By Kennedy Mbele
A member of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Defense, Hon. Abubakar Ahmad, speaks on the difficulties the House is facing in getting to the root of the Abuja-Kaduna train attack that has been blamed on bandits.
On the aftermath of attack
The Speaker conveyed our annoyance when the Service Chiefs refused to honour our invitation so that we can actually get to the root of the problem, but I am opportune to be a member of the Defense Committee of the House of Representatives and we have been carrying out our over sight function. We were equally disappointed that the train attack happened despite all the apparatus, the parameters that we put in place; we expected them to act, yet results are not really as desired. Now, although it is not good to discuss some of these problems openly because we do not know who may be listening or reading, to put the record straight, it is just that something is wrong with this part of the security architecture, especially in our armed forces because they are the ones saddled with the responsibility of ensuring security. We have this problem but what we could deduce is that those gathering the information are either getting wrong information or the people supplying the information are supplying them the wrong information.
We hear that those in charge of intelligence sometimes compromise it. Now are you saying that we are okay in terms of the equipment needed by our soldiers to go after the bandits, successfully?
In terms of weaponry and other apparatus, I can say that we are relatively ok, 70 to 80 %. Given the instance of the attack of that Monday evening, check the time of response, you can see that it took the military just 10 to 15 minutes to respond, within which they were deployed and they were able to overcome the bandits. For that, I think we don’t have problem but what about prior to? Look at the time the bandits arrived on motor-bike and some in private buses for evacuation of their abductees. Our security had no information to act before the attack. Look at the time it took them to plant explosives on the railway, our security couldn’t detect them, even as they were moving en-mass. That leaves some questions unanswered. We are more or less of attacking and repelling, instead of being preventive. So, if they have been pre-emptied, sighted planning all these attacks, with unusual movements along the rail lines, at least they must have passed people that should be able to report. Apart from the locals, we should have devices for surveillance, such as cameras to monitor the rail lines. I heard Senator Shehu Sani saying he witnessed cows roaming along the railway on three or four occasions. Why should cows be allowed on rail ways? This shows that surveillance equipment is either not in place along the railway or is not being deployed.
You mentioned community engagement. There seem to be a disconnect between government, the administration of the railway service and the host communities. What kind of engagement do we need to obtain the information needed to prevent attacks?
There are two things involved and both translate into patriotism. How sincere am I or how sincere are the host communities that they want to defend the nation and themselves etc? On the other side, the security personnel, how patriotic are they also, that they wouldn’t sell information or refuse to act due to money? Our investigations reveal that we look at those bandits as locals in the local sense, but they have intelligence. They have people that supply them intelligence, although there are also bandits among them. So, they are very good in taking advantage of the situation both from the military personnel and the community. They give large amounts of money to communities, taking advantage of their poverty and unpatriotic nature of some citizens. Even if I am poor but patriotic, I should be able to do the right thing in that manner. I commend the Service Chiefs who are prosecuting this war against terrorism. They are doing their best, mopping up the moles in the security services and punishing them but suffice to say that as they are doing that, the bandits use the communities, giving them money. So, I believe more has to be done with communities, individuals and their leaders. If that had been done, the security would have been able to know where the bandits are hiding. We have advocated for their declaration as terrorists, so that they can be engaged in that capacity. If that is done, the next thing is to identify their hide out, go there and finish them.
What can you tell us about the invitation of the Service Chiefs by the House of Representatives? What values was that meant to add to the situation on ground?
The benefits of the invitation are very clear. When the security leaders come to us, we will now discuss, either in camera or in the open, to know their challenges, now since we are on a rescue mission. What are their impediments? Do the impediments require legislative intervention? Such you cannot do with subordinates. So, we want to hear from them. They have seen the insecurity situation and briefed the President. It is not every information that everyone in the hierarchy of the command must have. We want to obtain from them pieces of information we can use in obtaining more sensitive information when we call for public hearing, that can be used in proffering appropriate solution, which is what we need now. Up till now, we did not receive any information from the bandits, we don’t know the motive of the attack, whether it is to show how porous the country is or they first attacked the airport to show how vulnerable our facilities are. The invitation was also to find out where we can come in; whether we need to talk to Mr President or make express approval that would enhance their success in their fight against bandits. We lack words to express their non-appearance. We are disappointed.
Every community has representative in their state House of Assembly and in the National Assembly. What roles do you think the representative can play in bridging that community engagement gap?
Just yesterday, at the Defense Committee, we mapped out plans to identify the communities around Niger, Kaduna, Katsina and Zamfara states, so that we can call their representatives, give them security tips through the security experts we are engaging. The representatives will play a very big role. We want to even go higher by identifying community leaders in this regard. Don’t be surprised, any community that refuses to comply will be wiped out. You know the story of Zaki Biam very well.
Do you think that having a central intelligence clearing house is something feasible?
Yes, it is feasible and now is the time to have it. As I said earlier, we at the House of Representatives have started working on some issues and this is one of them, just like the synergy between the DSS and the police with regards to information sharing. A system whereby information gathered on security by the DSS from a village in the state has to go through the local government, then to the state Director of DSS and go to Abuja before getting to the Kaduna State Commissioner of Police is not proper because the damage would have been done before the message gets to the Commissioner. A decentralized information gathering and dissemination unit is better. We have set up a committee that will cut across all those involved with the view to reducing response time that would prevent the commission of a crime and if it happens to occur, response time must be in the barest minimum. Again, equipment, you can’t send a policeman to such an assignment with just AK47, without protection. He must protect himself first, before providing protection for people. Again, our officers complain bitterly about allowances, to the extent that they provide kits for themselves despite their huge allocations. So, if a Police Commissioner says “we are not prepared to fight the war”, he can’t be far from the truth. Simply put, their little allowances are important, that’s what can boost their morale. The issue of a central intelligence processing unit is an issue that we are looking at how it is going to be implemented possibly by a fiat legislative action, it is really being contemplated and will be put in place as soon as we get the required inputs.