OrderPaperToday- With the renewed boko haram attacks in the north-eastern region of the country and the prevailing security challenges across the country, many Nigerians now have doubts whether the government is in control of security in the country.
In this interview with OrderPaperNG, the former chairman of the Committee on Army in the 8th House of Representatives, Mr. Rimamnde Kwewum Shawulu, a member of the PDP representing Donga/Ussa/Takum and Special Development Areas federal constituency, Taraba State, speaks on amnesty for repentant members of the terrorist sect, why the war against boko haram insurgency is not progressing, power play and other actors contributing to rising insecurity in the country. Excerpts by Lizzy Chirkpi:
In the early years of the first term of the present administration, Nigerians were told Boko Haram had been completely degraded but there seems to be renewed insurgency attacks in the North East. As a former chairman of the House Committee on Army, what would you say is responsible for the worsening state of insecurity?
I do not know whether we should be saying it is renewed attacks across the country or maybe we are really not aware of what is going on different from what we used to know some years back. But let us take the issues from two perspectives – first of all, the political perspective.
When the present government came into power in 2015 after the defeat of Goodluck Jonathan, it wanted to give the impression that it was better than the ousted administration, and, therefore, it needed to win those political points. So, it had to play the political points from the reality but the reality of the situation as we know is that Boko Haram has remained very strong. There is need to remove politics from the reality. The reality that was on ground is that the military had made some efforts to perform its functions but then certain factors needed to be put in place for us to understand what was happening.
First of all, I want you to understand that throughout the three and half years I was chairman of the House Committee on Army, one thing we noticed and kept hammering on was that the military had over the years been very poorly funded and was understaffed. It did not have enough equipment. The propaganda before the Jonathan’s government was voted out was that soldiers were not being paid and they did not have arms and the rest of them but before the government of Jonathan left, he had brought in mercenaries who had effectively chased away Boko Haram from many locations. This happened at the twilight of that administration and the mercenaries worked for some time up till the end of 2015 before their contract was revoked.
Another thing you have to understand is that when you buy arms, they are not kept on the shelf like beverages where you just go and pay and pick them. You have to order for arms and it may take years before they will be delivered. I want you also to note that when Jonathan was president and we had Gen. Minimah and Ihejirika as Chief of Defence Staff and Chief of Army Staff, there was this propaganda by very important personalities in the north. The Borno Elders Forum and even the current president had said that anybody who was killing Boko Haram was committing some kind of injustice, that Boko Haram should be treated the same as Niger Delta militants. So, this public outcry against the activities of the military at that time inhibited a lot of things that would have been done to suppress these insurgents.
Each time the military moved, we heard people from the political circles shouting “they are killing our children” to the extent that both Minimah and Ihejirika were reported to the International Criminal Court (ICC). I am saying this because I want you to understand that what is happening now is rooted in the past. I remember when I took my committee to the House of Commons in the UK, one of the things that came up was that the Nigerian Army was not respecting the rights of Boko Haram militants to the extent that arms embargo was placed on Nigeria. Up till now, some of those embargoes have not been lifted and therefore, the government of Jonathan could not get the arms they required to fight.
When President Jonathan wanted to bypass that and buy arms from the black market, the US blocked the purchase of the arms through the use of money transfer that it was not legal. He then wanted to use cash to buy, the same people from Nigeria reported the government and the aircraft and the cash were seized in South Africa. Fortunately or unfortunately, these people are in power today. Now, we have a situation where the military and the army are short of ammunition.
Secondly, in terms of personnel, Nigeria has the lowest ratio of men in uniform to the population. I remember I sponsored a motion in the last Assembly and we carried out some research and found out that as at 2016, the ratio of soldiers to landmass in the north east was one soldier to five kilometres. This is the reason why in many locations, you see them post five or ten soldiers only because we do not have the men. We have not invested in having the men. This is just one aspect of the story.
The second part of the story, to my mind, is that the politics of the government of the day gave the people the impression that it was going to suppress Boko Haram within a very short time. And I remember as chairman of the Committee on Army, I had to intervene several times to argue that there is no example anywhere in contemporary history that insurgency of this kind is suppressed in 20 or 30 years. Today, we have a situation where even children’s minds have been polluted against people of other religions. Some of these children are as young as 6, 10, 12 years; remember the 10 year old boy that pulled the trigger of the gun to kill the CAN (Christian Association of Nigeria) chairman of Michika? Now, how do you stop insurgency that is based on ideology of religion that is in the mind of young people from that early age? This is in the minds of young people and you cannot go and tell soldiers to go and kill those young people. It is not possible. And it is very difficult and almost impossible to differentiate between a ten year old insurgent and another ten year old that is not an insurgent. By the time you realise he is an insurgent, he has lifted the gun and killed you, or he blows up the bomb. So, in trying to politicise this matter, the government of the day ignored the most important thing that it ought to have done to solve this problem, which was what Jonathan had set out to do: to change the minds of these young people who had been radicalised by pursuing the Almajirai education system. Now, you have young people who have been radicalised into radical Islamic system, so how do you expect the soldiers to fight these people without stopping the factory that is producing these radical elements? This is the situation we have found ourselves and it is very unfortunate that we are going to live with this for a while.
There have been stories of repentant Boko Haram members being reintegrated into the society. Some even say they are being recruited into the army. How true is this?
Actually, I have a motion that I am going to take to the speaker because we need to discuss that programme. In other climes, they have what is called Disarmament, Demobilisation and Rehabilitation (DDR), which is known internationally but it is only undertaken when insurgency has been brought to an end. This is when the insurgents are made to sign an agreement that they have renounced their struggle and will no longer fight again. So, what we are experiencing here is strange and it is unfortunately being undertaken by the military and not the civilian authorities. But I do not have details about the programme and I do not understand it and that is why I am coming with a motion so that we can discuss it. When the leaders of insurgent groups have signed an agreement to stop the fight, then you introduce this. But in this case, the insurgents have not renounced their radicalism. We have not had an agreement signed with them.
There is currently a bill before the Senate sponsored by a former governor, seeking to establish a commission for the rehabilitation of repentant insurgents. Would you support the bill?
What we need to know about bills is that individual member’s bill is the personal opinion of lawmaker. So, this controversial bill is also the personal opinion of the former governor of Yobe State. The fact of the matter is that I do not understand what that bill seeks to achieve. In the security architecture, I do not know where it fits. You can see that there is public outcry against it.
But what do you think should be done to those who have repented?
If you continue creating commissions, tomorrow, you will have to establish a commission for repentant herdsmen or bandits or kidnappers and armed robbers. A criminal activity is a criminal activity. If an armed robber comes to you and says I was the one that killed a particular person but I have repented today, would you say they should create a commission for his rehabilitation?
Recently, a memo was leaked from the presidency where the national security adviser accused the chief of staff to the president of usurping the powers of his office by holding meetings with security chiefs. Do you think this power play is having a toll on the state of insecurity?
In the first place, what is the role of the NSA in the constitution? Is there any role that is assigned to him? When you talk about the security architecture, you are referring to statutory institutions. NSA is not an operational position; it is a position that looks at intelligence and the whole picture and possible solutions. The NSA should not come and be giving operational commands. That is not his responsibility. But in this country, anything does happen. The NSA cannot be giving instructions to the military. What is the role of the minister of Defence? What is the role of the chief of defence staff? What is the job of service chiefs?
Do you foresee any conflict between the National Assembly and the presidency over the refusal of President Buhari to sack the service chiefs as demanded by both chambers?
No, I do not see any conflict. The House has the right to make its resolutions and advise the president but the resolutions of the House are not binding on the president. Even in lawmaking, the president has the power to veto any law which is passed by the parliament except where the parliament musters the courage and power to override the president. Those are role conflicts that necessarily exists in situations like this. However, in my opinion, I think that the president has the right to say yes or no. The National Assembly also has a right to make its resolutions but my opinion is that coming to discuss security matters the way we are doing every day and trying to show how ineffective the security operators are is not in the interest of the nation.
There are some discussions that should not be in the public domain every other day because there are ripple effects. For example, you can generate ill feelings in the military and there will be disaffection within the ranks of officers and men. Two, you may end up alienating the military instead of giving them the support that they deserve. In summary, I think the major problem that we have as far as Boko Haram and criminal herdsmen are concerned are political to the extent that it behoves on community leaders and the people in charge to make sure that the factories that produce these insurgents are closed because we just sit and say soldiers should go and stop these people from attacking but where are they coming from? This should be the principal thing to look at.