[easy-social-share buttons="facebook,twitter" counters=0 style="button"]
Major-General Abdulmalik Halidu-Giwa is the former Chief of Defence Intelligence oftheDefence Intelligence Agency (DIA), during the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. In this interview with MUSA SIMON REEF, AUSTIN JOHNSON and NSA COBHAM, the retired military intelligent officer, who also has the traditional title holder of TaimakonNupe, goes down memory lane to recall that the Jonathan’s administration was not committed to resolving the Boko Haram quagmire; the erroneous assumption that insurgency was basically a Northern problem and why the present government of President Muhammadu Buhari must act fast to ensure the de-radicalisation of insurgents, among others. Excerpts;
How would you assess the handling of Boko Haram by the past administration of President Goodluck Jonathan?
I dare say that, personally I felt frustrated with the manner the last administration handled the issue of murderous Boko Haram. During the last administration, we were consulted and we saw the need to form a security cell to advise the then president on what to do in order to tackle the insurgency. Most of the things that we recommended, regrettably, were not given any attention. The first thing we suggested was the sealing off of the borders as it affect the Maghreb states and the destabilisation that followed the Arab Spring which affected countries like Tunisia, Algeria and Libya, among others. Libya was the main thing, because there were arms in the hands of numerous groups, following the sacking of the Ghaddafi’s government. We felt that we needed to seal off the borders so as to control the influx of arms into the country. The armaments that were made available to Boko Haram members were from Libya, so much that they destabilised the Nigerian Army that is known and reputed all over the world. We tried our best to advise the government, but when there was no commitment from the past government, we disbanded the cell. Since the body language of the last administration was that the problem was northern, the last administration felt the Northern region should be allowed to solve the problem.
So, when you are not in government and you give an advice and it is not considered, you then feel a sense of frustration. I have also used other forums to give advice on how best to tackle the prevailing insurgencies ripping this country apart. The situation got so bad that Abuja was not left out, as Nyanya and other close targets in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) became persistent targets by the insurgents.
It is said that corruption frustrated the fight against Boko Haram as funds meant for the purchase of arms and other logistics were misappropriated by the top echelon of the military command. What is your view on this?
Regrettably, corruption is so pervasive and the military is not an exception. You could see that when the last administration postponed the general elections by six weeks, they did all in their power to get equipment and the fight against terror gained tremendous leverage during the period just before the elections. Compare that period to any time before that time and also compared that to the budget on anti-terror war. You could see the period. You do not need any rocket science to read the signs of the time and what was needed to accomplish the war against terror. The military is part of the society and corruption has pervaded all sectors of life. Fortunately, we have a government that everyone believes that the country is on the right path in tackling the monster of corruption. Corruption is the basic problem confronting this country. Once you can tackle corruption, then you can be assured that everything will fall in the right place. Kill corruption in Nigeria and you will solve the problem of this country. It was a fact that there were no equipment and soldiers resorted to the media to cry out their frustration. Some of them spoke to the media on their problems. These were some of the problems the military members encountered. What we saw during the last administration, you could not have seen such under the Obasanjo government. Now we have another general that is popularly elected and you can see that there are changes in the way and manner the campaigns against terror is being waged. Even in the United States, you have to have someone with a regimented background of the military before you are elected into power.
Are you saying that for someone to be an effective president in Nigeria, he needs to have a military background?
I am saying that it is the norm across the world and Nigeria should not be an exception. I am not saying that it should be the total preserve of the military, but I am saying that someone with a regimented background is needed to deliver effective governance. Look at former Governor Fashola of Lagos. See how he has performed in terms of developing the state. He is a model. He was in the Man ‘O War and also a member of the Boys Scout. That is a regimented background. This helped him to discharge the functions of his office.
Many Nigerians were made to believe that the abduction of the Chibok girls was just an allegation that was promoted by anti-Jonathan campaigners to sink him politically. As someone with deep insight on security matters, did the abduction take place?
Of course, the abduction took place. We saw the parents of the abducted girls and they came to Abuja and cried out. We saw them expressing their anguish and the media was awash with their anguish. But the handling of Chibok girls was enmeshed with total lack of commitment and we saw what happened at the end of the day. The government never had the commitment to resolving the Chibok girls’ saga and you can always see that when there is no commitment, nothing is achieved.
Nigerians witnessed the saga of ferrying millions of dollars to South Africa and the accompanying seizure of same by the South African authorities. Do you think it was needful for the last government to have embarked on such an action? Was there any other way the country could have followed to get the arms it needed for the war against terror?
Unfortunately, it was something that brought embarrassing moments for Nigeria and South Africa. There are always the right way in doing things. All what was needed was for the right approach to be adopted. I do not know the workings and how we got entangled in that unfortunate situation.
Some military sources reveal that the need to get the arms on time made it impossible to follow the due process which would have taken a longer time and time was of the essence for the last administration to beat back the insurgents.
Invariably, at the end of the day, it was the same money that was used to get us the arms when the due process was followed. It is the same arms we got from Western countries and it was same arms that we used to deal with Boko Haram. It is neither here or there.
Despite the hues and cries against some perceived failings of the military command, the Jonathan administration refused to effect changes in the military top command, was that a wise decision?
Again, like I said before, it is all about political will and determination that is of the essence here. As I have said, the last regime did not display the political commitment and wisdom in dealing with the problem. That was the main issue. Once the commitment was not there, then any other failing takes place.
What about this theory that the last administration was being sabotaged for political end?
Again, it is the bane of the Nigeria’s political system. We still have not gotten it right after a leadership has emerged after an election. It is normal to hear all such of arguments. The opposition was so engaged that we forgot that Nigeria is our country. We have no other country than Nigeria, so we need to come together and fight for its unity and stability. No matter the billions that you have, you can only be a foreigner when you live in another country. No amount of money at your disposal will change the fact that you are a Nigerian living in a foreign land. Here in Nigeria, with my pension, I am a Nigerian and can go anywhere. If you place premium in the unity of this country, no force can defeat us.
How would you react to the occasional violence by insurgents in some parts of the North despite the intense efforts being play by the Buhari administration in defeating Boko Haram?
Let me start by saying that what you are seeing of Boko Haram now is efforts by drowning man to try to survive by all means. Members of Boko Haram are simply trying to show that they are surviving even when they are being defeated. What is happening largely is that they have been contained by the military. Right now, they do not hold many grounds again. Have you heard that they are holding unto a caliphate? No. Number two, what is remaining now is the pocket of them who are simply engaged in guerilla warfare. My take on the solution is for the government to galvanise the entire military command, with the assistance of the people, to tackle the problem once and for all. This group has a negative indoctrination and the government should look into it. That is why a woman with a little girl will strap a bomb and detonate it to kill several people. We must engage the media and religious leaders to give members of Boko Haram a new orientation and de-radicalise them towards attaining peace in Nigeria.
The activities of Boko Haram have portrayed Islam in bad light and we must note here that Islam does not allow you to kill yourself. It is abhorrent for Muslims to kill themselves and others. How they get this idea is the process of wrong indoctrination. If we must change them, then we need to give them a new orientation. We must work against dangerous indoctrination and get people who know the problem to be involved in taking initiatives against insurgency. If you look at the appointments of Service Chiefs, you will agree with me that the present administration is walking its promises to deliver this country from the claws of insurgents and other violent activities of dangerous elements. In Islam, if you kill someone, the verdict is straight: hell. So, the government should assist in de-radicalisaation of the insurgents. When growing up, we were taught as Muslims not to tell a lie. If you tell a lie, we were taught you will go to hell. As little as that, massive efforts must be deployed to de-radicalise and give new orientation to members of Boko Haram. Recently, I learned that some members of Boko Haram submitted themselves to the Borno State Government. If this campaign is sustained and carried to the grassroots, I can assure you that the war will change.
Recently there was a protest in the East over the transfer of Boko Haram suspects. Some people have alleged that these suspected insurgents could indoctrinate inmates. Do you see this transfer as a needful option in tackling the problem of insurgency in this country?
First of all, I was shocked as to how the information on the transfer was leaked. I am not in the complete know on how the entire process was handled. But let me state this: I suggested that a facility be built for members of Boko Haram in the North-east so that we take suspected members to that facility. The facility was also to assist in getting them to be de-radicalised and also get Muslim preachers to assist in giving the insurgents new orientations to their indoctrinations. All these funds that you have mobilize for the anti-terror war, if you take a little fraction of it and build a facility and get all the suspects into such facility, you will not have what we recently saw in the South-east where people poured into the streets to protest against the transfer of Boko Haram suspects in that part of the country. After getting a facility for the suspected insurgents, you can get Muslim preachers to de-radicalise the members for peace to return to the country.
This is not the first time that the Nigeria Prisons Service is moving prisoners from one part of the country to the other. How comes this prison transferof Boko Haram suspects to the South-east caused such an uproar?
Boko Haram is a serious problem. When you transfer suspected Boko Haram members from one area to the other, then that informs why we have these hues and cries. The solution to this problem can only to be realised when we get a virgin land and build a facility that will accommodate the suspected insurgents. Anything short of this will not solve the problem. For the sake of Nigeria, we should seek after efforts that are aimed at bringing peace to this country. I believe we have men and women of good will who are determined to ensure peace and prosperity of this country. If we all see our country as one and united one, we all can be happy and assist in the emergence of a new country of hope and abundant prosperity for all.
You earlier said that the Jonathan administration saw the Boko Haram as a Northern problem. Are you saying that the Boko Haram is not a Northern problem that requires the efforts of Northerners to tackle it?
Let me state here that Boko Haram is not a Northern problem. Anyone who says that Boko Haram is a Northern problem is missing out on the fact. Boko Haram is a national issue. To restrict the issue of Boko Haram to a regional problem will escalate the problem. I have earlier suggested that every part of this country has sincere intentions, and if we have such sincere intentions towards the development of this country, then, we can muster our way forward. The time has come for all of us to think as Nigerians and also unite for the common good.
Efforts are on currently to rebuild the North-east. What is your advice for the present administration?
Already I have been informed that the United States has promised over $2 billion to reconstruct the North-east. What we have now that is manifesting as Boko Haram is the head of the snake. The body has already been cut off and the government is sparing no efforts to ensure that the monster of insurgency is totally dealt a deadly blow so that we can have permanent peace. I also know that there were programmes earlier prepared by the last administration, I think the present government should build on it and ensure full implementation so that permanent peace can be realised for this country. On the part of the international community, I expect massive support in terms of funding and supporting the present government to reconstruct the zone devastated by activities of insurgencies.
The present administration of President Buhari has been inaugurated for about two months, and Nigerians have been told that appointment of ministers should wait until September. What do you make out of the decision to postpone the appointment of ministers to next month?
You should understand the present administration inherited a lot of things that were wrong. President Buhari has discovered that he needs time to clear some of the mess so that he can start on a clean slate. For the appointment of ministers, he has realised that he cannot just appoint ministers without conducting exhaustive security backgrounds on prospective ministerial nominees. That is why he has come out to inform the nation to tarry a while for the right people to be sought. In his own right, as a former Head of State, he knows the corridors of power properly and he does not want to be hurried into appointing ministers. I think we have spent so much on recurrent and we cannot continue like that. A minister has 20 aides and so much billions of Naira spent on maintaining them. It was a rudderless government that Buhari inherited and everybody was a government. He is taking his time to select and get a good team to deliver the goods. Nigerians should understand the task ahead and allow Buhari to properly form his cabinet. This government is less than two months, but it has saved over $5 billion. For your information, our Foreign Reserve rose by $2.8 billion, while the NLNG dividends was about $2 billion. If he had rushed into appointing new ministers, Nigerians may not have been availed of this. The truth of the matter is that even though Buhari left 30 years ago, he still has an in-depth knowledge of what is on the ground.
We have seen the National Assembly crisis and the leadership imbroglio that has thrown the APC into bitter war of attrition. What should be done to resolve the impasse?
As Buhari said, “I belong to all and I belong to no one.” What is needed is for members of the National Assembly and the APC to come together and resolve the problem. For now, the APC is not an amalgam of unified political force. Members of the National Assembly should be selfless and take into consideration the interest of Nigerians. Our politicians should avoid jumping from one party to the other. You cannot take everything and dictate everything. I think that is the problem.
The Amnesty International recently accused Nigeria military of human rights violations. Do you think that the military that you were part of could be guilty as alleged by Amnesty?
The military I am a part of is not a part of this military that flees from the presence of Boko Haram. The military that we had then was a strong, united and committed to its core mandate of defending the territorial integrity of our country. A colonel, a young officer that was my boy, was almost nearing Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon, to capture Paul Biya before General Sani Abacha ordered him to return to base over the killing of a Nigerian soldier. You may also recall that when Chadian took over some villages in the North-east in the early 1980s, Buhari chased the invading armies into their country until former President Shehu Shagari ordered the Nigerian troops to return. In the military I serve, integrity was not compromised. Equipment and all that was needed for the Army to function was not lacking. But I do not know if the then military is still the present military. We have heard of stories of military men fleeing from insurgents. Corruption has pervaded every sector of our national life. So, let’s hope that the current Army headed by good leadership and the political will of the government will live up to its professional calling. Indeed, they need our support and we as Nigerians owe it to them to be supportive of all efforts to assist them secure our land. I have the hope that with our collective support and cooperation, we all can bring peace and development to our country and heal the wounds of violence brought by Boko Haram and other violent groups in our nation.