Says he stumbled on secret document outside Nigeria

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By Chris Onuoha

Professor Khalifa Dikwa is the Dean of the Borno Elders Forum. In this interview, Dikwa pointedly says moles in the military are working for Boko Haram terrorist group that has been fighting to take territories in the North-East.

There have of recent been renewed attacks by the Islamist group which lays ambush for travelers on major roads in the embattled region and even troops while unleashing terror on soft targets at will after being ‘technically defeated’ by the armed forces. Dikwa says he stumbled on secret document on potential terrorism in Africa as far back as 1984, saying the problem could have been stopped from blowing into the monster it has become. Excerpts:

Most people who talk about Borno and insecurity do not reside there. As someone who resides in the region, what is it like to live in the shadow of the North-East  insurgency?

Maiduguri is safer than most cities in the North. I don’t want to mention names. But like you said, I am in a very unique position to talk about the security situation. Prior to the crisis, I warned the authorities that something like this was coming to our shores but they did not heed my warning. That was in 1984 when I was a student and also a visiting lecturer in 2002 (at Universities of Besancon and Grenoble, France). I stumbled on a secret document.

I had this teacher who liked me because of my outspokenness. She asked where I came from and I told her Borno. Incidentally she knew about Borno and North-East. One day she invited me for coffee. She told me that when I returned home, whether as a teacher or a journalist, I should tell my people that what her country was doing was not known to them.

She spoke about her country’s foreign policy. She mentioned that certain countries (Britain, France and the big one United States), one of them in particular, were making about 500 billion dollars every year from countries they colonized. This was in 80s and 90s but in 2002 when I came back to Nigeria, I reiterated it. She said it was something already in the pipeline and the colonialists were waiting for the right time to implement. She said one billion dollars was enough to destabilize a country rich in mineral resources.

Having traced what led to the current situation, once in a while, we hear that most areas in the North-East are not safe. The military disputes this. What is the situation?

You are right, because even if Boko Haram terrorists are not physically there, they are psychologically there. From time to time, they ride motorcycle into the cities and harass the locals to pay levy. This is outside Maiduguri.  They strike at any time. The reason is that this government did not heed the advice of the Private Military Contractors (PMC, also known as mercenaries) that was brought in by the Jonathan administration that neutralized Boko Haram at that time. The PMC said, “We have done our bit, the rest of the solution is dialogue which government has to do from the position of strength”. And the other one was that we should allow paramilitary agencies and the police to take over the areas recaptured (from Boko Haram) so as to allow the PMC to move to the borders.

Unfortunately, the military has usurped the role of the police till date. The area in question (Borno) is vast; second only to Niger in terms of territorial measure. It is a very big and difficult terrain, that even if you put all our soldiers in Nigeria in Borno, there will still be space left. Therefore, not allowing other security agencies to take over was a minus. What was advised by the military contractor from South Africa then also played out when Chadian President was attacked because he is a product of revolutionary tendencies right from the days of Sani Abacha (former Nigerian Head of State) and has been fighting France since independence.

France doesn’t let her ex-colonies go because it continues to keep 85 percent of their resources in France and gives them only 15 percent to do contract and other things. So when they exhaust their 15 percent, they borrow their own money domiciled in France and pay high interest rate. This was a problem in French colonised Africa until Italy began to discuss the issue of migration into Europe, accusing France as the cause because it did not allow its colonies to develop. You can also observe that in all French colonies, there is no security even when the French army is there.

You said Maiduguri is safer than many other northern cities, but Borno is the one in the news because of Boko Haram. The governor has been attacked twice. How do you think we can tackle the security challenge there?

If I were to have the ears of the President, I would insist that the command system of the military be decentralized so that junior commanders can also give command in case of emergency. Even the police have their own way of acting rather than waiting for orders. The military system is still colonial in nature in the sense that the British did it without allowing us to review the laws.

The command, as long as it is top – down, will not work because this is an emergency situation that needs emergency solution. Second, let us see the technology the military is using. When there is an attack by the air force, there are no soldiers on the ground to attack simultaneously. The synergy has not been there. I will advise that the command structure be reviewed and brought up to the level of field commanders. Also there is a need to see results from field operations every one or two weeks forwarded to the President, so that he can crosscheck the reports. It looks like there is no synergy between security agencies as if there is rivalry. And the President should be able to say “Do the work within two months; if you are not able to do the work, submit your resignation letter because there are many Nigerians who are willing to serve the country well.”

Another thing is that it is only in Nigeria that military personnel are retired without effective use or in touch with government. These generals, who are retired but yet active and energetic, with all their training and expertise, should be able to come into agreement with the Commander-in-Chief for result oriented achievements in the fight of insurgency.

With the attacks on the Borno governor; the military has been good in denial that they did not happen. When such thing happens, I suggest that the military should be upfront in action. But none of us should denigrate our military because it has always been the best in Africa, including the peace missions embarked on a global level.

The army has received commendations both here in Nigeria and abroad, but the military has been riddled with excuses fighting terrorists. It is a war economy. It has to do with hands from outside and then those who are making money within, possibly those who are close to the corridors of power and maybe thinking along political lines. But in actual sense, when you have insecurity issue in a country, everybody should forget his background and join the leadership in the fight, which is the right thing to do.

And then, the army should be able to show the media that ‘this is what we do’ rather than telling the media to report what they did; furnishing us with films and video of air strikes without seeing the weapons, the dead bodies and so on. For the army and air force, they didn’t follow up or continue with what the military contractors did in 2014. In 2015 when Buhari came to power, Nigerians forgot their ethnic biases, partisanship and joined hands in order to dislodge the government of President Goodluck Jonathan.

Much later, things apparently went bad; people are killed, and the killing is much higher than it was under the previous administration. The President of Chad, when he was to defend his country, had to lead the fight. And within two weeks, he was able to annihilate Boko Haram up to the borders. It is no secret that they were able to dismantle their (Boko Haram) base and even free some Nigerian military men in captivity.

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These are people who are very far from us and even listen when we talk. Whenever I speak, the people in Niger listen to me and act on advice, but Nigerians would not, it is as if we are disconnected from the leadership at the center. We expected the air force and army to come together and synergize with communication gadgets to take over and complete the job that was started.

This year 2021, the President has said insecurity issue will be tackled. But some people say what they heard is the military solution while some talk about negotiations?

When the military annihilated Boko Haram in 2015, we expected at that time that the military was in the position of strength to talk to these boys, even if it is meeting in another country to have a dialogue. This is an ideology that cannot be wiped out with force. Therefore, it is better to talk to them. If there is something they are getting, economically, Nigeria can afford it if they drop the guns. That was not done. The government of Jonathan, at that time, formed many committees to do certain works including the committee of ambassadors.

Those reports are still gathering dust. Their reports were not implemented as if there were no will to do it. Therefore, ‘stick and carrot’ is the best. Our own military with a reputation should not be denigrated. Somebody, in the name of protest, infiltrated Lagos to destroy things and kill people, and then, government stepped in to completely pull it down rather than using the internal mechanism to punish the culprits. It is possible to do things rather than pull down a well trained force because of the excesses of few individuals. I do not like the way the police were humiliated the other time (during #ENDSARS), and they also started denigrating the military. We have the best police in Africa. The media should be able to tackle those who look down on our own military. And at the same time, the President and his Vice should arrange surprise visits to the commands to encourage our troops at the warfront and know what is happening. President Buhari has released enough money to the military to implement whatever they want to do. So why is the situation still down? But I could still see some military personnel carrying AK-47 rifles which cannot fire beyond 800 meters. What about modern weapons that should be higher than what the insurgents use, with night visual equipment?

Looking at the relationship between the military, the police and the people, the military often times says they are not provided with real time intelligence by civilians. From your point of view, is there trust between the people and the military?

To be candid, the trust has been exhausted because our people used to send information to the military. And essentially, that information, no matter how confidential it is, there will be a phone call back to the person, telling him “we are aware of what you did.” That shows there are moles within the military. With technology, those moles are bound to be fished out.

The trust has been eroded and that is why there are so many leakages and the people stopped cooperating. Secondly, what do you do with cooperation when insurgents will come at night and the military will not come to their rescue? It is not true that the people were not cooperating. They have done their best, and yet they are not protected. When their confidential information to the military is eventually leaked to insurgents, who does it? Is it not the mole within the military?

There are two things in the North; one is the Almajiri phenomenon, two is the number of young minds that have opportunity to make friends with the devil because of being out of school. How can these two things be tackled?

It has to do with negligence in developing the rural areas. Basic infrastructure should be there for them to get busy. Imagine, when a governor has to visit a rural area said to be free from insurgents and yet came under attack, what does it tell? If you go to the headquarters of the military, they have gadgets that can see the entire Borno territory and even Boko Haram fighters moving on motorcycles through many kilometers unchallenged.

When you say reintegration, it is nonsensical in the sense that it doesn’t take place when there is no ceasefire. It is only in a situation of complete ceasefire as it happened in Colombia  after 50 years of insurgency that reintegration can work.

These boys are running their guns and killing people, you profile those who surrender and retrain them and send them back to the society without taking care of those who are traumatized by insurgents, how can it work? Rather, it is better to keep them far away from people who are traumatized, and who have not gone back to their ancestral homes, than making them comfortable. Indirectly, you are encouraging the young ones who are peaceful at home, and not cared for at all, to join forces with insurgents. To stop this trend, you must not integrate them into society. Take them somewhere else, far away from Nigeria or away from the areas they have terrorized. Remember that these boys were initiated by force. You never can tell what they have taken as oath. This formation is a cult. It has nothing to do with religion. Some were given ethnic task while some were given religious task but it has nothing to do with religion. It is the same thing with Al-Shabab, Taliban and Al Qaeda.

When you see a child soldier involved in killing in Africa, you see resources involved. It is the way the arms industry makes their money. They create wars to sell their arms. That industry alone is worth over 2 trillion dollars. Without war, they will not make money. Secondly, it is by pitching one country against another that they will be invited in the name of peace keeping. Nigeria is the only country that is envied for not inviting foreign troops. I am not against foreign troops within Africa but troops from Europe, UK or America sent under the name of United Nations do not bring peace. In Central Africa, Congo and other African countries, they are there without peace in hand.

In some other parts of the North, we have had cattle rustling, banditry, religious crisis, illegal mining and others. What do you make of this?

It is part of the template created from outside. The template has been there for long waiting for the leadership to start doing it. It is always easier in a democracy to mess up the system, because it was in democracy that a President decided to take weapons from the joint multinational task force in northern Borno around Lake Chad to the South. Some of them were transported to Lagos barracks, exploded and killed many people. Nobody asked questions about what happened?

Interview first aired on Channels TV Newsnight

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