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Babangida: Government must find courage to address waning national security posture

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The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Goldwater & RiverSand Consults, a defence and national security resource and solutions outfit, Captain Aliyu Umar Babangida (rtd), in this interaction with ENO-ABASI SUNDAY says the country must consciously tackle the present dire security situation, through cost-effective and efficiency driven approach. While applauding the present crop of service chiefs for providing the stabilising effect required to re-anchor, position, and rebound troops in 2015, he said it was time they departed lest the country begins to lose traction and feats, as is seemingly the case, albeit piecemeal.  

Lately the country lost over 200 lives to insecurity. Does this mean we have reached the nadir of insecurity in the country?
I do not want to say we are at the nadir per se; but more like we are in dire straits. This is made particularly so because the expectations of Nigerians pre-2015 (security-wise) is not being met, given the litany of ‘’seeming’’ intractable woes that have bedevilled the nation across board.

The Presidency in approving a joint military and police operations specifically targeted at combing Niger, Kaduna, Katsina, Zamfara and Sokoto states to rid them of terrorists, assured Nigerians that the armed forces are fully capable of dealing with the challenges of banditry and terrorism. Shouldn’t Nigerians take this assurance with a pinch of salt?
In fairness to Nigerians, one must first mention here that many are such past assurances and approvals from the Presidency. Considering the merits and, or efficacy of such pronouncements (particularly with the spate of violence and wanton killings as they occur), there is a general propensity to relate with such correspondences or assurances as mere ceremony and grandstanding.  Put another way, when results do not match, or are not seen to carry the gist of what was said, the source or originator loses reckoning, confidence, and or followership of the citizenry. That seems to be what is playing out socially, if not politically across the fabric of our nationhood.

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The United States has called on the Federal Government to hold those responsible to protect civilians, end senseless killings and get those responsible to account. Can this serve as a wake-up call?
Without having to spell it out for the Federal Government, the United States may just be sounding a wake-up call to the Federal Government to do what any responsible government should. Public Office designation appointees, particularly in this case, security designation holders need be queried, and if need be changed, if only to ensure results are sustained back-to-back. Let’s not forget that these results as we see them, are publicly funded, anyway you choose to look at it.  

Nigerians in the North right now are completely at the mercy of bandits, rustlers and insurgents, who roam towns and villages wreaking havoc every other day. Can it get worse than this?
The situation is pathetic indeed; there is a level of cognitive dissonance involved here. We seem to be torn between what is obvious and what is perceived. There is no gainsaying that agencies of government are in pains to admit that there are deficits involved in our security posture, while the victims or citizenry are caught somewhere in between partisan socio-political affiliations, and the looming security threats that they must live with, for those who have not died already. Anyway or anyhow, one thing stands clear – events will play out in ways that can only be to the detriment of the leaders and the led, if our security situation as a people in this part of the world, is not given the bold handling it requires. Our Political Leaders must spell it out clearly, and our Security Chieftains will either deliver on expectations, or give way to the one who can. 

The recent escalation of attacks seems to buttress claims by the Prof. Ango Abdullahi-led Northern Elders Forum that it appears the Buhari administration and governors have lost control over the imperatives of protecting people of the North. Is this far from the truth?
It is not about the assertion being truth or false, not at all. It’s about the results and effects that are on the ground. If there is one common denominator a significant aggregate of Nigerians (including officeholders, law enforcement chieftains, and the elite) subscribe to at this moment, that common denominator is the proliferation of security threats. North, South, East or West, the situation is just as dire. What makes it so glaring for this administration is President Muhammadu Buhari’s antecedents as an ex-army general. Much were the expectations of Nigerians with regards to our national security posture in this regard, those expectations are yet to be met.

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Also, do not forget that we’ve had a former general as president in our evolving democracy, with a different national security posture then, as it were, compared to what is evolving now. So, be it people of the North, or anywhere else for that matter, what comes across on a national aggregate is closer to a waning national security posture, than it is anything else. Much needs to be done and anchored on cost-effective, result-oriented security solutions for the various genres of our national security challenges all over Nigeria. 

The President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan recently claimed that the Nigerian military and other security agencies have failed to contain escalating insecurity because of international politics? How true is this claim?
I wouldn’t know what the facts that drive his position are, but as a national security resource and solution consults lead, I do acknowledge the contiguous nature of certain cross-border-crime sets as are known to exist. Having said that, I also know that our national space remains our home advantage, and a playground for our security agencies.

While we may not control what happens beyond our borders, what happens within is absolutely within our control and purview (I stand to be corrected here please). We have a country to run, and must leave no one in doubt that we are in charge. Doing this begins and ends with making result-oriented security dispensation the mantra and mission of anything and everyone of our security agencies. There is no other way.

We can itemise all the reasons and or excuses, remote and actual…ultimately, the question remains: What are you doing about it? And that is where the need for results kicks in. Wherever the criminals come from, so long as they have to activate their vices within our nation-space, our agencies have the comparative and home advantage; how they dispense with it, is a matter of results.

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How much of a hindrance is the continuous stay in office of the service chiefs to the fight against insecurity?
It’s not about hindrance or the lack of it, rather it is about results. A service chief is not a life appointment. In fact, there is a strategic angle to it. Lets use football to explain this. I know most people understand football. On the whole, all players in the team are footballers. It gets a bit more interesting though with football. Amongst footballers, there are strikers, midfielders, wingers, defenders, etc. These players are so classified based on their strengths and skill sets. It is not different in warfare or leadership or generals if you like. Generals too have strengths. So, depending on what needs to be done, or the nature of the operation, or theatre of operations at all levels of the military, a peculiar mix of psycho-social, and professional strengths must come into play. A general could be any of many skill sets (professional and psycho-social), but certainly never all.

If you look at military story, it becomes a little clearer, the Gulf War (Desert Storm and Desert Shield); Nigeria’s ECOMOG operations in Liberia, saw a succession of Generals deployed to Command periods or life-cycles of the operations. Such deployments are done with a Mission-Objective in mind, at the closure of which a suitable General for the next phase (whatever that may be ) is sourced and deployed.

In my modest opinion, the present set of service chiefs were stabilisers. They provided the stabilising effect required to re-anchor, position, and rebound our troops in 2015, which they achieved within a remarkably short period of time. Thenceforth and to date, what is needed is a consolidation phase of the operations, and a consolidator to move the Theatre of Operations, to and through its next cycle of life, lest it begins to lose traction and feats, as is seemingly the case, albeit piecemeal.  

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With the military high command appearing to be at its wits’ end and Buhari’s insistence on not rejigging the country’s security architecture despite obvious failings, how valuable would a change of tactics by the government be?
The tactical or strategy of the situation are best left to the field commanders. What the Commander-in-Chief needs to do is chart a course and timeline, identify milestones and performance indicators (call these expectations if you like), allocate resources as may be required, then go shop for the general who can deliver these to time, budget and specification. There is no shortage of generals in our Armed Forces, but the onus of responsibility for proficient results delivery lies with the President. He, and not the service chiefs, is answerable to 200 million Nigerians. It’s all up to him.  

The Defence Headquarters (DHQ) claimed that terrorists killed 81 persons in Borno State as punishment for the residents revealing their locations to the military. What becomes of the fight against terrorism if citizens pay with their lives for helping the military with intelligence?
That sounds like afterthought to me; so what do we say of those who were killed in the past or abducted, even when no information was passed to the authorities? To be honest, no pawn intended please, I think offering reasons why persons were killed should be done in ways that do not dilute the reckoning the citizenry has for the person offering the information. We have work to do as a nation, and the options and solutions for our quandaries are ample, and available. What the country is in dire need of today is cost-effective and efficiency driven results, nothing else. 

Again, hundreds of Katsina youths on Tuesday embarked on a peaceful protest, calling for the immediate resignation of President Muhammadu Buhari over the deteriorating security challenges bedevilling the North West region and Katsina State in particular. Are these protests not long overdue in other parts of the country?
What makes them overdue? Protests are not new to democracies and vice-versa. What I would rather consider about the protest is not the due or overdue thing, rather, against the backdrop of the killings the protests are a feedback mechanism on the kind of results that the citizens are getting, concerning security in their homesteads. The protests constitute citizens’ response to the social stimuli of fear, insecurity and helplessness.

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