*’Why Nigeria is not winning war against terror’
*Speaks on ‘Inside The Church of Satan’
By EBELE ORAKPO
Dr Lionel Von Frederick Rawlins, a forensic criminologist, is the Security Coordinator at the American University of Nigeria, Yola and the President and founder of California, US-based The VonFrederick Group, a counter-terrorism and criminological organisation. Rawlins has worked in Europe, Africa, Asia, Central and South America, the Middle East and the Far East, in the capacity of a counter-terrorist and criminologist.
Prior to founding the VonFrederick Group, he was an adjunct professor of Criminal Justice and Criminology, Sociology, Ethnic Studies, Physics, Chemistry, and History. He has also lectured at Gakushuin University, in Tokyo, Japan. Rawlins who served as a US Marine, was a Marine Corps Drill Instructor in South Carolina, an NCO Academy Instructor in Japan and an Officer Candidates School Instructor at Quantico, Virginia.
In this interview in Yola, Adamawa State, the author of ‘Satanic cults and ritualistic crimes: Fact or fiction?’ speaks on various issues bordering on crime, war and terrorism. He says the Boko Haram insurgency has gone beyond religion, politics and ideology. Rawlins spoke as terror peaked in the country last week with the Nyanya bombing that killed scores and the abduction of school girls in Borno State.
Who is Dr. Lionel Rawlins?
Dr. Lionel Rawlins is a small boy from St. Kitts, a small island in the Caribbean. You have to always remember that because I am proud of my country. Being here, by the way, in Yola, Nigeria, makes me feel at home because everywhere I look, I see people who look like the people of my country.
What is your background like… educational and otherwise?
My background essentially is more military than anything else. I was a US marine for many years and I was recruited for intelligence and went to work for the US government. Between being a marine and my subsequent jobs, I was able to develop and learn a lot of things, a lot of skills relating to the military.
That is where I got most of my stuff from. Now in terms of education, I have been lucky and blessed to go to school and studied a variety of subjects. I have a degree in criminology, forensic science as well as business management with focus on leadership.
So what brought you to the American University of Nigeria?
When Professor Margee Ensign became the President of AUN in July 2010, she realised that the security situation here was not so good, it was not as bad as it is now, but she was able to see that things may deteriorate and she felt that the security outfit there was not adequate to protect her, the students and staff as most of the officers at that time were outsourced.
Most of the security officers could neither read nor write; they were poorly paid if they were ever paid so they were easily corrupted by students, faculty and staff. The President noticed that and called me to come and take a look and see what we could do.
I came several times and in the end, I told her that we needed to do something revolutionary, something that had never happened before, that is, to create a private security force for the university; this was unheard of in Africa, it had never been done because everyone outsourced, you hire people.
When I brought it up to her, there were some people who did not want it but, in the end, she decided that was what she wanted and she listened to me. The plan was that I would train the personnel, turn the outfit over to the university and go back to the US but after I finished training 350, I had to stop to make sure that it is working. It took three years to make sure that it is working.
Right after that, the Boko Haram attacks started to take place; so my time here was more than in the US. I found myself spending more time in Yola, than anywhere else and that is why I am here. And then the place started growing.
You’ve been to all the hot spots in the world… from Iraq to Syria, Afghanistan, Congo, Rwanda etc. What has been the experience?
The experience has been bitter-sweet. It is good and bad. I see it and I know what it is. I know what the experience feels like. It is bad because people are dying on both sides. War is ugly, war is bad; war is not good and if anybody could avoid going to war, then they should and I know there are a lot of people who will jump up and say, ‘let us go to war, let’s go fight; let’s go and kick somebody,’ but what it comes down to if you are ever at war, you will never make those statements because war is not good.
It has nothing to do with how good you are; it has to do with how lucky you are. For example, one time in Iraq, I was in a vehicle that was going down a road, following three other vehicles. I was in number four vehicle and two of them in the front ran over a roadside bomb which just blew up and killed everyone inside those vehicles; all great men, very good marines, very good military men.
I was supposed to be in one of those vehicles blown up had I come out earlier. But when I came out of the room to join the vehicles, the first three were already full; so I ended up in the fourth vehicle. War is not a thing I will wish upon anyone and if the world leaders had ever fought a war, they will see that war is not good and we would have more peace because they will not want to put anybody through that.
How do you see the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria? Do you think the Nigerian government is handling it the way it should?
I think the government is doing its best to fight it. I don’t believe government will sit idly and watch these people kill Nigerians without feeling some kind of responsibility, feeling the pain that everybody else has been feeling. I know people will say government does not care but I don’t believe so. Anyone in power who sees that kind of carnage, that kind of macabre murders taking place has to feel something. What I will say is that they need help and they need support, not to bring in forces from outside to help them fight because the Nigerian military is capable of doing that.
I just think that people need to come and teach them how to take the fight to the aggressor. Look what they are doing in Kenya. Kenya brought in all these people to help them fight Al-Shabab. I mean, they realised that they need help and no man is an island. You cannot do it all alone. If you need help, ask for it and the rest of the world will come and help you, but Nigerians are very proud people and probably wouldn’t ask for help. But they only have to ask and they will send people. I can train and teach and do stuff to them.
But the fundamental thing is that government is responsible for the safety and welfare of citizens and any time the citizens are being killed or their welfare is being abused, government must take some kind of action; I believe that it has gone beyond the stage of just blaming government and politicians.
Some people believe that it is politically-motivated, may be it was and it started off that way; some believe it is religiously-motivated but I don’t know if that is true, I doubt it because Muslims are killing Muslims as well, not just Christians and non-Muslims; so if you want to look at it that way, it is a fallacy.
What I would say is that it has got to the point where Boko Haram is killing people because Boko Haram is now proving a point that it can kill and get away with it. It has gone beyond religion, politics and ideology. It is a belief: ‘I can kill people and I can get away with it and let me show you I can do it.’ That is what it is now. It is a showman thing. I know most people won’t think of that because they always believe it is religious or political.
May be it was at the beginning when they said they were formed by a governor; maybe it was religiously-motivated when they wanted to Islamise the North and bring in Sharia law; all these may be true but it has gone beyond that. It has reached the point of ‘Ï can kill you and there is nothing you can do,’ and they have proven it; so the more they do it, the more emboldened they become.
A case in point: Look at what they did or tried to do in Giwa Barracks, Maiduguri recently. They tried to take on a military base! That alone tells you that these people are so emboldened they don’t even care about attacking a military base where soldiers are with weapons. It has gone beyond the normal talk of politics, religion, ideology or corruption. It is now showmanship: ‘I can kill you if I want and there is nothing you can do.’
That’s my theory. If it was religion and they want to Islamise the North, they would capture people and try to convert them. They don’t do that. If it was politics, they won’t be killing politicians in different parties. If it was religious, why would they be killing religious leaders? If it was money, when they blow up banks, they would be taking all the money but they don’t. They may take some but they don’t go robbing banks all the time.
Yes, they do kidnap people which brings in very lucrative income. It is easier to kidnap people than rob a bank because robbing a bank involves blowing up things. The Nigerian government needs to bring in people to train and advise in intelligence-gathering, surveillance and special force training. I know they do have it but could never have enough. They also need to get support in terms of resources like weapons.
The people as well have got to work with the armed forces and give them information. If you know something or see something, say something to somebody; don’t just hold it and if you don’t feel safe giving it to the ordinary policeman or soldier, then go up the chain and call the highest man and give him the information. He will ensure that something happens.
Boko Haram insurgents started as a rag tag army but today, they seem to be very sophisticated in their mode of operation and many people are thinking that, perhaps, foreign soldiers from Chad, Niger etc., may have joined their ranks…
No, I wouldn’t say soldiers; they are insurgents from other countries. They are trained by Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabab and other groups. They send people here to train them. They also go for training and come back but you must remember, many terrorist groups are in this together and they don’t have problem training and supporting each other because they know that one day, they can call each other for help and when they do, they expect that you will come and help.
They may say ‘we need you to help us get Mali, and then you send people because they trained you, gave you funding and all the resources you need, so that was done for you to pay back. So, you are correct to say they got people to help them. There are times also that survivors report that people who came with Boko Haram to kill them were speaking a language they have never heard before; nothing out of Nigeria, so they could be French, Spanish, something from Mali, CAR, Kenya, etc. They know instinctively that it is not a Nigerian tongue which proves the fact that they bring in outsiders.
President Jonathan has been called names by people who feel he was not doing enough about the insurgency and when he decided to declare state of emergency in three north-eastern states, the same group started screaming blue murder, and then human rights groups keep accusing soldiers of human rights abuses when insurgents are killed. What is your take on that?
Very good question. You have these human rights groups who go out and try to find reasons why the army is abusing the people. I have never seen anyone of them go to Maiduguri to tell Boko Haram insurgents that what they are doing is bad. All the atrocities, violation of human rights, are against the sanctity of human life and they need to stop. They (human rights groups) don’t even speak out against Boko Haram but the moment the military over-extends its reach, they bring down kingdom come and start blaming the military for all the deaths.
Meanwhile, none of them was there when the fight took place, none of them was there to see how the soldiers had to fight to defend themselves. All they know is that many people died and so they blame it on the soldiers; it is wrong! It is just the liberalization of the world; they make liberal statements. I would equally like to see them condemn the insurgents, the same way that they write stuff about the military committing all these atrocities.
I am challenging all of these human rights groups to go and visit the Boko Haram people and tell them that what they are doing is wrong; go to Kenya and tell Al-Shabab that what they are doing is wrong or write about it. But they don’t, they write about those fighting the good fight. Now, I am not letting the military off the hook either; they have done some stuff that they probably should not do but it all comes down to training because when you are in a fire fight and adrenalin gets going, you get so pumped up and so hyped up that you will almost kill anything and anyone in front of you but that is where discipline and training come in.
Discipline and training are very good. You know it’s tough, once you get your fingers on the trigger, anything can happen but they are doing a good job; they are doing the best with what they have. They don’t want to die either; they are fighting a good fight but they are not trying to get killed. So many soldiers have wives, children, mothers, sisters and brothers, they want to come home alive; they do their very best to come back alive, it’s not as if they go and sit up there and say ‘kill me,’ no!
So we have to give the military the support that it needs and if you don’t give them that support, it is very demoralizing for the soldiers. It erodes their confidence and their morale to know that ‘I am fighting to defend you and then when Boko Haram insurgents are killed, you turn around and blame me, but when Boko Haram kill 50, you don’t say anything.’
You don’t go after them with the same force and the same venom; you don’t go after them like you go after the military when people are killed and to me, that is unfair. If you are going to do it, do it both ways. Tell the bad guys that what they are doing is wrong and tell the good guys as well that what they are doing is wrong when they go wrong.
The Governor of Borno State recently alleged that Boko Haram insurgents are better equipped than the Nigerian Army. Could that be true?
Yes and no. The military uses what they call Table of Organisation’s Weapons so essentially, if you are a soldier, your basic weapon is AK-47 unless you bring in the tanks or the artillery. When you see a Boko Haram guy, he’s got the rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) over his shoulder, two machine guns, AK-47 and a bunch of hand grenades. Soldiers don’t walk about with that. And when these people are walking about with all that kind of fire power, they can use it at will and indiscriminately so he may see a car and decide to use the RPG to blow it up when AK-47will do.
But he just wants to blast his way into the news or acknowledgement. So yes, to a large extent, they do have more fire power and better weapons than the average soldier. But if you want to compare them with an army command – brigade, battalion or division, which has tanks, armoured carriers, helicopters, artillery, cannons etc., the army has more but as individual fighters and detachments, they have far less fire power than the insurgents.
What’s your book: Satanic cults and ritualistic crimes: Fact or fiction? all about?
It was the thesis for my master’s degree in criminology. I was fascinated by cultism and Satanism, witchcraft, voodoo, juju and how they used to kill people. They never called it satanic murder. The Press would call it satanic murder but the court of law would not because there is no such thing in law. The court does not have any law that says it is a satanic, cult or juju murder.
I was fascinated by how these people would commit murder and keep it secret and no one knows and they get away with it. So in doing that, I had to go interview witches in the US, it’s a legitimate religion so they don’t mind telling people they are witches protected by the constitution. They go to the church of Satan and they are proud of it. I had to go the Church of Satan.
And what do they do there?
They didn’t do anything weird in front of me. To get in there, I had to apply and they interviewed me. You can’t just walk in because they don’t know who you are or what you want. After a couple of months of trying to get in, they finally let me. They worship like everyone else but instead of singing praises to God, they sing praises to Satan and the cross is turned upside down.
The singing was dark and evil but I wanted to interview many of them to see what actually they were about. The fact is, there are satanists, witches, juju, voodoo etc. They are all there. Many of them are fraudsters though. They defraud people out of their money but I would not tell people to be afraid to go out and do things because you are not going to find a bunch of people all around the world trying to kill you because Satan told them to.
You were the executive director of an NGO, a facility that houses teenage female gang-bangers involved in drugs, prostitution and extremely violent crimes, could you tell us about that?
Yes, I used to work in a facility in California where we have some female gangsters. They ranged from 12 to 18 years. It was a level 14 facility; level 14 is the highest facility and it only houses dangerous people and some of these girls were into killing. They could stab or shoot people; they were selling drugs and prostituting themselves.
They were like Boko Haram guys, they were such terrorists and they did not have any compunction killing people if they wanted to. For me, working with them as the head of the facility was to bring them out of that mind set of the gang and send them to school to get education, training and skill, re-civilise them into a way of thinking that by the time they turn 18, instead of going to prison, they can either go to college or go into society as productive persons.
It was a very difficult job because most of these girls came from homes where the mothers were also gang-bangers and other relations were gangsters and in the house they had guns, they would take them around in the cars where they shoot people so they would see these kinds of things and what do you think will happen to an eight-year old who just saw his uncle murder someone? After a while he starts feeling it’s funny but by the time he is 12 years old, he would have committed his first murder.
The courts would send them to this facility for us to work with them. Some of them have psychological problems, some were crazy and were taking psychotropic medication so the court rather than sending a 13-year-old to prison for attempted murder, would send them to this facility to try and turn their lives around. They give us one year to work with them and some of them would be here for two or three years.
So in one year, you are trying to change a 13-year-old who has been a gang banger all her life; you are trying to turn around 13 years of bad life in one year. The problem with all of that is that after certain point in time, you send them home to visit their families and if they go back home and see their mother smoking marijuana, the father or brother out there murdering people and the friends are smoking, shooting, looting and drinking, so they just end up coming back to the facility after the weekend, hyped up because now, everything you taught them have gone out the window so you are back to square one.
And the court says we should send them home because they want to reintegrate them into the family but it never worked because each time they got home and they see what was happening at home, whatever we taught them in the facility in the past three months went out the door. One wing of the facility had boys and the other wing had girls. The girls were more dangerous and more vicious than the boys. It may sound strange.
Why is that?
Women work on emotions and emotion could go up or down. A man is more balanced, he would want to show he is macho so he will do things to show he is bad. He may pick a fight with you and stab you or shoot you just to prove that he is bad but you might insult a woman right now, she may or may not fight you and in the night, while you are walking on the street, she confronts you with a knife or gun in her hand and blow your head up or stab you and cut you up so they are more cunning; they don’t fly off the handle or flare up like the men do.
They plan, plot it and carry it out. And also I think too, they have more of a reason to show people they are bad. They tend to think: ‘that I am a woman does not mean you should look down on me, I am just as bad as all of you. I am going to show you.
Not because I am 13, 14 or 15 years old, you are not going to use me for anything, don’t think I am weak or defenseless, I will show you I am not… so they have a reason to prove that they are bad. Women beat up each other more in the facility than men. So if you are a weaker woman, sooner or later, you will get really vicious because of the beatings you will get from other women, they will turn your life around so you have to become vicious. It was a good experience working with them for five years.
How successful was the programme?
It was successful. If I have to put a figure to it, I would say it was 20 per cent success and 80 per cent failure. Some people will say that if you save one life, you’ve done well but if you save one out of 100, you’ve failed. That’s the way I see it. One of them went to college and got a college degree, she got a job, had a family and turned her life around. To me that is success.
For most of the girls, if they don’t get killed, they went to prison or end up having children for different men, living in squalor in poor abandoned, rundown condemned building, unable to take care of the children; they depend on welfare cheque every month. To me, that is not success. And most of them will go back to practise what their mothers were doing when they were children.