sanusi, has challenged the government of Nigeria to investigate ‘the inexcusable security lapses that allowed the horrific killing [in Plateau State]’. In a saner, clime government worth the name would feel sufficiently worried to need no prodding to do what it ought to do. Persons would be called to account, blames would be apportioned, and condign sanction applied as applicable. Not here! Impunity reigns supreme, hardly does anyone in public office feel responsible for anything, even where roles are clearly defined and assigned. It must be quickly said though that it all begins from the top.

If only for the reason that the type of preventable tragedy of the 2023 Christmas Eve in Plateau State could be allowed to happen, those who argue that Nigerian lives matter little to the powers that be, that ‘they don’t care about us’  are increasingly proved right after all. This is sad.  In a polity with a responsible government alive to its primary, yes primary, constitutional obligation to the citizens, things  cannot and must not, continue like this.

If the security agencies are infiltrated by traitors, that situation speaks disgracefully about a failure of intelligence and counterintelligence.  As far back as 2020, retired Major-General Ishola Williams, former head of Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) of the Nigerian Army, lamented that ‘we have big and harmful intelligence and counter- intelligence deficit…’. He added that Boko Haram fears the Chadian Army but not the Nigerian Army. There can be only one reason: the terrorists have their own within the latter group.

The late General Sani Abacha is widely quoted to say that any insurgency that lasts more than 24 hours is most likely to involve government officials. It may be recalled that the Private Military Contractors (PMC) that the Jonathan administration hired between 2014 and 2015 nearly routed the terrorists. For reasons only he can explain, the succeeding President Muhammadu Buhari promptly ordered them out of the country. The criminals have since become bolder and have enlarged their operations.  That, despite the personnel and equipment available to the Nigerian security agencies, Boko Haram and other terrorist groups can roam wide and operate largely unchallenged supports further the Abacha postulation.

To have ‘fifth columnists’ within any group is bad enough; for a security system, it is intolerable, for good reason. A fifth columnist is defined as ‘a member of a clandestine organisation who tries to help a potential invader.’  A fifth columnist is a ‘traitor’, a ‘saboteur’, a treasonist’.  He is an enemy within who endangers the corporate existence of the country. It is such a grave crime that, in many jurisdictions, it carries the capital punishment.  No government worthy to be so called will, for even a moment, tolerate it. No.

Nigerians had – and hopefully still have- great expectations from the Bola Tinubu government  not the least because of the written and spoken promises  to make a difference for good. The first five pages of the ‘Action Plan for a Better Nigeria’ are devoted to copious explanations to secure Nigeria under the new government. On the strength of the contents, no one can accuse Tinubu of not understanding the size of the security challenges his country faces. It is regrettable that, in the calculation of a group of Civil Society Organizations, 2,423 persons were killed and 1,872 kidnapped in the first eight months of the Tinubu administration.  This is not at all an enviable record. It falls far short of the provision of Section 14 (2)(b) of the Constitution that Mr. Tinubu is on oath to uphold.

We challenge President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to, forthwith, walk his talk as detailed out in the Renewed Hope 2023 document that he personally signed. For, beyond being a party manifesto, it is to be reasonably considered his personal contract with the people of Nigeria. If sincerely implemented, there can be no room for fifth columnists within the country’s security forces, nor within the Nigerian system. It is received wisdom that credibility, or trustworthiness, is the heart of true leadership. The word of a leader, spoken or written, is his bond.

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