‘Negotiation with insurgents must stop while military should remain focused, upbeat’
Former Military Administrator of Kebbi State and immediate past Secretary General of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Col. John P. Ubah (retd), in this interview with SAXONE AKHAINE in Kaduna, says escalating insecurity in the country is the handiwork of opposition politicians who want the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari to fail. He, however, advised the military not to be demoralised despite uncomplimentary remarks against them in some quarters.
The security challenges in the country have become a serious issue of concern to Nigerians. What do you think is responsible for this?
Security is a very serious matter to any country in the world. And I remember someone saying let us lay down capital punishment against any issue that is working against public interest. Those working against development, equity, peace and justice must be punished. This also applies to the embezzlement of public funds. You see, anything that works against public interest will cause insecurity at all levels. We are very much aware that the Northeast problem is political. That of the Northwest is just a follow-up because insecurity, such as insurgency, is like wild fire. Once it starts, it is difficult to put off. The process may take a very long time, and at times it is very slow. That is why a General called T. E. Lawrence once said that war on rebellion is messy and slow, and it is like eating a plate of soup with knife.
The concern of Nigerians now is the trend the security challenge is taking. Today, rather than insecurity dying down considering the enormous resources deployed by the Federal Government to fight it, the problem seems to be assuming a dangerous dimension…
The Nigerian military has been doing its best. The only thing is that because of the nature of the insurgency, its best is not good enough. Firstly, from Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), and even from the recruit training of the soldiers, the training is tailored to conventional warfare. The training for fighting insurgency or counter revolutionary warfare is minimal. And not at all levels do we have such trainings. It is mostly done in the classroom.
In the Staff College, we talk about counter insurgency; they even bring students from Police Staff College in Jos to join us in Jaji for about two weeks when we talk about counter revolutionary warfare and fighting internal security. Then it cannot be different even at the National War College. Now, they have this institution for Army, Navy and Airforce differently. At the NIPPS, which is the height of our strategic training, it’s all classroom work. So, what happens on the ground is a different ball game.
But why is it difficult for the military to apply this combat experience in fighting the insurgents and bandits?
My own perspective is that the way they started fighting it was wrong. At the time it was coming up under President Jonathan, a raw civilian, the military hierarchy deceived him. I was the Secretary General of ACF at that time. That was 2014 to be precise. Then the military deceived him that they wanted to establish a division to fight the insurgents. He rolled out chunks of money while what they put on the ground was not even up to a full-fledged battalion capable of fighting that level of insurgency. That continued until General Buhari took over in 2015 before the war really hot up against the insurgents. And having uprooted them from their base, we were told that the insurgents had been degraded. They are now all over the places; there is no more a foothold anywhere and it has become more difficult to fight them.
Do you really think the insurgents have been defeated and degraded, as the government wants Nigerians to believe?
If they have been defeated they will not been doing what they are doing all over the country today, killing Nigerians, ambushing and kidnapping citizens and so on. There is insecurity all over the country. They have not been defeated. The battle is still on. It is more difficult now because, one, the average Nigerian is not committed to a common course. Everybody is individualistic; it is only what concerns me that I can be committed to. And we should know that all of us constitute government, but we will be complaining against the government all the time.
The issue of mass education of civic responsibility is no longer there. Political and social education are not adequately impacted on the people to ensure that citizens must be patriotic to the course of fighting the nation’s challenges and to help the government to fight the insurgents.
So what is the justification for the huge amount so far expended on the war?
It was a British parliamentarian that said that no government could be successful without a formidable opposition. I am not a politician. But I personally believe that the opposition is behind most of these problems this government is facing. They want to make sure that Buhari fails. And until he is able to strategise like he is doing now to curtail the antics of the opposition, he will not make much headway to stem down the wave of insecurity in the country.
Are you saying that the opposition is behind the security challenges the country is facing?
Yes! That is my own personal belief.
Even when the opposition was in power, they faced the same security challenge but it did not escalate to this level…
They couldn’t stop it, so, they were displaced from power. Now, they have lent their weight behind the problem. In other words, they are saying that you think you can do it better than us we will see how far you will do it. That is my own interpretation of the situation.
There is clamour by some Nigerians for the sack of the service chiefs because of the inability of the military to curb insurgency and banditry in the country. What is your take on the issue?
The Chief of Army Staff voiced out some days ago that sacking the military hierarchy will not help the situation in the country. They do the thinking; they have all the training. One time military expert once said, “I don’t expect a soldier to think.” That is why you have to let the people understand that the officer is different from the soldier. The officer does the thinking and the soldier carries out the action. And their level of training is not the same like I have earlier said.
Now, I will request and advise the military not to allow itself to be demoralised by the unfriendly or what I will call the uncomplimentary attitude of the majority of the society. You see, the military is doing its best. And because of our antecedent of the military overthrowing and kicking politicians out of government, the President has to be careful. He is a politician now. He is a strategist. He has to make sure he is confident in the people who are working with him. And that is why I personally will not be anxious to see him change service chiefs.
So, he should make sure that the Ministry of Defence run the military the way it should be run. People have rules and regulations; there is tenure of office for each segment of leadership. If that is maintained, the moral of the troop, I think will be higher. And the impetus will be there for them to be focused.
Do you think that rehabilitating and reintegrating insurgents back into the society is good for the country at this time?
I personally feel that the arrest and investigation of the operators of this insurgency in the country is not thorough. The issue lacked a lot to be desired. I believe that if you catch a few of them, you should carry out a thorough investigation and then mete out the penalty. We need to catch a few of these insurgents and investigate them in order to get to the root of their sponsors. Let them be publicly penalised and sanctioned so that the public will know that, oh yes these are our enemies. And then as a government you can now mobilise the populace to say it is these types of people and their supporters that are making your lives miserable, who are causing all your problems in Nigeria. And the people will be more anxious to make sure that no criminal elements are allowed to survive among them.
But today, it is as if the insurgents are holding nation’s leadership to ransom by the recent statement of Boko Haram against President Buhari, the Minister of Communication and the Chief of Army Staff, General Buratai?
We heard it on the news that the President was booed in Maiduguri. Who organised it? That is why I am talking of the opposition. Somebody organised them. And the President should try to get to the root of something like that. He has the NSA, Minister of Defence. They should be able to go into the root of such a thing within 24 hours.
Is negotiating with the terrorists, bandits and kidnappers part of the solution to the problem?
You don’t negotiate with terrorists. When you identify them, arrest them and deal with them ruthlessly. When you negotiate with terrorists, you are encouraging others. That is why you see that the situation has escalated. We hear about people being arrested and we don’t know how the case goes and what happens to them. If a person is arrested in Maiduguri, he is taken to Abuja. What for?
What is the way out of this security challenge?
Firstly, the military should not allow themselves to be demoralised; they should continue to do their best. And the Minister of Defence is quite capable. I don’t know why there should be quarrel between the NSA and the Chief of Staff. The Chief of Staff should not be allowed to control the military. What do we have the minister of defence for?
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