By Bashir Bello
Boko Haram: Brigadier General Idris Dambazzau (ret.), in this interview, reviews war against insurgency, saying expansion of manpower, overhauling of the Defence Ministry and robust intelligence community would make a difference.
Dambazzau, who also speaks on other national issues, reveals that retired military personnel are willing to be called to assist in salvaging the situation.
The rate of insecurity in Nigeria remains alarming. What is the way out?
There are security challenges in Nigeria today. But if you look at the history of our country and some other countries, security challenges exist and they are continuous. When you quell one challenge, another one resurfaces. For instance, we had the Nigerian civil war which was a culmination of a lot of political crises. After the war, we battled armed robbery. The issue of armed robbery came because there was proliferation of small arms and that became a challenge.
To overcome that, the government then introduced the firing squad. Today, we have banditry, kidnapping, and other forms of insecurity. It is a continuous challenge and government of the day has the responsibility of rising to the challenge to make sure they quell whatever insecurity arises.
Would you say the administration has risen to the occasion bearing in mind that the President promised to tackle insecurity when he was campaigning?
Before this government came to power, insurgency was widespread.
Promises and party manifestoes are one thing and the reality on the ground is another. There are quite a lot of challenges. But remember that we have the issue of the economy which is very bad presently and even worse when he took over. One of the major reasons we have this level of insecurity is lack of modern equipment for the armed forces. Armed forces personnel complain bitterly and loudly that they are made to use outdated equipment.
Some of the equipment was bought by the Shagari administration. This is the issue because funds have been siphoned by some of the leaders who engaged in buying houses all over and investing in Europe. Government has done its best because when it took over nowhere was safe. Now, insurgency has been confined to the North-East. And I think, we should praise government for this effort. And the other challenges coming up, the masses have to rise up and make assist government. It is not the responsibility of government alone.
In Niger State, recently, some villagers rose and were able to chase many bandits away. In the North East, some villagers rose and were able to inflict heavy causalities on insurgents. We should look at these areas and praise government where they have done well.
More efforts are needed in the aspect of procurement of modern equipment for the armed forces. Neigbouring countries should also work together. Recently, the Nigerien armed forces launched an attack and killed a lot of insurgents in their own territory. Initially, when there was cooperation between Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon, progress was made. Suddenly, the cooperation somehow melted away and there was resurgence of the insurgents.
Another area we need improvement is intelligence. The intelligence community, in my opinion, is not up to its task. Some of these attacks by insurgents, the intelligence community should have had prior knowledge if it is really doing its job. They should always inform government whenever they have intelligence so that necessary security forces would be mobilised to nip their plans in the bud. It seems the intelligence gathering of the insurgents is more effective than that of the Nigerian armed forces and that is a shame.
Half a million
We are a nation of 200 million people but I don’t think the total number of our security agencies is up to half a million. We are supposed to have at least two million security agents, at least 10 percent of our population. We have a very wide landmass, about 900,000 square kilometres, and we really need massive recruitment of youths into security agencies. These will serve two purposes. First, government will have enough security agents to man the country, particularly the vulnerable areas. Second, government will provide jobs for the millions and teeming population of youths who are qualified but don’t have jobs.
There are able-bodied veterans who can still assist government to tackle insecurity. There is a provision that when you retire, you are put in the reserve for at least six years. There are many veterans government can call up. There are a thousand veterans who are ready to contribute towards ending this insurgency and banditry but nobody has called them.
A lot of them are ready and the President knows that almost all of them are well trained and they would make a positive change if they are included in the fight against insecurity. These are people who don’t need to be paid salaries because they are already on pension. It is even cost-effective for government.
All they need do is to give them uniform or create a sort of unit for them and give them field ranks. They will be very useful. The President knows that during the civil war, veterans were called up and they contributed immensely. I want to emphasise this that they should call up veterans to come and contribute to curbing insecurity. Those younger ones, who are below 60 years, can be called upon and they will be very helpful.
I think that comes in line with what I have said about lack of sufficient number of security personnel. That is why I suggested that government should recruit more people to cover every zone in this country.
The issue of zonal security outfit is constitutionally wrong. It is not provided for in the Constitution. Only the Federal Government has the power to do so. Furthermore, why create a local security agent that cannot carry arms? Meanwhile, bandits and insurgents are well-armed, sometimes even more armed than security agencies. How will you secure your zone with security outfits that are not armed? Maybe they would use big sticks to confront criminals with automatic weapons.
You said earlier that soldiers are using arms bought by the Shagari administration before 1983. Do you mean that since that time, arms have not been procured?
Most budgeted funds were not used to purchase arms, instead, they were shared. This is because the people in authority don’t appreciate the need for these things. In most cases, members or personnel of the armed forces or the leadership like Service Chiefs are not even involved in the purchase of military equipment. And in the Ministry of Defence, retired or serving personnel are not involved. This is something that should be looked into. Ministry of Defence is a special ministry but the ministry is made up of civilians, most of whom have no idea of what the needs of the military are. An area that needs an overhaul is the Ministry of Defence.
I suggest that the Ministry of Defence should have both serving and retired military personnel in various categories. They should be permanently deployed so that they would be involved in many activities, particularly when they come to purchasing equipment for the military and all other things relating to the armed forces.
If that is done, most of these mistakes would be avoided. For instance, if we need Tank – T55, made in Russia, they know this tank, not civilians. But it is civilians in the Ministry of Defence who make arrangements for the equipment. Government should deploy military personnel and create offices permanently for both serving and retired armed forces personnel so that they would be involved and that would reduce most of the fraud and mistakes.
After the dethronement of former Emir of Kano, Muhammad Sanusi II, some groups have started rooting for him to contest for President in 2023. As a Kano State indigene, what does that mean to you?
His dethronement was very necessary. It was even overdue because Governor Abdullahi Ganduje is a very patient person. If he was an impatient governor, Sanusi would have since been dethroned and the issue forgotten. But Ganduje gave him a long rope. He patiently listened to wise counsel. A lot of people intervened and Ganduje tried to give him a second chance but he continued to be insubordinate. Sanusi was making unnecessary and unbecoming comments about several issues. The issue has been put to rest.
Sanusi II was not fit at all for the throne. He cannot keep his mouth shut. And you cannot be an Emir, Oba or Obi and keep on making noise. Look at the Obi of Onitsha, Alaafin of Oyo, Oba of Benin, how many times have you seen them making political statements? He wanted to portray himself as a radical even when he was in the system. He was the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, and had the privilege of writing secret memos or even going to see the President to advise him. But he publicly said money was missing. Who will accept that?
Removed as Governor
When he was removed as CBN Governor, there was a political disagreement between President Jonathan and Kwankwaso. At that time, I was in Kwankwaso’s government as Commissioner.
The disagreement between Kwankwaso and Jonathan made Kwankwaso pick him and forced him on the emirate. He was not the choice of kingmakers. Even between him and Kwankwaso who installed him, there was an issue.
Kwankwaso banned street begging, but he was now assembling beggars and giving them alms. Kwankwaso queried him about that. He asked Sanusi why he was breaking the law. In turn, Sanusi asked why Kwankwaso should ban street begging. He said it was his money that he was giving beggars and not another person’s money.
That was him challenging the person who installed him. When Kwankwaso wanted to take up the matter seriously, he went about calling people to beg on his behalf. He would commit an offence and would be calling people to start begging on his behalf.
Kwankwaso, Nuhu Ribadu
On the issue of politics, Nigerians are very emotional in most cases. Even as a politician, Sanusi will be a bad one. I am assuring you that even if he joins politics, he would not even win councillorship election. Nuhu Ribadu did very well as Chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, but was subsequently removed. People urged him to join politics. What happened to him? The best profession for Sanusi is lecturing.
He should become a university lecturer. Kwankwaso, who is supporting him now, won’t support him if he joins politics. Kwankwaso is overbearing on his subordinates. And Sanusi is not such a person to allow that. Sanusi would sink deeper into oblivion if he joins politics.
At the last election in Kano State, Kwankwaso picked a person he believed he could control. I was with Kwankwaso at the time and everybody knew how much I contributed. I was with them for more than 20 years. Kwankwaso doesn’t like people he cannot control. And because he cannot control us, he pushed us aside.
Since it is in the interest of all of us to remain as one in this country, I am in support of rotation. Now, President Buhari, who is from North-West, is serving his second term. In the end, the next President should come from the South in All Progressives Congress, APC. And that would be fair.
The fears of dividing the nation should not arise. Even before the nation became highly populated and better organised, the attempt to create Biafra didn’t succeed. Why should there be any fear now? Now that we have South-South and South-East, two different zones from the former Eastern Region, the Biafra question is more difficult. People of the South-South will not support it because it is not their objective. In the South-East, it is not everybody that supports it. Nobody can be elected as President without other zones supporting him.