’Conference of elders should be convened now’
By Charles Kumolu, Deputy Editor
The orgy of violence witnessed last week in Nigeria and its attendant deaths were such that increased tension across the land.
At the last count, no fewer than 98 people, including security agents, lost their lives at the hands of Boko Haram, kidnappers, bandits, arsonists and herdsmen in the last seven days. Concerned by the situation, Col Samuel Agbede, retd, in this interview, says government must stop being partisan on security matter s, saying a summit of statesmen should be convened urgently to deliberate on way forward. The retired army officer also examines the role of the military, saying the issue is now beyond what kinetic action alone can address.
The rise in insecurity in the North-East, North-West, North-Central, South-East and some parts of South-South, suggests that security agencies are becoming overwhelmed. As a retired military officer, would you suggest a change of tactics or…
Security agencies are facing the challenge of inadequate manpower. That the problem is arising from every nook and cranny of the country is a tragedy. I can’t see any army in the world that can put itself in every nook and cranny of its country to defend it. It is not possible. The problem has become so complex that the army cannot be everywhere at the same time.
You cannot deploy the military to every nook and cranny of this country. As things are, the problem is everywhere. Can you deploy the military to every town and village? It is well to say if there is a problem in point A, you deploy soldiers there. But if the problems are arising simultaneously as they are arising now, what do you expect? You can’t kill them.
There is nothing they can do other than keep on trying because insurgency is a terrible challenge for any country to face. For instance, the UK had a problem with the IRA, up until today, the embers of it still exist. The UK used force but force didn’t work. Nigeria is a vast country.
That is why many people are saying we should restructure so that each component of the federation would have a level of authority to manage security. But when you put the command of the entire nation in one man’s hand called the Inspector General of Police, IGP, who is answerable to a cabal, you are wasting your time.
The governors, who are called the chief security officers of their states, need security themselves. You could recall that a governor’s security details were withdrawn during the regime of Jonathan. That is the product of overconcentration of power.
Are you saying that instead of having boots on the ground across the country, priority should be given to achieving a restructured Nigeria?
Our present governance structure cannot allow for proper security in the country. We must restructure to be able to secure every nook and cranny of the country. Our diversity is known to the whole world. That is why we need to sit down and think of proper management.
One man cannot sit down in one place and secure the whole country. That is impossible. I don’t just know the type of political system we are running in this country. If we are claiming it is the American model, we know the amount of power each state in America has.
If it is parliamentary, we know how the UK operates and the kind of security architecture they have. If it is not any of the two, where are we? What type of system are we practicing? We can’t continue like this. You can deceive the people, but not all the time. We must sit up now and put up our thinking cap. We should leave politicking and aggression to amass territories.
And the territories belong to other people. How can you wake up, come to peoples’ places and say that you now own the place? I don’t know anywhere such happens in the world. We have the problem of diversity and we are not addressing it. I know countries in the world that sat down to discuss their future for peace to reign.
We have been together for over 100 years, let’s sit down and talk. I am for unity. But unity in diversity could be a much better thing. We can still be brothers if people are allowed some breathing space and have a say in the way they are being governed. We can still be brothers if people are allowed to have peace in their domain.
But if you are depriving everybody of peace, then everybody would be getting frustrated. You could imagine what happened in Benue, I was close to tears. Such a thing should not be happening. You drove people away from their homes, you drove them away from their farmlands, they were kept in isolated camps and you went to the camp and started killing them. What sort of country is this?
To a lot of Nigerians, it is either the federal government has run out of ideas on how to tackle insecurity or lacks what it requires to restore normalcy. What do you advise the government to do?
If this government will listen, if they will listen, there are still elders in this country to be called for a conference on the way forward. Let government put aside politics and address the real issues affecting Nigeria right now. I don’t know what nomenclature they will use, they have to talk about what is going on now. They have to.
They have no choice. Otherwise, we are descending into total anarchy. We are no longer far from Rwanda. The Rwandan experience is fresh in our memories. And that is where we are gradually heading to. Imagine what is happening in the South-East where their leader was killed. The killing will never solve the problem. It will only exacerbate the problem.
The Benue people are now threatening self-defense. The South-West is not yet as bad as other areas but we are sitting on a keg of gunpowder. I just pray this government listens. Putting the armed forces and the services in this type of situation is very unfortunate because there is no way they would be able to manage this type of situation. They cannot perform any miracle in the circumstances they found themselves in. Nigeria does not produce its arms.
But there is the Defence Industry in Kaduna…
What do they produce? Do they produce AK47? In my days when I was in the military, it was much more effective than the present time. I am saying the cost of our governance has taken away a large percentage of our budget. The cost of servicing our foreign debt is about a bigger percentage of our national budget. Where is the money going to come from? We have wonderful brains. You may want to know in Oyo State a young man is trying to develop artificial intelligence, is he going to be encouraged? He can’t fund it alone. He needs government, but will government support him? They are concerned about 2023. Is that the way out when people are dying daily?
Students are being kidnapped in school and they get killed nearly on a daily basis. Nigeria is between the blue sky and the deep sea. At this point, what we need is a people-friendly government. We need a government the people can trust.
Are you saying Nigeria doesn’t need a military solution to the ongoing nationwide killings by non-state actors…
I can emphatically say no because we haven’t got the technology for that. I just talked about a young man in Oyo State who is trying to develop artificial intelligence. We don’t have the type of government that will embrace and support the development of such. Our people would rather prefer to buy arms overseas and the buyers would never sell the best of their equipment to us. The sophisticated equipment we ordered from America hasn’t come. What would happen between now and when it comes, no one knows. And we cannot produce our own.
We are only using our resources to fund other countries’ armaments. If anybody is looking for a military solution to this problem, I doubt if that solution will come. There is no military solution to this problem. We have to act fast by decentralizing the system so that people would start ensuring discipline in their environment. In those days when we had regions, we were better managed. If this government insists we are going to remain like this, I pray we do not get to the point of Burundi and Rwanda.
What beats the imagination of people is that in your days the Nigerian Army was one of the best in Africa, but today, agents of destabilization are running riot across the country. In Borno, Boko Haram is gaining territories. In Niger State, Boko Haram and bandits are literally in charge…
Are our soldiers not applying the military solution? Haven’t you heard that the Army Super Camp was invaded by bandits?
These insurgents are so sophisticated that they have drones that they use in monitoring the movement of the military. How do you want to compare a military supper camp of 200 men with 500 people coming to attack them? How do you expect them to cope? They have to retreat if they want to fight again. The insurgents are said not to be Nigerians. ISIS and ISWAP members are coming from different countries in the Sahel. And they are being funded by us because the ransom they get from kidnapping is used to fund their operations. Where do we go from there? Do you know the number of troops that have been killed in Niger State? It is not that the military does not have presence there.
It is just that their presence is not significant enough to handle the challenge in the area. If it is not Zamfara, It is Yobe, Kaduna, Katsina, Borno and other places. That is why we should pray government listens and convenes a general conference on what we want as a people. We have to agree on the way we want to run this nation. You can’t say it must be governed the way you want it.
We may continue losing military personnel because insurgency is a difficult thing to handle anywhere in the world. If we were fighting conventional warfare, you can say our military is the best in the world therefore, we can handle them. A situation where people knock at peoples’ doors to whisk away their wives and husbands is another dimension.
The President asked the US to relocate AFRICOM to Africa. That was on the heels of calls on him to seek foreign help if Nigeria must defeat the current security challenges. What is your take?
I will call seeking foreign help a temporary measure. The important thing is to win the hearts of the people. The issue of mercenaries is very dicey because they are just paid servants. They do what they are engaged to do just because of their money. They are not loyal to you and do not care about that. The issue of the US government coming to the aid, there is no free lunch anywhere.
We must do something in return. I don’t believe any foreign assistance is going to be free. Whether Nigeria can afford their terms and conditions is another issue. It is a good idea because they can bring their technology. They can stay on the high sea and start picking out these people, terrorists and bandits, from their locations. They won’t give us their equipment, but their presence will reduce the level of insecurity.
Nigeria is clearly on the edge…
Government should stop politicizing security. This is not about ethnicity, it is about Nigeria. The idea that someone’s ethnic ambition is what has to be pursued has to stop permanently. There is no need for the members of the National Assembly to gather and get involved in bellicosity when we know that we know we need to sit down now and talk about the structure of Nigeria.
You cannot claim to be a Nigerian when your presence does not count in many directions. As a human being, I believe in fairness. And you can never have justice when there is no fairness. When you have no justice, you can never have peace.
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My heart bleeds at the level of national resources we are wasting on insurgency. It is so huge that it is destabilizing our progress, our development and our goals. It is terrible and unfortunate. Out there, things are getting so bad that I don’t know how the masses will survive. Insecurity is affecting the economic life of everybody.
Money is no longer there and we keep on borrowing, mortgaging ourselves and our future generation because of this worthless fight going on everywhere in the country. I called it a worthless fight because it has no meaning for people to come from God knows where to say they want to take over your land. Why would anyone even contemplate such a thing?
You would leave your side of the country for another person’s area just to take over the person’s land. It beats my imagination. Government ought to know that it is for everybody. When Buhari was sworn in in 2015, he said he was for nobody and he is for everybody. Nobody believes that statement anymore. This issue needs to be addressed now.
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