Former Ondo State Military Administrator and Director, Nigerian National War College, Chief Olabode George, in this interview with OLAWUNMI OJO, SEYE OLUMIDE and YETUNDE AYOBAMI OJO, speaks on critical national issues – insecurity, ineffective policing system, the thorny issue of groups seeking self-determination and restructuring. The former national vice-chairman, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) gives insights into what must be done to stem the wave of insecurity and why Nigeria may never win the war against Boko Haram insurgents.
Insecurity has remained a clog in the nation’s wheel of progress since returning to democratic rule in 1999, manifesting in such forms as insurgency, farmers/herders’ clashes, kidnapping, ethnoreligious upheavals, and the like. What must be done to decisively overcome this challenge?
AS a retired military officer, I was privileged to have attended the United States Naval War College where one of the topics taught is National Security. So, in responding to this question, I am not talking about the position of a novice.
There are five tenets and branches that form security and each one leads to the other. The first and the most important is food security; people must have a guarantee of having a minimum of two meals in a day. Aside from people still under parental care and who ought to be provided for by their parents, everyone must have been able to afford two meals a day. It means they must have jobs to be able to have money to feed. Parents too must have jobs to be able to provide for their children. Food security is important; without it, there’s nothing you can guarantee.
All the marauders, armed robbers and other killers in our society often look at those enjoying themselves and begin to wonder why they also cannot get the basic needs of life. When things get bad to a point, they resort to crimes. They would rather prefer to die than live in poverty or a perpetual state of helplessness.
The next tenet in ensuring security is public health security. If you fall sick, there must be a guarantee that you would get treatment in a clinic. When we were young, we had clinics all over Lagos where even little injuries you sustain while playing football are treated free.
The next is accommodation, either rented or your own property. This will guarantee that you won’t sleep on the street or wander around. This is because an idle hand is a devil’s workshop. The fourth is transportation, the ability of people to move freely without being stopped on the road either by security agents or criminals.
The last one is the physical security that we are all talking about. It does not matter how beautiful society is, we would still have a certain percentage of criminals. So, there is a need to secure lives and property so that people can sleep well and go about their businesses safely. These five factors, all together, affect national security.
We keep talking about criminality in our society but we must be ready to address what leads people into crime. Banditry is ravaging the Northeast and Northwest, and it is already penetrating the South, with perpetrators of the crimes now getting sophisticated. Joblessness is a major factor in all this. Graduates are looking for jobs to survive. In my days, we were employed before we wrote our final examinations. All we needed to do was to write our final exams and pass. Today, see the population of unemployed youths. We used to think it was only a problem in the South but it is now national. The children of the poor now have the opportunity for formal education; they can now challenge and ask questions.
The most dangerous route in Nigeria today is traverse between Taraba and Sokoto to Zamfara to Katsina to Kano and to Kaduna. I travelled by road through these routes several before and they were peaceful. You could even sleep, and if you run into any trouble on the route, people will assist you. All that is no more. This is because food security is tied to job security. No job, no money, and the palliatives the government distributed are nothing.
Nigeria is no longer in 1914; the population is now over 200 million and we are still using the methodologies used to manage the country pre-independence to manage it till now. This is why things are not working. The present system of government Nigeria is running is not working. You know, I have witnessed both sides. The way we are managing this nation is so akin to military management. This system is not a democracy. How can a single person manage over 200 million people? One person cannot be directing the Nigeria Police and you will expect that to work. The Nigerian way of policing was a colonial set up and it cannot work. It has never worked and it will never work. These are some areas this government and President Muhammadu Buhari should sit and address. He has three more years and he must use the remaining time to look into these issues with a passion so that his name could be written in gold. This is not a matter of partisan politics.
Unfortunately for us too, the differences in tribes, tongues, and culture, which ought to be an added value to Nigeria, aren’t being explored. We lay emphasis on our ethnic differences and it is dragging us backwards. These days, the number of people asking for self-determination is scary, which indicates Nigerians have not learned any lesson from the civil war. The country has been carved into six geo-political zones in addition to the states to further give people a sense of belonging, so we may not be able to return to the regional government. But let Nigeria continue to be the United States of Nigeria.
This brings us to the contentious issue of restructuring. How can Nigeria get around the conundrum?
The system we are running is fashioned after a military organisation. In the military, there is no democracy. If you talk about democracy there, it is more like insubordination and you must follow the last order. What I am saying is that we have this structure that defers to one boss; everything you want in your local government comes from the man at the top. We must stop this. Let all the states, as they exist, have their autonomy and the resources in their state be used for the benefit of their people. We copied the American system of government before the Whites came, and when the colonial masters asked us to merge, I do not think it occurred to them that a day will come when all these ethnic issues would come up. Things were done because of the economic advantages of the colonial masters.
Look at England, which remained the United Kingdom for over 300 years. Today, see what is happening. The anger started gradually as the Scottish and Welsh began to realise their differences from the English. They later insisted they wanted to be themselves. They have a principle of devolution where each nation that formed the union has their separate governments. We need to revisit the principle upon which the Nigerian union was based to make things workable. We have been fused together for over 100 years with the same method of governance; with the population growing, there is the need to revisit the system we operate.
We had a national conference, which addressed your question on what methodology we can use to reform this system. Simply put, all the states should be allowed to tap into their natural resources for the benefit of their citizens. For instance, the value of crude is going down and we have been told that by 2030, there may be no petrol engines again. So, what are we going to do with the crude oil?
Policing has also been contentious for some time now. A 200-million people population being policed by about 400,000 police officers is grossly inadequate, what’s your take?
That’s right. And policing should be local. But this is not the case in our country. When we were young, we even had evening police. In the evening, they look around to see if there is any strange thing happening. But now, the IGP is in Abuja and he is controlling DPO in several states; this is not working. We copied the American system, but the same U.S has over a 300-million population with different levels of policing systems. Remember that Americans are much wilder than us. Yet, what do they have today? Every County, that is our own local council, has its own policy with a Marshal. Every state has its own police. Then, you have the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the federal police.
But Community and State Policing have also been canvassed here?
Things have gone beyond mere canvassing now; Nigeria is now teetering on the precipice. We have been talking about the danger of insecurity for years, but those dangers are now right here with us. We cannot continue to fold our arms because the country has come to a point of, possibly, complete collapse. Who is secured or safe now? It is no longer a matter of North and South because as it is happening in the North, so also it is in the South. We are in a quagmire. Security is now the most important subject matter on the table.
The matter of insecurity was discussed at the 2014 Constitutional Conference and a report was delivered. For the first time, a civilian government organised a conference and a report was made and delivered. It took a long time to convince former President Goodluck Jonathan before he yielded. But it is one of the major things he achieved and I am sure the pages of history would be kind to him. May God also bless the chairman of the conference, the late Justice Idris Kutigi. We should ask Mr. President where the report is, because, now, even the home state of the President, Katsina, is not safe. The governor of Katsina has been talking to me and lamenting over insecurity, saying we have got to do something. He is the chief security officer of the state but he cannot control the police for the protection of his people. The Southwest also came and said Fulani people were creating tension in their region. But is this the first time that Fulani people are coming to the south with their cattle? I am 75 years old and I know this as an age-long practice. There was friendliness, peace, oneness.
Nonetheless, we need to examine the conference report and have the United States of Nigeria. We would still have a centre that would be responsible for the military, emergencies, and other critical matters that are higher than what the states could handle. This is why the states must send about 35 per cent of what they earn to the centre. In that arrangement, the local government chairman will be the most important.
This brings me to another very important area of concern. Our electioneering process is mundane and fundamentally unacceptable. There is enough technology to modernise it; the will of the people must be respected. That is when the man who would emerge as president or governor would realise that he is a servant of the people. The laws would now emanate from the base up. That is when there would be a difference between what we currently call democracy and military organisation.
Why do you think President Buhari is reluctant to implement the report of the conference?
The day former President Goodluck Jonathan was handing over to President Buhari, he said to the incumbent that the report was the most important document in the future of this nation. But Buhari laughed and said, “Okay, we will put it in the archives.” How do you interpret that? The situation of Nigeria in 2015 was not as bad as what we have today. We are now at the precipice and we have to save our nation. No nation goes through civil war twice and survives. We have to forge a nation where there is justice, fairness, and equity. We cannot continue to run this country based on ethnic sentiments. I have been to every part of this country; it is a beautiful nation. We differ in culture and other areas but the aggregate is an asset.
The onslaught against Boko Haram insurgents seems to have exposed a lot of deficiencies in our military set-up, with recent reports revealing how some military officers are deserting the waterfront. What danger does this portend?
With my knowledge in the military, having taught at the National War College in addition to being the Director, Logistics, and Analytical Support, I can tell you that the Boko Haram issue is not conventional warfare where there is a defined enemy against the state’s friendly forces. And nobody has ever won any guerilla warfare because you cannot define the enemies. Sometimes, I wonder what is wrong with our people. This is guerilla warfare, not conventional warfare. Are the Boko Haram fighters not Nigerians? In the daytime, they come out and interact with the people and return to their abode, only to come back in the night to attack.
The insurgents started on a low key a few years ago but now it has got to the peak. Yet, several years into the fight, Nigeria is still applying the same tactics as if this is conventional warfare. Imagine the amount of money that has been spent and the president is still talking about buying more ammunition to address the war. This is guerilla warfare and I challenge anybody to fault me on this. Nobody has ever won any guerilla warfare because you cannot define the enemies.
Look back at all the guerilla warfare in South America, the Americas, Asia, the Vietnam war, Somalia, Sierra Leone and some other west African countries, you do not win them by fighting and shooting alone. How do you resolve these wars? The job of the National Security Adviser (NSA) the equivalent of the CIA, MI5, MI6, KGB and others, is to gather intelligence. The responsibility of the NSA, Director General of State Security Service (SSS), the top brass of our security agencies, including military intelligence, is to infiltrate the ranks of the insurgents and know their true leaders and funders. Not much should be said on the pages of the newspaper because these are issues that should thrash in the tactical team. And to infiltrate them costs money. Whoever thinks there is going to be a final winner or loser in the Boko Haram crisis with the current approach, is a dreamer. We need money to buy intelligence, not so much of ammunition alone.
The news of some personnel saying they were leaving the military because of the war makes the military look ridiculous. But the President must also adjust the order of how he relates with the echelon of the security apparatus. A lot of sensitive issues that touch on security of the nation ought to be handled directly by him with utmost confidentiality, and not through any intermediaries.
The President also needs to take a cursory look at the situation in the country, consider the report of the National Conference, and implement some of the suggested solutions.
But why did President Jonathan find it difficult to start the implementation of the Conference Report in question?
President Jonathan himself was somewhat not very experienced. Immediately the report was submitted, the Federal Executive Council discussed it and approved it. At the time, his party had the majority in the National Assembly. He should have called the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives and get them to buy into the agenda. He should have got them to go look at the report and give him feedback. But they undermined him. That is the price we are paying today.
Who undermined who?
The people in the National Assembly undermined the President. This idea of ‘everybody to your tent’ is not good. Let us have the United States of Nigeria. If President Jonathan had got the NASS to approve the report, perhaps we would not be where we are now.