How BH, ISIS complicate N/West banditry, CDS Irabor opens up on train attack, abductions, killings

Warns: Security threat is transforming

Says police, Civil Defense to take over security in N/East

Nigerians are under siege by bandits, terrorists and other criminal elements not only in the North-West but also across Nigeria as we can see in daring attacks, daily kidnapping for ransom and killings.

The train attack between Abuja and Kaduna, the ambush on the presidential motorcade in Katsina and the Abuja jailbreak will suffice. In this interview, the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Lucky Eluonye Onyenuchea Irabor, speaks on the complexity of the nation’s insecurity and what the military and other security agencies are doing to surmount the challenges.

Excerpts:

Insecurity continues to remain a source concern for Nigerians. Why is it that the military which you head has not been able to put a lead on rising violence and criminality in the country?

Let me say that the military is not alone in redressing the issues of insecurity in the country and to also say that it should be inappropriate to say that the military has not been able to put a lead to the issues of insecurity. This is because quite a lot has happened.

Perhaps if the military and of course other security agencies who are responsible for redressing these issues, if they’ve not undertaken the kind of actions they’ve done in the past, perhaps the situation would have been worse than what it is. But of course the fact that there are still incidents of insecurity across the country means that there is still quite a lot of work to be done and that’s what we’re committed to doing. So, I would like to assure you and of course by extension all Nigerians that we are leaving no stone unturned to redress the security imbalance across the country.

From the intelligence at your disposal, would you say that Boko Haram and ISWAP terrorists operating in the North-East have links to bandits in the North-West?

Severally, we have had to acknowledge the fact that based on the very serious work we’re doing in the North-East and having dealt a huge blow on the ISWAP/Boko Haram terrorists there, many of them are now relocating to find safer havens. In this case they found some places in the North-West to link up with other elements in that part of the country.

This is what we acknowledged in the past but, again, haven’t you observed that we have also heightened our operational engagements there? I am sure you know that in the North-West we have Operation Hadarin Daji and in the North-Central we have Operation Thunder Strike and Operation Whirl Stroke…to be able to redress all issues of insecurity in these parts of the country.

So, yes, there are linkages and you must also not discount the fact that the North-West is where we have boundaries with Niger Republic and of course I believe you are aware of the happenings with the Islamic State in West Africa Province especially for the greater Sahara region which, by extension, you know draw some form of interaction with the global or, if you like, in the larger ISIS elements.

So, it’s not impossible that the incursions could be also from those parts which border us. The aggregate of all this is what of course you’re finding happening in the North-West. But I will like to assure you once again that we are taking every measure to ensure that the menace does not go beyond what it is currently.

This government continues to tell us that BHT/ISWAP Terrorists have been largely degraded and no longer occupies any territory in the North-East. However we continue to get reports of the terrorist group still controlling large areas of land in states like Borno which have become no-go areas even for the military. What’s your take?

Well I don’t want to agree that is what the government says. It is not what the government says but what it is. The reality is that in the North-East, especially Borno State, a lot has changed. In fact, life is almost normal in Borno and that I can tell you. So, it’s not a claim, it is what exists. I believe that you have reporters in Maiduguri.

Perhaps you may want to check with them. There is no terrorist control of any part of Borno anymore. But of course those criminal elements are not completely out of circulation, and that’s why we still have a large presence of military in the theatre. But what we are doing is to ensure that the issues connected to restoration of security architecture are redressed.

Like also bringing in and scaling up the presence of not just the police but of course Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps for them to gradually begin to take the center stage in terms of normal security provisions in the light of the successes recorded. So please be assured that it is not just a claim by the government, that it is the reality on ground and I’m glad that Borno State governor himself recently told Nigerians how things have largely improved in the state.

But I can tell you that the support he has given us and the support of the larger Borno residents is what we’re leveraging to build upon and ensuring that no part of the state or no iota of insecurity continues to take place.

You said the military has done a lot in Borno and they’ve cleared most areas but I like you to react to reports of January 12, 2022 where Governor Zulum mentioned that two LGAs, Abadam and Guzamala, in Borno were still under the control of Boko Haram. And if you read that story further, he said there were highways like Damboa where ISWAP was collecting tax along major roads and other axis in southern Borno. What is the situation now? Also, let us know what the military is doing after deploying new technology to fight insecurity and criminality. Can you assure us that our military personnel are adequately equipped, well remunerated to address the security challenges because we always hear about issues of welfare and the likes?

I am glad that the date of the reports was January 12 and we are in July. So that means it is well over five months since those reports were made. It might also interest you to know that at the beginning of the year I assured Nigerians on what the military and other security agencies will be doing. Between that time and now there have been massive deployments of equipment and material to the North-East. That’s why North-East is currently silent.

That’s why the governor in his recent pronouncement made mention of peace that has largely returned to the state and, in his words, that he in fact he sleeps with his eyes closed 85 percent of the time. I think that’s the expression that he made and he’s quite vocal about that. And not just him, I have had calls from well-meaning citizens of Borno who of course have commended the military for what they have done.

But of course I am not saying that it’s only the military that have made this contribution but we largely have contributed to the state of peace in Borno currently. It’s not to say that in the past we have not had issues, we have had issues but I am talking about today, what exists and what obtains in Borno now. I need to also let you know that when I mention the issue of massive deployment of equipment, I am also talking about some things that have to do with technology.  This equipment is not just what I call mundane equipment. No we’re also dealing with modern equipment.

So the aggregate of the use of all these has led us to what we’ve done. Talking about whether the military is adequately equipped, perhaps it is relative and if we are not adequately equipped, then of course we would have made it known to the public. That is why I must use this opportunity to thank Mr. President for the support he has given and continues to give to us. It is quite massive. I must also keep telling Nigerians that within the limit of the resources available to government, we have had a very fair share of allocations to equip and train to redress the security situation across the country.

But we will continue asking for more and we need to get more because the security threat is transforming. I believe that Nigeria is not an island to itself. You also know what is happening across the globe, so in the light of these developments, and if you also look at the deployment of technology, it doesn’t come cheap. It’s in the light of that, our demands will always continue not only to increase but of course continue to be available because these are essential to be able to keep the security situation in a state where everyone will assume that there is security in the country.

There is no time there won’t be problem of threat of insecurity in the country. I am urging the media to also join in this fight to bring not only consciousness to Nigerians but equally to sensitize the populace for them to know that they have a part to play and for the media to also to take the fight to the criminal elements. You must find a way to expose their criminality and not necessarily focus on what government and security agencies are doing but it must be put in the right context to know that we live in the same environment and we are all victims together if we did not act. So for me that’s the way to go

Despite everything you have said, we have seen videos of soldiers especially those that have been deployed in theaters of war complaining that they have been abandoned by the military, that they are ill-equipped and that their allowances are not paid.

I want to believe that certainly those videos were not made within the last two years. Indeed I beat my chest to tell you that soldiers or members of the armed forces today will not say that their allowances are not being paid. If there is anyone in the armed forces today who says the allowances of those that are deployed for operations or they are engaged in one task or the other and the allowances are not being paid, I would like you to take me on it, but then we live in a world where social media has become almost a government in itself, so anybody can regurgitate a past video. Some others can also create videos and claim that these are men and women of the armed forces. I do not focus on those identities.

I am more focused on the job ahead and I want to use the opportunity to also appreciate the Service Chiefs who have been quite up to the task of the wonderful team that I have, dealing with the nuances of operations and logistics administration of the armed forces.

They’ve done incredibly well and from the larger society point of view because these things are still ongoing they are not over yet so it might not be too appropriate to now say all is well and okay. I like to tell you that our eyes are fixed on the ball, the goal is there and we are pursuing the goals.

In the Niger Delta, oil theft and vandalism are taking a toll on the country’s economy. What are the Nigerian navy and the joint task force doing to end this menace? Also military personnel have been accused of colluding with criminal elements in the Niger Delta. How is this being addressed?

The Niger Delta issue, of course the navy’s Operation Delta Safe, not just the navy, is out to address issues of sabotage. The navy focuses more on the larger body of waters but of course you also find that there are estuaries and oil and gas installations. You find that in upland areas there are installations that the army over-sights. So a combination of the activities of members of the armed forces and of course not also discounting the contribution of the air force which provides air and sometimes even helicopter bomb operations to be able to redress issues of insecurity within the Niger Delta and the results are there.

The navy, within the last one year and a half, has been able to maintain a clean maritime environment especially when you’re talking about the shipping lanes such that currently we do not have any reports of piracy and the likes, but of course there are problems that have to do with crude oil theft and vandalism of the pipelines and associated issues which we are dealing with in concert with other members of the defense and security agencies.

So far so good and even though there is still a long haul but then I must say that quite a lot of improvement has been made. I must also use this opportunity to say that Nigerians are also being sensitized to collaborate more with us on the need to take greater responsibility because the environment that is being polluted by these criminals, it is those who inhabit these areas that will be worse for it.

Even when the issue of oil and gas theft is forgotten, the environmental degradation alone is going to have its effect in the next 30, 50 years; so it is from that context that I like to ask every Nigerian to collaborate more with the armed forces and members of the security agencies for them to be able to put a stop to these acts of criminality in the Niger Delta.

About the alleged collusion of the members of the armed forces on some of these criminal acts, well those are allegations. Do not also run away from the fact that there may be bad eggs amongst us and that’s why we take disciplinary action against any act of indiscipline that we find.

A lot of our personnel have faced court martial. Some have been sent to prison. Some also have been dismissed but that is only a very small number compared to the establishment itself, the institution. So if there are one or two persons who have been involved in one form of criminality, the issue is have they been caught, have they been dealt with? Why use them now to make up the assessment of the larger armed forces? For me, that is not the reason we have problems. I do not subscribe to it and the armed forces that I lead are professional armed forces. We have men and women that are patriotic, doing the job that we are sent to do and I am proud of every one of them and, of course, for the ones that you know have soiled our name, that’s the reason why we have dealt with them in the manner that we’ve done. So going forward I would like to appeal to all Nigerians to please give information to members of the armed forces, give information to the police, give information to security agencies.

They should also know that security remains everybody’s business. Do not shy away from reporting anyone whose ways are not right, if you don’t, then of course you’ll be the loser. But I know that as we continue to sensitize Nigerians greater cooperation will be achieved. Beyond the Niger Delta also, some military personnel have been accused of collaborating with bandits and Boko Haram Terrorists to launch attacks on our armed forces and even to provide them with military-grade arms and ammunitions. I can say holistically that such have been brought to book.

What are you doing to ensure that those terrorist groups do not infiltrate, indoctrinate and compromise our military personnel?

First and foremost, our armed forces remain professional armed forces, we have procedures, we have operational protocols, logistics protocols and administrative protocols. We do not take lightly issues of vetting, issues of ensuring that we have the right person with the right aptitude to be part and parcel of the armed forces.

There is a filtration process, there is a filtration mechanism in place so that when we recruit, you know each of our recruits will pass through those crucibles for the purpose of understanding. So those filtration processes are there but of course we also know that we live in the same environment where these criminals also live. Each and every one of us comes from families and some of these families are also the families where many of these criminal elements come from. So in the light of that of course you can’t you can’t run away from the fact that there are some who, for one reason or another, may go out of line.

That is reason every attempt they have made, we have discovered them by virtue of intelligence. We also institutionalized the court martial processes that made us to send them to jail. So those who I earlier referred to as moles, it is from that standpoint that they were dealt with, sent to jail and dismissed from service. We are not in any way going to be deterred by some of those reports you referred to. Many of those reports could be exaggerated but again for me and for the leadership of the armed forces, one single case is bad enough and that’s why we take it very seriously.

There have been reports released by human rights groups such as Amnesty International on rights abuses by the military including extrajudicial killings and even in some instances rape, sexual abuse of women and all of that. What is the military doing to address these damning allegations against men of the armed forces?

Well, for Amnesty International, I believe you’re referring to past reports. In the recent reports of Amnesty International I am not aware there are reports of the likes that you’ve just you mentioned. But of course you need to also know that this insecurity that we’re facing, there are many routes, there are many strands to it and Amnesty International does not live here. When I say does not live here, the structures that they have are only made up of individuals by virtue of those who, one way or the other, build their report from what they hear from people, other times what they feel has happened. But beyond that, I want to assure you that the members of the armed forces especially keep to the tenets of human rights limits.

We are professionally informed, we are professional in disposition, there are rules of engagement and we strictly abide by them and then of course within the services, we have made provisions for human rights desk so there are officers who, on daily basis, their responsibility is to ensure that troops keep to the rules of engagement, ensuring that the limits of the international humanitarian law are observed during operations.

So I am so proud of the armed forces that I lead. If there were any issues of human rights violations in the past, certainly not as we have currently, it does not exist currently. And going forward we keep refining the process and we’ll keep refining our approach to conduct of operations and every Nigerian will be proud that they have the kind of armed forces that we have.

Can you give us an update on the attempt by the military to rescue the Abuja-Kaduna train attack victims as well as other victims that are still being held in captivity by abductors? Is it really true that these victims are used as human shields making it difficult for the military to rescue them?

I like to appeal that I refrain from indicating what we are doing with respect to the Abuja/Kaduna train incident victims. What is clear and I need to react to Nigerians is that quite a lot is happening. I’m sure you know two weeks ago about the release of 11 victims.

That should tell Nigerians that quite a lot is happening and that government is doing quite a lot. I wouldn’t say that they are using anybody as human shield. Human shield or no human shield, we will continue to conduct our operations, but beyond that, in the military line of operation, you probably know there are other non-kinetic lines of operation which are part of the entire security architecture to redressing all the issues, and with respect to these abductions and others.

And as you know, incidents of criminality cut across the country; so while looking up to the military, yes of course we are in the lead but of course there are other elements that are involved with in the entire process. But I like to assure Nigerians that very soon, all those who are held captives will regain their freedom and of course those criminal elements behind these criminal acts will certainly be brought to justice.

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Simon Ekpa

Simon Ekpa LL.M (Master of Laws) is a human rights activist, CEO, senior legal advisor at Ekpa & Co Oy, legal researcher, author, analyst, Finnish politician, Biafra agitator and a Finnish Military reserve.
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