We haven’t conquered insecurity because elites still feel safe, says Rawlins
Dr Lionel Von Frederick Rawlins is the assistant vice president, of Safety and Security Operations at American University of Nigeria (AUN) Yola. He is also the Chief Executive officer (CEO) and President of Von Fredrick Global Security Company based in Adamawa State. He spoke to EMMANUEL SAMAILA in Yola, on the security challenges bedevilling the country and how to surmount them.
How did you get involved in dealing with security issues?
My background was at the American State Marine and I have been in security business services as a marine for over thirty years. I have been in security combat and also American security operations.
I have been all over the world in the field of security and counter-terrorism. I have a background in criminology as well, so I back it up in academia as a professor of criminology. I have both theoretical and practical security backgrounds.
I have a security company based in the United States (US), Von Frederick Group and this year we opened a sister company in Nigeria called Von Frederick Global security Africa based in Yola, Adamawa State. It is an expansion of the company we have in California. The reason we came here is simply because of the state of insecurity in Nigeria. Even though there are other private security outfits in the country, there is more work to go around based on the volume of insecurity going on here and the government cannot be everywhere.
So, people should stop thinking that they will rely solely on the government to help them on all security issues. We are into real security, what I mean by real security is not what most of you understand to be security. You have an old man as a night watchman, watching over you and your house and family’s precious assets, which are your children, wife and material possessions. But the security is an old man who can’t see, can’t walk and can’t hear. And that is your security you are paying N10, 000 (Ten thousand Naira) a month to protect your most valued assets. To me that is insecurity and that is why I opened a security company here in Nigeria to help people who cannot afford to be protected.
The battle against insurgency in the Northeast has spanned ten years, with devastating consequences. Why has the war remained protracted?
When Boko Haram started government took it as a joke. They did not move and become proactive but allowed it to fester and they allowed it to boil until it became unbearable. When these guys went out and kidnapped two hundred and twenty-six Chibok schoolgirls, that was when the government realised that they were in trouble. When this administration took over, they inherited problems associated with insecurity and they too allowed it to fester, boil, and burn and it has now doubled and tripled what it used to be. This is because people here did not take the situation seriously. It was when the schoolgirls were kidnapped that Nigerians realised they have problem. Before then some people felt it was a northern problem.
That has led to crimes, such as kidnapping multiplying in large numbers and the ransom kidnappers now ask for is twenty times more than anyone could imagine. So it is when school children were been kidnapped and villages attacked that the government realised there is big trouble.
Lack of political will is blamed all the time for failure to deal with insecurity. I hear people use it on radio, television and on print media and I kept asking why are people talking of political will? But it is true because it is the politicians that control the government that can fix this problem and why they are not concerned much is because they are not directly affected by the crisis. It is the poor people that are affected. The moment elites are affected is the time this insecurity will be addressed.
In these years of insurgency, we have seen women and children suffer the most. How can they be protected?
It is not just for the government to protect them, it is for the community to protect them and it is for the household to protect them. A man is supposed to protect his children, but how can he do that when he has no weapons and the terrain is so difficult for security agents to intervene. Even for phone calls, you have to climb a mountain before you can make calls. So, the question should be how can people protect themselves. You should know that if the remote villages you are living in cannot be reached quickly by securities, you should know that you are in trouble.
The bandits and kidnappers know this, so they go into such villages and take away women and children because they are the most vulnerable and they are easy to be kidnapped because they don’t fight back. Women and children are easily manipulated as they can be used for suicide attacks, spies and logistics. Women can go to markets and purchase food items for the kidnappers because nobody is watching them. So, women and children are gifts to terrorist and other criminals and that is why they attract their attention of these bad guys.
In the wake of it, schools have been vandalised, teachers abducted and in some cases killed. Now, most schools in red zones are shut. Can we have a sense of the losses, particularly as regards the girl child?
This is terrible, especially in Nigeria, especially in the northeast. We have the highest number of out of school children in the whole world. When kidnapping takes place the first response of the government is to close down the school. Why don’t we just protect schools? You don’t need to close them down, I keep saying this every time and nobody is listening to me. Why do you wait until the school is attacked? Why not take action to protect these schools before the attacks?
It is better you protect the schools before you start closing them down. To protect these schools, you don’t need a lot of money, just a little money. Let us use private securities, hunters and vigilantes and infused them with a few military and policemen because you need someone to guide their operations. Build walls around the schools, relocate schools in forest areas to urban areas and you will see a decline in the kidnapping of school children.
Even IDP camps appear not too safe, as displaced persons suffer abuses within and outside?
The IDP camps are not properly protected and they are to some extent neglected in so many ways; neglected when it comes to hygiene, they are neglected when it comes to security. This is because remote areas and schools are turned into IDPs camps without proper social amenities. Most of IDPs camps are not located in towns, they are in remote areas, they are still attacked due to lack of adequate security. Some of the people paid to protect them are in some cases the ones abusing the IDPs sexually and extorting them in so many ways. They are exploited all round and so if you really need them to be protected bring them closer to the urban areas, give them a place that has walls, beef up security around the walls, protect women from men. Take care of their mental and physical health.
For fear of war crimes and the watchful eyes of the international community, the government is shy to deploy more force to quell the insurgency. But the war has to be fought all the same. What middle-ground approach can you recommend?
Yes, you know the situation is very difficult now for the military to go into the forest to rescue people. So you cannot bombard only the bad guys, the innocent people will be killed too. It is not only those kidnapped but communities, where the bad guys stay with their captives, will be affected also.
So the government is in a bad situation. Some have suggested that government should hire mercenaries and professionals who know how to handle the situation without harming those under captivity. Before they fire rockets you just give them parameters of what they can do and the time limit. These are trained men who were once US marines, Russian solders and British soldiers. They are trained and highly disciplined in the use of their skills. They were used in Afghanistan and many other countries use them all the time. Mozambique just used them; Russian mercenaries dislodged the Islamic State of East Africa, and they cleaned up the place. I believe that the Nigerian Government has to use Mercenaries.
We hear of repentant insurgents. Can we trust them?
It can be successful if it is done properly. It is not a bad idea as it happens in other countries. It also depends on how it is handled. I can say it with all sincerity, it can be done. Stigmatisation affects people who try to come back to society. I have to add that you have to separate the ideological insurgents from Boko Haram members that are not radicalised. You have to isolate those who believe in the ideology of building a caliphate. You can’t change their mindset. But those that joined Boko Haram just because of salaries don’t care about building a caliphate. Another set of Boko Haram is the ones that were captured and forced to fight on the side of the insurgents. These two sets can be transformed and returned to normal life.
Now in case of people ask whether we can trust these repentant Boko Haram members, I say to them we did it before in Nigeria. During the civil war, people turned against people, neighbours against neighbours. But after the war, the same people that killed your parents, and burnt your houses had to go back home and lived beside each other. It happened in Rwanda, the Hutus and Tutsi war, but when it was over they both resolved to use a traditional system to forgive one another and today they are all living together. So, it shows that these things can be done.
Here is my last take. I have issues with how fair this is to people living in the IDPs camps, who are suffering in those camps. These were once well to do men and women but today they cannot eat good food and send their children to school. Now you take the people you said you have deradicalised and give them money, trained them in good skills, but you turned your back on the IDPs that were once living comfortable lives. That is my concern and the government and NGOs must look into this issue.