Why service chiefs can't resign, by Defence spokesman Brigadier General Nwachukwu
Brigadier-General Onyema Nwachukwu, the Acting Director of Defence Information of Nigeria's armed forces, explains efforts being made by the military to check the rising insecurity in the country, calls for a rejig of the country's security architecture and demands for the resignation of the service chiefs as a result of increased killings and armed violence across the country.
The current security situation in the country is generating serious concerns, even President Muhammadu Buhari himself recently admitted that he was surprised by the rising insecurity in the country. We also know that the military has been directly involved in several security operations, does this upsurge in insecurity in anyway imply the failure of the military to check it?
Well, let me begin by saying that we must understand something that is very fundamental about the insecurity we are experiencing in the country today. We need to go beyond merely looking at it from our local perspective to begin to look at it from an international perspective, a global perspective. We need to realize the fact that there is an increasing employment of the use of violence, the instruments of violence by non-state actors globally to address their grievances, to push their agenda and all that. Once we begin to look at things in this light, we will understand the fact that Nigeria is not alone in this issue of insecurity, it is a global trend. Just like I mentioned, non-state actors globally are incrementally or increasingly if you like, employing the instrument of violence to push their agenda to address their grievances. Nigeria is not alone in this, we can talk about Iraq, we can talk about Afghanistan, it's happening in Europe, it's happening in Somalia, within our sub-region it is happening. There is a global trend, and we should begin to look at this from a global perspective, not only from the local perspective.
Now, coming to our peculiar situation being Nigeria, we have issues of terrorism and insurgency in the Northeast, banditry, kidnapping, cattle rustling in the Northwest. In the North Central-Benue, Nassarawa, Taraba, we are talking about banditry, we are talking about herders/farmers' clashes, and we are talking about communal clashes and of course the activities of some militias. Take you to Plateau, we equally have issues of banditry, communal clashes, herders/farmers' conflicts. Take you away from Plateau, I will take you down to the Southsouth, we have issues of piracy, cultism, kidnapping, oil theft, pipeline vandalism, and other sundry crimes, ritual killings. I will take you to the Southwest, we have issues of kidnapping, pipeline vandalism, so these challenges are emerging challenges, most of them are novel challenges and they are mostly internal security issues, mostly internal security issues.
The armed forces of Nigeria constitutionally is mandated to defend the territorial integrity and sovereignty of our country. Though there is a caveat, when the need arises, the armed forces could be called upon to provide aid to civil authorities in terms of internal security operations. And that is why we find that today as it stands, the hands of the armed forces are full with several operations across the country.
In the North East, we are talking about “Operation Lafiya Dole,” conducting counter-terrorism and counter- insurgency operations against Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa. The Islamic State in West African Province is a new turn, it is a new development in the terrorism and insurgency situation in the Northeast. Boko Haram had been depleted, but now, look at what is happening, after the factionalization, they pledged allegiance to an international terrorist organization or body if you like, the Islamic State, and that was what gave birth to Islamic State in West African Province. So, it has taken an international dimension.
Having been defeated in Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State wants to save the face of global terrorism by coming to take on Nigeria, by taking on the West African Sub-region. We need to begin to look at things from this dimension. This is a new turn, this is a new development in the terrorism and insurgency situation in the Northeast.
It's happening in Nigeria, it's happening in Chad, it's happening in Niger and of course in Cameroon. As it stands today, the major issue in the Northeast is the Islamic State of West African Province, the efforts of Islamic State to save the face of global terrorism. I just told you about Operation Lafiya Dole there.
In the Northwest, we have Operation Hadarin Daji. It's also a joint operation of the armed forces and other security agencies, and of course, it's the brain child of the Chief of Defence Staff. After conducting an evaluation of the previous operation that was in place and found that there were gaps in the synergy and inter-agency coorperation of that operation, he called the service chiefs and heads of security agencies and intelligence community together and that gave birth to “Operation Hadarin Daji.”
Before now, Zamfara State was almost totally overwhelmed by the atrocious activities of bandits. But, with the establishment of “Operation Hadarin Daji,” the bandits have been denied freedom of actions. The belt of forest that runs from Zamfara through Kastina and all that, and all those states is constantly being patrolled, and our troops are carrying out clearance operations in all those places. It has forced the bandits to approach the dialogue table, to look at how the situation could be ameliorated.
If I take you away from the Northwest, in Benue-North Central, we have “Operation Wild Stroke,” addressing equally the issues of banditry, communal clashes, herders/farmers conflicts, kidnapping and all that.
In December, I went on a tour, a media tour of Operation Wild Stroke's area of responsibility, I went as far as Kastina-Ala in Benue State, I went as far as Wukari in Taraba State and I went by road with a media crew. There was a location there in the community that was held hostage for years by a very notorious kidnapper, he was collecting royalties, he was tasking the people, he was tasking them seriously…that community as we speak has been liberated. Indeed, the military has achieved a lot, there are several operations, I told you, our hands are full.
We equally have “Operation Safe Heaven” in Plateau, we have “Operation Thunder Strike,” we have “Operation Awase.” We have Operation Delta Safe, troops are also deployed in the Southsouth, and we have “Operation Safe Corridor.”
People are calling for a rejig of the security architecture, in view of the fact that despite these operations, killings are still going on, violence is increasing and the rest of them, what's your reaction to this?
Going by my understanding of the operations so far, there are several operations, counter-terrorism and other operations so far. You must understand one fact, that the armed forces of Nigeria is conducting this operation in the face of denial. How do I mean? Denial in terms of acquisition of military hardware, you must understand this. As a result of the denial, we have begun to look inwards. We have become creative and innovative, we have started creating our own emeralds, we have started building our own armored personnel carriers and other weapons systems. This has been a major challenge, I need us to look at when you're doing analysis, a comparative analysis of the security situation, I need us to look back to what the situation was like in 2013, what the situation was like in 2014, what was the situation? Those were very dark days. Terrorism and insurgency took sway, Abuja was under siege. The UN office, health complex was attacked, Police Force headquarters was attacked, several shopping malls were attacked, mobility was hitched and stalled because there were several checkpoints dotted everywhere. There were killings, mass killings, there were IED attacks, worship places were attacked, people couldn't go to worship centers. Everybody was suspicious of others. The Northeast was almost ungovernable, Boko Haram held territories, they declared a caliphate in Gwoza, they declared a spiritual headquarters in Allargamu. They almost took over the Government House in Damaturu. People had sleepless nights, and even Kano was under siege.
Today, the story is not the same, we are not saying that there are no isolated cases, we are not saying that the CAN chairman in Michika was not annihilated or executed. It is so sad, it's disheartening to us. But, you must remember, one fact is fundamental, the oxygen of the terrorist is “publicity”. What the terrorist does is tactics or gimmicks, so to say, is to attack, make those isolated attacks and get wild publicity, making itself look very virile and very potent. As it stands today, our troops are applying the concept of Decimation, Domination and Occupation. That is why we still have governance going on. Election was conducted in Borno State if you recall. Boko Haram attempted, the terrorists attempted to scuffle it, but our troops were relentless. So we've been able to defend governance, we've been able to defend democracy, we've been able to defend socio-economic development across board.
We must, like I always tell people, flip the coin over, look at the other side of the coin, when you're doing your critique. We are not saying that we want to dismiss these things that are happening, no. The Chief of Army Staff, the Chief of the Air Staff visit the theatre like they are visiting their bedrooms. They've been very creative and very innovative. The concept of the Theatre Command was developed under their watch, the concept of the military command center was developed under their watch. These innovations took place under their watch.
We have made meaningful progress in spite of these isolated cases. They are very disheartening, they make us look like we don't know what we are doing. But, the fact remains that we have made progress.
Some people are advocating the use of regional security organizations like Amotekun, how convenient do you think the armed forces would be, working side by side with such regional forces?
I don't think it's the issue with the armed forces, because it's going to be an internal security thing. Internal security, like I told you, you're talking about citizen engagement now, is that not it? That citizen engagement in terms of security now. Just like I said, the lead organization for internal security is the Nigeria Police. We equally have the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, but the lead security organization is the police. These bodies, that is the citizen engagement effort is being made by some state governments, cannot work in isolation. Do they have the requisite training? Are they backed by… what is the legitimacy in terms of our constitution? I think, these are the issues that we have to interrogate. But, I must say that they would have to work with the lead security organization in terms of internal security, I think this is very fundamental. They cannot work in isolation otherwise its' going to be chaotic. People may have to begin to take laws into their hands. For instance, persecution. The military for instance does not even have the power for persecution, they don't have it. So, even if we make an arrest we would hand over to the persecuting agencies to do so, there must be some form of collaboration under the watchful eyes of the lead agency for internal security operation, I think this is very fundamental.
So, the military is overstretched? You spoke of several operations across the country, so…
Yes… what I am saying is that, our hands are full. Meaning, we have so many engagements just like I mentioned, our hands are full. This is of course tasking our resources, tasking our resources financially, logistically, man power, and of course by the time, if we had the man power to provide security for may be a number of security issues. With the myriad of novel security challenges that I have mentioned, emerging securities that I mentioned, we are going to require much more hands, we are going to require much more funds, we going to require much more logistics equipment, military hardware, if we have to look at the military holistically.
Is that why there are plans to withdraw the military from the Northeast?
That's going to be on the basis of threat analysis, no operation has been shut down as we speak. But, I am aware that evaluation and assessment are ongoing on those various operations that we've discussed, that I've mentioned. The threat analysis would be done where there's no much threat, I believe the authorities would do what is appropriate. So, a review of these operations is going to build on the threat analysis.
The House of Representatives recently at its plenary called for the resignation of the service chiefs for the fact that they have overstayed and appear not to have done enough to curtail the rising insecurity across the county, what's your view on this?
Well, the appointment of service chiefs is not by the armed forces, it is the prerogative and the responsibility of the Commander in Chief of the armed forces, Mr. President. I will only refer you to the armed forces outlined terms and conditions of service which says an officer, appointed Chief of Defense Staff, Chief of Army Staff, Chief of the Naval Staff and the Chief of the Air Staff shall be a four star general and may hold the appointment for a continuous period of two years. The Commander in Chief may extend such an appointment for another period of two years, from the date of expiration of the initial two-year period. The foregoing notwithstanding, the president, Commander in Chief reserves the prerogative to extend the period of the CDs or service chiefs irrespective of his age or length of service”. This is my submission.
I have told you that the prerogative lies at the desk of the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces.
What if any of them deliberately tenders his resignation even if the president does not intend to remove him?
Service chiefs did not appoint themselves, they were appointed by the Commander in Chief, I think I need to reiterate that. The armed forces does not appoint service chiefs, the service chiefs did not appoint themselves, not even the Ministry of Defence has that prerogative, it is solely the prerogative of the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Okay, every year, the defence budget keeps rising, is the military properly equipped at the moment? You spoke about equipment just a while ago, are we having a problem of ill equipment with the military at the moment despite the rising budget?
I just told you that we have issues of acquisition of military hardware and equipment, which are very very important for us to persecute and conduct the various operations across board. So, that challenge is there, it's there. Now, when you're talking about budget, I think the 2020 budget is about N100 billion for the armed forces. You'll be talking about recurrent expenditure, these are things that you must do. Then you talk about the capital expenditure, you're talking about acquisition. What is the manpower of the armed forces as it stands today? What is the population of Nigeria as it stands today? We are talking about a 200 million population, what is the strength of the armed forces vis a vis the population of Nigeria, of our country?
We don't know, sorry, can you tell us?
I cannot begin to give you the statistics because, I wouldn't want to give out the exact figures of the armed forces as it stands today, for some reasons, yes.
Okay, if we have to go back to Boko Haram, the Chief of Army Staff previously said the sect had been technically defeated…
Before we go on, I need us to understand also that there is a need. We are talking about budget, we looked at the budget, it's like its overwhelming for the nation's economy to give N100 billion to the armed forces. And we now start talking about alternative sources of funding outside the budget. The military had advocated for this over the years. We do create special funds outside the budget. Nigerians must take ownership of their armed forces, it's a people's armed forces.
It is the armed forces that Nigerians want that they will get. If you want a weakling, lame duck armed forces that is what you will get. If you want the armed forces that went to Liberia and liberated Liberians, and went to Sierra Leone and liberated Sierra Leoneans, that went to Sudan, to Darfur and mediated for the resolution of peace, that went to Somalia, if you want that type of armed forces then, Nigerians must take ownership of their armed forces. They must fund their armed forces. You can take a cue from other climes, do a research on it and see the funding of their armed forces. Do a comparative thing and understand where we are coming from. Security is not cheap, without security, there can't be socio-economic development, it affects every other sector of life.
Still on Boko Haram, the Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Tukur Buratai had several times indicated that the sect had been technically defeated, and you even said it recently.
I didn't say it, I was misquoted. I said depleted, depleted. Yes, Boko Haram has been depleted, not defeated. You see, I have been a PRO over the years and I have been in that operation severally. There are lots of things I have seen, so I am very mindful of my pronouncements, I can get you the tape. The word is depleted. I didn't say Boko Haram isn't active, we've been having engagements, encounters. We need to begin to interrogate certain issues about terrorism. Who is funding these people? They are brandishing brand new weapons, sophisticated weapons, anti-aircraft guns, sophisticated weapons systems. Gentlemen, where are these weapons coming from? In which black market are these weapons sold? Where are they acquiring these weapons? What is the source of funding for terrorism? Where are they getting their monies from to acquire these weapons? Who are those behind these people? These are issues, the international community should begin to interrogate. I know and I am aware that one of the major sources of funding is international drug trade. What is the international community doing about this?
We talking about money laundering. How are these funds being trafficked? We're talking about acquisition of weapons, illegal acquisition of weapons. Where is the black market of these weapons, where are these weapons acquired from? Have you asked yourselves what happened to the armouries of those nations that was involved in the Arab Spring? Were they looted? Were they taken over by insurgents? The international community needs to look at these issues holistically, because they impact on us as a nation and as a sub-region.
You spoke about working in denial, taking you back to the issue of the insurgents having sophisticated weapons, what effort is the federal government and the Defence Headquarters doing to address this issue of denial?
You see, the military is providing physical security, we are conducting kinetic and non-kinetic operations. Even the burden of mobilization of the citizenry is left in the hands of the military, we are saying that there is the need to mobilize all the elements of national power to tackle the security challenges. It's a collective thing.
Now, what is the military doing to address the issue of alleged human rights abuses, for instance, people are alleging that at checkpoints around Maiduguri, soldiers stop people and motorists to collect money from them, are you awareK of this?
The Armed Forces of Nigeria has zero tolerance for human rights violations. It's in our code of conduct in any operational theatre. The rules of engagement are there, we have instruments of discipline, mechanisms of discipline in place. Court marshals have been instituted, established in those theaters of operations and violators of the code of conduct, the rules of engagement are sanctioned, they are made to face the wrath of the law as provided by the Armed Forces Act. Now, talking about human rights, before we induct our troops, they are made to undergo some training. We call it the induction training. During the induction training, they are sensitized, they are taught about fundamental human rights. They need to protect those rights of the citizens. They are also taught to protect civilians in conflicts and other international humanitarian laws or laws of conflict if you like before they are inducted into the theatre of operation. We've also gone ahead as a responsible armed forces to establish human rights desks. At the services headquarters, divisional headquarters, brigade headquarters, where Nigerians who have complaints can lay their complaints and they will be tackled, they would be addressed. We have the civil-military cooperation department manning this desk. We've also gone ahead to deploy legal officers, people who are trained in military and civil law in the theatres of operation. Apart from sensitizing our troops, they also monitor their activities. They detect violations and once it is detected, it is made official and that violator is made to undergo the mechanism I told you about, to ensure that that person is sanctioned. So, we are doing everything within our capability or within our ability so to speak… ensure that our troops or our personnel, personnel of the armed forces, have utmost respect for human rights and of course protect civilians in conflicts. Again, aside this effort we have made it compulsory for military training institutions to begin to teach, as part of their curriculum, to begin to teach human rights, laws, international laws of conflict in those institutions.
There have been concerns on the welfare of troops on the frontlines and their allowances, at a point some of the soldiers protested sometime ago. How have you been addressing this issue to boost their morale?
If you recall the CDS's vision, the welfare of personnel of the armed forces is the most paramount to the current leadership of the armed forces of Nigeria. Their salaries are paid regularly before the end of the month, that's talking about remuneration. Operational allowances have been upgraded, the ration cash allowance has equally been upgraded. It all happened within this period and the upgrade I am talking about is about 100%, that's two times what it used to be. Recently, you would recall that we used to have, if you add dates, you would find different shades of camouflage in the operational theatres. Today, all that have been addressed. If you're in the Northeast, you have the desert camouflage, if you're in the South, you have the woodland camouflage, so, you find everybody dressed uniformly, well kitted. In those theatres of operations, medical facilities have been created. So if there's an injury, there's a casualty, there is prompt evacuation, because of proximity of the medical facility. Those that are beyond the attention of that medical facility are evacuated, taken out of the theatre and some of them even taken abroad. I recall that the CDS just sent a personnel that had an injury at the back on medical operation overseas for himself, his wife and a medical personnel attached not quite long.
Now, while atimes you find that there is challenge of oh. I have not received my operational allowance for instance, is that the theatre of operation, if you have been to the Northeast for instance, most of these operations have difficulties in terms of terrains. Communication has been mostly vandalized. So, the allowance gets perhaps to Maiduguri for instance, before it is disseminated or dispatched so to speak to the hinterland it would take some time. There must be a patrol to move the money from one location to the other, so these processes are there. The man if the money is paid into the account, for the personnel to access the money in his account, he has to leave the hinterland to be able to reach the metropolis and access his account and his operational allowance. So, these challenges are there, but we are doing our utmost to ensure that our troops are adequately catered for, particularly in the course of these various operations that we are conducting.
Just a follow-up, what is the current situation, I am aware that at some point some troops said they had over-stayed in some operations, and that is really affecting their morale.
The rotation of troops is usually on the basis of first to come, first to go. The first go to the theatre of operation or to be inducted to the theatre of operation and the first to go out. Now, there are some units that are domicillied already in the theatre of operation. For instance, a brigade that is already existing in the Northeast will not begin to say, okay let us park out of the Northeast because we want to do a rotation. But we can post personnel, we can post out and post in, we understand the fatigue of war, we understand that troops need to see their families. I was in the theatre of operation for three years. I started from the hinterland, I was in Monguno. The movement of those troops is very important. So, we understand these challenges and when we do our risk or threat assessment and evaluation, if there is no threat and troops have stayed for the period they are supposed to be in a theatre of operation, they will be rotated on the basis of first to be inducted, first to leave the theater of operation. We are very mindful of this, it's very important.
We often hear that the military has neutralized a section of Boko haram, a number of them, the Air Force would say they have neutralized, bombarded their positions, we keep hearing these, but things keep happening, are we not getting the right targets? Many people believe that if the military comes out fully, the Boko haram thing would quickly be a thing of the past. Why do these things keep happening?
Okay, we've looked at these issues, the military is committed to fighting insecurity in the Northeast or any part of the country, in whatever engagement that we are involved in. We are a very professional armed forces and we are very committed to it, but there may be challenges. Like I told you, you need to flip the other side of the coin if you are going to do a thorough critique. Now, when we did an analysis, Boko Haram was decimated, when we did an analysis of the trade situation in the Northeast, we realized that there are four focal points.
Boko Haram the terrorists were trying to self-regenerate. By doing what? by recruiting either through conscription or through ideological propagation. Self-regeneration, having been decimated. We also realized that Boko Haram was still propagating its ideology, and that ideology is… Western education is an aberration, is a sin, create the impression that whatever atrocities they are committing is under the guise of Jihad, to give it an Islamic endorsement.
We also looked at another focal point, having been decimated, having been depleted, Boko Haram began to engage more in IED campaigns, using women and children who are clad with suicide vests to attack soft targets. We also realized that there was a need to establish the legitimacy of our troops while they are in the Northeast because some tacitly see them as military occupation. What are they doing here, they are against us, they are not for us. We need to galvanize support for troops. We realized that there was tacit support for provision of logistics, whether knowingly or unknowingly, fuel, food, medication and all that. So, we needed also to bring the people to our side so we established the legitimacy of our presence in those locations, to make the people, to desensitize them that what we are doing is for their protection. So we began to do things like medical outreaches and all that, we began to sensitize them on what IEDs and the like.
We did flyers, we did posters, we did bill boards, we used what is it called mobile outdoor broadcasting system to broadcast Islamic sermons from Islamic clerics of moderate views to counter the ideologies of Boko Haram aside physical deployment of troops to counter the IED campaigns. We started sensitizing the public, worship places, market places, on the evils of the use of IEDs. If somebody is buying shrapnels, large quantities of shrapnels, watch out, inform the security agencies. If somebody is conveying large quantities of gas cylinders, inform the security agencies, report the person, and it did us a lot of good. We're able to in most cases to intercept suicide bombers and of course I am sure you heard them because they were put in public domain.
So, we have built a lot of effort in addressing these issues apart from the kinetic, the non-kinetic approach. What about the provision of farming implements, relocation of, apart from protecting the internally displaced camps and all that. We also try to empower them, proving farming implements, tractors were provided at locations to help them to go back to their occupations and pick up their lives again. We conducted medical outreaches; we took deliveries, pregnant women and all that. We provided drugs and medications for ailing people, all these were done, we call it civil-military relations to bring these people on our side. All these were done, for what? To provide public goodwill and galvanize our troops.
What is the current status of the international joint task force? I am asking this because its hinged on the fact that just recently Chad withdrew its troops and it coincided with the issue of upsurge in attacks.
The multinational joint task force is a sub-regional effort by Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon and additionally, Republic of Benin was brought in. The objective was to address terrorism around the Lake Chad region. Yes, deny them freedom of movement, deny them opportunities for expanding, protect civilians particularly, women and children. Create a safe and secure environment and of course support the humanitarian programs of the Lake Chad Basin and other humanitarian agencies in support of those civilians in the conflict region. Nigeria of course has always been the arrow head of this body or the multinational joint task force so to speak, it has been a huge success. That effort was reinvigorated in this dispensation with various diplomatic visits made by the Commander in Chief. The troops contributing nations became encouraged after the diplomatic visits, and the international joint task force was invigorated. Recently, the Republic of Chad pulled out its troops. I am aware that the commanders had done a review of the deployment of troops in that region to address the vacuum created by the pull out. At the national strategic level, I believe that it is being addressed.
Okay, what are the priorities of the military right now, going forward?
Why defense chiefs can't resignAs we speak, evaluations are being done, assessments are being done about several operations that we are conducting across the country. We are looking at the threat analysis of those areas of responsibilities, and based on that, we will be going back to the drawing board to ensure those issues are properly addressed. Again, I must assure you that our troops, clearance operation is going on in the Northeast along Damaturu – Maiduguri road. The Chief of Army Staff was there personally. So, there's a rejigging, there is a re-invigoration of these operations even as the assessments are ongoing, and I must assure you that our troops are very relentless, they are very relentless. (Daily Trust)