The Punch

Integratin­g repentant terrorists into society unreasonab­le–ogunlana, counterter­rorism expert

Cybersecur­ity and counterins­urgency expert based in the United States, Dr Sunday Ogunlana, speaks to JESUSEGUN ALAGBE on why insecurity in Nigeria has lingered and what state governors can do to fight insurgents

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It’s indisputab­le that Nigeria is experienci­ng one of its toughest moments right now due to prevalent insecurity. How do you think we got here?

I reviewed the policy statement of President [Muhammadu] Buhari shortly after he took over power, and I looked at his counterter­rorism policy, whereby his government adopted the method of pacifying terrorists. Then, some people felt we should give the President and his government the benefit of the doubt and not start criticisin­g them immediatel­y. However, a Yoruba proverb says what will happen on Monday depends on what happened on Sunday. Then, I looked at the policy and also the calibre of people in the national security team, and I concluded that there was going to be a serious problem. You don’t appoint people to office because they are from your tribe; you appoint people based on competence. And even when you have competent people, you have to put the right systems in place. First, Buhari demystifie­d the position of the National Security Adviser to be unable to coordinate intelligen­ce. He put [Babagana]

Monguno there and reduced his power. He gave so much power to the army to conduct counterter­rorism operations in the north, and their approach was just the use of force, force, and force, instead of talking to the people. Then, the government started reintegrat­ing so-called repentant terrorists into society. There is no country in the world that does that. It’s a bad policy. The biggest thing you could do for repentant terrorists is what is practised in countries like

Lebanon, Sri Lanka, and Afghanista­n, where they formed political parties, and won some seats into the parliament to reintegrat­e themselves into the system. You don’t reintegrat­e repentant terrorists into society because there is no way they are going to work effectivel­y for national security. Unfortunat­ely, that’s the policy

Buhari adopted. Also, the government has engaged in media suppressio­n by not allowing the media to report the actual situation of things in the North-east.

There has been a lot of lies being fed to the public and any attempt to report the truth is tagged ‘fake news.’ Media houses that are critical of the government are branded fake.

So, there is failure because of the lack of good policies and lack of transparen­cy and competent people in government. The body language of the President is also something to worry about. Look at the way the Fulani herdsmen are killing people in the South-west.

Also, in the North, bandits are kidnapping and killing people. But the President has not declared war on the criminals. And now the solution seems to resort to self-help because the government can’t do anything. And anywhere crime seems to be rife without any progress in curtailing it, the criminals are colluding with security agents. That’s what is happening in the North and South. In my experience, it seems some people in government are working with the bandits to siphon money. These things will continue as long as we have this President. There is nothing anybody can do about it.

Already, there is a civil war going on in Nigeria. We have Boko

Haram and Fulani militia heading to the South, and my fear is that the South-west is not prepared for what is to come.

These criminals are moving about with AK-47 rifle, but we don’t have such weapons.

You mentioned that a civil war is already going on. Do you anticipate that it may blow out of proportion if the government doesn’t do anything about it?

You can’t really say. For instance, Fulani militia recently attacked and killed some people in Ibarapa [Oyo State]. You can’t say what’s going to happen next. Probably Sunday Igboho carries out a reprisal, and once that happens, probably the Fulani will attack Southerner­s in Kano. Then, there may be solidarity from IPOB [Indigenous People of Biafra] people. You don’t know what can happen. And then, within the military hierarchy, the Southern servicemen are not happy as well. They know what’s going on. In the attack that happened recently at Igangan [Oyo State], there was intelligen­ce, but the police refused to act on it. The Chairman of Amotekun in Oyo State, General Ajibola Togun (retd), raised the alarm; the Miyetti Allah people there also passed informatio­n to the police, but the police did not do anything about it. Should this happen again, it may trigger inter-ethnic attacks, and you know, the effect may spill to the military barracks, where we may have Northern and Southern soldiers pitching themselves against another. You don’t know how that’s going to end. The government is pretending as if nothing is going on, but we already know what Buhari stands for. He’s so much concerned about Twitter insulting his ego. We know his agenda. In the early 2000s, he came to Oyo State alongside my friend, Brig Gen Buba Marwa (retd), to warn Alhaji Lam Adesina [then Oyo State governor] that they were killing his people in Oyo

State, whereas it was his people killing the Yoruba. So, we know they have an agenda and we know where it’s going, which is why I’m bothered about what Governor Seyi Makinde is doing. He only asked the people to be calm. But look at Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu. We know he’s doing something about this and this instils some confidence. The Federal Government is not going to do anything, and so, at this point in time, every governor in the Southwest should learn from what the Kogi State Governor [Yahaya Bello] is doing. At least, he did something that has driven Fulani militia away from his state.

What did the Kogi state governor do?

He unleashed terror on terror. Go and find out; he employed local gangsters to unleash terror on the Fulani militiamen. That’s why they can’t operate freely in Kogi State. We also have to resort to self-help in the South-west. Our people need guns because the police won’t show up. We’ve seen that happen many times. The police will show up only when the attackers have had a field day. The police only react. Look at the issue of Iskilu Wakili of who was accused of kidnapping people for ransom and killing them. The police never arrested him until three operatives from the Oodua Peoples Congress did. The OPC took him to the police, and you know what the police did? They hid Wakili somewhere and arrested the OPC guys. They were bailed after paying the police. These things tell us something is going on, and we have to resort to self-help. We can be calling on God every time, but God will not come down and help us. I’m sorry to say violence for violence may be resorted to. All that the governors need to do is to adopt the Kogi State governor’s approach. He empowered some gangs to unleash terror on the Fulani militant herdsmen. Now, you can’t hear any Fulani militia attacks in Kogi State. That’s what Amotekun should be doing. Unfortunat­ely, the people recruited into Amotekun were people looking for jobs. They are graduates looking for how to be paid salaries. That is not bad, though, as they can be trained and deployed for intelligen­ce purposes. In most communitie­s that Fulani militiamen have attacked, they were successful because the people don’t have guns. When Sunday Igboho got to those communitie­s, he went into the bushes to chase the Fulani militant herdsmen away. It’s not because Igboho had charms, he only carried weapons and thugs to chase the criminals away. Look at the Fulani militants being arrested; they are young boys. What gives them power are the guns they have. If Amotekun is also allowed to carry AK-47 rifle like these criminals, the situation will change. We have to recruit more young people and give them a specific mandate. During the [General Sani] Abacha era, the OPC sent a group of people to Cuba for training in guerrilla warfare because when it comes to security, offensive is the game. You have to take the war to your enemies. We have to go to our forests and comb the areas where these invaders are. This is what we need the OPC and Amotekun for. The governors should ensure that these people are backed. The governors should also get them lawyers so that if anything happens, they are represente­d in court. We shouldn’t wait until we are attacked. At this point, we should be talking to Gani Adams. We need to deploy our rangers also to go into the forests and secure them – from Eruwa to Saki and other areas.

What is the role of technology in all of these?

People always talk about technology, but what is technology? I’m a cybersecur­ity expert and I have done a lot of research on technologi­es to counter terrorism. But the truth is, technology will be compromise­d when humans are compromise­d. We need to get the right people first and get the right policies in place before we start talking about technology. We need leaders who have integrity and are ready to support motivated young people to secure their land.

Do you see this happening when five of the six South-west governors belong to the APC?

I think some of these governors are getting proactive. Look at what Governor Akeredolu is doing. I think Ekiti State Governor Kayode Fayemi is also doing something silently that has stemmed the killings there. All of them have probably had their eyes opened now.

It seems you’re pessimisti­c about any change happening as long as President is in charge.

Who are you going to call to protect you under Buhari? As an intelligen­ce expert, I know Buhari is the one in Aso Rock, but perhaps he doesn’t even know what’s going on in the country. They don’t care about us; they have an agenda. From my friend Tukur Buratai to Ibrahim Attahiru, who died in a plane crash, to Farouk Yahaya, are you saying there is no Southerner who can do the job? And now, they are silently retiring military generals, most of them Southerner­s. So as long as Buhari is in power, I’ll echo what former President Olusegun Obasanjo said. He said leadership is lacking. Look at the IPOB issue. Why was the group not as forceful as this during the tenures of Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’adua, and Goodluck Jonathan? It means leadership is lacking now and we need someone who is going to unite this country. From all that is happening, we should not sleep. If you have a government banning Twitter and trying to gag the people, it means there is a sinister agenda. Look at the alleged secret memo from the Attorney General of the Federation Abubakar Malami to the President that the latter should declare martial law. Even though Malami has denied it, the reality is that there is a part of the constituti­on that gives the President the power to declare a state of emergency when there is violence going on and postpone elections by six months. And this is why the burning of the offices of the Independen­t National Electoral Commission in the South-east is suspicious. The same people causing mayhem in the South-west may also be the ones burning INEC offices in the South-east. They may be looking for avenues to declare a state of emergency so there will be an opportunit­y to extend the 2023

Most of the All Progressiv­es Congress folks in the Southwest who helped bring this government to power can’t talk because some of them have been blackmaile­d as their hands are dirty’

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