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Mailafia: Our military high command should work with strategic thinkers


Former Deputy Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Obadiah Mailafia.

• Let Me Be Honest With You, Our Country Is On Verge Of Disintegration
• Buhari Must Reverse Jihadist Ethos That Provides Ideological Underpinnings For His Administration

Dr. Obadiah Mailafia, former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and presidential candidate in the 2019 general elections spoke to GBENGA SALAU on how to deal with the security challenges that trouble the country.

Some think President Buhari does not get adequately briefed about the state of insecurity in the country. He recently expressed shock about the rising insecurity in the country; as the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, what do you make of such comments by the President?
Yes, some of us heard the news of President Muhammadu Buhari expressing “shock” about the rising level of insecurity in the country. To be transparently honest with you, I was rather surprised that he did claim to be “shocked” about the current crisis of insecurity that afflicts us all. I would like to believe that the President as Commander-in-Chief does receive daily security reports from the various intelligence agencies. If there is anyone who should know what is happening through all the nooks and crannies of our country, that person should be the Commander-in-Chief.

To claim, therefore, that he is surprised is what is most surprising. Unless, that is, he has been playing the proverbial ostrich in the desert. Even a child knows that our country has become deeply unsafe – perhaps the most dangerous country in the world outside the war-torn outposts of Somalia, Afghanistan and South Sudan. What is happening today has no precedent in our history. Even during the height of our bitter civil war, we did not experience such anomie – such total breakdown of law and order as we do today. Only a deputation of demons from the pits of hell could have conspired to put our country in such a bleak nightmarish scenario. Ignorance, in this case, is no excuse. The buck stops with the President. If he cannot secure the commonwealth, then he has failed in his most primary duty. There can and must be, no compromise on this matter. The first and most elementary duty of the state is the protections of lives and properties of its citizens. Everything else flows from that. Right now, it is as if we have no government. We have no leadership that exercises the authority and responsibility that is our right to expect.

Do you think our armed forces are deploying the right strategy to contain insurgency?
The answer is a resounding no. The military high command seem bereft of strategic thinkers who have full grasp of strategies and tactics of irregular warfare. The quality of leadership leaves much to be desired. Training, doctrine and preparedness remain quite problematic, in addition to incessant complaints about funding and budgetary resources.


I worked closely with the various arms of the military during my days as a young Research Fellow at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru. I have enormous admiration and respect for our armed forces. Unfortunately, I have reason to believe that they are no longer what they used to be. The glory, surely, has departed. These days as you drive on our highways you find barricades manned by the army. I was shocked to see them collecting N100 from motorists and pocketing same. This would never have happened in those good old days when the military were people of class, professionalism and distinction. Trillions of naira have been spent on the insurgency in the north east, but, alas, we do not have much to show for it. The offices of the high military command have become not an opportunity to serve but an avenue for primitive accumulation. No wonder there have been mutinies in the jungles of the northeast. There have been cases of rampant desertions at the war front. Young soldiers feel that they are being sent there merely as cannon fodder for the insurgents. The morale of troops is at its lowest ebb. Paradoxically, there are vested interests within the defence and security system who would like to ensure that the insurgency is never brought to an end. It has become a pernicious meeting of minds between our high command and the insurgents. Both sides want the insurgency to continue because it is good business.

Having said this, let me make it clear that our armed forces are hamstrung by the fact that their constitutional deontology is national defence against external aggression, not fighting an internal insurgency anchored on asymmetrical warfare; an insurgency in which some of our top power elites are fully implicated. I am convinced that using regular armies and using conventional methods to fight an insurgency of this kind is unlikely to be effective. We need a different approach. We need total mobilization of our people, including use of hunters and civilian guerrilla volunteers. We need to overhaul our national security architecture. I also consider it imperative to create a National Homeland Security bringing together all the armed forces, the security services and related agencies such as the police, Customs, Immigration, Road Safety Corps and others. We need a high level of operational intelligence that penetrates into the very heart of the insurgency. We must start by defeating them from within.

I am one of those citizens who remain very proud of our officers and soldiers. When foreign so-called human rights agencies such as Amnesty International write such unfair things about our men and officers toiling under such difficult situations, it pains me. We should all encourage our military to do better in fulfilling their constitutional mandate of defending our country and safeguarding our fledgling democracy.


There have been calls for the service chiefs to be sacked for allegedly failing to secure Nigeria, do you agree and why?
Like I said before, regular armies, by their nature and training, are ill-equipped to effectively combat asymmetric insurgencies. So, I think, I would not condemn them totally for failure to achieve the desired results. The challenge we face is far bigger than the service chiefs. As you would have known, Boko Haram has been joined by the herdsmen militias and by ISWAP. Powerful international forces are involved, some of them with considerable backing in terms of money and material from interests as far afield as Turkey, Qatar, France and some powerful NATO powers who have a strategic mission to destroy our beloved country. It is too easy enough to find scapegoats. That is also politically expedient, because it takes attention and responsibility away from the political masters whom we must hold ultimately accountable.

According to the maxims of military science from Carl von Clausewitz to Montgomery and Vo Nguyen Giap, the most successful armies in the world are those that operate on the basis of military subordination to civilian control. This is because of another military maxim, that war is far too important to be left to the generals. The military chiefs recently responded to calls for their removal in parliament that they did not appoint themselves. This is, of course, stating the obvious. Their mandate is to defeat Boko Haram, not ensure total human security for all Nigerians. No army has that kind of mandate. So we should not blame them for things that are strictly beyond their mandate. Having said that, it seems obvious to me that they have overstayed their welcome. Members of parliament have said as much. Given the hierarchical norms of seniority, their long stay has meant that those who can no longer be promoted have to be retired. It is leading to palpable tension and even further decline in morale.

Judging from the way government spokespersons attack people that express their views about insecurity, do you think the government is fully aware of the enormity of the insecurity?
I would like to characterize such callous disdain as part of the “mystery of iniquity”. I was again deeply disappointed by presidential media spokesman Femi Adesina who spoke so spitefully against the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) when they raised issues about the killing and persecution of Christians in Nigeria. On Christmas Day last year, 11 Christians were beheaded by ISWA.


Towards the end of January, Adamawa CAN Chairman Rev. Lawan Indimi was abducted by the insurgents. Even when his church community scraped up some N50 million to pay for the ransom that was placed on his head, they went ahead and martyred him. You may have seen the video clip that the insurgents themselves spread on social media. I could not bear to watch it. It was horrific and evil beyond words. If Adesina could not find in himself the edifying words to comfort the church and the family of the bereaved, he should have kept his mouth shut. Instead he mocked, as it were, the blood of the holy martyrs.

A few days ago seminarian Michael Nnadi perished in the hands of the devils. They had abducted four of them, but three were lucky to come back. Michael has joined the saints triumphant. I am very sorry for Femi Adesina. It is a fearful thing to mock the blood of the holy martyrs of our God. President Buhari was also quoted recently as saying that 80 percent of the victims have been Muslims rather than Christians. Even if it were true, would it matter? Boko Haram, the herdsmen militias and ISWAP have minced no words in telling us that they are waging a Jihad to resurrect the Caliphate of Usman Dan Fodio. They are waging a war of conquest and domination against those they regard as “infidels”.

Who are we to disbelieve them? The truth is that the bulk of the killings over the past decade have affected overwhelmingly Christians more than anybody else. Consider Plateau, Benue and the Middle Belt. The cases of Zamfara and Birnin Kebbi are relatively more recent. And they have more to do with resource conflict than Global Jihad. No matter the obfuscation and double face, even a schoolboy knows that what is being waged in the Middle Belt and the rest of the country is a soi-disant Jihad. The extremists have told the world that they are waging a Jihad to make the whole of West Africa an Islamic Caliphate, with Nigeria as its capital. The primary object of Jihad is non-Muslims, no doubt about it. And everything they are doing so far suggests that their primary targets are Christians and the church. More than 1,000 churches have been destroyed and more than 400 clergy killed in the northeast alone. We are led to believe that the thousands of cells organised by the murderous herdsmen militias throughout our ancestral savannah homeland in the Middle Belt and throughout the primeval rainforest of the South are the avant-garde army of the new Jihad. Whenever they destroy local communities, they take over and the hoist a black flag. The flag of death.


It was General Sani Abacha who famously declared that when an insurgency lasts more than 24 hours, the government knows something about it. I am afraid, this government knows more about the insurgency than they are prepared to own up. The Catholic Bishop of Sokoto, Matthew Hassan Kukah, noted recently that the difference between the insurgents and government is that the latter do not operate openly with bombs. But we are beginning to understand the two have become one and the same. The devil is the Father of Liars. We know too much about taqiyya and dissimulation to be fooled. When you think you are deceiving me and I know that I know that you are thinking you are deceiving me, then it is you that has the lowest IQ in the world. Only a village idiot does not know that some people in high places are deeply implicated in the genocidal war going on against an unarmed and defenceless people.

Having served as the Governor of the North East and Borno, why do you think Buhari has not managed the insurgency in that region very well? 
Which Buhari are we talking about? The Buhari we used to know and love is not the same Buhari we know today. Let me tell you, in 1982, as a young man in my early twenties, working as a Research Fellow at the National Institute, Kuru, we spent lots of evenings doing sports with a gallant officer who was the GOC of the 3rd Division of the Nigerian Army stationed at Rukuba Barracks, outside Jos. He used to drive himself to our campus in Kuru. He was svelte and smart. Highly intelligent. He oozed charisma and self-command. Just seeing him made you feel proud of the Nigerian army.

He had been stationed earlier in Borno, where he famously led a hot-pursuit of Chadian rebel soldiers who had made incursions into our country. He pursued them right into Chad without clearance from the presidency, we were told. It won him respect and honour. By December 31st 1983 he emerged as the new Head of State after the ouster of the corrupt and ineffectual administration of Shehu Shagari. That was the Muhammadu Buhari I knew and loved. The Buhari of those days is obviously not the Buhari of today. I even doubt if he is really in-charge. Some of his utterances also do not suggest he believes in the secular democratic ethos that defines our consociational federalism. As a member of the opposition before coming to power in 2015, he was quoted as saying that “an attack on Boko Haram is an attack on the North”. We heard recently that hundreds of “de-radicalised” insurgents — whatever that means – were recently released into society.


The regime’s visa-free policy is seen as offering a carte blanche to extremists from far-flung places to invade our country. I suspect that millions of illegal aliens have already entered our country and are being automatically treated as citizens, with more rights than you and me. The idea is to boost the population of the north and create a de facto numerical majority. A good number come into this country bearing arms. All the Fulani of West Africa are being regarded as bona fide Nigerians, for whom we must hand-over our ancestral lands on pain of death. There is a ring of desperation in the quest to create a lebensraum for his Fulani kinsmen from all over the world. A few days ago, dozens of families were massacred in Bokkos and Mangu districts of Plateau State. Miyetti Allah claimed responsibility for the killings. Nobody has been arrested. Nobody ever will. We are led to one and only one conclusion: that the government condones all the killings going on. Some would go to the extent of saying that they may actually be complicit. What we face is nothing less than a failure of leadership.

In tackling insecurity in their domain, South West governors set up Operation Amotekun, what is your view of the outfit and how best could that be deployed in a federal system like ours, without being on collision course with federal authorities?
When Kano and other northern states started groups like Yan Hisbah to enforce Sharia, they did not come into collision course with the federal government. I am therefore wondering why the Federal Government is so worked up about Amotekun. I heard of the remarks by the Attorney-General of the Federation Abubakar Malami, who expressed strong reservations about the new security initiative. He ended up lecturing the South West governors on the need to ensure that the initiative has the backing of law. I found that patronising, to say the least. Malami is the chief law officer of the federation. He has no capacity to tell the governors of the former Western region what they can or cannot do within their own domains as chief security officers of their respective jurisdictions. Amotekun is anchored on a popular demand by Yoruba people who feel besieged by the rising wave of crime, rural banditry and nihilistic violence. Both municipal and international law guarantee the right to self-defence, especially where communities facing an existential threat have no one to defend them. It is also in consonance with universal ethics. If the Federal Government that controls the police and the armed forces cannot guarantee our security, in the face of genocidal mobs from neigbhouring countries, then it behoves on us to take up such measures as are necessary to protect our people.


I feel like a Yoruba myself and I am in touch with the high echelons of their leadership. It is far too late to go back on Amotekun. The Delphic remarks by Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinbu notwithstanding, anyone who attempts to reverse the hand of the clock risks being charged with high treason in the court of popular opinion in Yoruba land. The only way the Federal Government can redeem itself is to speedily reverse itself in terms of its behaviour with regards to national security. They will have to comb out the cells of murderous herdsmen militias spotted all over Yoruba land. They will also have to return the lands forcibly taken from local communities back to their original owners. And they must come clean on the support they have given implicitly to the murderous militias that have turned our country into a massive graveyard. They also must fish out and disgrace the financiers and backers of the terrorists within and outside our country.

As a response to Operation Amotekun, the Nigeria Police is tinkering seriously with the idea of community policing, how can both unite to fight crime?
The record of the Nigerian police leaves a lot to be desired. But let me be sincere here in saying that the current Inspector-General, Mohammed Abubakar Adamu, has done reasonably well compared to those of the past. He is a well-trained officer with broad international exposure, having served with Interpol in France for many years. He has been quite effective, although limited by the context in which he and his men have to operate. The idea of a community police is well worth exploring. I recall that in those good old days when some of us were kids, we had the Native Authority police. They always carried batons and rarely firearms. But they were very effective. Everybody knew who the local thief was. The entire community was involved in looking after the safety and security of the populace. The Nigeria of my childhood was almost a paradise. Definitely the idea of a community police is well worth exploring.


What are the social and economic issues promoting insecurity?
I would identify five drivers. First, we have the problem of poverty. According the World Bank, the population of the Nigerian poor as internationally defined has risen to 97 million. This amounts to 48.5 percent of our total population of 200 million. The figures are higher for northern states such as Borno, Yobe, Jigawa and Zamfara, where they hover over 60 percent. Poverty breeds alienation while fuelling extremist ideologies. Linked to poverty, is, of course, unemployment. Every year millions of young people are churned out of the school system into an ever-shrinking job market. Most of them are barely literate. There are many so-called “graduates” that cannot meet the minimum standards of literacy and numeracy. Some potential employers will tell you that many of our so-called graduates are patently ‘unemployable’. There is an estimated 20 million unemployed youths in our country. Added to that number you have the vast army of under-employed, such as the young man who read mechanical engineering working as an okada rider. Youth unemployment averages 38 percent nationally, rising to over 60 percent in the far north.

Young energetic people with no jobs can easily become criminals or foot soldiers for mad mullahs with extremist ideologies. An idle mind, they say, is the devil’s workshop. Thirdly, there is global Jihad. The illegal intervention in the West that led to the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq has opened up a Pandora Box, in terms of radical Islam. Hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis perished on the basis of a lie. Iraq had no Weapons of Mass Destruction. The defeat of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan forced the radicals to move back to the Middle East. The defeat of the dreaded ISIS in Syria and Iraq forced them to move to the Sahel. Their new ambition is to carve out a new Islamic Caliphate in West Africa. They have bolstered Boko Haram and the herdsmen militias in Nigeria.


The Islamists in Nigeria are being supported by wicked foreign governments, particularly Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and more recently, Turkey. Turkey under Recep Tayipp Erdogan has betrayed the sacred secular traditions bequeathed to the Turkish state by the great Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The Turks have been caught shipping heavy weaponry and even armoured tanks to aid the insurgents in Nigeria. It is a cursed state, with the blood of more than a million Turkish Christians in their hands. France and some Western powers are also complicit in supplying funding and weapons to the insurgents, including helicopters, drones and provision of satellite technology capability.

Fourth, governmental failure is a key element. Many of our rural areas have become what the international lawyers would describe as terra nullius. The collapse of local government has meant that many of our rural areas are bereft of the presence of administrative authority. Such empty spaces are easily filled by violent warlords.

The current administration has not helped matters. Governance under the present dispensation is operated on the basis of exclusion and nepotism. People feel that it is not their government. The leadership is also bereft of the capacity to govern with any level of effectiveness or credibility. Lastly, climate change might be a factor. This is a driver that the regime likes to capitalize on as justification for the activities of the murderous herdsmen militias. Climate change is clearly a factor, but it cannot be a justification for genocide and land dispossession.


As a way forward in managing insecurity in Nigeria, what should the President and his team be doing?
Let me be honest with you, our country is on the verge of collapse and disintegration. It baffles me that those who control our helm of affairs cannot read the writing on the wall. The state as we know it has failed. Only its ghost is malingering about, waiting for Godot, as in Samuel Beckett’s enigmatic play. Nigeria is dying a slow, painful death. The air is thick with foreboding – with the foul stench of a festering corpse. A few unelected people have usurped executive power and are misleading the President in a very dangerous manner. They have cornered power for selfish reasons and have turned the President into a hostage to their own personal fortunes. And they do not care whether we survive or perish.

My first advice to Muhammadu Buhari is to wake up to his responsibilities as a leader, if he has the remotest chances of salvaging his honour and reputation at the bar of history. Secondly, he must reverse the Jihadist ethos that provides the current ideological underpinnings for his administration. I have met many patriotic Nigerian Muslims who are deeply dismayed by what is going on. They have also been victims. They also feel the fear. And they know that if we continue on this sordid path, all of us will suffer in the end and our country will disappear. Make no mistake about it: any random miscalculation could trigger a catastrophe. So, I beg the President to retrace his footsteps and to salvage our common patrimony.

We also need a more comprehensive and coordinated approach to national security. We must overhaul our current security architecture to ensure that we are better able to tackle the insurgency and the looming chaos that hangs over our destiny like a nuclear mushroom cloud. We need nothing less than a new Homeland Security Organisation, in addition to the establishment of a territorial army. These are soldiers that have full military training but operate on a part-time basis.


I had some experience with the British Territorial Army. You can enroll as a student. And every summer you go for military training. You can then work as an investment banker or professor. But every year, you take a month off work for military training. Countries such as France, Switzerland, Malaysia and India operate territorial armies. In times of emergency they are called upon to supplement the regular military. They also help bolster local community security. Creation of a territorial army in Nigeria will serve as a means of total mobilisation to ensure better security for our people. It will also restore confidence among ravaged communities where armed bandits hold sway.

There are also millions of illegal immigrants who have resettled in our country in violation of the ECOWAS Protocols, which specify a maximum of three months. Such people must be repatriated. Boko Haram must be treated as enemy combatants subject to treatment under the international laws of war. Any foreigner who ventures into our territorial jurisdiction bearing arms has ipso facto declared war on us and must be treated as an enemy at war.


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