WHY BOMBS WILL FAIL IN NIGER DELTA, BY GEN LUKE APREZI
Niger Delta militants
A former Nigerian Army senior officer and former chief of operations of the force has condemned the indiscriminate bombing of towns in the Niger Delta warning that the action may bring more harm to the country than good.
Indeed, Major General Luke Aprezi a former Commander in ECOMOG and Force Commander for the African Union Force (now UN Force) in Darfur warned the government to desist from the bombing forthwith or be ready to bear the consequences.
He said: 'Government is gradually pushing those sitting on the fence, through this bombing, to come together and we must watch it. Some of us are from the Niger Delta and our people look up to us for protection especially when they know that we served in the military.
When they start bombing, my phones will be inundated with calls on the situation and what is happening on the ground and in such a situation we find ourselves helpless and if at the end of the day my parents and siblings were killed, do you think I will be happy with the same government I served? And again will it be right for me to take up arms and fight my former colleagues in the military, but when you give interviews like this, it is capable of being misconstrued that you are on the side of the militant.'
Bitter with the use of aerial weapons in the offensive against the militants in the Niger Delta, General Aprezi who retired from Nigerian Army only last year bluntly dismissed the fact that bombing will dislodge the militants, saying, 'I can tell you point blank that the war is not winnable by the Nigerian Army. Military can never solve the problem in the Niger Delta.
Because Sri-Lanka fought the Tamil Tigers for 26 years and now they seem to have defeated the Tamil Tigers, but then, you win the war, have you won the peace? It is what will come out of winning the peace that will determine whether there would be further uprising or not. I can categorically tell you that Nigerian Army cannot win the war in Niger Delta.'
He also spoke on the suspected leader of the insurgents whom the Federal Government is seeking to arrest over the alleged killing of 12 soldiers, explaining that, 'Tompolo works with the government and government knows where to get him.'
It has been recently revealed that Tompolo works for the government, it is in the papers and now the government wants to arrest Tompolo and they go and bomb innocent people. Look at what is happening in Somalia, piracy that has held the whole world hostage; it is out of the situation in Somalia that the piracy was created. I was in Yugoslavia and I believe you know of all the dastardly acts in that country, it came as a result of the situation in that country.
I was in Darfur, even as recent as three weeks ago, a Nigerian officer was shot dead, just because of vehicle, all the rebels wanted was the vehicle and when I was in Darfur that occurred almost every time not only to the men I command who had vehicles, but even to the aid workers who are working for the interest of the men that are fighting. They go there, seize all their vehicles drive them to Chad and sell them, they rape the women, and this was almost a daily occurrence. When I was there a Nigerian colonel was abducted and I never saw him till I left.
In Congo it is not different. Criminality is everywhere. So what I am saying in effect is that in every operation, criminality becomes a product and if because of that criminality you now want to use heavy weapon, you will end up creating more militants. The end does not justify the means.
Nigeria Army and the war in Niger Delta
I can tell you point blank that the war is not winnable by the Nigerian Army. Military can never solve the problem in the Niger Delta. Because Sri-Lanka fought the Tamil Tigers for 26 years and now they seem to have defeated the Tamil Tigers, but then, you win the war, have you won the peace? It is what will come out of winning the peace that will determine whether there would be further uprising or not. I can categorically tell you that Nigerian Army cannot win the war in Niger Delta. From my experience all over the world, at best military will carry out a holding action till a political solution is found.
Why is it that what we do outside this country when we get to our country we do not put them into practice? When have you heard that JTF is playing football with communities in Niger Delta, when have you heard that JTF gave out some teachers to schools in the Niger Delta who do not have teachers or renovated a dilapidated school. There are 1000 and one things to be done. In Darfur, Nigerian troops were held in high esteem because of that, in Yugoslavia my medical unit was put on 24 hours duty call and giving free medical care to the people, because in war, friend or foe, they are all entitled to medical treatment.
Why is it that the Nigerian Army did not deem it fit to deploy its medical units to take care of the injured? I am saying that there is a dangerous escalation in the Niger Delta and this must be checked. In the Falkland crisis, the British had a ship which was a full medical unit and it takes care of the wounded, at least you must do certain things to win the heart and mind of the people, this is our own country, we can't be callous about that, because you can end up creating more problems. It is just like the Arab-Israeli conflict, it will continue for a long time.
Even if you succeed now, you will end up creating more problems, because in the recent bombing the militants never lost much in terms of human casualties, it is the innocent who were killed and maimed. We must tread softly because there are ingredients that lead to full insurrection or insurgency and those things are now in place.
When the political and military leadership fuses, then we have a bigger problem in the Niger Delta, what I mean is that the government is gradually pushing those sitting on the fence through this bombing to come together and we must watch it. Right now, from Isaac Boro, to Ogonis and Ken Saro Wiwa, they are Ijaws too, they dealt with them as a group, then to Odi, they dealt with them as a group and now they are in Gbaramatu, others are learning from that, the end product if it not stopped is to fuse the political leadership and military arm and it will be dangerous. You can see there are different militant groups now, by the time they all fuse and are led by the political class, then we have serious problems in the Niger Delta.
Why bomb will fail
I had a senior colleague, Brigadier General Zidougha, he is dead now and until his death he was from Odi. The house he had built in Odi to retire was razed down during that Odi invasion. This is somebody that has served this country for several years, his house was destroyed by the same government he served, he had nothing to fall back to and shortly after that he died. Tell me, such a man if he was alive and there was problem like this and he would not join.
Some of us are from the Niger Delta and our people look up to us for protection, especially when they know that we served in the military. When they start bombing, my phones will be inundated with calls on the situation and what is happening on the ground and in such a situation we find ourselves helpless and if at the end of the day my parents and siblings were killed, do you think I will be happy with the same government I served? And again will it be right for me to take up arms and fight my former colleagues in the military, but when you give interviews like this, it is capable of being misconstrued that you are on the side of the militant.
Criminality in the Niger Delta
Whenever there is any crisis in any country and it is not nipped in the bud or arrested in time, criminal elements will always come in. So for people to say they are in support of the bombing in the Niger Delta and that the military should continue is lamentable. Some body recently said Nigeria can sacrifice 20million people from the Niger Delta for a 100 million people; I think this is very cruel, because you must watch what you say in order not to aggravate the situation. In Liberia and Sierra Leone, you must have heard of blood diamond, that is criminality.
When I was in Liberia all the rebel factions were looking for diamond, scooping rubber, all of them were involved in criminal activities. Now you may want to ask, why is there criminality in this kind of situation? That is what should agitate the minds of people and not sanctioning the bombing of both the criminals and the innocent. I want to join this debate to enlighten most of the people who have been talking; because they have been talking they do not have the experience, because if they have the benefit of some of these things that I have experienced, maybe the debate would have yielded good result, That is part of the reason I say as a general I will talk.
But if you watch the Niger Delta situation, it started with Isaac Boro, with double barrels and we have always descended heavily on these rising voices, but it has not helped. Every succeeding situation that has been arrested has been more violent than the other. Until we got to Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogonis, then to Odi and now it is getting to another kingdom in the Niger Delta, Gbaramatu. And you have seen what the boys can amass, that means every succeeding situation has been more violent than the other. Now we have resorted to bombs, we have resorted to aerial weapons which we do not carry in peacekeeping and internal security operations, because you will end up not killing the militants, but killing innocent civilians and when you kill innocent civilians, their wards will also become militants, so you are creating more militants out of a given situation.
Nigerian Army is so versed in peacekeeping operations, therefore we are sought after anywhere there is trouble to come and keep peace. The things we do in those countries when we go out to keep peace, we don't do them here, winning the heart and mind of the people so that you can remove the host community from the militants. There is always criminality in this kind of situation because when people are agitating they have a focus initially and then some of those who agitate are not employed, so after a long period they begin to learn how to eat with the rifle and the kind of money they make out of this rifle becomes such that they do not even want peace anymore, because that rifle becomes a meal ticket. And therefore in all situations around the world where you have problems like these, criminality becomes a product of that situation.
If you go to the Niger Delta, the government, the oil companies, everybody is aiding that kind of situation. For instance, a militant will have a job, he does not perform with Shell, Chevron and other oil companies and he is being paid for doing nothing. And what does that mean? We are aiding criminality, and now out of what the government has created, they now go and bomb innocent people.
Serving the Army
I joined the Nigerian Army as a boy soldier at the age of 14 and since that time I have been a soldier. I got into the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) in 1972. So if you calculate from 1967 to when I retired last year, you will find out that I spent almost 41 years in the Nigerian Army. Throughout my career in the army, I have been in the operational unit. First as a Lieutenant Colonel, I led the only Nigerian battalion to Europe for peacekeeping that was in Yugoslavia. And after me no other person has that experience.
When I came back from that exercise, I went to Liberia and I spent almost two to three years there. The April 16 crisis, where all the warring factions were fighting inside Monrovia, I was the person in charge there. These are external experiences. When I returned, some years later I was sent on another peacekeeping to Darfur, I was the Force Commander in that operation before the present Force Commander, General Martin Luther Agwai. Before then, I was the Chief of Operation of the Nigerian Army.
In that capacity, I was responsible for all the operational matters relating to Nigerian Army and particularly of inducting Nigerian troops into operations outside this country. Also, I was responsible for all internal security operations in which Nigerian Army participated. Apart from these, I was in Kano for almost three years and some of the very bad internal security situations in Kano occurred in my time and I did not go there to slaughter people, find out, casualties were very minimal. So, all these are my experience internal and external, conducting officers and soldiers into operations outside these shores and I am saying this because I am worried because of the way we are going about with internal security operations in Nigeria, especially in the Niger Delta.
I am from the Niger Delta, but that does not mean that as a general I back those criminal elements in the Niger Delta. Throughout my service as an high ranking officer in the operational department of the Nigerian Army, I have always opposed military solution to the Niger Delta crisis. Now that I retire, I am still opposed to that because of my vast experience. This is because I do know that military solution is not the solution to the Niger Delta crisis.
In all these operations that I have participated in, I have discovered that any peacekeeping operation has two components, the civilian component and the military component. The military component acts as a holding until a political solution to the crisis is found. The military component is not an end in its self, but a means to an end.
In all these operations, whether peacekeeping or internal security operations, aerial weapons, such weapons that will not differentiate between friends and foe, were not used. I want to be modest by saying that the government should find out if there is any other person more experience than me in this area, and because I come from the Niger Delta, I have disagreed when I was in service and when I am out of service I am still disagreeing that military solution is the best option to end the Niger Delta crisis. People may misconstrue this to mean that I am backing the militants, but that is far from the truth.
The way forward
As we go along we will be talking about the way forward. Now how is it done elsewhere, we are now talking about amnesty. First the question that should also agitate our minds is; when you are bombing, do you know who is a militant or law abiding citizen. These people have no uniforms, they have no identity, at best the government will only know their leaders. The area of Niger Delta is inhospitable, the terrain is difficult, and so you have to train for the terrain. There are so many things that are already unorthodox that we do in situations like this. In Liberia, we gave money to retrieve weapons, is that orthodox? But that was after the ECOMOG had stabilized the country. You cannot do some of these things when things are hot; you do them when you have genuineness in the political situation.
If there is no genuineness seen physically and winning the heart of the people it will be difficult for you to separate criminal elements from the law abiding citizens. Like I said earlier, the things Nigerian Army do when they go on peacekeeping they don't do them here, and it is like the army is an occupation force. What do I mean by this, I mean that the army most of the time eats off the ground but it was supposed to be the other way round because when the army goes into places like that, it should be endowed by the government to carry out its function.
What the Nigerian Army does in foreign peacekeeping operations, they do not do them here. For instance, there is nothing stopping the Nigerian Army from working towards winning the heart and mind of the Niger Delta youths, by ensuring that their football pitch is well in order and sometimes too, they can organize matches between the youths and the soldiers, If there is a band, the soldiers could use it, play for free and people will come and enjoy your music. By so doing, they will be interacting with the people and know the people better.
What is happening now is the reverse, because sometimes the boys are not paid and so they are left at the mercy of the host communities as if they are occupation force. In Liberia we used money to retrieve weapons from the fighters, in Darfur, there is what we call group sites, where you have all the warring factions and the government so that if there is anything happening in that area the AU representative in group sites will bring them together for settlement. For instance, if you accuse one man of infringement, you cannot get to the man's area without him taking you there, otherwise they will think you want to come and seize their land and they will attack you.
In all group sites like that, the AU pays them money, in some places as much as $1000 every month and this is abnormal because you don't pay to keep peace. In some places, smaller group sites is $500 and that was like paying the factions to keep the peace, but as you begin to win the mind and heart of the people everything will begin to simmer down and it will get to a time when you tell the fighter that you are not paying anymore. So what it is all about is that initially you use this unorthodox method, later you graduate to the carrot and stick approach, when there is a criminality you look for the person responsible and deal with him, not this full military approach.
Again you have to win the heart and mind of the people, because when you win them the people will gladly surrender the criminal elements to you. If you don't win the heart and mind of the people, whatever those boys are doing they will be hailed and they will be seen as heroes. Now the citizens are being bombed, tomorrow, some elements there will go and abduct some military men and kill them, what do you think the people will do, they will clap for them. People who had been speaking and saying that they should continue with the bombing are not being sincere. I believe as a Christian that what you cannot create, you should not destroy.