Mike Ejiofor is a former Director, Department of State Services (DSS). In this interview with Daniel Adeleye, he shares his thought on the prevalent security challenge in the country and what the federal government should do to arrest the situation. Excerpts
WHAT’S your position on the current securi ty challenge in the country?
It’s heinous and sad. We have a lot of security challenge in the country, but the worst one in the front burner now is the issue of herdsmen who have been unleashing terror and killing innocent citizens in the country. People are afraid to go out and carry out their normal businesses. Let’s look at what’s going on in Benue State for instance, though it’s not peculiar to Benue State alone, just that the state is becoming very disturbing. We have this problem in other states like Adamawa, Taraba, and by extension, they attacked in Enugu, Anambra and Delta states. This is a very big challenge which the federal government must address and give the required priority it deserved.
President Mohammadu Buhari ordered the police Inspector-General to relocate to Benue State. Do you think this is sufficient to curb the crime?
No, it’s not sufficient. We could recall what happened recently during the operation Python Dance, Crocodile Smiles, and all that. If serious security challenge is confronting government, military has to be deployed. A lot of lives have been lost there and you are now deploying police, it’s not right. The military should be deployed to smoke out those who are perpetrating this wicked act from their hideouts. You can see the agony and lamentation from the governor. They have started attacking the police since they knew that IG had been deployed there and this is part of what the governor said on his visit to the president on Tuesday. Government needs to identify these people and reason for their action. There are schools of thought on the identity of these people; some are saying they are Fulani herdsmen, some say they are foreigners, some say they are militia and all that. This issue of identification has become a problem. So the government must go beyond this deployment of police and identify the people behind the menace.
Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association said they are not involved but they are challenging the law that prohibits open grazing, how do you reconcile that?
First of all, government must identify those who are behind this. We saw how long it took our security men before they could arrest some suspects on Monday. These people can’t just wake up one day and start killing people, government should be able to identify their structure, their sponsors, how they are armed and what their aims and objectives could be.
As you pointed out earlier, the identity of people behind this wicked act has become a subject of discuss among Nigerians. As a security expert, what is your opinion on this?
Well, I am one of those who share the view that these people are militia. Possibly part of the Boko Haram members with the intention of destabilising this country. If you look at the aims and objectives of Boko Haram, they have spared neither Christians nor Muslims; they are just out to cause mayhem. And why I also share the view that these people are not just herdsmen even though they might have some links is that when I was kidnapped along Okene-Lokoja expressway last year, and while we were in captivity, you see real herdsmen, these people abandoned their cows in the bush and ran away because they are afraid. And on their own part, they don’t want to see the herdsmen because they were afraid that the herdsmen could go and inform police about where they are, so they will change location. That shows you that there may be no sordid link between herdsmen and the militia. And I believe that, apart from the fact that they need money through kidnapping, this ugly development of killing innocent citizens is one thing I cannot explain and I don’t understand. This is a problem and government has to come up with a decisive action to go beyond deploying police. The question now is, prior to this time, were the farmers and herdsmen not co-existing? They have been co-existing. So what gave rise to this is a question that government must address.
Do you think there is political undertone in all this?
Well, I may say it’s political, yes. And at the same time, I might also say it’s not political. The reason is this, if the aims and objectives are established that they want to possibly cause disaffection among the populace, it becomes political. If the intention is to cause chaos and anarchy in the name of Boko Haram; when your intention is to unleash mayhem to make the country ungovernable, it becomes political. This is because the political structure will be affected. And of course, the political structure is already being affected. You can hear the lamentation from the governor running to the president, he’s the chief security officer of the state and yet he cannot provide security for his people, so it’s political. And once the political structure is affected, governance is also affected and it becomes political. And don’t also forget, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has just released timetable for the general election. Under this very atmosphere, it’s going to create a lot of tension and why it is going to create a lot of tension is that the opposition parties are going to make this a campaign issue. And when they make this the campaign issue, they can make inflammatory statements that will snowball to more problems in the country. That is why I believe that the government should take decisive action before the implementation of this timetable released by INEC, to ensure that we have conducive atmosphere to enable election. Don’t also forget that IPOB is incubating, they go underground, nobody knows anything now but that is not the end of it. The Niger Delta Avengers we have them there. These things are going to be campaign issues. So, we have a lot of security challenges right now in the country. While not being pessimistic, I believe that government should come out and deal decisively with these problems before it snowball to chaos in the country.
The Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria accused Governor Ortom of acting on a wrong advice; do you share their opinion?
I don’t believe the governor has worked on wrong advice. He’s working based on the law passed by the State House of Assembly. The law was dully passed and Benue is not the only state in Nigeria that passed the law; Ekiti has passed the same law. I believe that people should go and learn from Ekiti. Why is it that these herdsmen are disturbing in Ondo and other states and they are not disturbing in Ekiti? So, I don’t think the governor is working on any wrong advice. Governor Ortom is working on law and law must be respected as long as it’s passed and I believe that federal government needs to intervene in this matter to ensure that lives and properties are protected because the primary responsibility of government is provision of security and welfare of their subjects. It’s a very challenging situation. The president should make a national broadcast and pay a visit to Benue State to reassure the people of that state because they have no confidence anymore in the security. You can see the statement being made by the APC chairman in the state and the governor himself. The governor was coming out to say they know where these people are camping, he named the place. So what stops the federal government from bringing the army in?
Towards the end of 2017, the federal government and state governors jointly approved a whooping amount of one billion dollars from Excess Crude Account, to fight insurgency in the North-East; is that a round peg in a round hole?
Well, I don’t have a problem with that, but it shouldn’t be for the North-East alone which the vice president too also clarified. We have a lot of security challenge across the country, so if they approved such amount of money for security, it shouldn’t be for only one geo political zone but for the entire national security challenge. We can see what is happening now, people are being killed in the North- Central; we have the problem of Niger Delta. We don’t have to wait for those problems to escalate before we start looking for another money. So, when that money was approved, it should be deployed effectively to all the various zones where we have security challenges.
2018 is a year leading to an election year in Nigeria; what do you think government should do right on security to have an enabling environment for free and fair election?
In the World Global Security Index today, the first most dangerous terrorist group is herdsmen apart from Boko Haram. So the government should be able to identify people behind this terrorist group. I don’t want to speculate, but government should be able to identify the sponsors and the aims and objectives of this group. The source of finance, how are they armed, all those things are very important. As far as I’m concerned, the problem of identity of these people is half solved. So, if you don’t know what they want, we’ll just be beating around the bush. So government has more roles to play in all this and I am challenging the federal government to do more. Nobody is saying they are not doing anything but they should do more to put this thing to a halt before these people turn Nigeria to a killing field. The ugly incidents of Enugu and Agatu communities, where several people were maimed and killed, are still fresh in the minds of Nigerians. So these senseless killings must stop.
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