‘Cooperation between nations will strengthen our hands’
By Jide Ajani
In this interview, Information Minister, Labaran Maku, explains the intricacies in the fight against terror and admonishes Nigerians to assist the Federal Government. He also says the war on terror is winnable. Excerpts:
The meeting in France: what can Nigerians expect to come out of it?
What is important, firstly, is that the meeting took place. And because the meeting took place, it has brought international attention and coordination against terror. We have maintained over the years that Boko Haram is a domestic terror group with an international network. It is operating the same way as we have seen the Taliban operate in Afghanistan, and as we have seen the terror groups on Pakistan, Yemen, Egypt and in Algeria. So, it is an international network terror group that we are fighting.
To succeed, we need international cooperation. The entire Sahel region of West Africa, stretching from Niger, Cameroun, Sudan to Central Africa, is a theatre of war and is being staged by terror groups. We are very happy that France is involved because France is very crucial because we have had a lot of cooperation from Chad, Niger, and to a certain extent, Cameroun. But that cooperation still needed to be worked on beyond just understanding but forces cooperation and information gathering and nations acting together and I believe that the Paris Summit has created a very good template for the enthronement of such a cooperation.
Was it that Cameroun was not fully on board with Nigeria or what?
Yes, the international task force which Nigeria established with the cooperation of Niger and Chad did not include Cameroun because that force has worked a lot in dealing with the insurgency. With Cameroun, the cooperation has been coming but not at the same level with what we’ve had with Niger and Chad.
But in recent times, the government of Cameroun has increased its cooperation and with the meeting in Paris, I want to believe that the cooperation would become even stronger to the extent that Cameroun would not just share information but would cooperate fully with Nigeria in this fight against terror. If terror groups run from Nigeria to Cameroun, we don’t expect them to find a safe haven. It means no place would be a haven for terrorists. If there is a threat from Cameroun to Nigeria, it is expected that Nigeria should rise and help out
How come Cameroun was not in the initial task force agenda?
What happened was that ECOWAS as a region, had an alliance when President Jonathan was the chair; there was a pact between ECOWAS countries. Cameroun was not part of it. But now that this terror has thrown Cameroun into the mix, it is expected that Cameroun should become a part of it and it is now expanding according to the realities on ground.
It was not as if Cameroun did not want to be involved or that Nigeria did not want to include Cameroun it. What is most important now is that we have the cooperation of the countries involved, including Cameroun.
What do we expect, in terms of physical response, particularly in the Alargano hills?
What we should expect now, even though we are beginning to receive help, is that a lot of the work is going to be done by the Nigerian armed forces. They have told us that they are not going to have boots on the ground but that they are going to give us technical assistance, the details of which are being worked out between our forces and those rendering the assistance.
As we move along, the issues would become clearer. The idea is not to advertise the efforts on television but to get results – we would give information as it becomes very necessary for public consumption. We have to be very cautious because the battle line is not defined and anybody can be in harm’s way.
Training and competence of our armed forces
Our armed forces are well trained and they are very competent. In fighting terror, it is not an engagement against a standing army where the lines are defined but this is our way and our armed forces are capable.
Which countries are involved, apart from France, USA and UK?
As we move forward, we expect more cooperation.
On their own part of this war, if there is a threat from Chad, Niger and Cameroun, we expect effective response from each of these countries. This cooperation is important.
Terrorism is now an international movement and it moves from country to country and with the Paris meeting, the boundaries would begin to shrink such that armed forces can inter-relate and work together to stop them.
How do we calm nerves in Nigeria regarding this issue?
There is also a need for us to understand the nature of this war. We are not fighting a standing army and it is worse in this instance because there is no battle line. This is an asymmetrical war where the terrorists hide among the people and cause havoc. They choose the time to strike. That international partners have come does not mean it would stop immediately. Mind you, there is an international coalition of forces in Afghanistan in the last 10 years and there is still terror in Pakistan; there has been a lot of work in Iraq, there is still terror.
Even in Somalia, USA was there but the people there are still grappling with the problem of terrorism. We believe that we should begin to win and gain ground but there is no guarantee that with this cooperation, terror will disappear. What we need to do as a nation, as a people is to unite behind the President of Nigeria to ensure that terrorism is contained and ultimately it is dealt with. A lot of information required to fight against terror would be provided by Nigerians.
It would require a change in the security architecture of the states and the local governments such that a lot of intelligence would be gathered at the state and local government levels. No matter the level of international cooperation, we cannot win the war if the citizens do not cooperate and help in the area of providing information and intelligence. Certainly, international cooperation would give us more technical assistance but the real information; the real intelligence would come from Nigerians.
Would you say Nigeria is at war?
Certainly, if what we are witnessing in the North-east is anything to go by, then we are definitely at war against insurgents. That is the way it is in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Egypt, it is war. In the North East of Nigeria, we are at war with the insurgents. We are in a state of war. That is why we believe that every voice must count and we have to be united. For so long as we are divided, the terrorists would thrive. It is because we have made it clear that this war is not between Muslims and Christians that is why we have not had the type of situations that the terrorists were hoping for. Nigerians are more patriotic now and as such they have refused to fall for the trick of the terrorists.
In the area of information management, how is government faring?
You know, there is a limit to the type of information that you give out. If we start giving every detail of the area where the terrorists’ attempts have been foiled; or where we have saved the day, Nigerians would begin to panic. But we are already exploring areas of cooperation between the military and journalists such that the journalists would relay to Nigerians what is happening there in the field.
But in the areas where the military have had to act discreetly, you cannot blame anyone for that.
Once Nigerians present a common front, coupled with the significant steps the President has taken, we are making progress.
How useful has the Nigeria Police acted in this war against terror?
The police are doing a lot of things. The war is being prosecuted by all the forces. The police have borne the brunt. A lot of the attacks that we have been able to stop came from Police intelligence and police action in different parts of the North East and North West and mind you, the Police have suffered more than any other arm of the forces in the course of this insurgency. The police have done a lot to protect Nigerians. The police have been frontally doing their best. We need to give them all the support we can, give them more information to help to defend us better.
Specifically, what do you say on the Chibok girls?
In terms of participation, the police have done their best in this war against terror. Nothing has offended our sensibilities as a people and as a nation that can be compared to the abduction of these girls in Chibok. The issue of girl-child education was a subject of international campaign and when the world now heard that girls were kidnapped in Nigeria, it made people rise. The real operation to get those girls free has been on.
What we suspect is that these girls may not be in the bush but in some areas of the city. And that is why we are appealing to Nigerians to ensure that every piece of information they can offer with a view to rescuing these girls should be provided. From all the intelligence we have gotten so far, these girls may be hiding amongst us so we need every citizen to volunteer information.
In the area of arms and equipment for Nigerian forces
A lot of the supplies that I am aware the armed forces have placed orders for have not arrived because these are not things you get at Oshodi or Wuse markets. This war is not about weaponry alone.
It is the nature of the war that has been part of the problem. Our forces have fought wars outside the shores of this country and we have always excelled. What we need now is the intelligence from our people to volunteer intelligence and help our forces to root out these criminals. If Boko Haram were to stand on one side and our forces are to stand on another side, the war would not last 30 minutes. What we need is every layer of support from all Nigerians. There is no better trained armed force in Africa than Nigeria; I can tell you that confidently on record.