November 22, 2020

INSECURITY: Soldiers deployed in 33 states but…—Ndume, Chairman of Senate C’ttee on Army


Senator Ali Ndume


…‘Police overstretched, they don’t have the number, they don’t have equipment, intelligence not there’

…Budgetary allocation: Army gets paltry N27bn in ‘war’ time

…Says Senate to probe Lekki shootings

By Chris Onuoha

The Army is helping the police in 33 states across Nigeria to combat insecurity but there are grave challenges impeding the fight against criminality, according to the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Army, Senator Ali Ndume. Ndume’s statement comes amid banditry and kidnapping in parts of the country in the past weeks that have seen even senior police officers being kidnapped and others shot by criminal elements.

A police officer attached to a former governor was killed when gunmen attacked his (former governor) house. In this interview, the Senate Committee Chairman speaks on the involvement of the Army in internal security operations and the challenges it faces especially in the area of funding. Excerpts:

On the freezing of #EndSARS protesters’ accounts

No clear picture of what actually went wrong. Yes, government can secure court action to freeze a bank account for the purpose of investigation, but, clearly, #EndSARS protests started peacefully and then they were hijacked and things got out of hand.

I think it is important for government to also separate the two, that is, to go after the criminals and engage the protesters so that we find a solution especially to their (protesters) five demands. It is a very delicate situation that should be managed properly so that we don’t trample on the rights of the protesters.

But at the same time we don’t leave the victims without any hope of getting justice. So government is in a very difficult situation and advice from well meaning Nigerians as to how to handle the situation is important so that we don’t have another protest. Eminent people should be involved in managing the situation.

On Lekki shootings

As at now there is nothing before the committee in relation to the unfortunate incident that took place in Lekki. Immediately that happened, Senate suspended plenary. Maybe it will come up in the next sitting but, as I said, should such thing come up and especially now that there is argument here and there, there is need for investigation to get to the root of the matter. There is now argument between the Army and Lagos State government coupled with the fact that we don’t have specific figures as to the number of lives lost.

So we wait until we get the report (of the judicial inquiry) but we as a committee intend to ask the military to give us the account of what actually happened. And then if there is any other opinion different from that we will get to the root of the matter. That is all I can say for now until the matter comes before the committee or the Senate.

On military deployment

Honestly I don’t think that the Army should be involved in internal security, but you know the security challenges we are facing in the country today that left to the drafting of the military out of their barracks to take care of security in about 33 states.

And that is because the police are overstretched. They don’t have the number, they don’t have the equipment; intelligence is not there. Otherwise all these things would have been avoided. I have said it several times that the Army or the armed forces, security agencies in general, the number isn’t enough, they are not well equipped, they are not well trained and the population is growing and most of the population is youth, we have 70 to 80 percent of the population as youth, most of them are unemployed, so they get frustrated.

And, therefore, if there is no intelligence, a Marshall Plan to control the situation, things can get out of hand. As you can see, #EndSARS protests spread like wildfire. So it should be a lesson to us, the leaders in this country to do something.

I have said it several times that in a country like ours if we cannot make it peaceful for everyone to live comfortably, then we the leaders will not be comfortable. But as I said we have majority of youths that come from a very poor background and so find it difficult to make a living. If the son of nobody can’t become somebody, then I doubt so much if there will be peace in the country. It is very important to take care of this and you can only do that when there is security. There will be no law and order if the country isn’t secure. And how do you secure the country?

You have to get the number of security agents that is needed; you have to get them the equipment, the tools and training. But in this country you will agree with me that we are lagging behind in that. In fact if you look at it compared to other countries around us that aren’t as big or as strong as powerful as we are, there is law and order. In every country, security and welfare should be a priority, in fact it is the main purpose of government; it is there in our Constitution.

On #EndSARS lesson for politicians

We are representatives of the people. Instead of securing ourselves from them I think we should be much closer to the electorate or the people that elected us. We should realize that when the #EndSARS protests started, we were the first target; that is because these people think we have not done enough to protect their interests and, therefore, they went after us.

I think it is very important for politicians to be closer to the people they represent so that, at least, their grievances can be heard and whatever you can do you try to do it. There is a big lesson to learn from what happened. It is frustration that has built up over years. Since the democratic government took over in 1999, so many graduates have been turned out without employment or even opportunities.

And worse still, when they struggle they meet a barricade of frustration especially with this idea that is going round now that if you want to become somebody or if you want to get a job, you have to know somebody. Oftentimes, youths from my constituency or from across the country come to me to say they have applied for job in a particular organization, but they can’t get the job because they need to get a  senator or a House member to put in a word for them and that is not how it should be.

There is supposed to be a clear procedure that would allow anyone that has the prerequisites or qualification to get a job. You don’t have to know anyone; you don’t have to be the son of somebody before you get employment.

These are some of the things happening out there that are frustrating the youths and you have heard some of them, they say they don’t have any life to live, they have graduated four, five years ago, they can’t get a job, if they want to do business, they get frustrated by insecurity and all that. So there is the need to do more to handle this situation that can be very explosive.

On whether he is happy with the situation of things after promise of change by the Buhari administration more than five years ago

I can’t say I am happy. We have done our best but that is not enough. The most frustrating aspect of it is that there are some gaps. We have a President that we had fought three times to get elected and we didn’t succeed. We tried the fourth time and we succeeded.

I believe President Buhari is a genuine person who has the interest of the common man at heart. He has the integrity and the competence, but unfortunately – I have said it several times and some people in government came out to insult me – the truth is that the kleptomania in government form the majority and, therefore, betraying the policies that the President wants to implement.

I can tell you that, from the beginning, we came in with three main agenda: To secure the country, fight corruption, provide infrastructure. You cannot say the President has not performed in these three areas. But the impact and implementation is the problem. Under normal circumstances you don’t expect the President to carry out the implementation of policies himself. He is supposed to get able hands.

That is where the problem starts. I give you an example. In the case of youths, when we were campaigning, we saw this massive number of youths and the President would always ask, what are we going to do with them?

That was when the idea of N-Power came. And from the first year in office, he approved N500billion and the money was released for graduates to be employed especially in teaching and other areas. But if you hear the number and the impact, it doesn’t add up. You hardly see anything on ground. And that is where the problem is.

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Then the President came up with TraderMoni, Anchor Borrowers programme, Youth Investment programme worth N75billion and additional N25billion to pay attention to youths’ requirement that will enable them take off. But those that are charged with the responsibility of implementing these laudable projects approved by the President aren’t doing their job.

And you could even see what happened during Covid-19 pandemic when there was lockdown, the President and the business community and non-governmental agencies came in and gave support. But what happened? They locked the palliatives up in warehouses and the people went to ransack that place. All these things could have been avoided.

Language of failure

It can’t be a language of failure. This government is sincere, they are up and doing and those areas we promised to change, we are on ground. It is just that we don’t have the percentage we targeted. For instance you cannot say the security situation in the country, especially in the North-East, in 2015 where over 22 local governments were taken over by insurgents has not improved because, as it is now, you can’t say there is a particular local government that is under the control of insurgents.

But we wanted to get the locals back to their local governments and that is a challenge because most of the locals’ properties have been destroyed, about $9.2billion destruction has been inflicted on Borno State alone. So getting the people back on their feet is what the government is doing.

On social media bill

This is something that should be debated by the Nigerian public. In the former Senate, a colleague and I were disposed to it that there is a need to control…anything in this world that has no control will have grave consequences. I am not saying that freedom of speech or of expression should be muzzled, but then people should be held responsible for whatever they say or do because, in several cases, there is fake news, hate speech.

X rated movies are even everywhere without control and you have children accessing all forms of information that can destroy their future. I think there is nothing wrong with having social media law to define what you say or how you say it and then what are the consequences of speaking out against somebody.

As a politician, I had that bad experience before. People will come out and just because they want to run you down say all sorts of things about you on the social media and you have no way of holding them responsible. I think there is a gap there,but the bill must go through the normal process, there must be public hearing to hear the opinion of the people. There should be control. Even in the mainstream media I hear people are being sanctioned for doing things that are not right.

At the same time any society that has no freedom of expression or information isn’t good. But don’t forget that the Freedom of Information Bill was enacted by the National Assembly. So any bill that comes will be looked at critically. But there should be a law that guides or controls the social media. In every country there are laws to regulate ways of life, so I don’t have any problem with that.

On N121billion allocation to defense in 2021 budget

We are at war in this country in the North-East and we are at war with criminals and bandits in the North-West, we are also at war with herdsmen that are attacking and we have security challenges in the North-Central as a result of tribal and religious conflicts that have overwhelmed the police and soldiers need to be drafted.

We don’t even have the number and if you don’t have the number and you don’t have the equipment and arms to carry out these responsibilities, then you are as good as you don’t have anything. In a country of over 200million or thereabouts and with a budget of N13trillion, and you are budgeting paltry N27billion for the Army in a period of war, that does not show seriousness. This N27billion and it is capital expenditure I am talking about is supposed to be the money they will use to buy ammunition, buy trucks, kit personnel and do everything that is capital related.

Yes, when you look at the figures, the Army proposed for personnel/operations N567billion but in the appropriation before the National Assembly now, they proposed N461billion; that means there is a shortfall of N106billion. Remember that these are personnel costs.

When you send people out in 33 states operating you have to pay their allowances, you have to feed them; you have to buy fuel and all that. Those are operational costs. And their overhead is N21billion while N20billion is approved. Now let me take you to what happened in 2020.

The capital budget allocated to the Army was N34billion but only half of that was released. Even their personnel cost that is N20billion only N11billion was released to them. The personnel/operations cost last year was N408billion but only N300billion was released. If you send someone out there to fight a war and you don’t pay him his dues you can understand the frustration; that is why so many things unfortunately happen, very embarrassing things. But then the main problem is that the Army doesn’t complain, they can’t complain, they are not politicians and that is where we come in. I go to see what they are doing with my committee members and then speak out because security is number one.

In a budget of N13trillion, in a period of war, and with archaic equipment and ammunition and you are budgeting N27billion, this is not it. Yes the President normally provides N100billion for Operation Lafiya Dole, that amount is in the budget but they don’t release it regularly. Like I told you, if you do common arithmetic whereby you have over 30, 000 troops in the theatre and each soldier is entitled to a daily allowance of N2, 000, multiply N2, 000 by 30, 000, what you get is about N70m and you calculate that per week you know what that means before you now take it to a year. That tells you N100billion isn’t a big thing.

Let me say it again, the total budget of the Nigerian armed forces, if you convert it into dollars, is about $1.3billion. Number is another thing. We have about 150, 000 soldiers, they are not up to 200, 000. So if we want to end this war quickly, we must equip the Army, we must equip the Air Force, we must equip the Navy.

As things are now, they are scavenging, trying to bring back some of the equipment they bought because there was relative peace, they were not used and they are not serviceable. In their desperation, the Chief of the Army Staff recently engaged DICON (Defense Industries Corporation of Nigeria) to start producing equipment for them. You find soldiers on the field rationing ammunition and insurgents come with latest arms.

I have said it before, they seized AK49 from captured insurgents while our soldiers are still battling with AK47 and some of them are old because they were procured a long time ago. So we need to say it as it, we need to provide what the Army wants and give them a timeline, that if you don’t fight insecurity to the end by a period… Coming to the police too we don’t have the number. If we do, then there would have been no need to deploy soldiers for internal security operations like #EndSARS.