By Kingsley Omonobi, Abuja.
Mike Ejiofor is a former Director in the Department of State Security (DSS). In this interview, he speaks on the herdsmen menace.
The country is facing multiple security challenges presently. As someone who traversed the country and performed security services at the highest level, what is your take and how can we overcome them?
When the present administration came into power, it was contending with the issue of Boko Haram which had been on the table. Luckily enough, the government is overcoming that challenge. Though it is the government’s position that Boko Haram has been technically defeated, we are contending with the spillover.
We still have pockets of explosions and suicide bombings, but I believe that government has made tremendous success in terms of checkmating Boko Haram. Meanwhile, I think the greatest challenge we are facing now is the issue of militiamen. I won’t want to call them herdsmen, I look at them as another set of Boko Haram militants because, going by their trade and antecedents, nobody has made any report of missing cows before the attacks.
But you see a situation where people will just go to a particular town and wreak havoc. It started from the North-Central. The recent stories are there of Agatu where over 500 people were killed and the attack in Enugu. We even have cases of herdsmen’s attacks in Delta, Ogun, Ondo, etc. So this thing is spreading and I believe it is going beyond the cattle rearers or herdsmen, it is more than that.
Now, I want to suggest that the Federal Government takes urgent step, through the Inspector General of Police and the Chief of the Defence Staff, to ensure that the perpetrators of the Enugu incident are brought to book. As we speak, no arrest has been made and, again, I am not comfortable with the way government is handling the situation. I want to suggest that the President makes a national broadcast. This is not an issue of delegating committees; this is a very critical national challenge that must be addressed by Mr. President before we start talking of tackling the spread of the militants.
I don’t want to call them herdsmen and I insist that they are not herdsmen. We have lived with herdsmen over time and I know occasionally they attack farms, but now we have a situation where women are raped, towns are attacked, houses are destroyed and burnt. These people are walking around with sophisticated weapons; they are armed with AK 47, so they can’t be herdsmen.
One of the campaign promises of the Buhari administration ahead of the elections was security and people are beginning to question this promise. Even the body language of the President is not giving the impression that this administration is ready to do anything about these herdsmen’s clashes.
I won’t say that he isn’t addressing the issue of security. Don’t also forget that even the elections were postponed for six weeks to enable government acquire arms which I believe was done. But Nigerians haven’t been told what quantity of arms were bought and, if they didn’t buy the arms, what are they fighting with now because I believe that, while the previous administration bought arms, the only difference now is that, if you look at the service chiefs, the President was careful about the appointments.
He appointed people from the affected areas, like the Chief of the Army Staff which, to an extent, changed the dynamics of the fight against insurgency by boosting the morale of the troops. The National Security Adviser is also from Borno. So, I think the President did well in those appointments because, in the previous administration, the then Chief of the Army Staff was accused of genocide but nobody can accuse the present Chief of the Army Staff of genocide because he can’t deliberately go and kill his own people.
So it is the morale booster that helped in fighting Boko Haram and that accounts for the success achieved so far. But, talking generally, you will agree with me that we have more security challenges which are self-inflicted because if some of the issues are addressed in time, we won’t have some of the challenges. Some of the security challenges we are having can be addressed holistically: for example, the one involving the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra. This can be resolved politically. How? Get the political leaders in the South-East, the governors, religious leaders call these youths who have not witnessed war before and don’t know the implication of war; ask them what are their problems so that government can address them. But when you try to sweep the problems under the carpet and say nothing will happen, it will come to a stage that the problems will become unmanageable. The issues of herdsmen is the same thing. Government must initiate action to establish the people behind this act. Mr. President needs to look at the issues critically and address the people on what government is doing.
Many Nigerians are of the view that the Presidency, the security chiefs are toying with what these people are doing?
I want to approach it from the point where Nigerians suffer generally from the activities of these militants. Not long ago, if you can recall, trailer loads of arms and ammunition were intercepted in Aba and Port Harcourt and it was alleged that they belonged to Boko Haram members. As we speak, now no one has been informed about the outcome of that investigation. So the possibility of fleeing Boko Haram members infiltrating other parts of the country because of the intensity of the war against the terrorists, and the tendency of them moving down South can’t be ruled out. You will also recall that about two weeks ago, there was an interception of some alleged herdsmen here in Abuja. Two truckloads, one in Gwagwalada, one in Keffi were intercepted; these can’t be herdsmen. They were intercepted with sophisticated weapons and charms.
What we are facing is a serious challenge. The issue of terrorism is not one you can just sweep under the carpet. There are different phases; if you are overcoming the issue of Boko Haram, another phase can just come and that is what I suspect. I want our security agencies to look in that direction. It is instructive and curious that after all these attacks, no arrest has been made. That is why I want to support Mr. President’s decision directing the IGP and the Chief of the Defence Staff to fish out the culprits of the killing of people in Enugu in particular because there is no way you would look at it without political or ethnic colouration especially with the activities of MASSOB and IPOB attracting so much attention.
Another issue is that of the Department of State Services going into areas many people think are outside of its mandate. We have instances where DSS went to Government Houses to ransack the premises whereas the law says governors have immunity. We have also had an instance of the DSS going to the hallowed chamber of a state assembly to arrest people. Is this how the DSS is supposed to operate?
Unfortunately I want to be excused in answering the question concerning the DSS and what they are supposed to do. As a journalist, you have access to the DSS. I think that question should be directed to the appropriate authority. I am not in the position to comment on that.
The present administration has been accused of making promises. Almost one year after it came into office, not one promise has been met. Even the issue of corruption that they are fighting is neither there nor here. Do you think this is the best way to fight corruption?
The fact remains that government is committed to fighting corruption. But while it is fighting corruption, people should be aware. Though they usually talk about undoing the misdeeds of the former government, nobody is ready to listen to that any more. The government promised change, I am not a politician, I speak from the point of security; the economic crisis in Nigeria is even another big challenge. Some people have gone to occupy the National Assembly on the grounds that the Senate President’s case is political and all that, so we don’t need to heat up the polity. What the average Nigerian is interested in is food on the table; there is no light, no fuel, no money.
We pray that the President and the National Assembly will resolve their impasse and pass the budget so that we can see if there would be any difference in the life of the average Nigerian. That is what we are interested in. Whether Saraki is jailed or he is freed doesn’t concern most Nigerians. What they are concerned about is the promised change. We need change, positive change. Let me give you a story. One of my friends told me the story when we were talking about change. He said it is like a man who went and deceived a woman that she should come out of her husband’s house and made different promises to her, that he will take (the woman) to Dubai, buy her a limousine and other goodies. In the end, the woman left her husband and followed him and the woman was now asking,
‘What about all the promises you made to me? You said you would take me to Dubai, you would buy me Rolls Royce’. And the man now asked her, ‘Did your former husband buy those things for you?’ And she now replied, ‘If my former husband didn’t buy those things for me, you would have left me with my husband’; it is just an analogy. So the issue remains that promises have been made, it might be difficult to fulfil some of those promises, but government owes us the responsibility to explain why they can’t meet those promises because as long as the people continue to hold government to those promises that aren’t being met, they will continue to grumble.
So what is the way out; there is also an issue of farmlands and grazing. How do we go about it?
The issue of grazing bill, the National Assembly is denying that there is nothing lke that. Well, nobody lies any more because the social media will expose you. Everybody has the video that the bill is before the National Assembly. That is one major challenge. That bill is dead on arrival. Nobody is going to pass it because you don’t expect me to surrender my land to any other person except government and for public interest. We have gone beyond cattle rearing. Cattle rearing is not the problem but if this government insists on establishing grazing reserves or ranch, I would suggest that since the war against Boko Haram is being won in the North-East, we should convert the whole Sambisa forest to grazing land and put military bases there so that they don’t have insurgents attacking them.
I want to repeat that the attacks going on in various places are not connected to cattle rearers; it goes beyond that and I want the government to look into that and I want our security agencies to investigate and establish the connection between fleeing Boko Haram and what is going on in the country.
Still on the herdsmen and fleeing Boko Haram members, how come our security services aren’t able to use intelligence and new equipments, said to have been acquired, to track them?
I think one of the leaders, Al-Barnawi, was arrested in Lokoja recently; so I believe, with this arrest, a lot of debriefing would have taken place. But like I have always said, if you defeat the local Boko Haram, what about the international Boko Haram? Boko Haram, if you recall, is affiliated to ISIS. They declared allegiance to ISIS, how do you think they get arms? That reminds me, I am not very sure of the date now; I think the US Commander of the African Command recently intercepted some arms coming to Chad and to Nigeria, to Boko Haram. So we believe arms are still coming to Nigeria for Boko Haram. We need to man our borders. Some people argue that these herdsmen in quote are not Nigerians. So how did they come into Nigeria when we have the Multi-national Joint Task Force at the borders? These are the issues I want our security agencies to handle. Security is the collective responsibility of everybody. So if you have leads or information, pass it on to them like we are doing now. I believe they will work on it and look at these directions which are very important.