By Chris Onuoha
Major General Ishola Williams (retd), a former Chief of Training, Operations and Plans (CTOP) at the Defence Headquarters, in this interview, speaks on the security situation in Nigeria among other issues of national importance.
You have an unusual story and many Nigerians do not know your story. You left Nigerian Army in 1993 and you were probably one of the few officers ever to resign. Why?
Maybe the environment you are in is the reason you are asking this kind of question. For the people in the other clime where we adopted the system we are using, when you get to a stage in your career and you see that things are not right, if you cannot change it, you step aside.
If you don’t do that, you become part and parcel of the problem. And when you step aside, you then find a way to create a solution in which the problem may not happen again.
At that time, since an attempt had been made not only by me but also by some other senior officers who were concerned about the (Abacha) coup d’état of 1993, and the problems arising from the 1993 election, we saw that we couldn’t do anything about it.
Some of the officers stayed on in government even though they were not comfortable with the situation, but I just couldn’t stay on for any reason.
Secondly, whenever a coup happens, those who carried out the coup tend to take over positions in the military and government. And if they are your juniors, of course, for you to serve under your junior is not part of the military culture.
Therefore, for you retain that culture, the best thing is for you to resign.
At that time in my career, having been in the military for 30 years, and looking at all the military regimes in comparison with the military regimes that I have seen in Latin America and Asia, I asked myself, ‘what has Nigeria benefited from military regime?’
There is no way we can compare Nigerian military regimes with others because if you go to those places and see what the military regimes have done, it is something to be proud of except in the area of human right violations.
Apart from that, in terms of infrastructure, development, science and technology, they worked. Look at South Korea and Brazil for example, military regime did fantastically good.
But in the case of Nigeria, corruption and so many other bad things happened. In spite of all the money Nigeria has earned over this period of time, what can we show for it? Nothing!
At that point in time, that is, referring to the (Abacha) coup, reports said that when you said it was immoral, the Head of State, Gen Sani Abacha, wrote to you to say ‘please don’t resign your commission, it is something that can be discussed’.
Yes, some senior officers came to me but my simple answer is this, “I am against the military coming to take over the political administration of this country because it was illegitimate”.
People do not understand the importance of legitimacy over legality.
If you win an election that is allegedly rigged, yes, you won legally in that context, but you are not the legitimate choice of the people. In fact that was what Jimmy Carter stressed when he came for the 1999 election which Olusegun Obasanjo won.
His group saw so many malpractices which he complained about at that time. To him, the election was illegitimate. But in Nigeria, we don’t understand the difference.
Some people do, but those people just keep quiet. It is a trend in our system that, every time, we talk about legal! Legal!! Legal!!! We don’t talk about legitimacy. And I believed at that particular time that there was no need for anybody in his logical and consequential sense to say there was the need for Gen Sani Abacha coup.
Talking about that historic (1993) election, it was not only legal but also legitimate, that was the point and you have a situation where two Muslim brothers were contesting for the presidency in an election that was seen as popular.
The coup was a very big mistake. And up till today, with the amount of money Gen Abacha took abroad, what was the Central Bank of Nigeria doing? We haven’t gotten men of conscience in this country who are holding positions. Most of them are crooks.
When you left the military, you focused on transparency, corruption and accountability. This government in power today has made anti-corruption, transparency and accountability as one of its three major objectives. Other governments before said they were also fighting corruption but as someone who has made this a life work, is that true?
I would say to a certain extent that the coming of this administration has sort of created a situation in which the issue of dealing with corrupt practices has been taken more seriously, compared to the regime that it replaced.
But an interesting thing here is that there is a popular saying in Nigeria that “when a fish is about to get rotten, it starts from the head”, but the Nigerian situation is very different. Everybody says President Buhari is not corrupt, that he is not involved in any deal, but the deals and scams are still going on.
The head of the fish is fresh but the body is far rotten. That means that there is something that ought to be done that has not yet been done.
Secondly, there are government agencies, Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) that are still empowered to deal with such cases.
The President has continued to claim that no matter the party anyone belongs, once you are caught, you are going to be dealt with. Now, a point of contradiction is that the All Progressives Congress (APC) National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, made a statement that “let everybody come to APC and their sins will be forgiven.”
He said so, openly. And that’s why I call the APC “Alliance of Political Crooks”. If you can tell people to come to APC and their sins are forgiven, then what are you talking about?
The second statement is that he (Oshiomhole) was so bold enough to say that “you can’t win election in Nigeria without rigging.”
That is very serious. What I then see is that our system which has been asking for special court for anti-corruption cases, for so many years, is now pushing the National Assembly to do that.
Apart from the institutions that deal with corruption, there are other basic institutions that need to be empowered now such as the Auditor-General of the Federation. Many people don’t even know or ask about the duty of the Auditor–General.
Ask anybody or the Chairman of any company the meaning of auditing a company and he will brief you on how important the job is. Auditors are supposed to be doing auditing every year.
The least is to report to the public, take it to the Public Accounts Committees of the National Assembly and the committees will query all those who have not used the tax payers’ money properly.
That is what ICPC is doing with senators and members of the House of Reps on their constituency projects. It is important to take all these to the Auditor-General, but nobody is taking it serious.
The Auditor-General of the Federation is supposed to be very independent with his own Commission and staff members and determine their own salaries, so that they are not susceptible to any inducement, but, today, the auditors we have are corrupt which is caused by the situation they find themselves in.
In some cases, they are so far behind many years at the federal level. I am not sure that any state account has been audited for the past ten years.
If you don’t have such institution, empowered, working properly, and funded, what corruption are you fighting then?
Another is the Fiscal Responsibility Commission. Nobody hears about them in this country. For instance, a President in Brazil was impeached under the Fiscal Responsibility Law.
She was borrowing money and using it appropriately but did not comply with the Fiscal Responsibility Law. She was indicted and removed. Nobody can do that here in Nigeria.
Thirdly is the Procurement Commission, it is not even remembered as an agency. If the Commission is working, all those scandals about contracts could not happen.
Looking at these three institutions, continuing to use ICPC and EFCC to fight corruption is like ‘Benediction after Mass’. That is also why the whole thing is so pandemic.
When ICPC is used, they end up in court that is already overloaded. Some cases have been in court for the past ten years or more whereas it is something that should be dealt with within few months if the three agencies are used.
The issue of whistle blower has died down because some of the agencies are corrupt. They can let people know when they are going to be in trouble. That is corruption.
You have worked on this for so long. If many of these institutions have all these challenges, how do we then go about it, because it seems as if there is a consensus that we need to fight corruption, but there is a discord over the methodology?
The civil service is the engine of development of any country. But we have a corrupt civil service. Many suggestions were made since 2015 but there are people who don’t want things to change.
In many Francophone countries, they have a unit called “Policie Judicie”. The outfit is like a Criminal Investigation Department; very independent. Here, we need to divide the police into three separate organisations.
One will be in charge of intelligence and investigation with a whole set of staff without uniform. In South Africa, there is a Public Prosecutor that is independent and reports directly to parliament.
It was this Public Prosecutor that investigated and implicated former South African President Jacob Zuma.
The current one is also under investigation for campaign finance. Latin America also has independent Prosecutor-General who is independent of the Ministry of Justice.
Nigeria copied from the British government but the irony is that the British have separated the two as Solicitor General who advises the government on legal issues is different from the Ministry of Justice.
That’s what we need now. At one time, they were going to do it, recruited some young lawyers from the United Kingdom but after some time they quietly disappeared.
Look at revenue mobilization. If they have done it properly, a senator could not be earning such a huge amount of money. How can a country like Nigeria have the highest paid senators in the whole world? In Senegal, they had to cancel the Senate.
But the senators have explained that what people call salaries are the overheads the lawmakers use to run their offices and applicable worldwide. Senator Abaribe did mention that Barrack Obama earned $174,000 as salary but gets about $4 million as overhead for running his office in his time.
But what did he do with $4 million? Do you know that in Nigeria, President and governors do not feed themselves; they are fed with taxpayers’ money from which they are also paid wardrobe allowance and other welfare payments. Obama bought his own suit and fed himself.
The only thing he did not do was to cater for a state dinner of any visiting President to the White House which US government pays for. That is not done in Nigeria. Secondly, whenever Obama used government jet, he paid.
If his wife used the aircraft for private or unofficial tour, she paid. Nigerian senators will tell you nonsensical stories, comparing themselves with other countries. It is not true.
I don’t blame them for this comparison because we copied a Constitution that is corruption induced.
You made several proposals in the army like using local materials to make weapons. But each of those ideas was killed systematically. How do we address that systemic problem?
The whole thing is constitutional which is corruption and conflict inducing. Where in the world will you find a federal system in which a governor of a state collects money from the central, spends it and goes back there without anybody asking what he did with the first?
We have a Constitution like that and we are all keeping quiet. All these restructuring stories are nonsense because the Constitution has to be amended properly first and restructuring will not be necessary.
In amending the Constitution, you have to do what the people of Niger Delta are fighting for: ‘Resource control.’ The 1963 Constitution says that 50 per cent of any resources you have, be it gold oil or farm produce, you take and give 50 percent to the Federal Government.
Today, the Federal Government takes all the money and shares it while considering 30 per cent extra for the states with resources. The amendment should let states control the resources in their territory and agree constitutionally what percentage to give to the Federal Government.
I see no need for federal universities all over the place when states are creating too. Yes, we have them but we continue to complain that the quality of education is poor.
Today, private universities are more convenient. What the Federal Government should have done is that, as they created TETFUND, allow states to create universities and let TETFUND finance the state universities.
In the French system, they have what they call Grande Ecole – a specialized university in which you only go for graduate studies. Even though, your background is very poor, when you go to the Grande Ecole, it will improve.
Today, we are faced with all kinds of security challenges and different things happen in different places. Some people argue that politics has been introduced into some of them. For example, the issue of herdsmen and farmers, how do we go about tackling them?
Since the British left in 1960 (60 years ago), we have never done a strategic review of our security system and infrastructure. The British left us with Inspector-General of Police (IGP) and it is still like that.
Somebody will sit down in Abuja saying he is Inspector General of Police and would want to deal with crime in a remote village in Yobe. It is a height of tomfoolery.
The British that you copied from have changed a long time ago. There is no federal police in the UK, likewise in America. They all have County Police. In South Africa, they have a different system.
Pretoria has its own independent police. You can only prevent crime at the local level, not the police from Abuja. How can the police recruit community police from Abuja for rural communities?
There is a need to review the entire security system. Having said that, police are the leading element for safety; and what should now happen is that you divide the police into three like I said before; you have the Criminal Investigation Department with a Director General.
You have the mobile police, a paramilitary force that need to be trained up to commando level like they have in India. They solve their problem with this formation without the army.
They have a permanent constitutional committee commission that resolves internal issues and passes it on to the general assembly. In the case of the North-East, they wanted to train some of them but they ran away.
But it should be a separate unit of its own and you then have an Inspector-General of Police who oversees standard and training of the police both at the state and local government levels to ensure compliance with rule.
He does not command them. Recently, they were asked to account for 80, 000 people which they put on the payroll and they could not account for it. There is need to create state police, recruit people from the local government level who will stay there and work for their entire service period.
But the Nigerian Army had to be brought in when the situation went beyond what the conventional police could handle. For example, in 1964, we had the Tiv crisis and some other crisis in 1983.
In the case of the North-East, the army had to be brought in with the Chief of Army saying that the army is operating in 32 states of the federation. The logical question should be, are they not overstretched since their duty is territorial integrity?
The point is that territorial integrity is different from internal safety and security. You have a Ministry of Defence and, in fact, some countries have scrapped Defence Ministry.
The point is ‘who is coming to attack Nigeria? Who are you defending Nigeria against? The Boko Haram you know are the Kanuri people who live in Borno, Chad, Niger and Cameroon, but the majority are in Borno State of Nigeria.
Ask yourself, if a traditional leader of an area cannot control his territory, then something is wrong. Nobody asks such questions and the army keeps fighting. It is like the case of the Niger Delta, what is the army fighting for in that area?
Everybody agrees that there is no development in the Niger Delta apart from the blame you can put on their governors who are all crooks and corrupt. But what is the Nigerian Army doing there?
And when it comes to Boko Haram, they are not interested in your territorial integrity. Boko Haram is only interested in Borno State.
…but at some point Boko Haram was in Adamawa, Borno, Yobe and other neighbouring states
They are just scouting around. Their major objective is to capture Maiduguri. At the moment, they want Borno. Their troops scout around other states looking for food, but every time they strike heavily, they always attempt to capture Maiduguri. In this situation, the only thing Borno State governor could do is to invite some Mallams from Saudi Arabia to be praying because the army had a spiritual workshop sometime ago. I have never had anything like that in my life; for an army to have a spiritual workshop. When you look at other agencies – Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps for example – they are supposed to protect the country’s infrastructures – pipeline, strategic buildings for example. And what do you see, pipelines bursting all over the place. They are confused and do not know what to do. You don’t need army or police for such duty. Civil Defence is created to protect disasters, emergencies, IDP camps among others. How can the army and the police be protecting IDPs when Civil Defence Corps are there? Really, you don’t even need to create NEMA if Civil Defence is working. When you create certain organizations, you create confusion. And you don’t even coordinate them to function well. That is why I say there is no strategic review.
Does that mean that ‘Operation Positive Identification’, under which Nigerians are supposed to be identified and illegal migrants are sent packing, which is supposed to be spearheaded by the army, is not necessary?
It is also very funny. You should ask, what is the job of the Immigration Department that are always recruiting people? What many people do not understand is that in terms of national security, you have a priority that people in a community can go about their businesses without fear. That is the job of local government and state police.
That is the level of being security conscious. If that is working, aliens can easily be fished out. Army does not need to get involved. There is this notion that it is only visitors or aliens who commit crime.
Studies have proved that it is not true. Most immigrants are looking for better life and, importantly, there is no way an immigrant can commit crime without the help of an indigene.
I was surprised that army is getting involved in all of these.
Nigeria’s borders are closed with government insisting that some conditions should be met by our neighbours before reopening because some of their activities amount to economic sabotage. Do you agree?
But they also said ammunitions are coming in from across the borders. I laugh at such comments. Just recently, a former governor left about 1, 000 AK47 rifles in a Government House after he handed over.
You can ask, what was he doing with the guns and who gave him the license to have in his possession such huge number of rifles? The governor of Zamfara State said he is going to arrest his predecessor for bringing guns into the country.
Also when some armed robbers were caught in Kaduna, they mentioned that arms were being dropped by helicopter in the bush for them.
And our neighbours in Benin Republic, for instance, have no Boko Haram problem but they volunteered to be part of the multinational force battling insurgency. The economic part is this.
There is free trade across the border – ‘Borderless Trade’. This means that for the goods manufactured in Benin Republic to cross the borders, they will be free of tariff. But you can ask, what does a small country like Benin Republic manufacture? Nothing, rather they import most of what they need.
In Nigeria, we are particular about one commodity, rice. We are not Asians and rice is not our staple food. Something is wrong with our taste mentality and we have not been able to work out the routes of origin within the ECOWAS free trade regime.
That is what they need to concentrate on. Nigeria stands to benefit more because we can export most of the products manufactured here.
For example, when Nigeria tried to export some products to European Union (EU), they rejected about 47 of them because they were not of good quality. Why don’t we cash in on this borderless trade and help Benin Republic?
We can have Nigerian companies established in these neighbouring countries because labour is cheaper with favourable conditions there. Dangote is doing it, so why not others?
How long are you going to close the borders and what solution is government proffering? And can you ever stop smuggling including keeping the prices of local manufactured goods down? Minimum wage has just been raised to N30, 000.
As soon as they start paying, the price of everything will increase in this country, most especially transport fares. The question is, how come goods from outside the country tend to be cheaper than what we produce here?
And we are not producing competitive products for all market. Secondly, Nigeria has not really explored the international market to see if our products can satisfy their demand.
US is an example for such market review. If we cannot explore such options, why are we closing the borders when our products are not satisfactorily accepted globally?