Major General Garba Ayodeji Wahab (Retired) is graduate of the prestigious Royal College of Defence Studies, UK. Nicknamed ‘Sankara’ in the armed forces, he was highly revered for his abilities in the training of officers and men as well as his charisma. He was at several times, Principal Staff Officer to COAS, Director of Operations, Army Headquarters, General Officer Commanding (GOC) 1 Infantry Division, Kaduna, and Chief of Administration at Army headquarters. In this interview with Vanguard, he bares his expert opinion on the security challenges confronting the country, the war against Boko Haram, Herdsmen-Farmers crisis and some decisions of the present administration concerning spending of funds ($1billion) which has raised questions. He then suggests the way forward.
By Jide Ajani
HOW do you see the security situation in Nigeria presently and what do you think is the way forward out of it?
The security situation is not the best that anybody would hope for but I am an optimist and we are not the only country that is facing it; virtually every part of the world is facing one form of security challenge or the other. The only difference is that we tend to blame others, we are lackadaisical about what should be done and over a long period of time we have left a lot of things undone, which allowed other issues to crop up. For example the Boko Haram issue, when it started, we were all in denial that it is not possible for a Nigerian to put a bomb on himself and go out there to kill other Nigerians but now we have seen that it is possible and if we are not careful others are coming up.
Some of us refer to the herdsmen/farmers clashes as occupational clashes but we have failed woefully to look at what are the causes; where are these people coming from. Overall we’ve failed to learn from past experiences, past lessons. There are bench marks that we should have used to either arrest or correct some mistakes but we never did and I give you an example. We had the civil war in Nigeria and if we had learnt and taken a cue from what the Western World did after WW2, we wouldn’t be where we are today. Because immediately after WW2 the Marshall plan came up and they rebuilt those affected areas in Europe and they vowed that no two liberal democracies will fight against each other again no matter what happened anywhere in the world. It is going to be difficult for you to have France fighting Germany, US fighting Europe and the likes of it.
And in the modern world of the 21st Century warfare, it is proxy wars, rather than somebody fighting directly. They use your own people to fight you; so we have instances that we should have learnt from. If we have learnt from the Maitatsine crisis in the 80s, maybe we wouldn’t have been at the point where we are today with Boko Haram. So various bench marks were there but we always glossed over those things. The Niger Delta issue came, we glossed over it. Amnesty programme came, let’s have NDDC and we believed that is the end. That is not the end, it is not going to end because you have not addressed the real factors, the factors that caused these crisis. We are not addressing them and until we address the factors to know what is the ailment you cannot proffer a cure.
We believe that the military and the security agencies should solve the problem; they cannot solve the problem because these are not military creation. The military is just a line of operation; there are other lines, economic, social, political; how integrated we are politically. People are clamouring for restructuring, it is essentially based on the fact that people felt they are being marginalized. If people are inclusive and everybody takes part in whatever that is happening, if we take along everybody, some of these things will not be there.
We have series of issues with Boko Haram that we should have picked lessons from and try to look towards the future but people are clamouring. You cannot defeat insurgency, it is not easy. We need to learn from other countries, how long did it take them, Columbia, Sri Lanka, even Britain faced the Irish problem. We are lucky that we are able to reduce it to this level but you cannot wish it away. So we need to learn lessons from these things but if we don’t we will continue to make the same mistakes.
What is the way forward; we want to have change in the security architecture; but there are steps that need to be taken. Harvard Business School on change management listed eight solid steps you have to take to be able to have constructive change or positive change even in the security architecture. Two, what do we want Nigeria to be? What is the national aspiration? The constitution has it that we the people of Nigeria have come together and agreed to live in peace and harmony. That is the highest we believe we want to be and that is why we continue to fight to achieve peace and harmony. There should be something other than that. Do you want to be the leading nation in Africa?
Do you want to be the best in the black race? We need to have something that is going to drive everybody that this is what we want to achieve and everybody will work towards that; but now there is nothing. I give you an example; Defence Industries Corporation of Nigeria was established in the 60s and the Brazilians established their own in the same year. They are manufacturing their own tanks but we are just manufacturing 7.62mm bullets and we cannot even manufacture enough for the armed forces of Nigeria to use. That is to tell you how funny it is. We are a consuming nation. So that vision, that aspiration will lead us towards productivity not just buying. And we need to look around; globally people are talking of alternate source of energy. They are coming up with electric cars and there will come a time where everybody will stop using cars that uses petrol or diesel and we are still busy fighting ourselves because of oil.
Those who are buying now when they stop buying, are we going to drink our oil, what do we do? We need to start moving on to industrialization and you cannot do that if you don’t encourage education. We have commercialized education; we need to critically look at our education. You cannot commercialize education. There is a difference between privatization and commercialization. The private sector needs to run the education, the government sits there and decide, these are the things that we should do based on requirements and they take it back to those who are in the educational sector.
Security awareness is another step we need to take. It should start with our kids. We are not security conscious. Our kids must be security conscious. They should be allowed to say what is in their mind, we should stop this syndrome of keeping quiet, and it is killing us. You see something that is wrong and you cannot say this is wrong. We cannot continue to live like that. Security is not the security agencies responsibility alone, it is everybody’s responsibility. The total number of all the security outfits, let us just put it at two million in a population of about 200million, it is not enough. All the security in the world is intelligence led and intelligence depends on information. If you don’t have the information you are wasting your time. No matter what you have, it is the human beings that will analyze the data and come out with what this picture is talking about.
So when people start clamouring that the Americans have drones and what have you, but they have forgotten that at the back of those things, it is the man behind the machines that determines what the machine is going to do; the machine is as good as the man who is going to operate it. And we must stop this issue of saying leave him alone. It has led to impunity. If an agency is not performing you should say it, you don’t keep quiet and believe things will improve. It is not going to improve because if you don’t say this man is not doing his job then you are encouraging others not to perform.
When the present government came in, the assurance they gave was that of improving on security of lives and property. Again at that time a lot of Nigerians felt that with the leader of the party being a former head of state and someone with a security background things were going to improve; rather the situation is not what a lot of people expected; what do you advice should be done that is not being done?
I know the security situation is precarious but like I said earlier we have not taken steps that need to be taken. A lot of improvements have been achieved which are very difficult to pinpoint because the government or those responsible are not actually coming out to say these are the things that are happening. The collaboration internationally has moved a step forward. Before 2015 Cameroun did not bother about joining forces with others to fight Boko Haram. The Multinational Joint Task Force in Lake Chad area has been in existence since 1987, 89, the Camerounians never joined up because they felt it wasn’t part of their responsibility but as at 2015 when the President went round, he was able to get everybody that has a claim in the Lake Chad region to be involved including the Republic of Benin that has nothing to do with the Lake Chad region, even Niger Republic. So we have our neighbours now coming together and working as a team.
If you may recall before then the Americans refused point blank, to sell anything (weaponry) to us and they were saying that the human rights records against Nigeria was poor but now the situation has changed. Those in the north east will attest to it that they have received serious assistance from the Americans and British in terms of maps, information and intelligence but there is a little to which you can depend on others.
It is internal and that is why I said that we have not gotten everybody to buy into the fact security belongs to everybody. Everybody still feels that all the job should be done by the police, the army and air force and even if they are doing their job, people take pleasure because it is happening everywhere to bash the military. Even Trump before he became president was bashing the US military but now he has surrounded himself with virtually military guys because you are as strong as your armed forces in the international system.
In 2011, it was projected that Nigeria will break up in 2015, now it has been shifted to 2030. All the indicators were there but we were lucky. Maybe President Jonathan congratulated the current President and it took the wind out of the sail of those who wanted to destroy the system but right now, we are working towards breaking and everything is pointing to that. In fact we have satisfied all the indicators of a failing state; so we need to be security conscious, report or say it out when you see something that is poor, it is not only the federal government that needs to do, it is everybody. I can secure you only through you, which is my axiom. I can do so much in as much as you are ready to assist me to assist you and if you don’t what do I do?
As you said, there is need for strong security architecture for every country; would you say that those complaining about the decision of the federal government to spend $1billion in empowering the security agencies, have been misinformed or they are not properly enlightened?
They are just being mischievous. The US armed forces spend over $600billion annually for defence procurement and what have you. In 2017 when Trump became President, he promised the Armed forces that he was going to increase that by $50billion and the first two places he went to Qatar and Saudi Arabia he got contracts worth more than $200billion, so he has fulfilled the promise because whatever you are buying militarily a percentage of that goes to the armed forces because they are the ones that come up with the designs and whatever and that is one thing we have not learnt.
Security is a costly thing, it is not cheap. Most of us will shout this is too much but in reality you want the guys to be magicians without providing what the person requires, it is funny, it is only in Nigeria that this happens.
At one point the army was less than 100,000 officers and soldiers in fact up to 2012 and 2013 the only country in the world with a population that is more than 100million and yet you want them to be magicians. And fortunately since 2003 the armed forces have gone round in the age of civil authority in internal security performing policing role, not military role, so you expect them to use their salary to buy arms and whatever they require, no.
In fact one of the things you look out for in insurgency is the posture and the presence of those who are performing; if a soldier is tattered in dressing, the tendency is for the civilians to think, how can I go to this man to give him information. You don’t trust somebody who is not well dressed, it is a psychological thing and it is part of the non shooting aspect of counter insurgency.
How much do you think is the cost of uniform for the soldiers, not to talk of if they want to buy aircraft from this money and people are shouting, you think aircraft is cheap? It takes a lot of money, security is very costly; even in our homes we go and buy German doors, why don’t you buy wooden doors. The German doors is about 200,000-300,000 naira compared to a wooden door that is 40,000 naira; so in our homes we prefer to safeguard ourselves, others can go to hell, that is the implication and it is unfortunate it is the elite that is leading all these things. We politicize virtually everything in Nigeria and it is rather unfortunate.
You are aware of the Super Tucano Jets issue; now the question is being asked, why are we buying it for this particular amount while others bought it for other amounts. I would like you to enlighten the public; what does it really take, why is it like that?
I don’t know what is influencing the purchase of Super Tucano. It is supposed to have been sold to the Nigerian Air Force in 2008. The same Americans stopped it. Now the same Americans want to sell it to us. It is part of international politics. Whether you like it or not, you want me to assist you. You have to pay for it and you pay heavily for whatever assistance. Charity begins at home, we must encourage ourselves, and we must encourage local production. There are some companies in Ogun state producing some military hardware, we have a company producing cars in Anambra state, and we need to encourage them to be part of the military industrial set up and without that you cannot go on. Government does not fund the armed forces completely, the private sector must come in but the arrangement must be that it must be a win-win situation, without that nobody would want to bring his money and put it in a situation where nothing is coming in and that is part of what me and my group were trying to do, encourage the private sector to come and be part of all these things. The government cannot fund the armed forces or the security agencies fully, from the same purse, what is the amount, how much do we have.
A lot of people have said that the present crop of service chiefs have lost it and that is why things are getting out of hand. As someone that knows how these things operate, would you buy this line or what do you think is the way out?
My position is the people you are bringing whether they are from within or outside, are they magicians? They are no magicians, you have not set the motion for the change you want to happen in Nigeria; the urgency to want to change things is not there. People are talking based on partisanship either political landscape or ethnicity landscape, we are natives and we know that this thing is not favouring us, it must change, I don’t buy into that. Whatever has a beginning must surely have an end. Have we made the necessary provisions or arrangement? You mentioned the President ssking to approve $1billion and people are shouting, yet you want the same people to go out there and use their bare hands to catch herders or you want them to go and catch Boko Haram? It is not possible. If you want a change, positive change, you have to do serious soul searching and go out of your comfort zone to get things done properly.
We are shouting of herdsmen and farmers, for several years we have been having this problem, has anybody said this is the way they go or this is the area they come from; the police and the armed forces cannot be everywhere at the same time and from within there are those who give information to some of these guys. It is like the African saying if there is no thief within, the thief from the outside will come and steal whatever you have.
In the past kidnapping was based on chance. I grew up in Lagos Island. Yes we had issues of missing kid or being kidnapped but nowadays check through most of the issues that are happening. Members of the family or a close relation or a worker or somebody who is close to that person is deeply involved and if you happen to recognize that person, that person will be killed no matter the amount of money they have collected. After all I was involved in Operation Jubilee 1. I was the Director of Operations then in 2010, during Gen. Ihejirika’s time. We came and that was the first major thing we did in Abia State that led to the death of Osikankwu who was the kidnapping kingpin in the South East then.
But what happened, when they were arrested, local government chairmen were actually giving these people food either out of fear or whatever. Who started commercial kidnapping. Politicians were sending little boys against their opponents to go and pick them up. You brought that man and they give you one or two million you go away; and at one point people felt why do I carry somebody to this man and collect N1million, why don’t I take this man and collect N5-10million from the family and yet you blame others. So we are to work as a team, everybody has a responsibility here and people should stop clamouring that it is this, it is that.
Do you have advice, like an addendum to what you have said so far?
We should learn from the past, we are not learning lessons at all. Two, there is nothing that is by chance again, you must plan whatever you want to do. You cannot do without having history at the back of your mind, where are you coming from and it will tell you where I am going to. If a minister in Nigeria could say stop teaching history in schools then we have a problem and that is why I said emphasis should be on education.
We should stop the idea of somebody coming in and because you are a minister and you change; how many times have you change the education programme in Nigeria. The 6-3-3-4 system is it working, has it worked, we have changed it, we bastardized it. The junior one was supposed to be for technical lesson so that we can arm our kids to be able to do something on their own, have we done that, no. Continuity is not part of our life, if you don’t learn to continue and you can only do that by learning lessons. The more you change without learning lessons and planning, the more you will be in the wilderness. And we must learn that security is everybody’s responsibility and it is driven by information, if you don’t give the man information what do you want him to do?
But above all if you don’t have something driving the nation, the aspiration, what you want to be, we will continue to fight ourselves and this battle might not even be the war by Nigerians against Nigerians, it might be those who have said this country must break in 2015 but it didn’t break, so 2030 this guys must break and we are working towards it. We should respect each other, the respect is missing. You look at someone and you say this man is not from my ethnicity so why do I need to deal with him. If you can survive only by your ethnicity or your tribe or your relation, then most people who have gone up will not be there because at one point or the other somebody from outside your area assisted you in moving up. So if you don’t respect that, too bad.