The country seems to be going through the worst security challenge in recent times. How would you assess the present government’s handling of the issue of insecurity?
To some extent, I think the president has been able to handle it because he has appointed people into various positions to help him. There are people with pedigree and I expect them to have acted very well. But I wouldn’t apportion blame because the president has done his part. I think we need to initiate a synergy that will integrate all the fighting forces together. Secondly, intelligence should be generously funded because that is the only way to win this war. Intelligence has to be given a place where it was relegated. It was Goddard, an Israeli military intelligence officer, who later joined counter-terrorism that said “Good and guided intelligence is the only way out of terrorism war”. We need to fund intelligence very well.
You had a working relationship with late Gen. Andrew Aziza, former President Jonathan’s NSA and Boko Haram insurgents were at their peak. What strategies were the government using then to tackle them?
Luckily, I was the audacious voice of the government in critical crime matters and in fact the face of the government on counter-terrorism. What we did was to establish institutions that were supposed to take care of the problem. It was during the period that the law on counter-terrorism was enacted, which was more of a foundation laying. Also, we got into the issue of making sure the situation in the country did not get worse. So, we were just trying to use what is called the carefrontational method and not the confrontational method. Negotiation was therefore a cardinal note which we followed. For example, when the Niger Delta crisis emerged at that time, I authored a memo to the then NSA, Gen. Azazi, telling him that we had a choice to either adopt the carefrontational or confrontational method. I told him the crisis was taking place on the Niger Delta soil and he and the president were from the Niger Delta, so we should not use ourselves to destroy ourselves. So, we took the line of amnesty, which was a continuation of the Yar’Adua era. Also, we talked about a counter-terrorism agency at that time. Because if you look at it, NDLEA, NAFDAC, FRSC, etc. all have offices, why is it that a critical area like anti-terrorism does not have an office. It was rather warehoused in the Office of the NSA and it became a toothless bulldog. Two, there was mismanagement of who should be appointed into that office. I authored a memo that led to the establishment of the counter-terrorism unit in the office of the NSA. I was called on a particular Tuesday before the FEC meeting to come and define the office and roles of the officer, which I did. Then, we were called in for an interview after which we were told that the position had been zoned to the north. So, after my nomination as special assistant to the president, I was told the position has been zoned to the north. That was how I lost out. If you recall, Azazi once said ‘zoning in PDP inflamed insurgency in the country’.
During the Yar’Adua/Jonathan administration, the major security challenge was basically Boko Haram and Niger Delta militants to some extent. But now, we have killer herdsmen, kidnappers, bandits etc. And Sheik Gumi has been advocating for amnesty for bandits. Do you share this line of thought?
Yes, let me first of all clear the issue of herdsmen, bandits and terrorism. We have different kinds of definitions of terrorism. There are several segments, which include banditry, stealing, robbery etc- all are part of the course. In terrorism, there are those we call the professional cadre- those that went to bomb the World Trade Centre, the 9/11 attack. These are those who are trained for specific unending targets- they go for that and do not come back. But they must make sure they accomplish the mission. Then you have the amateurs- the ones given targets but not funded. You just ask them this is what you want them to do for you. These ones get funding by regrouping themselves and go stealing in order to fund their activities. The money they realise from their expeditions, they take it to their parent bodies who use it to buy arms. So, if you are not tutored in the field, you will think they are different but they are directly related. So, I think the most important thing to do is to have an outfit that is trained in the field with a structure to counter them.
As an expert in terrorism, do you see Nigeria coming out of this insecurity? Is there any hope for this country?
Yes, I think there is a possibility that we can come out of it once the right policies and decisions are made. However, I must admit that what is happening is quite frightening and also threatening. It is getting worse every day and something strategic needs to be done for us to navigate through the restive waters. I think that certain decisions that were supposed to have been taken were not taken on time. But I’m not saying it is only the responsibility of the present administration. There was a handover from the Goodluck Jonathan era to the Buhari administration. So what we need to do is collective reasoning- to restrategising to be able to get a better understanding of what is happening and take the right decisions.
Some analysts have suggested Nigeria should seek help from outside. What do you think?
I think Nigeria has the capacity and strength to successfully fight terrorism. The only problem is we are not fully coordinated. We do not have the right structure. We do not need foreign assistance. Do you know our military is rated the best in Africa in peacekeeping operations? Nigeria has produced a military adviser to the UN in person of Gen. Obiakor. A country that was judged the best in policing in terms of peace keeping. So, we have the men and the capacity. The only problem is coordination and getting the right people in the right positions.
The bandits have gradually penetrated the north central, southern Kaduna, Zamfara, Kebbi, Niger, even Sokoto. How do we handle this outside negotiation?
The only way is to establish a counter-terrorism agency that will take this war to the grassroots. There is what is called a uniform security scheme, which can unify local government dwellers and state residents in partnering with the federal government. If we are able to do this, some of the bandits who went into it due to lack of employment may step down. But the bottom line is negotiation technique. We should not have allowed this crisis to get to the level it is now. A week before the Taliban took over in Afghanistan, I predicted this on my LinkedIn platform. There was a need to negotiate with them but somebody was not serious with the negotiation. That was why it flopped. Here, people like Gumi have a role to play and should be co-opted. He should be brought into the counter terrorism advisory committee because of his faith and closeness with the bandits. Qatar became the centre of negotiations for bandits because of faith. Terrorists believed Qatar was neutral. The same thing could happen in Nigeria. Gumi has access to them and can go into their camps. So, people should stop attacking him. Then, El-Zakzaky should be released. He is adding to the tension in the country. I don’t have all the evidences but as someone who has some research on aviation targeted terrorism, we may link some of the aircrafts downing to his people. Secondly, the kidnappings and banditry could also be linked to his group too. I am not trying to justify his actions but he could be of help to the government in proffering a solution.
It seems you are saying negotiation could be the only way out now. But looking at groups like Boko Haram that are ideologically based, how would you convince people like that?
It depends on the person that is leading the negotiation. There are names that I cannot mention for security reasons, who I believe if they get to them (bandits), they will listen to them. They are also people who may be acceptable to them that are not talking now.
There are calls in certain quarters that the government should float a different outfit from the military and police to fight terrorism. Is this the way to go?
Yes. Even in the UN League of Charter on Counter-Terrorism recommends the establishment of Third Force is devoid of military and the police. It is an independent outfit that is going to handle this aspect of criminality. For example, shortly after 9/11 attack, there was a dedicated cell in America for Al Qaeda. So, there is a need for us to have an independent agency to handle that. Again, combat operations are becoming very expensive and risky. So, what we are trying to do under counter terrorism is to get into the area of negotiation. Now, talking about Sheik Gumi, he may be doing his job his own way. For example, what happened in Afghanistan; there was a time they had a truce and it was a guy from Qatar that brokered it. They had to arrange a meeting between the Talibans and people from the US. They all met in Qatar to proffer solutions. These are the kind of things I also expect in Nigeria. But here, people are castigating Gumi but I have taken time to study him. He is in touch with the bandits and just like the job of a counter terrorism expert is not to fight on the part of government. His job is to stay neutral, find out what they are saying and look at what the government is saying and bring them to the table where all these issues could be ironed out. I believe that negotiation technique at this stage could be a veritable solution because the threats are becoming too scary for the country and need to stop this bloodshed and carnage.
Both chambers of the National Assembly have severally asked President Buhari to declare all bandits as terrorists, what is your take on this call?
Like I told you earlier, banditry is an arm of terrorism. So, if it is an arm of terrorism, then all of them should be terrorists. Anybody who is on the field would tell you bandits, armed robbers and to some extent, even stealing are all part of terrorism. Drug peddlers and drug pushers are also part of it. If you go to Canada, you will witness what I am saying. The bomber that bombed a bridge in Canada belongs to the amateurish group. Al-Qaeda went into stealing to generate funds. So, there is no difference between terrorism and banditry.
The insecurity being experienced in the northern part of the country has suddenly found its way to the south east. We now have IPOB, ESN, South Eastern Guards, unknown gunmen etc. What do you make of this scenario?
It is a complicated criminal web that is ongoing; orchestrated by people who feel isolated in the scheme of things. I think we need to take certain measures to be able to nip this in the bud before it gets out of hand. I have not taken time to understand what IPOB grievances are but I have an idea of what should be done to be able to get them off the violence. The Elders Council should come into the picture immediately and start making consultations. Also, regional statesmen should start meeting. The rural town hall meetings should also be held to encourage harmony. Finally, security outfits at the rural level should be established to enable residents to know who is who in their communities. The traditional institutions should be revived and given statutory functions. It is unfortunate that most of the security consciousness stops at the federal and state levels. Local government chairmen seem not to have anything to do with security. But these institutions need to be sensitised.
What do you make of the attacks on government institutions and security personnel?
That is what we call tertiary terrorism, once it gets to that point, the group tries to destroy government institutions and make them ungovernable. So, if a timely measure is not taken, we may get to that level.
You ma de mentioned of uniform security system earlier; is this the same as state police?
Uniform security system is not state police but state police is in order. We had something like that before and the contemporary world security system encourages state police. Check the US, UK and other places- that is the practice. It is an auxiliary unit of the federal police.
The federal government has procured some Tucano jet fighters, which are being delivered piecemeal. Do you think this can make a difference in the fight against insurgency?
Big budget, heavy equipment but sometimes it leads to little or no impact. For example, the government could spend N10 billion to secure a bomb and the bomb goes off but does not hit the target, meaning the whole money is lost. But let me tell you that this is a poor man’s war. It is a war by guerillas. They do not need to spend so much; they just recruit people, indoctrinate them and make a smart bomb hand over to the person to go and detonate and they go and get the target. I still think the purchase of these fighter jets is a good development but the efficacy of their target is doubtful. Unless in areas of mass concentration, it is always difficult to hit targets without civilian casualties.
You also said there should be an anti-terrorism advisory committee. What will be its functions and who should be members?
It should be a collection of experts and some elders with intellectual pedigree like Sheik Gumi who could come in because of his faith background and his closeness to the bandits. Other members should be research experts in terrorism.
Sometime ago, the minister of defence, Maj. Gen. Magashi (rtd) challenged Nigerians not to run away from bandits but to fight back and some Nigerians have been advocating for citizens to be allowed to carry arms. Don’t you think this is the way to go?
That is the element of a failed state because once you get to that level there will be proliferation of firearms. It means we will be going back to what is happening in Libya and Iraq where everybody owns arms; where there is no control or regulation on arms. Everybody has the right to brandish arms. I do not know whether he made that statement out of frustration because I know him as an intelligent officer. I will not subscribe to that and I think it is not the right thing to do. We have to do our job and protect life and property. Wherever we have found ourselves as a nation today, it is a collective failure, which did not start today and we all must come together to make this country work.
President Buhari was sometime this year quoted to have said he would not want to leave office as a failure. How would you advise him as an expert in terrorism?
I will advise him to secure the country so that there will be harmony and investors will come in and invest. He should also appoint a special adviser on terrorism. I remember there was a meeting we held in Canada and Nigeria’s seat was vacant. If he appoints someone, he will also have some breathing space.