Lt Gen Abdulrahman B. Dambazau (rtd) had a robust service in the Nigerian armed forces culminating in his appointment as the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) in August 2008. Dambazau disengaged from the military in September 2010.
After his disengagement, he joined the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) in 2011 and became its Director, Security for the presidential election same year. In 2014, he joined then mega opposition party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), and was subsequently appointed the APC Director, Security, APC Presidential Campaign Council for the 2015 presidential election. He was also Director of Security of the APC Presidential Campaign Council during the 2019 presidential election.
The former Army chief was Minister of Interior from November 11, 2015 to May 28, 2019. In this interview, Dambazau speaks on insecurity in Nigeria and the way out. Excerpts:
What is your general impression on the country’s state of security?
Generally, every country has its own challenges on security and this is all over the world. But, of course, every nation too has its own security concerns. And, certainly, just like President Muhammadu Buhari expressed his feelings severally and many other personalities have done, the issue of insecurity is of concern to us because it has its implications economically, socially and politically.
What do you think was the background to these challenges?
There are many factors. Firstly, the issue of crime and criminalities is part of human nature. Every country experiences and that is why, in the first place, we have laws to govern society. Even God himself, who created us in His infinite mercy, sent prophets and books (Bible for Christians, Quran for Muslims etc) in order to guide our behaviour. Like I said, there are some factors involved…
Elaborate on those factors…
Some of those factors have to do with socio-economic issues, governance, environment (the impact of certain things happening within the environment). So, like I said, they are multi factors. For instance, on the issue of our environment, today, we are talking about climate change, how it has impacted on the environment, leading to land degradation, environmental degradation, resulting in forced migration for our farmers and herders from degraded areas to areas where they can access land and water to farm or herd their cattle. They are doing so because of the effect of what climate change has done which affected land and water resources and which are becoming scarce and smaller in size. In that case, you have conflict over their use or ownership. Also, in terms of socio-economic matters, we have issues of poverty and unemployment. Corruption also has a very serious impact on the environment.
These are some of the specific factors that I think contribute to some of the security challenges we have in the country. Globalization also has an impact. The world is becoming smaller, things are done faster. It gives a lot of opportunities for people with bad intentions to also take advantage of that. This is coupled with the fact that technology has so much improved. Another thing related to this is population. Our population after independence was about 50 million. Today, we are over 200 million people. Large population is not an issue as long as it is used as human capital to develop the country. So, the resources are scarce while the population has grown exponentially. These are some of factors that do contribute to the insecurity we are facing today.
Let’s expand the discussion to include insecurity generally. It started in 2009 with Boko Haram in the North-East. Today, it has escalated to every part of the North. How did something that started as insurgency in the North-East escalate to existential threat for the entire North?
Well, I want to correct an impression. The issue of insecurity did not start from the North-East. Recall that at one time in our history, what we were dealing with in the 80s and 90s was armed robbery. Remember the famous Oyenusi, particularly within the South-West and Anini & co. Those were the scary issues at that time.
Then, our prisons were filled with those awaiting trial, alleged armed robbery suspects or convicts of same crime. At a time, government started public execution of convicts. On one occasion, execution was taking place at Bar Beach (Lagos) for armed robbery and somebody was robbing another man of his car. So, the challenges of insecurity have always been there. Specifically, for the North-East, insecurity started way back with those young chaps who grouped and called themselves ‘Talibans’ in reference to what was happening in Afghanistan at that time.
So, this was the same group, I think, grew to become what it is today. But, this issue has gone beyond the North-East, like you rightly pointed out, it has spread to many parts of Nigeria and even beyond; it has become a regional issue in the sense that it has engulfed the entire Lake Chad Basin region. It is an issue that also has connection in the entire region. Recall the issue of countries showing concern about insurgency within, specifically, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger Republic now. So, it is a regional issue and our neighbor, Benin Republic, is getting some touch of it. Initially, Lake Chad Basin countries did not show much concern about it. They thought it was a Nigeria’s problem until it became a reality to them that it was a regional problem and all the countries, led by President Muhammadu Buhari, in 2015, refocused attention to Multi-National Joint Task Force which is now based in Chad under the command of a Nigerian officer since it was established. And, of course, even Benin Republic, which is not a member of the Lake Chad Basin Authority, is contributing towards that because it is also a threat to it. It is, indeed, a threat to the whole of West Africa. Among the insurgent groups that are active, Islamic State for the West Africa Province, ISWAP, has the territorial ambition to rule the whole of West Africa. It has gone beyond the North-East, Northern Nigeria and the entire Nigeria. It is a regional issue and, as such, an African problem. It is a challenge which, I think, we should look at from that angle.
To be fair to President Buhari, when he assumed office in 2015, the first thing he did was to visit all the neighboring countries specifically because of insurgency and, following that, he organized a conference of heads of state in the region in Abuja where this issue was discussed. In addition, the Federal Government also gave a lump sum of money for this project. The Multi-National Joint Task Force is heavily funded mostly by Nigeria because we have more interest to protect here. Don’t forget our population, size and interest, particularly managing our borders and reinforcing it with security which we have to do alongside those neighbors. We have extensive land borders, covering about 4, 500km. So, it is a concern to us.
The fact that we must protect our borders is a major challenge. Even here in Nigeria, there were all types of narratives sponsored here and there, that people were not even taking Boko Haram serious. Part of the problem we have is national ownership of the problem because, even at that time, there are people who felt the issue was not their problem. Some looked at it as a northern problem but today it has become a regional issue, not even Nigeria’s.
There is a very wide network of insurgency connected with ISIS and others. So, these are issues we need to look deeply into and ensure that we nip them in the bud because insurgency, combined with extremism and terrorism, has seen young people sponsored to throw bombs, kill people and themselves in various places. We don’t even talk about 2009, even during former President Obasanjo’s administration, when there were attacks in Kano, followed by the killing of a popular cleric, Sheikh Adamu, who was murdered, while leading prayers in a mosque in Kano. This group had already established all over. It was not even at that time confined to the North-East. Remember the 2011 bombing of the United Nations, UN, Office in Abuja, the burning of Nyanya and other places. So, these are issues we have been dealing with. I don’t want to continue seeing it as a North-East or Northern Nigerian problem. It is a regional/African problem which we need to wake up and deal with.
You referenced the efforts of President Buhari and, of course, the military and the Multi-National Joint Task Force based in Chad. That brings us to the role of the Nigerian military in tackling these challenges. As one of Nigeria’s military veterans, how would you assess the performance of the military on the security threat the nation is facing, bearing in mind the numerous challenges facing the military, especially the issue of resources, welfare, equipment and an over-stretched military?
Bearing in mind all the challenges you mentioned, it is very glaring that the military is doing as much as they can to deal with the situation. I also want to use this opportunity to appreciate my colleagues in the military, particularly those who gave up their lives for others to live, leaving behind them widows and orphans. No soldier gets out of his house, deployed to fight a battle with the intention that he wants to die. No! He wants to win the war and come back safely. But, unfortunately, that is not always the case. So, we need to give the military standing ovation for what they have been doing as far as fighting insurgency is concerned. It is a big challenge. Americans just got out of Afghanistan after 20 years.
They have been fighting war against terrorism for more than three decades now. So, with all the technological advancements, all the intelligence they have, they are still fighting non-state actors, and the terrorism they are fighting is not home grown, they go outside their country to challenge threats against them, but ours is home grown and to challenge non-state actors who are Nigerians, mostly living within the communities, is not an easy task. Secondly, you mentioned the fact that the military is over-stretched. Yes, the military is over-stretched. What is the total strength of the army, the navy and the air force? Just a little under 200, 000 and not only are they occupied, engaged to fight insurgency, they also deal with issues of routine policing. I think we need to look at our police as an institution and strengthen them in order to be able to handle those tasks which are their primary responsibilities, so that the military can concentrate in defending the sovereignty and territorial integrity of this country.
They have to be very conscious about issues of human rights because those are the issues other people are waiting for them to make mistakes. So, to go into fighting people who are involved in terrorism or insurgency who are living within the country, who are Nigerians, who are within the communities and are irregular non-state actors, is extremely difficult to do. I believe they (military) are doing as much as they can, bearing in mind the circumstances and, of course, when you are talking of weapons and equipment, when Mr President said he needed $1m to buy equipment, people were making all kinds of noise. But when you look at the security challenges facing the country, $1m is not much to cover their needs, to be able to carry out the tasks, their constitutional responsibilities and other challenges. I believe we must be able to appreciate the military. Of course, there are areas that one can say they can do better, but if you look at it generally, I believe they are doing as much as they can to carry out the tasks the Commander-in-Chief has given them. Yes, there are issues that have to do with administrative problems.
This is not unique to the military, it is a general issue which, when you look at it, all the sectors in the country have challenges of accountability and transparency as well as rule of law. These are the key ingredients in any democracy and these challenges are also not unique to the military. We must be able to focus on these challenges, make sure that whatever we do, the process is transparent, accountable and follows the rule of law and, of course, human right. If we do that, it will not give much leverage for anybody to take advantage of the system.
You have been critical about inter- agency collaboration in intelligence gathering and the usage of that intelligence gathered. Sometimes, we hear that intelligence gathered didn’t get to the right people or that it got to the right people but they didn’t get the right order. In the context of what you said about how things could be done better, what is it that we need to do better in this regard, with particular reference to inter-agency collaboration, among security agencies?
As I earlier mentioned, in this business of security, two things are very important. One, security forces must have the capacity not only to monitor what is happening, they must also have the capacity to respond to incidents. That capacity must be quick and sharp for it to be useful to their action. If it is not quick and sharp, it would only lead to escalation. This is why I said, for instance, the train attack, the attack at Kuje Prisons and others whereby those violent criminals would operate, spend a couple of hours in an operation, finish and disappear.
This is why I said there is need for us to look into the way we respond to emergencies. That is the way security agencies collaborate because this is not a one-man business. This must be based on collective efforts. An agency will not be able to deal with emergency situation alone particularly with the type of security situation we are facing. This is why it is important that security agencies work together. They must share information or intelligence. Their equipment must be inter-operational. They must be able to speak to themselves using their equipment. They must be able to access situations simultaneously so they can know who takes what action at what time. Inter-agency co-operation, co-ordination and collaboration, which I call the 3cs, are very important. If they are not able to achieve that, it becomes a problem.
As a military man and, from the security perspective, there has been creation of regional security outfits, like the Civilian Joint Task Force in the North and the Amotekun in the South-West. Many, including security experts, say equipment, including weaponry, should be slightly enlarged to include the para – military and even vigilantes. What do you make of this?
Well, that has its own advantages and disadvantages but, understandably, it’s more like self – help; communities come together to form vigilante in order to cover the gaps left by officially recognized security forces and that is what is happening. Like I said, it has advantages and disadvantages.
For instance, Zamfara’s case has led to a kind of war between the Fulani herders groups in the forest and the vigilante groups coming from the communities. The Fulani groups accused the vigilante groups of going into their communities, killing their people, rustling their cows and raping their women, among others. I don’t know how far that is true, but they used that as excuse for going into the communities, where they identify vigilantes to carry out banditry attacks as a way of revenging. I think that kind of thing should be looked into. If, for instance, the South-West’s Amotekun is able to cover certain gaps, civilians, in the first place, have a role to play, whether they are formed as vigilante or not. They should be able to provide information to security agencies. They should be able to report whatever they see happening, but what we have today on the other side of it is that we also have civilians who assist violent criminals to do what they are doing. Some go to the extent of supplying them food, drugs, weapons etc in the forests. This should not be the case. This is a problem that is a threat to everyone. Sometimes too, you will find out that some of them do it out of fear, sometime, when a community feels that it is not getting the protection it requires from security forces, they give in to the demands of these criminals to the extent that they threaten and collect tax from them.
I have seen some unverified pictures where captors use captives to farm for them and whatever they produce belongs to the criminals. On the issue of para-military institutions, the Customs and Correctional Service already carry weapons in line with the Act establishing them. But the issue is that they need more training on the use of weapons. I am afraid to say that, several years ago, this was my experience as Minister of Interior which I made efforts to correct. For several years, I met a situation whereby there was weakness in training personnel in para-military organizations
. This is why we gave a lot of attention to training institutions to ensure that they are functioning. I also made it mandatory that before one is promoted from one rank to the other, he or she is required to undergo certain courses and trainings. I brought my military experience into that. You don’t get promoted without attending those courses/trainings, tested and certified, with good grade which you will now use to compete at the Board with others before you are promoted. Before then, people just got promoted without attending those courses. We have corrected that, at least, while I was there and I believe my successor continued with that. So, these are some of the issues. But, you cannot allow everybody to carry weapons.
Even Americans are still grappling with the issue of gun control, because you find situations whereby people go into schools and supermarkets and start shooting and killing people. So, to say that everybody should be allowed to carry weapons, I don’t think we have got to that stage, particularly on the issues of assault weapons which, I think, we should be very careful about. But, vigilante has always been there, it is not new. We have had communities organizing them, so it not a new thing. South-West as a region has started to look at it as the window to create Amotekun. We will be able to assist because they do not have constitutional mandate. So, they are doing that to assist law enforcement agencies. I have seen situations whereby when they arrest suspects they hand them over to law enforcement agencies.
A lot of weapons came into Nigeria through our borders, particularly after the death of Col. Gadaffi in Libya in 2011. Some of the people bringing in the weapons are not Nigerians. What can you say about that in terms of the strength of security in being able to control incursions such as this?
Our border security and management has some serious challenges. I mentioned earlier that we have over 5, 000km land borders and, of course, we have borders by the sea. This is a challenge. Then, of course, there is absolutely no way we can physically man all those borders. As at the time I was in office, they were about 84 officially recognized crossing areas and over 1, 000 illegal routes people use (to possibly bring in weapons). There is closeness between countries we have boundaries with. There were some borders I visited while in office where it was only a road that separated a community in Niger from a community in Nigeria. When I visited Benin Republic, upon their invitation on the issues of border, I met my counterpart, their then Minister of Interior, one Mr. Akande. Apparently, he is a Yoruba man.
He told me that they have this close cultural affinity with the Yoruba in one of the states, that none of the traditional rulers will remain on a seat without visiting a particular shrine in Benin Republic. If you look at Chad, we have Niger, we have Fulani and Kanuri speaking people, just like Benin with Yoruba speaking people. You look at Northern Cameroun, we have Fulani and Hausa speaking people. In Southern Cameroon, you cannot differentiate between the people of Akwa Ibom and Cross River states from those of South-West Cameroon, even in terms of name.
They have been sharing similar names. So, there is that strong cultural affinity. That is the second issue aside the expanse nature of the borders. Even if you just look at those two, you will know that we have these challenges. So, in order to deal with these challenges, we must work together with our neighbors. Interestingly, you find out that maybe because of population, some of those neighbors are more organized than us in terms of respect to rules, to laws. For instance, when you leave Nigeria and enter Niger, you will see the way they organized themselves.
They are not as rich as us or as exposed as us. There is need for us to come together. All our neighbors depend on us for survival to a very large extent. There was a time we heard that the Federal Government offered to buy vehicles for one of the neighboring countries and people were making…that is soft power. We also get aids from other countries, and they don’t make noise about them but they know why we do such aids. We also know why we do that.
. America has two bases in Niger: the Department of Defence and the CIA. They use those bases to protect their interests. We can’t neglect the fact that we need to move very close with the Americans to be able to leverage on what they do there. They are there for their interest. Also, we have our interest: interests that are mutual. Also, the influence of France and the European Union, EU, in that region, France has been conduction ‘Operation Barkani’ in Mali for years even though they said they were withdrawing some troops. France is a great influence in all our neighboring countries who are Francophone. We cannot distance ourselves from France because we have some interest to protect, just like France. And, France also has interest to protect in Nigeria. We should be able to have a bi-lateral relationship with these countries based on mutual interest.
• Interview first aired on Channels TV Newsnigh