Asimiyu Abiodun Ladepo, an expert in military and security based in the United States, in this interview by SANYA ADEJOKUN, speaks on general insecurity in the country, payment of ransom to bandits, among other issues.
How would you assess the general security situation in the country?
It is very clear things have been getting progressively worse in the last couple of years. True, no country is immune from crimes and crises. Even the Vatican experiences some degree of violent crimes and scandals. But in most parts of the world outside Africa, there are consequences for criminal behaviours. Consequences, depending on how severe they are and how commensurate they are to the crimes committed, have huge deterrence effects on those that might be thinking about committing the same or other crimes. Another thing that helps to deter crime is the country’s capacity and capability to catch criminals before, during or after a crime has been committed. On both counts, Nigeria has failed woefully. We have demonstrated a gross inability to develop our law enforcement programmes in tandem with the growing sophistication of criminals. We are employing 12th century policing system to chase 21st century criminals. The result is that criminals have become emboldened, even scornful of our security apparatuses. So now, we have a country careening into complete lawlessness and anarchy. Pretty soon, if the situation is not arrested, we’ll be no different from Somalia of the early to mid-90s.
Inability to defeat terrorism was a factor for President Goodluck Jonathan losing the 2015 election. Has Buhari fared better?
He has not. Maybe, I feel he’s even performed worse because like many, I expected more from him. It is befuddling to many Nigerians. They voted for Gen Muhammadu Buhari because they thought being a former military officer, one that served at the very top of the military as Commander-in-Chief, understood the country, the military and its doctrines, its leadership and materiel needs, and would superintend over the crisis with the voluntary authority conferred by an overwhelming victory by the ballot as opposed to the forced authority of a coup d’état. Under his watch, hundreds of school children have been abducted on many separate occasions, with no consequences whatsoever on those kidnappers. Like I said earlier, criminals will be criminals. No country is immune from crimes. But we are not making any spectacular progress in catching them and blowing up the syndicates. No consequences. If his administration is working secretly to unmask the characters behind these crimes, we have no inkling. All we have to work with is that his government claims it is not paying ransoms but the kidnappers say they are receiving ransoms. I think I will believe the kidnappers. We are incentivising them to continue the crimes.
Buhari has performed well in other areas, but on security, he has been helpless, even obtuse. He has been absent, at least in the eyes and minds of most victims of terrorism. It is not enough for a president to be doing his best quietly to solve a problem. He or she must be seen by the people to be working to solve the problem. It is the job of the president (or governor, for that matter) to engage the public; to interact regularly with them; to motivate and galvanise them; to empathise with them; to sit down for interviews with the media; to take questions directly from ordinary citizens, ;o get out of the cocoon of Aso Rock, go round the country to see things for himself and let the people see him or her; to mingle with the citizens from time to time.
Can we attribute the large scale insecurity across states to the politics of 2023?
I hope not. I don’t know. I don’t want to think so. Yes, there has always been marginal increase in violence whenever we are close to an election. Even for bigger and more experienced democracies like America, at the very least, there is a natural rise in tension when elections are close. And it is understandably so because so much is at stake. But what we have in the country right now has been festering for so long, un-attenuated, even since the 2019 elections! We could have the 2023 elections tomorrow and kidnapping for ransom will not abate as long as those committing the crimes know that they can hardly be caught.
A former army captain and Islamic scholar, Sheikh Gumi has been advocating a blanket forgiveness for terrorists. How would you analyse this suggestion?
That is just ludicrous. First, what are the grievances of the terrorists? How has Nigeria offended them to warrant the sustained attacks on the country? What did Nigeria take from them that they are asking the country to return? While I opposed the amnesty given to the Niger-Delta militants on the general principle that you do not reward criminality, at least we all knew that the militants were fighting for a fairer share of the country’s revenue that was being derived from their region at the expense of pollution of their farms and creeks and general deprivation in their communities. The goose that was laying the golden eggs was slowly being annihilated. So, the Niger-Deltans had a case. What exactly are the current terrorists, almost entirely from the North (and I believe they are not even Nigerians) asking Nigeria to return to them? What did we take from them?
Let Gumi tell the world how Nigeria offended them and to the point that they took up arms against the country. No, I would not give blanket forgiveness to any terrorist. You do that and we go back to the issue of deterrence and crime versus punishment that I mentioned earlier. You have to bring the full weight of the law on the head of violent criminals if you capture or arrest them. If they engage you on the battlefield, you have to destroy them. There are just no two ways about it. If you can’t do that, then you are not fit to lead. Whatever problems hindering the military and other law enforcement entities from being successful needs to be addressed as matters of national security because they are. Without physical security, there will be no food security and no emotional security. The territorial integrity of the country will be at stake, as Nigeria’s is right now.
Should we invite military contractors to help our military in tackling terrorism?
Wouldn’t that be a shame that a country like ours must employ mercenaries to fight terrorists? Look, the terrorists that we are fighting today are different from the kind of enemies for which you deploy mercenaries anyway. These enemies are not structured like conventional forces are that will enable mercenaries to plot how to attack their communication systems and command and control headquarters. They don’t have the kind of hierarchical leadership that you can target say a battalion commander and take the battalion.
These are non-state actors with no fixed addresses. They do not obey the laws of war. They know nothing about the international Conventions’ guidance on the treatment of prisoners. They don’t wear uniforms and there are no recognisable insignias that delineate their structures. So, rather than hire mercenaries, why don’t we call on countries that have experiences in fighting the scourge of terrorism and partner with them to nip the situation before it consumes Nigeria and spreads to other parts of the world?
I am sure our neighbouring countries do not want to see a Nigeria overrun by terrorists. The countries of the West do not want to see a lawless Nigeria. Why are we not making a more forceful case for partnering with them to help fight the war? Clearly, in areas that we are deficient, that is, the full spectrum of intelligence gathering, collation, analysis and dissemination and sophisticated weaponry that will limit risks to our troops, we can ask for help from countries that have those capabilities without breaking international laws and without the shame of employing mercenaries who are still likely to fail.
We still remember allegations that $2.5 billion security budget was lost to corruption before 2015. Has the All Progressives Congress (APC) government successfully tackled corruption in the defence sector? If you are referring to “Dasukigate” – the one that involved a former National Security Adviser (NSA) Col Sambo Dasuki, that case seems to have joined the legion of similar cases that have been consigned to the dustbin. Corruption is a phenomenon that is ingrained in our psyche as a society, even in our churches and students’ unions. The military is no different. There are those who believe that we are unable to defeat the terrorists because some military officers are making money, a lot of it, off the war that we are prosecuting. And that naturally, they are doing all that they can to keep the war going. Maybe they are right, but I don’t have any evidence of that. The procurement system in the military is such that you need the connivance of a lot of people to steal a lot of money. I don’t see how that will happen without the knowledge of an alert president, finance minister, defence minister, national security adviser, major units’ commanders and even the entire FEC. But then, the procurement system in the military is replicated in other ministries and departments too, and yet people embezzle billions.
But your question is whether the government has successfully tackled corruption in the defence sector. I will say that I have not seen many cases of corruption being alleged and going to trial. To be fair, it may be that there are just no clear, verifiable cases of corruption. Our thieves may have gotten better at stealing. And if there is no evidence of stealing, you just can’t manufacture it. Anyone that has evidence of corruption should expose it.
Bandits from the North are said to be taking over Yoruba rural areas. What is the solution?
This is very easy to solve where there is political will without politicisation. Let us de-emphasise the ethnic part of the problem for a minute: Herding cattle by anybody, Fulani or not, in a free range manner that leads to the destruction of farms, in this day and age, should not be acceptable to anybody. Carrying of illegal firearms like the AK-47 assault rifle by cattle herders, ostensibly to defend their cattle against rustlers, is illegal. Now, the rampant herding of cattle deliberately through farmlands, armed with illegal weapons used in abducting farmers for ransom, raping their women and children, and killing the farmers, is clearly a huge crisis that should get the attention of our leaders at every level. When those crimes are now predominantly committed by one tribe – in this case the Fulani – and predominantly in one part of the country – in this case, the south – and most especially the southwest, not dropping everything to resolve the problem is tantamount to dereliction of duty by those charged with the security of lives and properties. It is a national security matter because it has the real potential of setting the country ablaze.
The solution, in the short term, must include governors in affected states issuing immediate administrative bans on the herding of cattle within their respective areas of jurisdiction, and enforcement of the bans by seizing the cattle and arresting violators. I know that governors may not have the personnel to seize every cow and arrest every herder. They don’t need to seize every cow or arrest every herder. All they need to do is to seize those that they can seize and arrest those that they can arrest. Once they seize erring cows and auction them off immediately, cow owners will begin to think twice before herding. The fines for violating the ban on herding should also be very stiff. It should be something that local governments can collect on behalf of the state; not something that will clog up the judicial system. Most of the cows are owned by wealthy people either within the South-West or living in other parts of the country and taking advantage of the lush vegetation in the South-West. Once those people start to lose cattle for good (not just cosmetically seized and returned after a week or two, but seized and sold off with zero sharing of proceeds with owners), they will find other means of rearing their cattle.
With respect to illegal weapons, there should not even be any discussion about that. The laws are very clear about that. The police ought to shift their focus away from roadblocks to hunting down those carrying illegal weapons. Trust me, when our police want to work, they are very effective. They know how to use intelligence and how to surprise suspects. I have seen a team of officers from the Oyo State police command descend on a suspect’s home at 5 o’clock in the morning and effecting arrests. So, they can be effective if they have the right motivation and the right leadership.
In the long term, governments (federal and states) should stop this paternalistic disposition to Fulani herdsmen. Treat them like you treat poultry farmers, snail farmers, fish farmers, goat farmers, and pig farmers. Stop this nonsense about setting up a ranch for them, about providing water sources for the ranch, providing food sources for the ranch. That’s nonsense. Let everybody, who does not want his cattle seized by the government source for his own land and build his own ranch however he wants it. Do governments provide land for other animal farmers? No. Cattle owners should therefore not be given preferential treatment.
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