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Nyiam: We effectively need a war or situation room

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A delegate to the 2014 National Conference organised by former President Goodluck Jonathan, Colonel Tony Nyiam (rtd), was the most senior military officer that participated in the Gideon Orkah Coup of 1990. In this interview with SEYE OLUMIDE, he enumerated some of the security challenges and cautions that the country will implode if true federal democracy is not entrenched.

Why is the government unable to curb worsening insecurity in Nigeria?
THE worsening insecurity in Nigeria is inevitable, unless and until the President and Commander in Chief (C-in-C) addresses the question of true federal democracy, otherwise, Nigeria is awaiting implosion. This is a fact that I stated in my 2012 Aide-Memoire for Makers of the Nigerian Constitution. Titled, True Federal Democracy or Awaiting implosion,’ which can, in fact, be the theme of this intervention. The practical experiences that we have had since launching the book 2012 have validated its findings.

But back to your question, my approaches will be threefold. The first is the necessary short-term, or immediate questions and answers. After that are the medium and long-term concerns and resolutions.

The long-term perspective, that is a strategy, is what President Muhammadu Buhari has, for his self-interest, refused to contemplate. This is, in spite of the reality on the ground that without addressing the national question, there can be no sustainable peace in the country. The injustices, which the Hausa, the Omo Oduduwa, Ndigbo, the people of South-South, and the Middle Belt people are suffering under the existing social, political and economic structure remains a major cause of the worsening insecurity.

Put succinctly, the reason for the worsening insecurity is because the existing political economy and associated social structures were designed more to serve the interests of the ethnic-colonizers in the midst of the Nigerian people. The expressions of Nigeria’s political- economy structure captured in the extant Nigerian Constitution are evidence of a structure not fit for a federal democracy.

Again, the existing 1999 Constitution has been framed in such a way that it gives men and women of the North West and North East regions political power, access to the country’s commonwealth, and unfair advantages. What is most troubling is that the unfair advantages or the shortchanging of the people of the four other regions of the North Central, South West, South-South, and the South East are aimed to be in perpetuity.

An example of a Constitution is not fit for purpose, is the lack of constitutional provisions for making the country’s electoral umpire truly independent. The result is a re-occurrence of nation-wide rigging of elections. The consequent injustices have been creating an incubator for national security challenges.

Also, there is a lack of common vision of national interest and related vision of national security. What should have been Nigeria’s national interest is being undermined by the pursuit of selfish interests by some leaders.

There is also an obvious lack of sincerity of purpose in a number of the President’s conduct of governance. An evidence of this is the President’s continuous breach of the Federal Character provisions of the Constitution. The nepotism he has displayed is such that over 75 per cent of the heads of the armed forces and other national security agencies are from his ethnic sections.

Buhari’s double standard also finds expression in the way the country condones the free movement of AK 47 rifle-wielding Bororo Fulani in parts of Nigeria, and the banning of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). This is indeed double standard gone too far.

Section 14 of the Constitution, Sub-section (I) b provides that, “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” So, it is the constitutional authority for states and local governments to free themselves from the bondage of the servitude, which makes them unable to provide for the security of the people of their federating units.

The government’s refusal to allow the devolution of policing powers to the states is a way of preventing the people of a state from participating in ‘their’ government.

In terms of a medium-term perspective, there are causes of national security failures arising from the lack of capacity by the ‘highest command,’ and in turn, ‘higher management’ of national security crises. The lack of capacity is a result of top managers of our national security having a limited understanding of what national security means and entails. To them, national security is seen only in terms of the protection of the President, governors and other very important persons (VIPs) in government.

Are you in support of calls for the sack of service chiefs?
The change should have been done months ago. The President’s actions on this matter are unbecoming of a leader of supposedly disciplined armed forces because he has continuously breached the Armed Forces Act. For instance, Section 09.08 of the Revised Armed Forces of Nigeria Harmonised Terms and Conditions of Service (HTACOS) for officers has been specifically breached.

Let me, however, make it clear that changing service chiefs would make some differences, but not the fundamental changes needed. The fundamental changes required can only come about from constitutional reforms, and updating of the highest command, which Buhari is in-charge.

Are you saying there exist gaps in the highest command structure?
This is a good question. In addition to the non-existent highest command structure through which the Nigerian President can be an effective Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, there are gaps in the organisation of the higher management of national security challenges. In addition to gaps like no direct chain of command between the President and operations of theatre commands, no coordinator of joint intelligence operations, no idea (at least in practice of the important distinction between ordinary army administrative head offices, which we are presently familiar with, and the more important battle readier field army formation HQs), the structure with which operations are conducted is not up to the required speed. For example, there is not in place a Joint Armed Forces Operations Command. This is why there are coordination or cooperation problems between sister services. The Chief of the Air Staff (CAS) is trying to demonstrate that he is doing better than the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS). Both are rivaling themselves and doing what we colloquially call eyes service to the President so that he chooses one of them as the next chief of CDS. This is in spite of both present COAS and CAS having overstayed their tenure in office.

We seriously need an effective war room or situation room, which we lack at the moment. At present, there is a form of incidences communication room in Aso Rock Villa serving as a situation room, but it is not effective, and thus not given its due important place in the already ineffective highest command structure.

Also, it is noteworthy that the existence of the Defence Headquarters (DHQ) in Abuja can’t be a substitute for the very important Joint Armed Forces’ Operations Command, which Nigeria’s higher management of defence has not deemed necessary to put in place. The Commandant of the Joint Forces Operations Command serves to ensure the coordination of the forces’ plan of actions and their execution.

Do all these explain why it’s been difficult for the Nigerian Armed Forces to crush Boko Haram all these years? And does this long duel not question the strength of our military?
The Nigerian Army is only an army in the name. It’s not in actuality up to the strength of a battlefield army formation. For an illustration, three battalions make up a brigade; three brigades make up a division and three divisions make up a field corps, while three corps make up a field army formation. In other words, a field army formation is made up of at least nine battlefield divisions. The Nigerian Army hasn’t up to the nine divisions, while in comparison, Ethiopia with roughly half of Nigeria’s population, or GDP, has, in the minimum, 27 number field divisions.

Another draw back is the fact that Nigeria doesn’t have an operational field army formation headquarters, where operations are painstakingly planned without the distractions of the Chief of Army Staff having to deal with awards of contracts or contractors. What we have is in reality, an army administrative head office in Abuja.

Nation-states similar to Nigeria like Egypt, Ethiopia, Algeria and others have their field army formations’ headquarters far removed from the capital city. The British Army’s administration head office is in their capital city, London. While the British Homeland Field Army Formation Headquarters is away from London in an obscure rural location called Northwood. The British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) has its Field Army Formation HQ in a rural part of Germany. I hope this gives you some insight into how constrained is the size and shape of the Nigerian Army.

For instance, one of the real reasons that the United States suspended immigrant travel visas for Nigerians has little, or nothing to do with Boko Haram; has nothing to do with Buhari; has nothing to do with arrest and detention of journalist; has nothing to do with Nigeria’s ban on gays and lesbians, but has everything to do with the absence of a workable system in our identification and verification processes. This is simply because Nigeria does not have a credible background investigation system that groups like Interpol can rely on to vet and certify originality, which is a pure security matter. What that means is that if someone commits a crime in Lagos and relocates to Kano, there’s no system that can be used to track crimes and people across state lines.

Virtually all African countries have such systems, even Ghana has it. In Cameroon, almost everyone has his/her original birth certificates, but Nigerians prefer to have multiple identity cards not because they are interested in monitoring and tracking people, but because they want to make money. Our country is a transaction society; you can buy anything, including human conscience.

Most responsible modern states in the world have tracking systems, but Nigeria does not. If you are about 40 years old, if you go to your primary school to get your records, I can assure you that they won’t have it. It is unthinkable that school principals and headmasters do not have computer sets in the 21st century. As a matter of fact, it is only states that are considered rogue nations, or failed states that do not have workable systems. Most nations in this category are nations at war. Nigeria is not at war, but the irresponsible nature of our government makes Nigeria a war zone.

What role has corruption played in the prevailing state of insecurity?
Our government should be ashamed that today we are grouped with countries like Eritrea and Sudan. As a sensible country, what we should be doing now is to put all the right systems in place, but our leaders would not do that.

Last year, two of my American friends visited Nigeria and came back with Nigerian international passports. That can never happen in Ghana or even Liberia. But with money, you can buy a man’s conscience in Nigeria.

With as little as $300 to $500 people are ready to subvert the law and do the unthinkable. With just N10, 000 anyone can get local governments in this country to issue them with letter of origin. Worst still, today traders who never set foot on universities have degrees, and youths even take part in the one-year National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) with fake university results.

If you are America, will you continue to give immigrant visas to people in a country that you cannot verify a simple certificate? If you are America, will you continue to give citizenship to immigrants whose entire documents for relocation to your country may have been forged?

We forge ID cards; we forge bank statements to get visas; we forge birth certificates; we forge marriage certificates, and we forge election results. What is it that we do not forge?

We should not blame the US; the truth is that we have failed as a nation. More disturbing is the fact that those, who are clamoring that we need a working system, are the ones that are arrested and locked up for frivolous reasons, charged with hate speech and ostracised by society.


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