WHY FG, BOKO HARAM TALKS FAILED -MORO, INTERIOR MINISTER
For the Minister of Interior, Comrade Abba Moro, the refusal of the fundamentalist Islamist sect, Boko Haram, to allow intermediaries broker an agreement with the federal government resulted in the breakdown of negotiations. He implores the group to return to dialogue as, according to him, 'every war is resolved at the roundtable.'
He also speaks on his ministry's prisons reform programme among other issues. Excerpts…
How would you describe the security situation in Nigeria?
We are facing so many internal security challenges in the country. We have had bomb blasts and suicide bombings. Our experience of what we characterise as terrorism rearing its ugly head in Nigeria is unfortunate. These were things we read in newspapers and saw on television in other climes. But today they are with us and it is very sad that some Nigerians and some friends of Nigeria resident in the country have become victims of acts of terrorism. Some have lost their lives while others have been maimed or injured.
That is the situation we find ourselves. But the government is not resting on its oars. As I have said before and I want to repeat for the umpteenth time that no responsible government will watch its internal security compromised and it is taking every measure to ensure that the situation returns to normal. The situation is strange because we don't have this character as Nigerians where we want to take arms against ourselves or to inflict agony on fellow Nigerians and friends of Nigeria resident in Nigeria. Be that as it may, the reality today is that we have terrorism on our hands and the government has taken some measures. The best it can do in the circumstance is to try to manage the consequences of terrorist acts when they occur.
The President recently declared a state of emergency in some local governments in some flashpoint states. Government also closed some borders temporarily to ensure we contain the foreign elements that have been identified as part of our problem of terrorism. The immigration service, which core responsibility is to secure our borders, has also taken some extraordinary measures in deploying enough manpower to these LGAs in the states that the state of emergency was declared. Very senior officers of the service have been deployed to coordinate these activities. There is a joint task force responsible for containing the situation.
So far, there is a combination of efforts of government agencies such as the police, SSS, Army, National Emergency Management Agency, Civil Defence Corps, Fire Service and others to ensure that these acts and their consequences are managed. Of course, government has placed all the security agencies on red alert to ensure we also prevent the occurrence or reoccurrence in some of the terrorist attacks. It has therefore stepped up efforts to resuscitate the bi-national commission between Nigeria and the Republic of Cameroon. Our joint and controlled efforts have been resuscitated and intensified with the Republic of Chad and Niger to complement the efforts of inter-agency task forces that have set up to patrol and secure our borders. All in all, the government has taken some extraordinary measures to ensure the lives and property of Nigerians are secured.
If foreigners have been identified as having a hand in our insecurity challenges, have you discussed with their governments and what are the resolutions?
Majority of the foreign elements that we have identified as being part of our security challenges are citizens of Niger Republic and Republic of Chad. Also some of the borders they have used in recent times include that of Cameroon. Recently, we have discussed with officials of Interior and Homeland Security from the Republic of Niger, the police, Customs and Immigration chiefs.
All of them were in Nigeria recently and we had meetings with very senior officials in my ministry to solidify the efforts and concerns of the two countries. We have enjoyed cordial relationship with these countries and we have impressed it upon them the need to secure our borders because the movement of people across the borders is not a one-way traffic. Nigeriens infiltrate our country's borders and, of course, there is no doubt that Nigerians infiltrate Niger Republic. The movement of people across our borders, especially in the face of recent internal security challenges, poses a very serious challenge to us.
After meeting with officials from the Republic of Niger, we have had the need to resuscitate the bi-national agreement with Cameroon. Recently, in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs we were able to meet with them, including the Vice President of the Republic of Cameroon and we signed our bi-national agreement. Part of the agreement is the desire of both countries to resuscitate joint patrol of our borders. So far as it concerns other countries, we have stepped up efforts to resuscitate and implement our agreements and the need to secure our borders.
Have you been able to identify financiers of the sect?
You are aware that through the efforts of government and through the instrumentality of our security outfits we have been able to figure out the perpetrators. From government's investigation and conclusions, it has become obvious that majority of the perpetrators are members of the sectarian group called Boko Haram. Recently, as a result of this conclusion, government has extended an olive branch to members of Boko Haram for discussion on reasons, grievances that may have given rise to some of those acts and through intermediaries discussions started.
You are equally aware these discussions became stalemated to some extent, obviously due to basic disagreements on the modalities for carrying out these discussions and arriving at the conclusions. The breakdown actually is as a result of the refusal of Boko Haram to allow the identified intermediaries to broker the necessary agreement that would lead to some level of peace and security in the country.
Government has also enjoined members of the sect that it s a common knowledge that no matter what the grievances are even in war, everyone eventually gets down to the high table to discuss. No wars generally have ended on the battlefield. It had always ended at the roundtable of discussions. So I believe very sincerely that members of Boko Haram should tread the path of wisdom and rationality by returning to the roundtable for further discussion because no matter the nature of grievances and disagreements, it can only be ironed out on the roundtable. So efforts are being intensified to ensure we continue with the discussions.
Again, it has always been convenient for Boko Haram to claim responsibility for some of the conflicts and some of the violence that have occurred in the country in. But I want to state here, without any fear of contradiction, that it is not all acts of violence that are attributable to the sect. We have had in the past, even before the resurgence of the activities of Boko Haram, cases of armed banditry, hoodlums inflicting violence in the country and on citizens. Government is actually identifying the gravity, the level of participation of identified groups that can be responsible for violence. So as much as possible these groups have been identified and there is no doubt that government is determined more than ever before to contain the violence that is confronting this country now. All options are on the table because it is the primary responsibility of government to ensure safety of lives and property of all Nigerians and people resident in Nigeria.
Has the government identified the international backers of Boko Haram?
Let me state here that as violence erupts, as conflicts arise and as government makes effort to contain these violence and conflicts, tactics change for the government and, of course, on the part of the perpetrators. Given the level of sophistication that is involved, it is very easy to conclude that given our own level of technological development, some of these acts couldn't have been carried out using the traditional tools and technology that is available. So it typically leads to a conclusion that definitely external influences and masterminds must be involved. This is what the government is determined to unravel.
These insinuations and the tactics employed by the perpetrators are identifiable with some other terrorists groups in the world, especially Al-Qaeda. Government therefore is beaming its light on the connection between the groups in Nigeria responsible for these acts of violence and external groups such as Al-Qaeda. Government is in the process of identifying training ground for these elements but at the moment its primary preoccupation is to ensure that where these acts occur, we should be able to develop the capacity to contain and manage the consequences.
All I can say at this point is that government is in the process of identifying external perpetrators and masterminds and, of course, developing the technology with which these acts are carried out cost money. So, at the local and international level, government is making efforts to identify possible funding sources and collaborating with friendly countries where these have been identified to ensure the source of funding for these acts are cut off.
One would have expected the government to demonstrate the political will to deal with this issue, particularly since some believe there is a political undertone
In crisis situation like this, several suggestions are usually made. One of the fallouts of the 2011 general election were the pronouncements of some political participants/actors, especially contestants that vowed immediately after the elections that they would make the country ungovernable. Given the follow-up violence that has arisen, it is only natural to say that they are actually putting to practice the pronouncements that they will make the country ungovernable because that is certainly the natural consequences of violence and conflicts that we are having in the country today.
Having said that, let me say this government is one that prides itself on adherence to the rule of law. So if your question is a suggestion that government should have by now clamped down on some politicians, that is not an immediate option. If you adhere to the precept of the rule of law, you want to be sure that whoever you are pointing accusing fingers at or arresting and arraigning before the law courts must be people who must have been proven by available evidence as being part of the conflicts and violence in the country. In recent times, certain persons have been arrested, profiled, screened, and people seen not to be directly or indirectly connected with the acts of violence have been released. On the other hand, people who available evidence corroborated their culpability in these acts have also been arraigned before the courts.
I think that the issue at hand now is not the lack of political will to approach the situation. It is just a determination of government not only to be adjudged as adhering to the principles of the rule of law but also to be seen as practising the principles of the rule of law. And so government will diligently investigate all acts and the people behind these acts and where evidence suggests that persons are involved no matter how highly placed, they will be arrested and screened and, of course, upon overwhelming evidence of their complicity they will face the wrath of the law.
In less than two months this administration will be a year old and you will agree the challenges as far as your ministry is concerned have changed and so requires new strategies. What are the new strategies on the table?
I agree with you that part of the problem that we have now is that of avoidable distractions in the sense that we now focus very seriously like never before on internal security. This has been as a result of the conflicts we have on our hands. We have this basic problem of securing our borders. In the Ministry of Interior we have this problem of reforming and updating facilities in our prisons. In the present circumstance, we have a civil defence outfit that has the core mandate of containing some of the vices that confront us as a nation.
I can tell you that one of the things we have identified is the need to constantly update our knowledge of modern technology that will add to our traditional tactics of sorting out our problems. We are trying to evolve new strategy and is awaiting the approval of relevant authorities on this. If we must secure our borders, then we must be able to procure the appropriate modern technology that can complement the traditional efforts of securing our borders and contain the situation we have found ourselves in.
We have been able to identify 84 regular border entries to this country and we have also discovered that these entry points do not have appropriate border posts. In the next couple of months, we will begin building border plazas on these 84 regular routes.