Emeka Nwankpa, a journalist and development activist, is the chief media strategist of Concerned Professionals’ Congress (CPC), a civil society group. In this interview with DAVID TARKAA, he opines that insecurity thrives because most Nigerians do not know that the nation is actually in war thereby denying the Nigerian military and other security agencies of the necessary support to combat threats to national peace and stability.
Do you agree that national security, peace and stability depend on the success of ongoing military operations in the country?
Yes I agree but with some caution. It is true that at very critical times, the Nigerian military have always succeeded in quelling civil disorder and armed conflicts in the country. In fact, our armed forces have become the nation’s first line of defence owing to many threats to the security, stability, peace and unity of the country. The caution here is that much as we appreciate their patriotic efforts, we should be careful not to allow their spread across the conflicts areas to the point that we wear them thin. We are blessed with a military with the right spirit and soul to defend this country effectively. This lack of civilian support to the military which is a critical component of the security architecture is why many Nigerians do not even know that we are in a state of war in the country. It is also why people are not bothered when military personnel are killed in action, for example, the sad event which happened in Jos, Plateau State recently where three soldiers attached to Operation Safe Haven were killed by unknown hoodlums on September 7, 2018. I am saying that though the dead service men are not more important than scores of other civilian persons killed elsewhere as a result of armed conflicts, the fallen heroes should deserve a big space in our hearts because they paid the supreme price to secure our nation.
Why did you say many Nigerians don’t know the nation is in war?
We don’t need much convincing to prove that we are in a state of war. Never in the history of our nation have our military and other security forces been engaged in many internal security operations as they are now. They have eliminated insurgency but we are still in the throes of terrorism, kidnapping, armed robbery, cattle rustling, farmers-herdsmen, ritual killing, herdsmen-farmers’ clashes, pipeline vandalism, oil theft, illegal bunkering, ritual killing, cultism, etc. Add to these the possible violent fallout of the general electioneering campaigns that we are going into, you will better appreciate the times ahead. Whenever the need arises, our armed forces are constitutionally deployed to aid civil authority in the restoration of law and order, peace and security in the country. We commend their gallantry. We solicit the patriotism and nationalism of our citizens. Nigerians have critical roles to play just as our military has adjusted its doctrinal focus and training programs to incorporate civilians in promoting internal security. We must volunteer vital information to security services. This is what the citizens need do to complement the efforts of our military. Unfortunately, some are not doing so. As true citizens, we must remain vigilant. The security of our nation is not for our military and the other security forces alone. We are all involved.
Does the insurgency in the North-East still pose any challenge to the nation?
There is no insurgency whatsoever in the North East because our military have broken the back of Boko Haram. The decimation of the dreaded Boko Haram sect is a reality, courtesy of the resilience of the Armed Forces of Nigeria under the excellent leadership of the Chief of Defence Staff, General Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin, the service chiefs and the commanders and troops at Operation Lafiya Dole. President Muhammadu Buhari particularly deserves praise for selecting these dedicated officers to actualize his resolve to bring the terrorists to their knees with the fall of Sambisa Forest. But for them, we would have since lost the North East where Boko Haram has lost the capacity to re-group and launch organised attacks except their isolated raids on soft targets. Even at that, such attacks are promptly repelled by the military. Our Air Force has been very effective in deploying the height advantage and ferocity of the Mi35 fighter jets which have killed and sent several terrorists fleeing.
So, what do you think is the real situation in the North-East right now?
With the decimation of Boko Haram by our courageous and gallant troops, the situation today in the North East is that a promise has been kept. Thousands of rescued captives have been returning to their liberated communities where normal life has returned. Night life has returned to Maiduguri and its environs. Commercial flights into the city have increased. The Nigerian State has been able to restore normalcy to most of the areas affected by the insurgency. Hotel accommodation in Maiduguri today is not easy to get which also attests to the fact that the Nigerian government has effectively fast-tracked the return of peace to the region. This is significant and commendable. It must be emphasized that we have a military with the spirit and soul to defend this country against external aggression. This is the same military whose personnel are doing very well in United Nations peace-keeping operations across the globe. This is the same military that saw that the fallout of the last presidential elections in the Gambia did not degenerate into a long-drawn crisis. What we need now is to address the civilian component of the security architecture. This civilian support is very important. We have confidence in the resilience of our armed forces under CDS, General Olonisakin and his capable service chiefs whose patriotic efforts have guaranteed us national security and stability especially as the nation enters another election cycle ahead of 2019.
But this war has lingered, what do you think is responsible?
Historically, the war against terrorism tends to linger because terrorism runs on many legs. Indoctrination makes it difficult to fight because you are dealing with the mind. You are dealing with people with disoriented minds. Our military can only handle conventional war. It takes the entire super-structure of the society to muzzle terrorism. It requires a multi-pronged approach Therefore, the counter-terrorism appears protracted because most Nigerians are yet to realise the magnitude of the problems at hand. Most Nigerians need to know that we are in war. The war in the North East is a war of narratives which we have unwittingly allowed Boko Haran to dictate. Everybody sees it as a fight for the military alone. This explains the people’s low involvement. They don’t know the nation is in war. Equally worrisome is that our media which should set agenda for the society treats Boko Haram as if it were a State. They confer on them the status of States. They glamorize Boko Haram’s activities making them look larger than life. The recent attacks on Gudumbali and Damasak are instances of the sect’s tendency to spread the false narrative of panic, fear and terror. The activities of the several NGOs being sustained by international donors do not indicate that they want the war to end now.
… (cuts in) How did you come to this conclusion?
Take for example Amnesty International. They are in the habit of accusing our military and security agencies of human rights abuses based on spurious and unsubstantiated claims to demoralize and frustrate our troops from making headway. They don’t want the war to end so they don’t condemn Boko Haram attacks. I challenge them to disprove these claims. They are not alone. In Maiduguri, you will see mushroom groups claiming they are NGOs; we don’t really know their mission other than the fact that they are sustained by international donors. The NGOs have booked almost all hotels and guests houses in Maiduguri for upwards of 10 years and more. It is clear that they want Nigeria to continue this fight for 10 more years. This is unacceptable. If you don’t make proper hotel arrangements before going to Maiduguri, you will be stranded because the NGOs have taken over the hotels.
What is the place of the media in this whole war?
We have got to a poi t that the Nigerian media should realise that this fight is new to their professional training. The only area of journalism that is closest to what we have now is the training on the coverage of war where two distinct countries are at war. It is a different ball game in the coverage of counter-terrorism war. Our experiencehas shown that our media has unwittingly brought Boko Haram to the status of the State when it should not be so. Terrorism is fuelled by publicity as its oxygen. Remove the publicity, they are flattened. When you take everything they do or say, then you are working for them. Even though we have some journalists that are actually working for Boko Haram, a journalist may be working for Boko Haram without knowing it.