By Pelumi Oyinlola Adewale
They move from place to place spreading death and sorrow. Like invisible objects, they swoop on communities, schools and farms, forcefully herding dozens, sometimes hundreds of innocent Nigerians away. Then they retreat to their cocoons in untameable forests.
Nigeria has for long endured the challenges of insecurity. But in the past few years, the security crisis has worsened. Boko Haram elements, now joined by co-terrorists, of the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) have ravaged the North East for over a decade. Bandits easily terrorise the North-West. In the North Central, banditry, kidnapping and unending clashes between farmers and herdsmen have made life pure hell for the people. The elusive “unknown gunmen” terrorise the South East, and oil thieves continually pollute the environment in the South-South. And in the South-West, kidnappers waylay travellers, even on major highways, herding dozens of innocent men and women into the forests.
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Even though security operatives continue to depopulate the camps of these criminals, new ones seem to spring up every day, and complaints by Nigerians have become vociferous.
Recently, at a virtual engagement with select editors, Nigeria’s service chiefs, led by the Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabor, addressed the seemingly intractable security challenges plaguing the country. The service chiefs provided answers to questions and assured the populace that they would not relent in their fight against those perpetuating violent crimes against Nigeria and its citizens.
The event was the third edition of the Open Ears Press Dialogue between the leaders of the Nigerian Armed Forces and editors. Besides the Chief of Defence Staff, other service chiefs were also in attendance. Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen. Faruk Yahaya, Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Awwal Zubairu Gambo and Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Isiaka Oladayo Amao all actively participated at the conference. Mr Oseni Rufai of Arise TV moderated the session.
While welcoming participants, General Irabor restated the commitment of the Nigerian Armed Forces to securing the nation, noting that the military had always been at the forefront and would remain unshakeable. He asserted that the military would not deploy mercenaries in the battlefields to help prosecute the war against terrorists.
Some Nigerians have suggested the engagement of mercenaries to help wipe out Boko Haram elements in the state. But General Irabor ruled out such considerations. He said defending the country was the constitutional responsibility of the military, adding that such duty would not be delegated to mercenaries. He assured that his officers and men were capable of curtailing the activities of terrorists and other criminal elements as well as protecting the territorial integrity of the country.
While noting that members of the press were commendable partners for the military and great stakeholders in the Nigerian project, General Irabor appealed to the editors to exercise restraints in publicising activities of criminals.
Some of the editors at the conference noted that in spite of the spirited efforts by the military, insurgents, bandits and other undesirable elements inflicting violent death and indescribable terror on Nigerians had continued their satanic activities. In his response, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen Yahaya said the military was working hard in all areas of operation and was achieving results.
“Successes are being recorded,” the army chief averred. “When a criminal is killed, you may not know the level of crime that has been averted as a result of that single death. Some of the results are obvious, some are not. It is when one criminal strikes that Nigerians notice. How about those that have been prevented from committing crime?”
He noted that there are different lines of operation. In his words, the military and other security agencies cannot and should not be the only groups preventing crime, adding that each group in a society has different roles to play. According to him, crime must have manifested before troops are called in, noting that the lines of operation of the military hardly surpasses 20 per cent.
Speaking on cultism, , the army chief explained that the society should start by asking questions on the causes of cultism and how cultists come about. He said other lines should have addressed those factors that breed cultism so that it would not have been in the first place.
“We’re in a war, said the Bodinga, Sokoto State-born army boss. “One criminal with a gun in Lagos can cause problem in other parts of the country.” He said the criminal, who he noted lives in the same society with others, might have had his criminal activities curtailed if reports had been made to the right quarters.
Reacting to remarks by one of the editors on the synergy between the armed forces and the intelligence agencies, the army boss said the Army, Navy and Air Force are totally united. “More than ever, there is synergy within the military under the Chief of Defence Staff.
Noting that terrorism relies on the media to thrive, the Chief of Army Staff pleaded with the editors not to glamorise the activities on the criminals.
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Said he: “There was a time when the terrorists attacked a particular place, but it was not reported by the media. We got to know later that they were not happy that their activities were not reported. They said they would carry out another one to get media attention. So, we also need our activities reported. It is good for our operations, especially when presented in the right perspective.”
In his own contributions, Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Isiaka Oladayo Amao said the Air Force under his command has always provided air support for the Nigeria Army during military operations in the North West and North East. But he noted that the job of fighting terrorists should not be for the military alone. Other members of the society, he said, should play their part, especially in the non-kinetic operations even as the military gets involved in the kinetic operations.
An editor said many people are worried that more insurgents, bandits and other criminals are being bred on daily basis, in spite of claims that many terrorists and bandits have been killed or captured, while quite a hefty number has purportedly surrendered. The Air Force chief said many terrorists have indeed been killed while more than 36, 000 have surrendered their weapons and embraced peace.
He explained that the population of the country is quite large. “As soon as these terrorists discover that their population is dwindling, they recruit more willing hands to join them. And there are always those willing and the population is very large which they draw people from,” he said.
He noted that most of the information being dished out on the operations of the military are sourced from the social media, which is mostly fake news. He said when terrorists are hit by air strikes, it is difficult to know the specific number of those killed. “It is when those on ground count the bodies found at the scene that we can give real figures,” he explained.
He also reiterated the synergy between the military and the intelligence agencies, noting that inter-agency cooperation had never been this robust.
On the equipment procured for the military, he said the military has started using the equipment already acquired. “But the fact that money is approved today does not mean that the platforms will be available the next day. We need time to acquire them and deploy the platforms for our operations.
“Twelve Super Tulcanos have been delivered and we are using them. There are some that require the training of our personnel before they can be deployed. The United States (US) officers are coming to train our personnel on the ones we are not using.
“We are not using the Tulcanos for precision strikes but to drop bombs. However, we have other equipment that we are using and the air operations have been successful based on the intelligence we have received,” Amao said.
Also speaking at the conference, Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Gambo equally affirmed that the synergy among the armed forces is at an all time high. He also explained the difference between information and intelligence. While he agreed that the media should get the necessary information on activities of the military, he stated that intelligence on operations it intends to carry out cannot be shared.
He also spoke on the oil theft and illegal refineries that dot many parts of the Niger Delta, in spite of the various operations embarked upon by the military in the axis. The Chief of Naval Staff noted that the situation in the Niger Delta has political undertones, even as he informed that the number of creeks, which he put at about 3000, also contributes to the problem of oil theft and illegal refineries. He stated that as many as 124 illegal refineries were discovered in a single local government in the area. He praised the Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, for having the political will to even address the crime.
“Some of these things do not even require the involvement of the military. Theft and illegal refineries, which are all acts of economic sabotage, and a governor with the political will can tackle that. Governor Wike made a bold statement that any local government chairman whose domain harbours illegal refineries would be removed. That action has helped the Navy a lot in our operations in Rivers State.”
He also spoke on suggestions in some quarters that the illegal refineries that dot many parts of the Niger Delta should be regularised and legalised, noting that the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) Limited had opened a window of opportunity for communities to form co-operatives to operate modular refineries.
General Irabor, the Chief of Defence Staff, in his closing remarks, spoke about the new wave of military coups in parts of West Africa, even as he warned Nigerian politicians not to drag the military into politics.
Said he: “The Nigerian Armed Forces have nothing to do with coups. We believe in democracy because the system is better for Nigeria, including the military. We are passing the message down the ranks. We are also telling politicians not to drag us into politics because that is not our business. We have learnt our lessons and can only give support to civil authorities and the electoral body to perform their statutory functions. But the military is on stand-by to deal with miscreants who might want to derail the electoral process in the event of the police being overstretched.”