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How ethnicity, saboteurs are frustrating fight against insurgency — Retired military officers

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Boko Haram, Damboa
Boko Haram insurgents

By Dirisu Yakubu

 

The last has not been heard of the lingering security challenges stoking the land. From Boko Haram terrorists to insatiable bandits combing the shores of the country and kidnappers ready to kill their victims in the event of delay in the payment of ransom; Nigeria has never had it so bad. For President Muhammadu Buhari, the fight against terrorism is one that must be won.

Although terrorism is a global phenomenon that requires collaborative effort, a good number of eminent Nigerians believe the nation’s military is good enough to give the terrorists a run for their money if only sufficient arms and ammunition, complete with other logistics are provided for them. This was the position of Kashim Shettima, immediate past governor of Borno state who at the height of the insurgency stormed the Aso Rock during the Presidency of Goodluck Jonathan to lament poor motivation as the reason the military was losing grounds to the criminal elements.

However, not much seems to have changed as barely two weeks ago, the convoy of Governor Babagana Zulum of Borno state, came under attack as security operatives managed to escape with the governor unhurt. Famed for his boldness at speaking truth to power, Zulum wasted no time in fingering saboteurs in the military for blame.

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Earlier in the week, two retired military officers joined the conversation and agreed with the school of thought that indeed the military must be purged of “fifth columnists” they said are currently frustrating the war against terrorism. As guests of Sunrise Daily, a breakfast show of the Channels Television, Lt. Cdr. John Danjuma (retd) and Major General Ola Majoyeogbe (retd) drew from their depth of their experiences to unveil what they believed to be the reason little gain has been achieved despite the enormous resources already committed to the crusade against insurgency.

John Danjuma, a former navy intelligence officer traced the trouble in the military set up to the mid 60s following the end of the first military government of General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi. In his words, the failure to let the most senior officer in the army  take over at the time sowed the seed of ethnicity which according to him, has robbed the famed institution of its once envied professionalism and non-partisanship.

“If you remember (Yakubu) Gowon, he was not the most senior army officer but a westerner who was supposed to head the military, the lower ranks were not loyal and because they were populated by one part of the country, and he belonged to another part, he was not likely to gain their loyalty. What happened? They gave the man an ambassadorial post outside the country before the general (Gowon) came in. It has been consistent that the ethnicity that you see today spread along our politics is also deeply embedded in the military. And it has not helped because if you have a promotion list for example, you have to balance it: North and South, East and West. Why don’t you just go for merit?” he queried.

Cdr. John did not stop there as he queried the functionality of the foundation on which the Nigerian nation is erected. “People have been saying that the foundation of the nation is not stable. People need to see themselves as Nigerians first but people still see themselves based on regions, religions or sections. Again, are the security personnel the solutions or the problem? The country needs people who believe in it because there are many people who do not believe in Nigeria. I am referring to some of the security forces. There are some people in the military today, as we have had before, who are fifth columnists,” he added.

Asked to elaborate on this claim, the erstwhile naval officer had this to say: “I know that so long as this problem remains unsolved, there are people who are consistently working against the resolution of the security crisis. In military regimes, the greatest threat is the military itself. You see your comrades, course mates turning against you. Some people in our time were even afraid of going to the mess and that was during the (Sani) Abacha regime because it was thought that some people would come and record whatever it was and take it to higher authority. So, it is not impossible to think that the activities, thoughts of fifth columnists have a negative effect on the resolution of the security conflict. That’s my view,” he explained.

Giving his general view of the root of the troubles bedeviling the Nigerian state, Col. Majoyeogbe, a former Commandant of the State Security Service, SSS, said the quest for even representation of states and sections of the country is breeding mediocrity in the system, saying “The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Public of Nigeria (as amended) has some provision for such things as federal character. So when the military is doing any recruitment, they make sure that the candidates come from every geo-political zone. At one point, I remember General Babangida making a statement that there were some states or groups complaining about not being adequately represented. And that was very insightful! There is no way to ensure that all those who come together would survive for the same length of time. It is because of this provision that you must have adequate representation so that no part of the country feels marginalised.

“One reason we have difficulty with national cohesion is that you find average Nigerian in every form of federal establishment. He is there because he is representing a state. Most of the time, he is loyal to those on whose behalf he is in that establishment. You will see that during promotion exercise, appointments and so on and so forth. If I am representing my state of origin, then I have to protect the interest of that state.”

On whether government is playing lip service to the war against terrorism, the retired colonel responded cheek-in-tongue, saying “I don’t agree completely, but there is a lot of merit in the question that you have raised. I don’t think that the challenge has to do with ethnicity or what have you. For me the number one problem is the lack of political will on the side of those who have responsibility. I have some experiences in the military: army, navy, air force, SSS.

“Government always have all the intelligence it requires but in Nigeria, many of our politicians and those in top government positions are more interested in protecting the interest of the part of the country they come from. I give you an example: Someone who has been a governor is now a senator and they say you must propose a bill and he says the bill I am proposing is that you must give repentant Boko Haram element the same treatment you are giving to Niger Delta militants. I am shocked!  A militant and terrorist are two different kinds of people. I was in the Presidential committee on the Niger Delta Amnesty and I know what I saw. They were talking to us by phone, but terrorists don’t talk to anybody.”

Perhaps the biggest revelation by Col. Majoyeogbe was the responsibility he was forced to take many years ago when he was still in active service. Hear him: “I recall the experience I had when I had the privilege of training a whole set of cadets who were picked from every part of the country. When we finished the examinations and assessments, I wrote to the headquarters saying X number of cadets failed. What I was told (I was a Major then) was “shut up: What do you mean by some people failed?” And I said they failed. And they said we can’t publish this because we are going to have protest from those areas that have not been represented.

“I was facing difficulty then because I was young and brash, so I said, I am not going to sign that they qualified. They had to reach a compromise in which I took the unsuccessful cadets back to make sure that we made up for the aspects they failed. Many times, it does not take much of attention to discover that the decision that has been taken is not on merit. Or that the decision is based on the background of the official who had to act. Look at Plateau state. Look at the number of people that have been killed. I have not seen one person arrested. Till today, the government has not declared the Fulani gang, a terrorist group and I find this very ridiculous.”

Danjuma again stepped in describing as false the belief on the part of Nigerians that the military is a united institution devoid of politics and divisions.

“A house divided against itself cannot stand. If there is any falsehood that the Nigerian people have swallowed, it is the belief that the military is one entity that cannot be divided. This is not true. The institution is deeply divided. How come today people are saying that they would rather the service chiefs go? How come the service chiefs are from a particular part of the country and of a particular religion? How does this affect the country? Why was insecurity not the focus long before now? It goes to show that there is deep discontent. The morale is seriously low. We must remember that it is not the dog in the fight but the fight in the dog. When you show a tendency to prefer one side to the other, you kill morale, cause division and so people will begin to think that what matters is not performance but to get a godfather in the system,” Danjuma noted.

And in what appeared a food for thought, the Colonel wants well-meaning Nigerians to think this out: “How do ethnicity and religion affect the cohesion of the armed forces? I give this sensitive example: Look at the number of coup d’ etat that were announced. You will find out that when a coup is announced by somebody from side A, it fails, whereas if those in side B are involved, it succeeds. But it is not all bad. One thing that helps is that when you get into the service, the kind of training you get is difficult to describe. You find that these people are from various parts of the country. I am a Yoruba man from the South West and I am a Christian but the best opportunities for training, appointments in my entire career were by Fulani people who were Muslims.”

Reacting to the submissions by the retired officers, former Minister of Education, Professor Tunde Adeniran said “They (Danjuma and Majoyeogbe) are insiders from the Nigerian Military and must have based their verdicts on first hand knowledge and experience. I believe however that if the national leadership is decisive, no divisive factors would be allowed to stand on the way of success in putting an end to insurgency.”

A security expert and certified golden member of the International Security Association, Switzerland, Lekan Jackson Ojo in his contribution called on the federal government to accord security of lives the same attention that the coronavirus is currently attracting.

Speaking with Saturday Vanguard from his Port Harcourt base, Mr. Ojo said, “When you look at the number of deaths that COVID-19 has caused compared to Boko Haram, you will note that Boko Haram kills in hundreds almost on a daily basis in the North East and West. Now, they have gone to North Central. Look at the attention we are giving to COVID-19. I have just read that federal government have spent up to N9 billion in the treatment of coronavirus patients in the country. This is good and I believe COVID-19 is real. But by the time we get the vaccine that will be the end of the virus. The question now is how do we get the vaccine and cure for Boko Haram terrorism and insurgency? We are only providing immediate solution to a temporary sickness. The biggest pandemic is the pandemic of Boko Haram and banditry.”

He however noted that the way out according him is for government to convene a summit that will come up with implementable recommendations for the use of the military.

He however faulted Majoyeogbe’s claim of tribal sentiments in the running of military affairs in the country.

“I do not agree that a particular tribe is being favoured in terms of promotion or what have you. If the Nigerian Defence Academy, NDA form is out today, look at the number of people that will take it from the north as Muslims. When you are General, you are a Professor in the military. When we are sending our children to read Law, Computer Science, we forget that these courses are also available at the NDA. Those who enlist in the NDA and graduated are those enjoying these privileges. I have generals as friends and about 26 of them are Northern Muslims. Nobody is victimizing anybody. If there were victimization, the Chief of Naval Staff won’t come from the South, the Chief of Defence Staff won’t come from the South. There is no victimization at all,” he added.

President Buhari must do everything possible to stem the spate of killings in the country for as it stands today, no one knows the next victim. For if these killers were bold enough to attack a governor’s convoy, neither the lawmaker nor the Minister is safe. Whatever it takes to win this war and restore normalcy to our troubled land, this government must see it as a bounteous duty to stand up and be counted.

 

 

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