A former Chairman of Transparency International Nigeria, Major General Ishola Williams (retd.), shares with JESUSEGUN ALAGBE his views on calls for either the resignation or impeachment of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), due to the lingering security challenges across the country
To say that Nigeria is battling with widespread insecurity is to state the obvious. In your years of military experience, has it ever been this bad?
You see, I do not believe that Nigeria is in a state of insecurity because nobody is invading Nigeria. There is no foreign country or enemy or other forces that are invading the country. What we have is a problem of safety. What do I mean by this? When you read notices from embassies, they say Nigeria is not safe; they don’t say Nigeria is not secure. This is because our boundaries are safe. The people terrorising Nigeria like Boko Haram and bandits are not from outside, they are from within. So we are not suffering insecurity but lack of safety. In the North, for instance, where we have bandits, they move around on motorcycles, which means it is an organised crime and it appears to me that the people know who these people are since we have been negotiating with the bandits. The northern forces have appointed Sheikh (Ahmad) Gumi to be their mediator with these bandits, though Gumi seems to be more of an Islamic evangelist than a mediator. From his pronouncements, it seems to me he is an Islamic evangelist and not a mediator at all. He’s not helping matters at all. This is a big challenge for the northern governors. My second line of thought is that even in the north, why is it that what is happening in Zamfara State is not happening in Kano State? What is the Kano State governor doing that all the other governors are not doing? And not to appear as demonising the North, even in the South, there is an insurgency. When thugs burn police stations and kill police officers, it is a form of insurgency and usually, it has political objectives. All hands must be on deck to tackle this, which is why the governors in the South-West, in their wisdom, created the Amotekun security network. Amotekun’s main job should be to carry out intelligence. For instance, when we say criminal herdsmen have invaded the forests, we should carry out intelligence on how they got there in the first place. Did they move there during the night and no one in the community saw them coming in? Did they pay community elders or traditional rulers before coming in? How are we also sure that some top people are not the owners of the cows? Why do they always keep quiet? Is it because these top people are the owners of the cows and only employed the herdsmen and gave them rifles? With the joint efforts of Amotekun, traditional and community leaders, we should have no problem with safety. All the governors should work together and tackle these crimes. But it appears to me that most governors in the South-West are so afraid of Abuja. In a federal system, what are they afraid of? Why are they not talking about restructuring? Is it because of the cheap money they are getting from Abuja? They go to Abuja, collect money and nobody knows how they spend the money. There is no accountability. Nobody knows how they spend security votes. They have no integrity and they know that. They are the ones creating problems for Nigeria. Yes, the governors are the ones creating problems for Nigeria. Governor Nasir El-Rufai seems to be the only one talking about restructuring, the South-West governors are keeping quiet. Sheikh Gumi is talking about creating a commission for the Fulani herders whereas there is the National Commission for Nomadic Education created many years ago. That commission was created to specifically help the herdsmen. When General (Muhammadu) Buhari was the Chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund, he gave lots of support to Miyetti Allah. So what is Sheikh Gumi talking about? Other regions have commissions too that they are using to make money. Whether it is the Niger Delta or the North-East Development Commission, what happens there? Money disappears! Why do we continue to create commissions that enable a particular set of people to take care of themselves? And even after the National Assembly investigates such commissions, why don’t let the citizens see the reports? Look at the case of the sacked acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Magu. Have they finalised their investigations before appointing a new chairman? When you look at the whole thing, you will conclude that Nigeria is not a nation of integrity.
You mentioned that what we have now in the country is a lack of safety and not a state of insecurity. An average citizen may want to know the difference between the two.
We are very fond of using words whose meanings we don’t know. One person talks about ‘insecurity’ and then everybody will start singing the same tune. It’s the same thing with the word ‘restructuring.’ People don’t bother to find out the meanings of words. When you are safe, it means you can walk about any time of the day without the fear of being attacked. When the communities are safe, the country is safe. And when Nigeria is safe, other countries will tell their citizens that Nigeria is a safe place to go to. On the other hand, if our neighbouring countries or others have not attacked us, then it means we are secure – it’s a simple thing. All the criminals attacking us are our own people; nobody is waging a war against us from outside. And most of the safety problems we have are political. So safety is top-down; security is bottom-up. This is why community policing cannot be successful without the community itself. And that is why the community police should not be carrying guns. There are other non-lethal weapons that they can carry.
You seem bothered about Sheikh Gumi’s role as a mediator between the government and bandits. Why is it so?
This is the first time in my life that I am learning you can negotiate with bandits. Someone has robbed you and you are telling another person to go and appeal to the robber that robbed you. The robber is complaining that he is not being taken care of, but what is the commission that is supposed to take care of him doing? Instead of the mediator asking the commission questions, he is asking that another commission be created. Is that a mediator? Sheikh Gumi also said Christian soldiers were the ones attacking Muslim communities to create chaos. Is he solving any problems or creating new ones? In a country that is so sensitive about religion, is that a mediator? He also said bandits should not be called criminals. He is also canvassing amnesty for people going out to kill others and kidnap schoolchildren. What sort of nonsense is that? Is he saying that northern youths who go to other parts of the country selling foodstuffs and doing menial jobs are stupid? See how the bandits shot a schoolboy in Niger State during a recent kidnapping because he attempted to run away from them. I am happy, though, that the President has said he’s not giving any amnesty to the bandits. Sheikh Gumi is not serious. He is not a good mediator and they should drop him. There are more mature and true Islamic clerics who can do a better mediating job than what Sheikh Gumi is doing.
There are some Nigerians who wonder why the government needs a mediator in the first place and not just deploy the military to go after the bandits.
It’s not the job of the military to run after criminals. The military was created to run after insurgents. It is wrong to be using the military in cases like banditry. Let me give you an instance, when the youths wanted to ‘occupy’ the Lekki tollgate recently, there was no single soldier there. It was the police who were deployed there. In the past, soldiers would run there? To go and do what? In cases of banditry and similar ones, it is the job of the paramilitary arm of the police to tackle them. That is why we have the Mobile Police (aka MOPOL). The MOPOL is not a police service but a police force. It is a paramilitary force. So using the military to go after bandits will make the military lose focus. The military should focus on insurgency and leave the police and MOPOL to do their job. The MOPOL needs to be separated from the police service. An Inspector-General of Police should head the police service while a commander should head MOPOL. This is what is done in other countries. The MOPOL should be independent of the IG and report only to the Minister of Internal Security. The President can make this happen. All he needs to do is to state that he wants to separate the paramilitary police from the police service. He will draft a bill and pass it to the National Assembly and once the latter passes it, that’s all. Also, no sensible country in the world will give its police guns. It’s only special paramilitary forces like the MOPOL that should carry guns. They have different training from the regular police, who are just supposed to be patrolling communities and gathering intelligence. Guns should not be used by everyone out there.
Recently, the Minister of Defence, Major General Bashir Magashi (retd.), asked the citizens to rise up and defend themselves against bandits. Can this happen if the citizens don’t have guns?
If I were the President, I would sack the Minister of Defence. I’m telling you, I would sack him because he’s making a joke of this situation. He’s behaving like a comedian. If he knew his job, he wouldn’t utter that nonsense. I want to believe that he was joking when he made the comment. But for making such a joke out of a serious issue, I would sack him if I were the President. How would schoolchildren rise up and defend themselves when they are being kidnapped? Statements like that don’t make us look serious outside. What Nigeria needs right now is for the National Security Adviser to set up a committee that will reorganise the security architecture of the country. Part of the reorganisation should be separating the paramilitary police from the police service. Once you overhaul the whole security architecture, everything will fall into place. For example, we have the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps. Ask the people about the job of the civil defence; many people don’t know. That is why there is a need for the reorganisation of the security architecture for better efficiency of the security agencies. We are spending so much on these agencies and yet the safety situation is not improving.
Amotekun was created by South-West states to protect their citizens from, particularly criminal herdsmen. Do you think they can do their job effectively without carrying sophisticated guns?
Sure. I’m very sure. If the herders’ problem is solved in the South-West, what is left? Perhaps, armed robbery, which is meant to be tackled by the paramilitary police. What needs to be done is that a communication link should be set up between the Amotekun and the Mobile Police. If Amotekun is working properly with the communities, before anything happens, they will know. Since they live within the communities and don’t wear uniforms, nobody will know who they are and they will be able to gather intelligence. So they don’t need to carry any weapons.
There are some people calling for the President to either resign or be impeached due to his handling of the safety challenges. What is your take on such calls?
The issue is that this will not solve the problems at hand. Does it mean that once he automatically reigns or he is impeached, the challenges will automatically disappear? You see, the same people creating problems now won’t disappear. What the President needs to do is to carry out the overhaul of the security agencies. The heads of the security agencies should also tell him what he needs to know. The governors should also do more so most of these problems can be solved.
The Fulani herdsmen-farmers crisis seems to be a never-ending security issue. How can the government best tackle the herders-farmers crisis?
As I said before, the solution is to reorganise the security architecture. If this had been done a long time ago, we wouldn’t be where we are now, because before any crisis escalates, it will have been stopped. But maybe because some people are satisfied with the status quo, that is why nothing is being done. That is why they will keep saying they need more money, but has more money improved the situation?
What is your word of advice for the new service chiefs?
I want them to focus on tackling the insurgency in the North-East and forget about banditry and the like. The service chiefs should also work with the police for excellent results. They also need to improve intelligence efforts and give the army more resources to do their job.
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