Col Tony Nyiam offers fresh insight on Boko Haram insurgency
… Proposes models on civilian force and intelligence
Colonel Tony Nyiam (retd) , respect¬ed military strategist offers novel approaches and methods that will ultimately put out the fire of the Boko Ha¬ram insurgency for good. He x-rays the Nigerian military, the executive orders, precedents, amnesty to insurgents and more in this interview.
Nyiam also looks at the Muhammadu Bu¬hari presidency and how it has been caged by irredentists, the frenetic struggle for power by different power blocs within the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, the North’s disposition to power and attempts to neutralize the influence of party leader, Bola Ahmed Tinubu in the power equilibrium, which he insists is targeted against the South. He says the core North is insensitive to the sensibilities that bounded the country together over the years. He also gives an account of how the “cabal” schemed to kill ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, but he was saved by Tinubu and others. He speaks more on other national issues.
Let me start by demanding to know your view on the Boko Haram insur¬gency in some parts of the North and the response of the Buhari-led fed¬eral government to it?
First of all, there are two aspects to what is going on now. The daring nature and the recurring nature of the threat. The daring nature suggests that there must be something wrong with the way we are fighting Boko Haram, because if the approach we have been using is working, they wouldn’t be as daring as they are. That is one level. At an¬other level, the recurring nature, the enduring challenges suggest that, apart from killing, the immediate challenges requires that the President needs to ask questions. What is his understanding of the word ‘change’? Is ‘change’, to use the analogy of a tree, the change of a tree and the branches? Or is it going to go down to the stem and the root of the tree? These are fundamentals. Let me go back to the immediate response. So far, the approach we have been using to tackle the Boko Haram threat relies too much on con-ventional warfare , more so when the Boko Haram sect has gone back to the original tactics where they have advantage. Guerrilla warfare and hit and run tactics. We are still fighting using old methods, not adapt¬ing our tactics to emerging challenges. So, I think what we need now is to resort to proper civil defense. By civil defense here, I mean government has to invest in, train and equip indigenes of the areas that are being terrorized to play a key role as the conventional forces. You could even see that the civilian JTF played more important role in the fight, even though the credit goes to the military .But they did so much. So, the emphasis is on getting away from too much reliance on the use of military force to the use of unconventional troops. I know this will take time, but we have to start mobilizing people on that.
Was there any precedence?
Fantastic. In any place where you had conventional forces fighting an unconventional force, adaptations were made. In Vietnam, the American Army which is one of the biggest in the world, fought and could not defeat the Vietnamese forces. But even then they met what they called the Vietcong. In Northern Ireland, the British had to change tactics. Initially, they used the military and after so many years of problems and with time, they built up a counter- revolutionary force, a civilian-based armed militia, called All Star Defense Force. As they were also unconventional and using the same modus operandi, they were able to fight the Irish Republican Army alongside the military. Now, what is the role of unconventional forces?
The crisis that we have is an asymmetrical war. Asymmetrical means two sides of a thing. But the two sides are using different modus operandi. This is a crisis in which you are not fighting an enemy outside Nigeria. You are fighting enemies within our ranks. It means that we need the locals to be more involved. The locals have a great stake. They are critical stakeholders in this fight, because their lives are more than endangered than the rest. So, if you build them, arm them , train and equip them, not only do they help in putting out the fight, but they will give you real time intelligence . So, what the conventional forces will be useful for will be in the area of what I will call surgical strategic operation. Special forces.
Once you identify a threat, the special forces will go there and hit the target. What I am saying is that the paradigm has to move away from where we are over dependent on conventional forces to a situation where we lay emphasis on civilian militia. Alongside it , confidence building measures, such as what the National Security Adviser , NSA, is doing now which they termed de-radicalizing people. In this precarious situation, there is a need for the Muslims to be involved. Like recently, you heard what the Emir of Kano suggested. The Mallams have to be involved in educating the insurgents, because the war we are fighting is an ideo-logical war. Apart from it being guerrilla warfare, it’s even worse that it is a religious/ ideological war, which means it’s not a war of capturing places, or defending places. It is a war of “hearts and minds”. At the level of “hearts and minds”, in addition to invincible militias , we need to embark on de-radicalizing the minds of the people and Muslim clerics have to play a key role.
The Federal Government recently said it’s not averse to negotiation with the insurgents. Is it a good idea, and will it bring lasting peace to our troubled nation?
First of all, the Federal Government, in the way you said it, after recent attacks sounded as if they were begging for it. I think that is a bad precedent .Usually, in any conflict, the nation- state government always engages the non- state actors or insurgents. But this is usually done covertly. The mistake I see happening here is that the government is still behaving as if it is still campaigning against Jonathan’s regime, in that everything they do, they start first by going to the press. For example, you want to give executive order to the military; you give it openly to the press. You want to stop military check¬points; the permanent secretary comes to announce it after leaving the presidency. This is completely contrary to standard operational procedure. You pass instructions to the military command through the chain of command down to every soldier .If it becomes necessary to tell the public, you do that after you have passed the instructions to the command. But you don’t pass a presidential command in the media. Not only are you giving notice to your opponents, you are seen to be undermining the authority of the military high command. This is not at all good for the president.
Look at the checkpoint matter; they announced some revisions on it. It was modi¬fied. That’s the problem. Secondly, along¬side this, there is a mistake being made. Even though President Muhammadu Buhari is an experienced General, a man with some good records, he must be remembered that he is now the president. He is not the one in charge of operations. I detect two things. There is a tendency to want to teach the military how to do their job. It’s one thing for the executive to tell the military what to do, but it’s not the standard practice to tell them how to do their job. There is a very good reason for this. The political head is in charge of policy initiation, coming out with policies and ensuring that those policies are put into practice. That is where he stops. He does not go into the operation, otherwise, you have the issue of conflict of interest. In other words, if the president is saying stop checkpoints and you stop checkpoints, if there are problems you cannot blame the military. So, it makes it difficult for us to hold people accountable.
On the issue of responsibility, the political head deals with the issue of policies, ensuring that policies are put into action. But he does not interfere with the mode of operations. That was the same mistake that was made with the order to relocate the military high command to Maiduguri. One, I must extend my appreciation to the service chiefs for what I will call the damage control they brought in . They had to navigate through a face- saving midway solution, not to expose what I will call the performance gap in the person who drafted that presidential order for the president. The gaps are illustrative of some lack of capacity in how to administer an army. The first executive order the president gave to the military exposed a lot of problems we have in our high defence management. One, it illustrated clearly a lack of understanding between the responsibility of military high command, that is service headquarters and headquarters of what I call field fighting formations. The Army, Navy or Air Force headquarters have responsi¬bilities which make it imperative that they are close to the seat of power. They cannot be far away from the seat of power in their location. There are examples all over. You don’t see the Pentagon being moved to Iraq.
Now, having said that, you would see that the order the service chiefs came with; they said they formed the forward command base and anybody who is familiar with technicalities of higher military manage¬ment will know that. When you talk of for¬ward command base, forward implies that there is always a corollary of real command base. This technology applies to only what I call field fighting formations. What do I mean? In the Nigerian Army as constituted, there are only four field fighting formations. They are 82 Division Enugu, 2 Division in Ibadan and 3 Division in Jos. They now created a new division which is called 7 Division, which was dedicated by the army during Jonathan’s tenure to fight Boko Ha¬ram. That’s the type of formation that was created. If they were not as effective as the president wished, that is what needs to be reorganized, but not to say the army command headquarters should move.
If you look at it carefully, that order has not been enforced. All you have is service chiefs still overseeing the operations. It is not their responsibility to be in the field. It is the theatre commander who the president will appoint. Just like in the US, Collin Powell and co were at the Pentagon, while the field commander was in Iraq. I think there was a mistake; there was a mix-up in the chain of command that radiates from an army headquarters down to the field fighting formations and a field fighting formation chain of command. I will give you some papers to look at. You’ll find that one of the reasons why this mystique arises is because our military officers have not been exposed to above integration level, mainstream exercise operations.
What do I mean? Our army is at the level of divisions. As we speak, we do not have a full-fledged army. I hope people know that. We have basically four field fighting divisions. A field fighting army has nine divisions. Now, how does it work? An army is made up of three corps, three field fighting corps. And each corp. is made up of three fighting divisions. That’s how I come by the line divisions. We are less than half of what a full-fledged army formation is. It is therefore not surprising why the military, as it is now, is overstretched. The military requires a full-fledged division taking over and overwhelming the North-east area. If you have at the vanguard or a division, you need two other divisions to give that operational support. So, if we are to do that with the strength of soldiers we have now, the whole country will be paralysed. What I am saying is that this is something that we can do in the longer term.
We need to bring our military up to strength. Let me give indications of how bad things are. Of all the countries around Nigeria, (Chad, Niger, Benin, Cameroun) none of them spends less than 2per cent -plus of their GDP on security. We only spend 1 per cent of our GDP on the military. And this is on top of corruption .Let us also illustrate. There are five powers in Africa- Egypt, Nigeria, Algeria, Ethiopia, and South Africa .Egypt which has half the population of Nigeria , which has half the GDP of Nigeria has three fighting armies. Ethiopia whose GDP cannot be compared with Nigeria has four fighting armies.
The Egyptian standing army is over half a million regular troops and one million reservists. So, in any crisis, Egypt can bring to bear up to 1.5million soldiers. And what do we have in our own army? Less than 100,000.You can even see that from what I am saying, it will be difficult for us to meet our challenges. We need in the long term, a four-fold increment of strength in the military. The nature of the challenge we have suggests that we have to build up capacity in the use of unconventional forces.
Let me take you to the issue of negotiation. Some pundits are insinuating that government may offer amnesty to the insurgents in line with the one granted Niger Delta militants during their militancy days of yore.
Do you think it’s feasible and if so, will it work?
First of all, you used a critical word, militancy. Militancy is when people use violence to push political or economic grievances. It’s different from where you are fighting ISIS kind of terrorists. Amnesty, obviously, if people as the NSA has stated, those people, I think about 40 or so ladies have been de-radicalized and about 200 or more ongoing.
Those who move to this side , the government should welcome and encourage with incentives. But I think it’s too premature to think of amnesty of the kind we had in the Niger Delta. It must be remembered that in Niger Delta, and it was known all over the world, they were economic pillars who account for over 85 per cent of our foreign earnings and yet we were just taking away from them without a cushioning balance. The grievances were what was playing out. It’s not even, you see you cannot compensate the people with their own money.
In the case of Boko Haram, what will you be compensating people for? Killing people, for all that they are doing? For killing Christians and Muslims? I think that precedence will be a very difficult one to deal with .
Away from insurgency, I would like you to talk about a true federal set- up in Nigeria. What are your thoughts on a true federal set-up that will guarantee peace and sta¬bility.?
I think for me, if by “change”, like I said earlier, it will be only at the level of changing the leaves and the branches of a tree. I think it’s no change at all. The change for me, the litmus test for me, for president Mu-hammadu Buhari, is if he will restructure Nigeria, to restore Nigeria back to true federalism. Look, the curse on ourselves is our falsehood, the lip service we pay to say we have a federal system of government, when we don’t have it. In fact, this is the recurring cause of all our national security challenges. Be it what people call MASSOB or what has provoked differences that led to Boko Haram insurgency. It has to do with self determination issue. It’s at the level of self determination-driven reasons for our nation’s security challenge. The recent fiscal challenges are because instead of us having fiscal devolution or federalism, we have fiscal centralism, taking away the powers of governors to enable them to be self- reliant and at the same time we increased the salaries of their workers from the center and still want to hold them responsible. What am I saying? What I find is that the chickens have come home to roost.
The APC governors who were against Jonathan’s conference, who were against moves that it’s critical that Nigeria is restructured, are now finding out that the thing they were against is now haunting them. All the problems we are going through now are traceable to the imbalance we have in our political structure in Nigeria. The constitution we have ,did over centralize power to Abuja. So, the litmus test for anybody, if really Buhari really wants change, the change has to be anchored on constitutional reforms. He cannot run away from that, be¬cause the present structure has many contradictions. For instance corruption, which the government wants to fight. It will be very difficult to fight, if he doesn’t fight the cause of corruption.
The underlying cause of corruption is the illegitimate conversion of the resources that belong to ethno-nations or states to the center. The Federal Government is taking illegitimately earnings of the people. This illegitimate act is legalized by the 1999 Constitution. Stealing what belongs to the people makes it even more heinous. Basically, what we are doing is stealing re¬sources that belong to Niger- Delta areas which include Ondo, Imo and of course Anambra and possibly Kogi, Rivers, Bayelsa, Cross River and Akwa Ibom. Their resources, in the main are illegitimately taken. I use the word illegitimate, because even though it appears legal, it’s illegitimate. In a similar way, the invisible earnings that come from production. Lagos State is deducting VAT from the money it generates which is taken to the center.
This taking of money that belongs to the people to the center has created wealth that people perceive as no man’s wealth. That’s why when a man goes to Abuja and steals, he heads straight to the airport and takes his position and his people celebrate him. The first thing to deal with in corruption is that you have to change the mentality with which the government is run, the mentality of the fiscal system we run now. The fiscal system we have now is based on taking by force and sharing. With this system still in place, it will be difficult to fight corruption, because the means of revenue generation of the federal government is not legitimate.
Still on true federalism. How do you situate it within the context of the new appointments made by President Buhari?
I have said it before. One of the greatest things I heard from Buhari was when he said “I belong to everyone, I belong to no one”. I believe him, but I do hope he doesn’t allow some irredentists around him to prevent him from practical¬izing it and not for his own ethnic nationality. Why do I say so?
The recent appointments we have seen so far suggest that President Buhari is being misguided and being pushed to be very partial . He has made critical appointments in three critical areas. One is the Accountant General of the Federation, the Director of DPR and the acting INEC chairman. These three critical appointments and of course that of the chief of staff are all coming from the same zone.
There is also that of the Director General of the DSS, Daura. Not only is he a man that has been in retirement, he is directly from the president’s town .If Jonathan had done the same thing by appointing the director of DPR and the Accountant General from the South-south, people would have raised hell. You must remember that the Accountant General took over from someone from the South west, Otulana. Why couldn’t Buhari appoint a south westerner at least as a gesture to the South west for the support they gave him. The DPR director was an Igbo chap. I think these appointments are clearly indicative that the president has not been allowed to follow his principle that he belongs to everyone.
Is he not an irredentist?
No, far from it. President Buhari is a man I served with, he is a man who is a true Nigerian; he is a man who is a true man of God. What I am suggesting is that he appears increasingly and gradually being caged by irredentists who are going to spoil his chances of becoming the Mandela of Nigeria. I have said it before that the closest analogue of Mandela in Nigeria is Buhari. But it does seem to me that some elements , some irredentists with agenda will not allow Nigeria benefit from such a figure.
How do you look at the movement from the South-west led by Asiwaju Tinubu which teamed-up with the North to produce Buhari? What are the shortcomings and strengths in the alliance?
I don’t think I want to go into that. Asiwaju played a critical role in contributing to Jonathan being made acting president. At one point, Asiwaju was actually involved in contingencies to save Jonathan’s life . At that time, it was feared that if Jonathan refused to resign after the death of Yar’Adua , he will become a wasted material. Asiwaju played a role in ensuring that did not happen.
I say this, because I was involved as well. Another colleague of mine and I were involved in the benevolence, patriotism and nationalism of Asiwaju.
Asiwaju also played a key role in 2011 with the Oba of Lagos and one or two personalities I wouldn’t want to mention just now. They played a part in ensuring that Asiwaju helped to convince the South-west to help Jonathan. Why am I repeating all this? I am doing so, because President Buhari should not make the mistake that was made.
What mistake are you talk¬ing about?
After Asiwaju rendered all this help, he was paid back in a way that was not befitting of the assistance he gave. It was not the fault of ex-president Jonathan; it was the fault of his aides. The key aide who was supposed to facilitate some of the things to pay back did not do it. To the point that…
(cuts in) Was it financial?
I will like to leave it at that. Not so much financial. I would like to leave it at that. Instead, rumours were being peddled that Asiwaju was paid back with some money, which wasn’t true. The person who was supposed to do certain things did not do so. I had in a lecture I delivered in the East warned that the way the South west was being treated by Jonathan’s regime would not help his government.
I raised the alarm that the first 12 people in the hierarchy of protocol i.e the president down the line to the 12th, there was no Yo¬ruba figure in it. I said then that it was dangerous for any government to ignore the South-west. Some of my colleagues from the Niger Delta were very angry with me for making that comment. I told them I said it in the best interest of Jonathan, and of course we saw the result. Asiwaju may have been forced to, as it were, go into that alliance. It was an alliance that I thought he should have gone into much more carefully than we see playing out.
I think it’s a mistake for President Buhari to allow himself to be misled to think that those who are ganging up against the South-west would triumph .It is an open secret that those who want to regain power back to their people ,find the South-west, that once you’ve checkmated, divided and ruled, you can get through to the rest of the South and North central. Once you have done that, you are in control. That’s what is playing out at the National Assembly and in the APC, I see it from three multi- layered levels.
Superficially, what we call the wave of an ocean level, I see the contest between those who want to deepen democracy, and those who want the role of godfathers to play on .To most of us in the South,we like the deepening of democracy, but we forget that underlying that there is still the strategic. The different zones have strategic advantages. It’s in that we have to be careful not to allow ourselves to be divided. I think the South-west needs to come together for their own good. The camps in the South-west , Governor Mimiko, Asiwaju, Dr Fasehun need to come back together. You see any attempt to push Asiwaju out of the corridors of power is a rehearsal to push the South out of power for good.
Can you throw more light on that?
The hegemonists are masters of divide and rule. Here is Asiwaju Tinubu, the man who built the bridge. Make no mistake about it, without Asiwaju, Buhari could not have been in office. It was Asiwaju’s rallying point that gave confidence to Buhari’s movement. People forget that even the elite in the North were not with Buhari.
It was when Asiwaju gave them no choice, when they saw that if they did not join the bandwagon they will be left out. The creator of this bridge, the creator of this means of power is Bola Tinubu. So, for such a contributor to be set aside is really dangerous. I say this with no apologies, rather I plead with my other South-west leaders that once Asiwaju is confined, or restricted , they will come to them. So, anybody who thinks he will benefit from it will be mistaken.
On this note, I urge two particular beneficiaries of Asiwaju’s human capital development ( two former governors) not to allow themselves to be used against Asiwaju Tinubu.
From the body language of the government, they may not touch the report of the last National Conference. What implications does it have for the polity?
First of all, it means the whole idea of change is all sound and no bite. If you really want change, there is no way a convert or a true democrat will continue using the constitution that was decreed by a military regime.
A constitution that lies against itself by saying ‘we the people’, when it was not by the people. I would have thought that with President Buhari’s change leadership which he explored and his moral strength which he has, he should realize that we have to be democratic; we need a constitution that is approved by means of a referendum. A constitution becomes legitimate only when it goes through a referendum, a plebiscite.
The 2014 national conference was a people’s conference where landmark decisions were reached. For instance, the short-changing of the South-east was addressed. The shortchanging of a place like my place, Ogoja, was addressed. It was one of the places first men¬tioned in the Willinks Commission Report. Ogoja is still not a state. The conference also dealt with the creation of states that will free ethnic minorities that have been under bondage. That same conference came up with ways of making INEC truly independent. It will amount to no change if that conference report is ignored by Buhari, a man we thought will effect change.
I will like you to speak on the composition of this government especially as it relates to the three arms of government?
It relates to the point we made earlier on the appointments being made. It does appear that someone is giving indication of not being sensitive to certain sensibilities. And what are these sensibilities? Does this present government realize that the judiciary(Supreme Court, Appeal Court, and High Court) are headed by people from one part of the country? You go to the legislative arm, the leader of the two chambers, (Senate, House of Reps) are from the same side of the country, and you now come to the executive, and you have the chief of the executives from the same area.
Anybody talking about the vice president should know that after Obasanjo removed the powers of the vice president, the vice president had no powers. So, when you look at all these, one should have been much sensitive to the issue of adding more appointments to this same side.