‘Without strategic thinking, Nigeria’s search for solution to insecurity will remain elusive’
As the country continues to grapple with escalating insecurity, elder statesman and retired military officer, Maj. Gen. Ishola Williams, has identified lack of strategic thinking as the root cause of the problem. In this interview with ONYEDIKA AGBEDO, he recommends a change of strategy in combating the challenge, providing hints on how this could be done. He warns that the situation could get worse if such immediate steps are not taken and also proffers suggestions on how the Police and the Military could be reformed to effectively contain the upsurge in violent crimes in the country.
What’s your reflection on the escalating insecurity in the country?
The problem is that we have refused to do the needful and everybody is just fooling around like idiots. Why am I saying so? Our 1999 Constitution is conflict inducing and corruption inducing. Therefore, if we don’t start with making the necessary changes in our constitution, we are wasting our time. And the problems will keep piling. That’s what somebody needed to tell President Buhari. So, the fundamental is amending the constitution. Period! And many suggestions had been made in the past to amend the constitution.
Let me start with the issue of corruption, which Buhari said he came in to minimise. It is obvious that he has not minimised anything. They say Buhari is incorruptible, that he has not been involved in any scandal that we have heard. But what about the people surrounding him?
Why am I saying that the constitution is basic? When you look at the constitution, it says that the Federal Government will share the booty with states and local councils. So, the states and local councils come to Abuja every month, collect a cheque and go back. Next month, they come, collect a cheque and go back. Nobody has ever bothered to ask them what they did with the money they collected last month. Has anybody bothered to ask them? Is that in your constitution? What sort of constitution is that? So, what is the job of the Auditor General at the local council, state and federal levels? Who is monitoring this money that they say they are spending on behalf of tax payers? Who takes the auditors query? Is that one enshrined in the constitution?
Now the National Assembly decided to enact another law for the Office of Auditor General. What has happened? The president refused to sign the bill into law. Can you imagine that? And you say you want to fight corruption. So, your constitution is basic. It’s corruption inducing.
How does this connect to the escalating insecurity in the country?
If you are the president of Nigeria, whom do you report to? You report to God. They said we have separate judiciary, separate parliament and separate executive. But you see that the executive is more powerful than the judiciary and the parliament, although all of them pretend that they are independent. But in a country like ours that is developing in which people are grossly irresponsible including politicians, you need a sort of parliamentary system. If you look at South Africa, they have a partial presidential and partial parliamentary system. So, the president reports to the parliament. In our own case, the president reports to God. So, tell me who can check the president. That is why I’m saying the constitution is the problem.
Now, if you look at the articles of the constitution on security, again they have given all the powers to the president. In the South African constitution, the chief of defence staff is the number one man in the security echelon and the only adviser to the president on security. He coordinates national security. The job of the police is spelt out. The relationship between the commissioner of police and the governor at the state level is clearly spelt out. And they have local council police.
The point is that in a big country like Nigeria, it is obvious we need state and local council police. And if the state governors say they don’t have money to finance that, it’s a lie. Go to any state and you will see some people in uniform. What are they doing? Some of them are deployed to just control traffic. Why can’t they train them as community police? If you come to Lagos now, there is a community neighbourhood agency and they wear uniform; they have operational vehicles. Is that not community policing? So, the structure already exists at the state level.
The second point is that all state governors give police money; they buy vehicles for them and do many things for them. Why can’t they spend that money on state police and local government police?
Now, coming to the Nigeria Police Force itself, the structure is completely outdated and inappropriate for the type of security we need in this country today. Criminals are always one step ahead of the police anywhere in the world. But the police will always try to restructure themselves to make sure that they too want to be ahead of the criminals. But they have never changed the structure of our police since the British created it with an Inspector General of Police (IGP) at the top.
Recently, some criminals killed the daughter of Chief Reuben Fasoranti and everybody is shouting. If it were you as a journalist, the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) will cry and cry but nobody will listen to them. Vice President Osinbajo went there and said the government would flood the highways with soldiers. Then who will fight Boko Haram?
The second point here is why did you create the Mobile Police? What is the job of the Mobile Police? The Mobile Police are supposed to be anti-robbery, anti-kidnapping and anti-terrorism. That is the job of the Mobile Police. If they haven’t got the adequate training, train them to do the job. They are the people who are supposed to be on the highways. They are not supposed to be in urban areas, because if you have state police in urban areas they can do the job.
Now what is Nigeria too? There is no Nigeria if there are no states. Is there? So, if the states are secured, Nigeria is secured. If the local councils are secured, the states are secured. That is what we do not understand.
Therefore, in order to restructure the police, there should be an IGP responsible for training, evaluation and monitoring. He is to make sure that all the state and local council police have a common standard of training; monitor the state and local council police to make sure they maintain standard across the country; do evaluation of state and local council police and submit report to the state governments and the Federal Government to know the state of policing in this country. That is for the IGP.
The second element is the Mobile Police Command. Their job is to do what I earlier said and they should have a commander. So, the IGP monitoring and training should report to the Ministry of Interior likewise the commander for Mobile Police, who should be independent.
There should also be a director general of crime intelligence and investigation, who should also report to the Ministry of Interior. So, you have to split the police into three parts. That’s all you need to do. You don’t need to flood the highways with soldiers. The Mobile Police with a commander should be the one in-charge of anti-kidnapping, anti-robbery and anti-terrorism. But they just put them on the road to be collecting money. They should be trained to do those jobs. They carry guns like soldiers. What is the difference between the two? Can someone tell me? The only difference is their training and orientation; that is all. So, train the mobile police to do their job.
What is the implication of attributing any any security breach in the country to Fulani herdsmen?
There will be no Fulani herdsmen crisis if you have proper structure to deal with the issue. So, why are you not doing the proper thing to make sure that this sort of thing that is happening now does not happen in the immediate future? You had a situation on your hand; how did that situation get to the stage it got to now? They are not thinking ahead; that’s what I’m telling you. And as long as you are not thinking ahead to do what is necessary and appropriate, you are not addressing the situation. And you that are asking the question, you are thinking like a Nigerian — the problem is here now, solve it! How will you solve it when you have a wrong structure, a wrong organisation and a wrong approach? It will continue to get worse if we continue to think the way we are thinking.
In the case of the Army, they too are using the structure of a regular warfare to fight irregular warfare. And I have told the Army so many times that they are using the wrong structure. You don’t create a Division in Maiduguri because you want to promote somebody to Major General. It is stupid! Completely stupid! You need to create a Special Forces regiment with one young colonel in charge and you give them the necessary support and everything. They will finish Boko Haram.
So, we are dealing with security with wrong structures, wrong approach and wrong organisation. And nobody is thinking at the top level. There is no strategic thinking at all, none. Today’s military, especially for the Army, should be mainly specially trained Special Forces not conventional forces. Those are the people that you need. When you have Special Forces, they can go behind Boko Haram; that’s why they call them Special Forces. There will be no way for Boko Haram because they will be going to Boko Haram. The problem is basically lack of thinking. That’s all! So, when you look at the whole thing, it is not a big issue; it can’t be a big issue. But the situation will continue to get worse as long as people are not thinking of not just how to solve the problem today but also how to ensure that it doesn’t reoccur.
What is the difference between the western world and us? The difference is that they are constantly thinking and innovating in order to be able to deal with an issue today and tomorrow.
Do you entertain the fear that insecurity may degenerate to Rwanda exprience?
No, no, no! That is stupid. It’s a stupid statement. Which Rwanda experience? You see, Rwanda has only three ethnic groups — the Hutus, the Tutsis and the Twa. How can you compare that with the number of ethnic groups in Nigeria? I am saying that there cannot be revolution in Nigeria because the ethnic groups have never collaborated with each other, cooperated with each other or agreed with each other. Even in politics, do Yorubas agree with each other on anything? Do Igbos agree with each other on anything? Do the people in the Middle Belt agree with each other on anything? If we all agree, do you think Nigeria will be where it is today? So, every politician is looking for how to realise his own ambition.
When they came up with Ruga settlement scheme, Osinbajo said he doesn’t know about it but the Presidency said, ‘it’s a lie you knew about it’. How can a vice president say that? So, everybody wants to protect himself and so everybody keeps lying.
From your submissions, you have indicted the top brass of the security agencies for the spate of insecurity in the country despite their claims of successes. Do you think it’s time for them to go as being canvassed in some quarters?
In other countries, the Chief of Army Staff should have resigned with what has happened with Boko Haram. But when the Commander-in-Chief too does not take action, of course he will stay there. He is a Nigerian. Have you heard of any Nigerian that resigned from any government job until he is sacked? So, you have a situation on your hand, which even the president does not know what to do.
How do you think the government can deal with herders-farmers clashes after the resounding rejection of the Ruga settlement scheme?
The herders-farmers conflict has been happening for a long time. When President Buhari was the chairman of PTF, he knows how much he spent on this farmers-herders conflict through the Miyyetti Allah people. But doesn’t he keep animals? He has a farm and he keeps cows in that farm. Why didn’t he employ Fulani herdsmen to be carrying the cows all over the place?
Secondly, I have never heard the Federal Government call a meeting of cattle owners. Who are the cattle owners in this country? If you want a solution, why don’t you call a meeting of cattle owners and tell them that the people they are using are becoming a menace and that they should think of a solution and come and give you that solution. Once you do that, you can now come up with a plan with cattle owners to solve the problem. Everybody leaves out the cattle owners and those ones just kept quiet and are watching the situation because it is benefitting them. What sort of country is that? That is why I’m telling you that people are not thinking. Meanwhile, both southerners and northerners own cattle. Does it then signal how we will solve the problem? They are creating another problem.
So, it was good that the whole thing was suspended. He hasn’t cancelled it as we read. So, people are now waiting to see when he will reintroduce it again. At least that is one thing that brings southerners together.
But if cattle owners really want to do something, they should be told to establish ranches. It is as simple as that. Every one of them in the Presidency knows that. Those who proposed the programme, including the Ministry of Agriculture, know that.
Now, there was a European Union (EU) project in Yobe State. It was a five-year programme. What they did was that they were introducing plants like alfalfa in a place called Alkali village in the state. Cattle can eat the leaves of alfalfa plants. The seed is like millet; it can be grind and turned to fufu and things like that. They were proposing that because there are settled Fulani, who are part farmers and part animal rearers. Those ones will grow the plant and the nomadic ones can come and buy the leaves from them to feed their cattle. With that they don’t need to roam all over the place. But do you know that the Yobe State government and the Federal Government abandoned the place after the EU left. It’s not that I’m told; I stayed there for weeks. The EU building is still there. So, there is a solution to all these things. But the Federal Government will never implement recommendations because some people within the polity feel that those recommendations will not favour them if implemented; therefore other people should suffer. So, there had been solutions in the past but the Federal Government never implemented most of them. But they will come and introduce the controversial ones.
What is your view on the claim that the Federal Government’s approach to issues these days tend to fan the embers of disunity?
To me, the problem lies with the state governments. We have a federal system and the states have a form of autonomy. It is a stupid governor who believes that he has to depend on the Federal Government for security in his state. Why did Lagos State introduce the community neighbourhood agency? Why did Rivers State come and study what they are doing in Lagos to be able to create one in the state? I mean it’s a stupid governor that will be waiting on the Federal Government to secure his state. Some of them just sit there, waste their time and chop money without looking after their people. But their people too don’t ask questions.
How did Anambra State solve the herders-farmers problem and kidnapping in the state? What did Governor Obiano do? Is Obiano not a governor? Why didn’t he wait for the Federal Government?
Are you suggesting that Buhari’s approach to governance has no link with the present state of affairs in the country?
If Obiano can succeed, if Rivers State can succeed to a certain extent, what is he needed for?
But the buck stops on his table and almost everyone points accusing fingers at him?
That is a stupid way of thinking by Nigerians. By now we should change. Everybody believes it is the president that can solve Nigeria’s problems; it’s not! It is the state governors. They should stop hiding and Nigerians should be pressing the state governors. Buhari has proven that he cannot lead; that’s obvious. So, when you see that sort of situation what do you do?
The point is that this is a federal system and the states have autonomy to a great extent. Let them use that autonomy and the resources that they are given to improve the welfare of the people. Many of them, including southern governors, do not want resource control because they want free money. And no governor can leave office and beat his chest and say that he left office without stealing a penny. The point in this is that we are not selecting the right people for political positions in Nigeria and that is the fault of the people.
Now, the new Governor of Oyo State, Seyi Makinde, says he is worth N48 billion. Let somebody tell him and if I have the opportunity to meet him I will tell him that there used to be one mayor of New York, Mr Bloomberg. The man is a billionaire. Whenever the city needed money and he could not find it, do you know what the man did? He put that money down. At one time he wanted to do a youth programme and could not find money. He put down $50 million. Meanwhile, he was earning one dollar every year for the 12 years he spent as Mayor of New York. So, if Makinde is worth N48 billion, what does he need to earn salary for? And can he act like that mayor who gave back to the state? So, with the type of money he has, Oyo State should not suffer and he should not steal a single penny.
At what point did the systemic errors in the police and military that threw the country into this ugly situation begin to occur?
The problem is that people are not thinking ahead and taking the necessary actions, including the head of the security agencies themselves. They like to keep the status quo because of their own selfish interests but they are not helping the country. This is what I have been trying to point out to you. When people are in a certain position, they don’t want anything to happen but when they leave they start talking. I have been speaking on how to restructure the police and the security agencies but nobody listens because the security chiefs themselves don’t want it; the Ministry of Internal affairs doesn’t know what they are doing. But of course, as I told you, states that are sensible like Lagos and co. are doing what is appropriate for their own people to be able to protect them. Period!