The Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Army, Mr Abdulrazak Namdas, speaks on sundry security issues in this interview with LEKE BAIYEWU
The House recently passed a resolution that the service chiefs should resign or be sacked by the President. Is the call the best solution to the security crisis?
A resolution is not a one-man issue, it is taken by the majority of members of the House and these members come from different constituencies and are faced with different challenges, and what the people tell them. So, it was based on the combination of these that when we resumed, the House said the service chiefs should go. And the reason is that the (office of the) service chief, by our understanding, is a tenured office. They were appointed in 2015 and they were there till 2017. Ordinarily, it (the tenure) is two years but the President has the powers to extend their tenure and he extended this tenure in 2017. Now, 2019 has come to an end and nothing has been said. We agreed that the President did not breach any law but if anything at all, let these people also resign for new people to come on board.’ But whether these security chiefs are changed or not, it is not going to be an end to the issues (of security challenges). The security issues on ground, as far as I am concerned as the Chairman of the Committee on Army, are far beyond just sacking the service chiefs. There is a combination of other factors, even the insurgency (by Boko Haram in the North-East) is not just a military matter. I know that it (resignation or sacking) is just one of them.
Some members of the House said the service chiefs lack the ideas to effectively tackle the security challenges. Do you agree that the call is not just about tenure?
Let us face it: I come from the North-East and I know that in 2015, seven local government areas in my state, Adamawa, were governed by Boko Haram. When I say ‘govern’, I am not saying in academic terms; there were leaders called Amirs, who were in charge and were staying in the most beautiful houses in those LGAs and had their commands down to the communities, and they were moving round. The people who were submissive (to the insurgents) had no problem. And they were dealing with the people based on their own laws as bad as they were. But with the coming on board of this President and these service chiefs, those LGAs are no longer held by these insurgents. So, to say that they have not done anything will not be fair to the service chiefs. But I feel that the argument is that people feel that if you stay too long, you lose steam. I think this is one of the things people are saying; that we brought new service chiefs and they dealt with the matter, and if we bring a new set of service chiefs they will also deal with the matter. But to be fair to the present service chiefs, they have done very well. But the argument by members is that if you have overstayed your welcome, it could be counter productive. I think this was the issue.
The Federal Government has on different occasions said the armed forces have ‘technically defeated’ or ‘decimated’ Boko Haram but the group still carries out attacks at will. Has the government been sincere with this claim?
Let us situate it this way. In the whole world, not just Nigeria alone, the trend of crises is no longer nation-versus-nation. Today, the nature of insecurity is internal security. I can count the number of countries that are at war against each other all over the world. America has issues with North Korea, America has issue with China, the Israel-Palestine issue is there, Russia-America issue is there. You can count them. But the majority is the internal security crises. And it is difficult to say that you will stay 100 per cent without hearing this kind of bombings and others once in a while. But we are worried at the scale because of recent happenings. Early 2020, it became worrisome that they (insurgents) were even trying to go back to religious issues. When you kidnap the CAN (Christian Association of Nigeria) chairman, you recorded him (as you) shot him; when you picked a boy from Plateau, you recorded him and shot him. These send a wrong message on religion. Now they are very happy to see us having issues on religious matters, so we can kill ourselves and end up fighting for them, and they will be happy that they have been able to instigate us (against each other). ‘We will not even go and fight, let them be killing themselves.’ It is not a good thing at all. Even these insurgents kill Muslims; they enter mosques several times to detonate bombs. So, what I am saying is that to some extent, the government has been able to deal with the insurgents but I think more needs to be done. That is the truth.
What else should be done?
To be sincere, no matter the kind of guns or other waepons that you can give the armed forces, that is not the solution, in my opinion, to stamp Boko Haram. I don’t think it is the solution.
What then is the solution?
The solution, in my opinion, is for us to ensure that the teeming unemployed youths that we have in this country are employed – a sizeable number of them are given employments. the government must live up to expectation. For example, the local government system is dead. If we revive the local government system, that a local government chairman can award contracts, build structures, build roads linking communities, build bridges, provide for the markets and can employ, I can tell you that it will reduce insurgency. This is because the market for insurgents is so huge in Nigeria. In fact, I am beginning to see that there is no return on investment that is sweeter in Nigeria today than crime. No business is as lucrative, that has return on investment, like crime. The reason is if you kidnap somebody and you ask for N10m, and the man pays; N10m in a jiffy and you allow the person to go, tell me the business you can do that you make N10m in less than one week. It is difficult. So, what I am saying is that why these boys are going into criminality is because they do not have so much to do. They have realised that this (kidnapping) is becoming a lucrative business. When you even kill, they look at it as one of the hazards of the job because sometimes, they get away with it. So, the best we can do is that when we ask the security forces to fight these boys, we must also wake up and allow local government, state government and Federal Government to work, so that there will be synergy to provide job opportunities. The job may not be necessarily office work. If there is construction, work will be going on and it will reduce the number of people who are idle.
What about the belief by some Nigerians that there is corruption in the military, especially relating to the welfare of personnel on the battlefield, which is also said to be frustrating the war against insurgency?
Let me tell you something, and that is why I feel sometimes that we are getting it wrong. It is like the problem of insurgency, insecurity and everything. People are feeling that it is the armed forces or the army that must solve it. That is where I feel that we must not be unfair to them. By the Act establishing the armed forces, they are to fight against external aggression. This is the training they have been given. But Section 217 of the constitution says that the President can invite them where there are internal crises that will require them. That is why he (Major General Muhammadu Buhari(retd.) has invited them. Corruption is in every sphere and institutions of Nigeria. That is that the government has established agencies called the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and other institutions to fight corruption. So, I will not sit down here and say there is no corruption in the army or in any place. It is left for the institutions that are meant to detect the corruption to expose the corruption. But first, let you and I agree that the army alone cannot solve the insurgency matter. It is a combination of factors including – and very seriously – you and I as the citizens to first cooperate with the Nigeria Police Force and the Nigerian Army and provide information for them. The government will also do its part by providing equipment and intelligence for the army. But as I told you, we must also wake up to handle the matter where it matters most. If you kill the whole of these insurgents, there is no guarantee that others will not come and join them. But if you reduce their strength by giving them jobs, providing infrastructure, I can assure you that with what the army and other security agencies are doing, there will be a progress. So, if there is corruption, it should be dealt with.
The Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai, during a budget defence session in 2019, said the army was overstretched due to internal operations in almost all the states in the country. Does this confirm that the security architecture needs a review?
Yes, when you say the security architecture needs an overhaul, there is nothing that can be static. Even commanders review strategies as they move forward. There is nothing wrong with reviewing the security architecture. I have no problem with it. What I have problem with is that each time you talk about insecurity, little mention is made of the police. It is always the army that people talk about. I said on the floor of the House that I come from Adamawa State, North-East Nigeria. When I was growing up, riot policemen that I used to know, we call them Mobile Police Force, they had the capacity to resolve any internal crisis and they were doing well because they were well-trained. If you go to Gwoza, that is the headquarters where the Mobile Police train their personnel, you will know. But as time went on, I don’t know what happened; the insurgents – Boko Haram – took over and captured the training environment, sending a psychological fear (sic) to people that ‘if these guys can even disperse Mobile Policemen in Gwoza, who are you to move close to these people?’ It was a psychological thing. But the army were able to recapture that place. As I talk to you now, the police have not commenced training since they were dispersed from that place. Efforts are being made to return them. What I am saying is that, I am not saying that the police are not working, but as you want to sustain the army with equipment and training, so I expect it should be done for the police who have major role of sustaining internal security. Once the army goes on operation and it is able to defeat insurgents, it is expected to leave the place and the police should take over. But when they go and the police have no capacity to hold the liberated towns and villages, then there is a problem. So, if we don’t handle it with a complete overhaul of all the security agencies, this issue of making gains today and losing after some time will continue.
How about the call for the decentralisation of the Nigeria Police Force? Should it be regional, state or community police?
I would have loved to have state police because, that to me is going to be constitutional. The reason some people feel they don’t like state police is the fear that the governors may use it against the opposition. But I have no problem with that. The reason is that, whether you are a governor for one tenure or two, you can’t spend more than eight years and you will come back to be a free citizen of that state. So, if you will be using the institution of the state police to suppress opposition, sometimes the table turns; when opposition will also be in government and you will be a citizen of that state. There is nothing that lasts forever. Who knew that Buhari would take over from the Peoples Democratic Party? So, you cannot predict it. People are getting wiser and more educated. So, I prefer state police.
What about a regional security outfit like Amotekun?
There is nothing wrong with it. All I will demand is that we should have a legal framework. You don’t allow people to set up security organisations without having a legal framework. In the event that it is abused, how do you solve the problem? I am not a lawyer, so I would not know. But there is nothing wrong with it. As a member of the Nigerian parliament, I cannot legislate on Amotekun because it is going to be based in a state and the House of Assembly will be on ground. But if there is a legal framework that gives me power to do so, and allow the states to do their own part, and together we can operate, then there is nothing wrong with it. What we would not like is to make it a political matter. I don’t want people to say this is a Yoruba thing. The larger people in the South-West are Yoruba, fine. But it should not be looked at from a Yoruba perspective, or Igbo or Hausa.
Some security and diplomatic experts have warned against Nigeria’s Visa-on-arrival policy as it would allow an influx of terrorists and other criminals. Do you see it as a security threat too?
It is not true. Let me explain it: when the President talks about herdsmen not being Nigerians, the herdsmen who come with AK-47 do not come through the airports, they come through the porous borders that are not even manned by officials. If you come to my community, there is the Gumti Game Reserve which is bordering Adamawa, Taraba and Cameroon. It is the largest game reserve in West Africa, not Nigeria. It is five times bigger than Sambisa Forest. The place is so big that not all government officials can man those areas. So, there are routes that have government officials from the Nigerian Immigration Service, Nigeria Customs Service, Nigeria Police Force and others that man the areas. There are also places that if a government official goes there with an AK-47, he is endangering his life. So, these guys (criminals) prefer to come through those areas. But visa-on-arrival is that you are set to be on an airplane, you will land at an airport and you will enter a bus to be driven straight to an Immigration office, you will pay for documents and have them stamped. These are two different things. These ones (trans-border criminals), you cannot even see them and you cannot control it.