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INTERVIEWS

War Against Insecurity Requires Collaborative Effort – Gen Buratai

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As part of the just concluded Nigerian Army Day Celebration (NADCEL), the Chief of Army Staff, Lt General Tukur Yusuf Buratai had an engagement with a select team of media executives at Faskari, Katsina State. He used the occasion to address a wide range of issues regarding the Army’s effort to deal with acts of criminality around the country. CHRISTIAN OCHIAMA was there for LEADERSHIP Group.

The Army has been commissioning projects as part of its community relations’ agenda. To what extent has this helped in terms of eliciting the kind of cooperation needed in tackling the security challenges?

I am sure that you must have been overwhelmed by the number of projects that were commissioned on the second of this month (July) and it’s not limited to only one part of the country but across the operational zones of the army. There are certain intangible activities that we carried out that you may not see the result immediately. But in the long run Nigerians will get to see the results.

Civil /Military relations is another line of activity in military operations. So, no matter the resources we have expended on these projects, if we don’t get immediate results in the long run, surely we will get. During our operations in the North East, in the Niger Delta, here in the North West and of course many other places, we discovered that the perception of the military has been hostile and unfriendly. This has been taken off the minds of majority of Nigerians who have come across the civic activities of the Nigerian army. By and large, I would say that the line of operations carried out in this regard are already provided for in our budget for civil activities and we are getting a lot of intelligence especially from the North East. The information we normally get from the field are direct in relation to some of the civic activities we conduct and it is very important. In addition to the information we get, the goodwill of the people, acceptance of the military in various communities is fundamental and key to military operations globally. So no matter the resources we spend, we are deriving commensurate value in terms of information including peaceful co-existence that we have been witnessing and the support in our operations.

One of the strategies of the terrorist or the criminals especially when it comes to terrorism is to bring the people to their side and if they can win the people over to their side, they will keep all the information relating to the criminals to themselves and if you come in with force the community will see you as hostile while those terrorists are perceived as their saviour because they provide them succour, support them, give them incentives. In that context, they will unwittingly do everything to frustrate our operation. We have seen this happen and we are doing all we can to counter it. It is not peculiar to us in Nigeria. It is global phenomenon. The United States of American army, Indian army, Colombian army among others are doing all this civil activities to win the hearts and minds of the people.  Colombia that has fought insurgency for over 50 years had embarked on major and massive civic activities to win the hearts and minds of the people and this has greatly helped in the present state of peace that they have achieved in that country. So, be rest assured that the successes we have achieved in the north east with this project we embarked on across the country will help us in the end. We have started seeing results of these civic activities by the successes recorded in our operations.

 

Before you took over as Chief of Army Staff, lots of issues were raised about the welfare of your troops. Those are off the news now. What steps did you take to enhance motivation among the rank and file?

All of us still in service did not come down from the skies. In July 2015, we were all part and parcel of the process of the insecurity that we have witnessed, we were present at that time and up till today we are still part of the actors and this question is very important. Several Generals, philosophers and military thinkers have all spoken about morale and motivation as fundamental factors in troops’ efficiency, ability to overcome fear, to get that spirit to dare any consequences when they meet adversaries face to face. The situation shortly before my appointment as the Chief of Army Staff told of low spirit especially in the North east operation. We saw situations where troops turned against their commanders, we also saw where troops withdrew in disarray with the terrorists pursuing them and so on.  This was the situation I met. There was no specific magic.  Rather, we recognised that there was a missing link between the leadership of the army and the troops on ground. One motivating factor which is still very important is for the troops to see you close to them. If they see you where they are operating, if they see you where they have a more difficult challenge, if they see you there, be rest assured that the level of moral will surely skyrocket and that was one of the key factors that helped build morale. I visited several units with the commanders of Operation Lafiya Dole and we have seen the difference.  Just about three, four years back, I was in Faskari and you will see the motivation, you will see the morale of the troops, by seeing me with them at dinner and the commitment on my part, surely that aspect is morale changer.

But most importantly, it is not just for you to visit, it is not just your mere presence that will change the troop’s morale, these are very important factors. Like I said there is a missing link between the troops and leadership and if you look at it critically, you will not appreciate the difficulty the troops are facing until you go there and ask them and see what they are doing, where they are living, what they have. So many issues were brought up when I was going to the Northeast. Anytime I visit, they have some unique challenges, unique issues and we address those challenges some of them almost immediately, some of them we take them back to the army headquarters or we direct the appropriate department to act on those challenges and that is fundamental. So, we are able to close the gap between the leadership and the led in the army and this has really made things to turn around and there are several other factors. It is very important to say that leading from the front, understanding their problems, addressing them as you visit them is indeed a game changer. On the tactical aspect, we are not talking of the strategic political aspect, the president will. The strategic directives all those are part of the factors that change things. But on the ground,  tactically,  the COAS’s visit to troops have played tremendous  role in turning around the troops morale and motivation and this has resulted in the successes we have achieved and we will continue to achieve.

 

 Sir, what goes on in your mind when a section of Nigerian society demand for the rejigging of the service chiefs, do you consider it a distraction?

Because I am an actor in it, I think it will not be appropriate for me to respond to that. But the most important thing is that we have a commander- in- chief. I have been appointed, we are fighting several battles in different fronts. You can say that in a war situation, everybody has a right to his opinion but the commander- in- chief has the final say.  He appointed the service chiefs and I believe he knows when to make a change. I believe this is a situation whereby we have to look in a more strategic way, a more passionate way to divorce politics from security.

 

What has been the impact of social or new media on the Nigerian army under your leadership?

The social media is the most volatile cyber space that we have been confronted with especially in the Nigerian Army. To get it right, we established the Nigerian army cyber warfare command. It was very tough as several falsehoods were put out, several attempts were made to distract us from carrying out our responsibilities. We were all over the media and our response was minimal and when we respond the impact is very little. And I tell you, since we stabilised in cyber space, things are beginning to turn around, we have seen the importance of social media. It can be used negatively and it can be used positively and I am happy. If anybody posts any negative news or fake news as it is called, your response is carried almost immediately.

So our ability to respond almost immediately on platforms is one great achievement the Nigerian army has made and we are balancing it up with our own counter attacks in the cyber space even if it means  going on to attack those distractors and those who don’t wish our country well. We are preparing for them and we will deal with them also in the cyberspace. You know the terrorists especially prefer to use propaganda and at times news media. The social media unwittingly fall into the trap to freely propagate their own falsehood. But I tell you that there was a time when we sent our report, they will tend to question it if we don’t attach photographs to them. In our press releases, if there are no pictures, they tend to question the veracity of our stories. That was the situation then but now measures have changed all that. We will continue to use the social media to tackle any negative report against the army and project our activities positively.

Our activities are actually positive and we want to project them so that people will know what we are doing, what our roles are and how we will best serve the community. In the last three or four days, the social media and, indeed, the mainstream media have been working with army diligently bringing virtually every news about the Nigerian army activities. We intend to sustain the relationship for the good of our country and also for the morale and welfare of troops. There is nothing so demoralizing for a soldier to just see himself not being appreciated and he is there in the bush, in the trenches and he is suffering from hunger, he is suffering from thirst and someone just says that the Nigerian army is so and so in a negative form, it is not right. And that same patriot, soldier may, any moment, pay the supreme price when the adversaries attack.

If we appreciate them, appreciate the military, the army in this case, the fact that we are defending our country with our lives, that we are doing everything possible to safeguard our territorial integrity and also to save our country from any external aggression, to make sure that our fellow citizens sleep with their two eyes closed, then I’m sure that the only thing that would occupy Nigerians mind no matter their affiliations or religious or social or whatever is for them to show gratitude to the men and women in uniform who make sacrifices for them on a daily basis. So, I know majority of Nigerians are doing that, very few have some interest to pursue which they see the army as blocking their chance, but by and large, the social media is an instrument for development, it is an instrument that will bring about cohesion, social connection and understanding but at the same time it can destroy the nation. We saw the Arab Spring where internal turmoil was projected by the social media. So, we have to be very much cautious and careful of the way the social media operates in our country in particular.  I think there is need to really see how the social media can be effectively utilized to promote national unity and promote the government at large.

 

The issues of banditry and criminality is not just a major concern for the Nigerian army, it also bothers the mind of every patriotic citizen in this country. We are aware that these bandits or criminal groups cannot successfully operate or attack or dole out incentives to host communities without any form of financial backing from within or outside. Sir, does this bother you?

The issue of financial incentive is relative and the criminalities, as you mentioned, especially the banditry, the issue of kidnapping for ransom and the relationships with those communities are also relative. I think the first attraction is not what they get from the communities but it is what they will get from the criminal acts. It is something of concern most especially where these bandits try to enforce levies on the indigenes where they operate. That underlies the importance of Civil/Military relations. If our presence is felt there, they will be able to identify those bandits, and pass the information to us quickly.

This should not only be of concern to the military but also to the administration at the local level especially the local government and the states. You see, most of the time, it is the primary responsibility of the police and other internal agencies. The military, in this regard, comes in for internal security duties in aid of civil authority. So, if you look at it in this context, everybody should be concerned with all the activities of the bandits be they in the communities where they get their funding whether from cattle rustling  or mere killing for cash because some of them are hired assassins. If you look at it from that point, you will realise that they do it for the financial benefits they expect to derive from it.

But, overall, we must see criminality as a collective responsibility. It is a collective burden and it requires collective solution. We are doing our own kinetic aspect and the civil authorities at the local level, at the state level need to do their own and of course we must support the kinetic action of the security agencies especially the police, the state authorities must support them fully to be able to address this security situations across the country. This banditry is as old as humanity itself, it is as old as civilisation and it did not start yesterday or the day before yesterday and it will still continue in many years to come but the most important thing that we must put into mind is, what effort have we made to contain the situation at a particular time. If the federal government is not making efforts, if the state governments are not making efforts, it is then you can blame the governments at the federal or state level particularly those that have been tasked to contain the situation.

If the military is not making effort then you have every right to question the usefulness of the military or the police. But if concerted efforts are being made day and night, then I believe nobody has that moral justification to condemn those that are being tasked with the job to carry out counter banditry operations. On a daily basis plans are being made, on daily basis arrests are being made, clearance operations are being made. Our intelligence community, both military and civil, are working hard to get these criminals in the towns, in the bushes, in the forest, on daily basis the troops are in the bush hunting for these criminals. This must be put in its proper perspective, this type of internal security challenge as we all know is asymmetric. And if you look at it properly one or two of them, I mean the criminals, must have passed the gates of this town, some of them you must have passed on the road, some of them, every day, sleep in their homes, in the towns but in the morning they go back to the bush.

They use all means to track and trace and follow and report the activities of the security agencies to enable them to counter any move. That is where the community has a very important role to play that is where also the intelligence community will have to devise new strategies to counter them. In most cases, many countries have these types of banditry, cattle rustling, terrorism which is the advanced stage of insurgency. By the time you kill in the field, they now disperse into towns and hamlets and be carrying out terrorism, mass killing of people, instilling fear. You will see kidnapping and mass killing as it happened in Gubio because they can no longer confront the soldiers, they have been defeated totally so they do these things to make a statement that they are still there and unfortunately, they get free media publicity, especially on the social media. In the past, you see the mainstream media reporting fake news that emanate from social media such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, they just copy directly from social media and place on their front page at times.

Although I have not seen it for some time now, I think they are getting to understand the implications. So, if the mainstream media which is highly respected, which is more authoritative continue to carry fake news then you continue to doubt the capacity of the counter insurgency operations. That was happening before as they rely on uninformed sources in some of the theatres of operations especially in the North east like vigilantes or hunters who are not trained to look at what really happened and look at the other side, weighing the implications of such items on troops morale or national security and for you to verify such news is too hard for you. They just call on the phone and say something happened now and you want to report it for the sake of reporting. You must look at the impact on the community, nation and the security of the country.

Like I said, I think they understand the implication because for long I have not seen such news from the mainstream media. So, if you maintain this position, I assure you that it will help us definitely in the counter terrorism, counter banditry operation and also contain the insecurity in the country. I assure you that Nigerian army is working 24 hours and seven days a week we are not sleeping. 24 hours our cyber command is working to protect our country and our fellow citizens.

 

What is the level of synergy between the Nigerian army and other security operatives in your areas of operations?

We must look at it within a particular context. This is an internal security operation and we have been called in to perform this duty of internal security long time ago. We have had operations MESA and performed duties across the state, we have been called out to perform duties in the North east and we have done that in the Niger Delta, Plateau State. These are all internal security activities which rightly, under normal circumstances, are all within the purview of the police in this case Nigeria Police Force. When it comes to elections, the lead agency is the Police and we have all joined hands, the armed forces, to support the Police to successfully execute that primary role of providing security and policing of the election process and we all join hand to support the police and the Department Of State Services in that regard.

Nobody has questioned whether there is synergy or no synergy when it comes to such responsibilities because we know the police is the lead agency and nobody will take that right or that role from the police and we will all wholeheartedly support the Police and the glory goes to them and of course all the agencies that have supported the police to have a very successful election. But since the military have been called out to perform duties in the Niger Delta, North east, the Northcentral and the North west every military operation must have the lead agency. Time will come when your colleagues in the Nigerian Navy will be the lead agency when it comes to Maritime operations. Everybody will support them. It the same thing when it comes to some strategic operations within the country or outside the country for example, when we were to intervene in the Gambian election issues, the Air force led the operation and it was successful.

So when it comes to ground operations or the land forces everybody should support the army to execute her operations successfully. Unless that is done, be rest assured that the success may be prolonged if the right support is not given and if the right synergy is not there. So what is the situation, well there is synergy I must agree, I tell you there is synergy. When there are operations either in Northeast or Northwest, we do get support from our sister services. But fundamentally everybody has his own constraints. Those of us on the land we have our own strength, the Air Force have their own strength, the Navy, the Police have their own strength in terms of equipment, in terms of man power, in terms of the adverse nature of the weather sometimes when you need the support you may not get it due to some external reasons. You have a service and if someone has that challenge and you say there is no synergy then you are getting it wrong. We are getting evacuation from the battle field to medical facilities by the Air Force.

They airlift our troops that are wounded from the battle field to medical facilities. The air force provides this so if you doubt any synergy then you are making a big mistake. They provide the troops with supplies and this is happening virtually on daily basis, they move arms from one location to the other, they provide ISR when needed, they are doing it on a daily basis so it is real, the synergy is there. They carry out some bombardment attack and so on. So when you don’t get sufficient of that, it’s a different ball game but there are people over there and that I don’t see it no synergy,  it is a matter of perception. This period is when we have a major challenge and we really need to perfect it also where we need to have the air to ground training a lot of practical exercises where everybody will understand each other’s role in a practical term and without all these misconceptions and misunderstanding. There is very good synergy as far as I am concerned but we still need more and there are no conflicts. We are all the same armed forces, we were all trained in the same Defence Academy, we were all trained at the same Defence Staff College and we have operated together in Liberia and Sierra Leone and a host of other joint operations. I think this question should be laid to rest. People should not have any iota of doubt as to synergy within the armed forces.

 

Sir, the military,  in particular the army, is  having a running battle with some foreign NGOs, I have in mind,  Amnesty International and their obsession for human right violations… do you think it is a breakdown of communication or someone is deliberately trying to embarrass the Army?.

The issue of having a running battle with Amnesty International (AI) I’ll say is a perception. That is the perception of majority of Nigerians but I don’t think we are having a running battle with anybody. Amnesty International is on its own, it is an international organisation, they have their roles and tasks and we also have our roles and instruments of government. We have laid down rules of engagement. We are highly trained with the international laws of armed conflict. We have all our documents that guide our troops during operations, we have our codes of conduct and we follow the procedures as laid down by international communities such as the United Nations (UN), International Criminal Court (ICC) and all violations of rights are being investigated and those that are found culpable are being punished appropriately.

So, as far as the Nigerian Army is concerned, we have nothing against AI or any other human rights organisation.  We are performing our constitutional roles. We see some of the allegations by the human rights organisations as lack of knowledge because they don’t get it from the right sources and they don’t verify before going to publish. So, we are not fighting AI or any other organisation that are protecting human rights. There is no gap in communication. When I was appointed, I was very much concerned with the level of allegations against the Nigerian Army in particular on human rights, so we invited them to Army Headquarters and educated them on the procedures for investigations and punishments. It is up to the organisations to accept it or not but as far as we are concerned we follow the best international practices in all our operations or dealings. There is no human rights violations that have not been investigated and those found culpable not punished accordingly.

We have established human rights’ desk across formations and units and one at the Army Headquarters. We have a good working relationship with the National Human Rights Commission and we work closely with International community of the Red Cross and some other NGOs. If AI is antagonistic to the army then I think they should see reason and follow other organisations.  We don’t condone any acts of infringement by our personnel and if such occurs we punish them accordingly and our doors are open. AI can always approach our department of Civil Military Affairs for them to find out any abuse of human rights across the Army. But let me be quick to say that we are not responsible to any particular organisation or individual. We are responsible to the federal government and whatever that has to do with military in terms of law, we have the ministry of justice that represents the government. They can make contact with them.

 

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