Monday, January 12, 2015 6:13 am
A retired military general, Ishola Williams has upbraided Nigeria’s military for battling the Boko Haram insurgency in the wrong way, without strategic and tactical plans.
Maj. General Williams spoke in an interview with the Sunday Trust.
He also urged the embattled states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa to take on the challenge of fighting the insurgents by giving military training to the young boys in the civilian task force.
Excerpts from the interview:
What is your take on the issue of insecurity in Nigeria?
I will say that we have not been strategic at operational level. I have not seen any political party since 1966 that has put in their manifestoes, from the security perspective, what the country deserves to have for stability. That is the way we have been treating the police and the army. The stupid thing is that we continue to create new agencies instead of strengthening the ones we have. Instead of strengthening the traffic police, we created the Federal Road Safety Corps; you increase the cost, you give people jobs but of what use?
Instead of creating a volunteer force within the communities for civil defense and security, you decided to create a special force called Nigerian Civil Defense Corps, and what did they do? They are quarrelling with the police over arrest of armed robbers and defending pipelines. The people want to defend the pipelines themselves not give it to any government agency to defend. Until the day we behave like people who really want security forces for the real reason of having security forces as a public good and public service, we will continue to run into problems.
The second aspect of it is that most of the political leaders do not understand what security is all about. We need to be able to look at security from the two important aspects; first, the safety of the community and second, the security of the country itself. You should put emphasis on the safety of the community because when the community is safe, the country is safe; when the community is safe, the individual within that community is also safe. And what does safety mean? It is being able to live a life free of insecurity. So, when you have a country like that, then you have community safety and at the same time, you are able to protect your leadership so they don’t get assassinated, they don’t get kidnapped and this gives you a foundation for development.
In order to have the necessary force to defend that, what we should do first and foremost is to have a sort of total security approach, building on that community safety. The security agencies can then make sure that people within their communities don’t create problems. After all, where did the current insurgency come from? It came from the communities, the terrorists come from the community areas. So, if the communities take security serious and they work with all the elements of security agencies, we won’t have terrorism or the so-called insurgency. Look at Niger Republic for example, why don’t they have Boko Haram? They are majority Muslims. Why don’t Cameroon have until recently? People talk of governance as the cause of this problem, but Biya has been in government in Cameroun for over 30 years, why was there no insurgency there?
What can the government do to urgently to address the Boko Haram problem in Nigeria?
Unfortunately, if I discuss that now, it will be a story for the deaf and dumb. In fact, the President himself said he gets advice from the left, right and centre and he is confused and that is failure in strategic leadership. To a certain extent, it means he has a problem with his strategic team because he is supposed to get advice from right, left and centre but he has special advisers who are supposed to diagnose same. If there is an urgent problem, you don’t analyse anymore, you diagnose because when you are sick, you go to a doctor and at that point, a doctor doesn’t bother himself analysing, he diagnoses and asks for the symptoms and things like that and then prescribes medicine for you. We have passed the stage of analysis, we need some diagnosis and that is what we are not doing.
The second thing is that every time we do things, we look at the western model; every time we have a problem, we run to the United States. Now that the US says they are cut off, what is going to happen? It makes sense to me that if terrorism is a global problem and affecting us locally, we must find local solution to it.
Now that these states have created some sort of civilian JTF, the best thing is to convince the Federal Government to let them train them up to that level where they will be able to take up the job. The Boko Haram seems to be more afraid of those boys than those in uniform and if that is the case, it means that if these civilian JTF are properly trained with the community support, they will be able to curtail Boko Haram elements to a certain extent—Gen. Williams
What the President needs is strategic thinking and tactical action. We aredoing the tactical action because we put soldiers there to fight with the civilian JTF, but at the strategic thinking level, I don’t see anything. I don’t see any innovation. If you look at the tactics that Boko Haram is using, it is normal guerrilla tactics where you hide, come out to strike and then go and hide again. It means that we are reacting to Boko Haram, we are not proactive. How we should become proactive is the challenge.
The third thing is that we just believe that we need weapons to be ableto confront Boko Haram. To me, weapons are of less concern. How to use the weapons and train the people to use the weapons properly are the bottomline because if you know how to fight, then you know what sorts of weapons you need to fight and who you are fighting. That is the way I think the whole thing needs to be approached. From what I read in the newspapers, it amazes me when the military says that it is doing something because every time they tell you that they have captured a place, Boko Haram will capture another place and abduct people and so on. The military has lost its credibility. Unfortunately, nobody believes what they say anymore.
Terrorism war is the most difficult war to fight and most countries that have succeeded is because the communities were the ones who were really on the look out for the terrorists. That is why I will continue to talk about community safety and building on that community safety. To be able to do that means the traditional rulers have a responsibility. We need to go back to the past when the Emirs were in charge of security within those communities. If not, we have a very long way to go.
You talked about lack of strategic thinking on our leaders’ part as being responsible for the continued Boko Haram insurgency. Can you proffer some of this strategic thinking and as a retired general, what do you suggest should be the government and military’s point of action now to curtail the menace?
It will be difficult for me to answer that question because I am no longer in the military and not close to government, so I don’t know what is going on there. From what I have heard, too, the United States says they do not want to give raw information to our intelligence services because anytime they give information, Boko Haram gets to hears about it. The Camerounians, too, have said the same thing.The second and most important thing is that nobody knows the leadership of Boko Haram. Even the military said they don’t want to fight Boko Haram and that they wished they could negotiate with them but regretted that they don’t know who to negotiate with. So, if I have to proffer advice, I need to be updated on a daily basis of what is happening and even visit places like Maiduguri or Mubi talking to people to be able to come to conclusion at various levels.
However, I know that if the state governments in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa are waiting on the constitutional provision that the Federal Government is in charge of security, they will wait for a long time. In the countries where they have managed to curtail terrorist and insurgent activities, ithas been states responsibilities.
Now that these states have created some sort of civilian JTF, the best thing is to convince the Federal Government to let them train them up to that level where they will be able to take up the job. The Boko Haram seems to be more afraid of those boys than those in uniform and if that is the case, it means that if these civilian JTF are properly trained with the community support, they will be able to curtail Boko Haram elements to a certain extent. Why am I saying so? Every time the Boko Haram abducts people or raid a town, they are strengthened.That is why they can attack a place with 50 to 100 people. If you can stop or deter them from doing that, then you are reducing their strength.The soldiers cannot be everywhere but the communities have a lot of young people who, together with the efforts of traditional rulers, can curtail Boko Haram. So, the Federal and the state governments have to get to a stage in which the Federal Government must pass some responsibilities to the states formally.