Col. Francis Okosun, retd, social commentator and security expert in this interview, answers questions on security issues in the country including Boko Haram, herdsmen menace and gave kudos to the Buhari regime for launching Operation Whirl Stroke to tackle the challenges of herdsmen.
By Chioma Gabriel, Editor, Special Features
THIS regime came into power with a change mantra which many Nigerians embraced but today, many Nigerians are worried about how things are going especially security wise. To what would you attribute the security issues bedevilling the country?
Security-wise, we have the desired change. I will look at it from where we were and where we are now. I want to make certain points clear. I am apolitical, I am a detribalized Nigerian who is desirous of a better country. We were in a situation where things got so bad, particularly, our existential circumstances. We had a serious threat to our nationhood because of insurgency in the northeast and they were pushing down towards Adamawa and Taraba .tates . Only God knows what would have happened if the drift wasn’t arrested
Was it indeed arrested?
Yes, the drift was arrested. Speaking professionally, it was arrested because so many local governments were annexed and the caliphate flag hoisted in them but that was stemmed and pushed back. To that extent, I would say we avoided having a wider spread. The reasons and circumstances attending these are not for us to discuss now.
Let’s talk about them
They captured those territories because they were able to do so. I don’t know why they did so because I wasn’t in the fighting line but I can tell you that after these territories were captured and this regime came, they were able to stop the drift of insurgency.
But that drift was stemmed even during the Jonathan regime. The insurgents were pushed out of some of the local government which were recovered?
If the drift was arrested then, they did not take back all the territories but the territories have been taken back now to the extent that civil authorities have been established in all those local governments areas which Boko Haram annexed. That was not done at the Jonathan regime .
Several times, the Nigerian military said it has conquered Boko Haram but only recently, the United Nations countered that by saying insurgency has not been tackled in Nigeria. As a matter of fact, the problem of insecurity is spreading. You now have herdsmen menace added to it.
We started talking about Boko Haram and I said the Nigerian Government stemmed the drift. Herdsmen are a different issue. When we talked about Boko Haram, I didn’t say the military conquered the insurgents. I said they have been able to render them incapable of carrying out attacks as they used to. I think the word Lai Mohammed used was degrading Boko Haram. Now, I want us to understand the kind of war we are fighting. We are fighting asymmetrical warfare. We are not fighting a conventional warfare. I will make distinction. When you fight a conventional warfare, you are dealing with an enemy that you can identify. If you are fighting, for instance with an enemy in Ghana, because you have a desk in the Ministry of External Affairs, National Intelligence Agency, NIA or the military intelligence, they would be able to tell you that the enemy has their headquarters there, this brigade there, this battalion there, the naval base there, the air stations there. With that, you are able to plan a possible apprehensive or defensive operation. But when you have terrorism, as you have right now, and indeed anywhere in the world you had terrorist activities, it is difficult to predict or go after them the way you do in conventional war. That is the difference.
So, you are saying that compared to the past, the Buhari regime has been able to contain security issues in Nigeria?
I said stemmed the drift.
This is not just about Boko Haram
It’s not. There are many dimensions of security challenges. And if you ask, there are areas the military should come in. There are areas the external affairs, the National Intelligence Agency and Department of State Services should come in. Now, are they doing what they should do? That is for these services to address, to answer.
There is no doubt that security has taken the centre stage in the past year or two and that is the situation which we have at hand which should be addressed. I want us to see it as such and not a time to apportion blame because even the civil populace has a part to play in intelligence gathering through avoidance of hate speeches, ethnicity, religiousity and all those .
So, what do you think should be done to stop the escalation of activities of herdsmen?
Alright, did you read the release of Defence Headquaters? Let me explain it. They launched this operation, Operation Whirl Stroke which is distinct from Lafiya Dole and Exercise Python Dance. Python Dance that was launched in the southeast was an exercise, not an operation. An exercise is meant to train with an aim of being able to solve a perceived problem. An exercise is meant to be a confidence building endeavour. Python Dance in the southeast, Crocodile Smile in the creeks and Lagos area are different. If you see the current exercise that America carried out with South Korea, the essence of that is to send a message to North Korea.
It was not an operation, it was an exercise. So, Python Dance was meant to address perceived challenges at a time as distinct from an operation. I have been part of exercises to see what they are meant for as distinct from an operation which is meant to manoeuvre forces to fight an enemy or an aggressor as we have in the northeast and as established recently.
The exercise, Whirl Stroke is a simultaneous deployment of fighting elements in three, four states but three in the first instance. Benue, Nassarawa and Taraba states. In this instance, they are not deployed to fight the way Boko Haram fight is going on. It is to deal with Fulani herdsmen or herders as we call them. Their work is to establish firm bases simultaneously as against sequentially.
With what we have now in Benue, Taraba and Nassarawa, they would carry out patrols and where they are able to locate these people, they isolate that place and deal with it. That is how the government or the military has decided to deal with herders problem. That is the direct answer to your questions as against the northeast where they have Lafiya Dole and two divisions were created and they have a theatre commander to deal with Boko Haram.
So you believe that government is responding well to the security challenges?
As a Nigerian, yes.
We were told that these herders were the people armed by the Late Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. That means they are strangers. Why don’t we destroy them completely especially with the way they operate, occupying the highways, even on Lagos-Ibadan expressway?
Have you ever heard, has anybody ever reported to you about the Boko Haram or herdsmen on Lagos – Ibadan express way?
Don’t you hear about killings on Lagos-Benin high way and others? Didn’t you hear how herdsmen dealt with Chief Olu Falae?
Are you talking about kidnapping as a security challenge or about herdsmen as kidnappers?
Herdsmen are also kidnappers, rapists, armed robbers and cold-blooded murderers. They are everything, destroying communities to occupy. They are into many things.
I should also state something, that in any warfare, whether internal security or conventional, there is propaganda. Not too long ago, I got a message that Boko Haram slaughtered a lot of people on Benin expressway and they sent photos of the alleged carnage to my phone. Meanwhile, the previous day, I had sent a parcel to the village and expected a response. I wondered because if any such thing happened, the commissioners of police in the affected states would have issued a corroboration. Rather, what we saw later was a denial of the reported Boko Haram attack. I’m not saying there is no disturbance to public peace or kidnappings and raids on peoples property. What I’m saying is that some of these things are being overdramatised. Cattle herders are not worse that Evans who had been kidnapping a lot of people and collecting ransom in dollars. He caused so much pain to so many people and now, the man was finally arrested. Kidnapping is evil. Kidnapping is a security challenge. The way to deal with kidnapping is to have security agencies arrest such people and prosecute them. But we have a legal system that makes prosecution not easy . I would not sit down here and say that government is escalating security challenges in the country.
Nobody is saying so but the government seems laid back in tackling the issues head-on. Government should crush herdsmen like they crushed IPOB in the South east?
I think we have to be careful not to bring in sentiments here. I am a detribalized Nigerian and I speak all the Nigerian languages. I was born in Onitsha. I am a son of a policeman and I’m a soldier. The case of IPOB is outright treason. If I had my way to deal with the Boko Haram or herders, I will deal with them the best way I know how. If I had my way to deal with IPOB, I will deal with it the best way I know how. I was born at the civil war time and was little when the war was fought but I grew up and saw the menace of war.
War is an evil wind that blows nobody any good and having served in the eastern part of the country, I saw the relics of war and how it dragged back the people from that part of the country and then, you see somebody coming fifty years later to talk about secession, to talk about Biafra. That is ill-advised. On Januarey 16, 1970, General Phillip Effiong, PC Amadi and others came to Dodan Barracks and were marched by Col. Obasanjo to General Gowon to pronounce that the Republic of Biafra has ceased to exist and submitted all the insignia of Biafra and the Federal Government at the time proclaimed, no victor, no vanquished. Now, if anybody at this time comes up with Biafra again, the person should be arrested, tried and jailed. I insist on that. We are now a country and to declare another country within Nigeria is treason.
Soviet Union has been divided into three or more countries. Some places in the UK are asking for their own country, even in the United States and Spain. Nobody was arrested or jailed?
The countries that got separated did so by a referendum. The country called Nigeria was not like them. The Bakassi area in Southern Cameroon was excised as a result of a referendum. The Sardauana province in the North said they will stay with Nigeria and they remained. There was a plebiscite. My father went for that operation in Southern Cameroon. The way to go about a referendum is not to fly another flag in a sovereign country. That is not the way it is done. Treason is a crime and that is what Kanu is being tried for. You cannot say you are another country in a sovereign country. You don’t play politics with certain things and I wonder how many people from his side of the country would come out to own what he was doing. Even the man who signed his bail opted out of it.
In the past, as a way of tackling these issues, the idea of state police was mulled and some people were beginning to say yes to it until President Buhari said no. What do you think of State Police?
Growing up, I knew there was state police and the local government police. In the north, there was the native authority police. I saw state police but it was jettisoned because it was being used for other things other than community policing. The local government police, we had it in the west, up to the mid-west.
Idea of state police
They were mis-used and so, some of them were absorbed into the Nigerian Police Force and the idea of state police was jettisoned. If we decide to create state police, fair and good. Anything that will bring better policing, I will subscibe to it. But is it enough to say let’s create state police? How do you fund such? A state like Osun State that is owing salaries and when they pay, they pay percentages of the salaries, how do they fund a state police? Take another state like Kogi, it is owing 15-17 months salaries.
To police my local government in Edo State, you need about 150 police men and that will even be skeletal. One policeman in full marching order, kitting, equipment and accomodation is not a child’s play. You don’t set up what you cannot maintain. Then, you now have Governor A in party A coming up. Of course they will crush the opposition in the state. If we get to that stage where we can effectively sustain a state police force, okay. But as things stand, we cannot. That is the truth. The states cannot run police services, they don’t have the resource. Many of the states cannot survive without federal allocation. Even with the federal allocation, states are not able to meet basic needs.