IF there is anything anybody could say about him, it is that he is genuinely concerned about insecurity in Nigeria. Major General Obi Abel Umahi (Rtd) is not just a military general but a general who leads from the war front.
He is the former General Officer Commanding (GOC) 81 Division Nigerian Army; former Directing Staff in Command and Staff College and National Defence College, Commanding Officer 72 Airborne Battalion, Commander Army Task Group (Operation Restore Hope), with two tours of active service in ECOMOG Operations, among numerous military positions.
Although Umahi’s passion was to become a professor of international repute, fate had another plan for him as he went to the Nigerian Defence Academy, NDA to teach but was commissioned into the army.
Umahi hails from Uburu, Ohaozara Local Government Area, Ebonyi State, Nigeria. He attended University of Ibadan, University of Dhakar, Senegal and Benue State University, where he obtained BSc and MSc in political science, defence studies, International and Strategic Studies.
In this exclusive interview with Maureen Chigbo, editor and Anayo Ezugwu, senior staff writer, Realnews, Umahi regretted the unending security crisis in Nigeria. He stressed the need for cordial military-civilian relationship. The interview is a must read. Excerpts.
Realnews: So much is happening in the country right now, we would like you to share your opinion. Let us start with the way the politics is going, Supreme Court ruling, do you think we are doing the right things? What are your views?
Umahi: Well I’m not a constitutional lawyer. In fact I’m not a lawyer generally speaking, but going by the public opinion, I think the Supreme Court judgment is historical. It is something that would continue to challenge the history of this nation. But going to say specifically whether it was okay or not okay, I think I don’t have that legal opinion on that issue. But public opinion, people have reservations.
Realnews: What are your reservations?
Umahi: My reservation is just that, it is as if the judicial system is still a very big challenge. It is still having a big challenge in this nation to the extent that we are not having absolute confidence in our judiciary is a challenge. And that is perhaps why people are taking laws into their hands and resorting to self-help and all that. But generally speaking, I don’t think it was exactly the way Nigerians have expected the judgment to go.
Realnews: Do you mean that some Nigerians expected the judgment to go in favour of the opposition party in the country and why do you think so?
Umahi: I think right from the beginning Nigerians have their permutations and combinations based on the situation in the country. You know you can make an election forecast based on what you think is the mode of the nation. So you can almost say that this party will win and the other one may loss because you can easily reach that conclusion based on public opinion. But going by the public opinion before the elections, you can almost say this is the party that ought to have won.
Realnews: But in this instance, it didn’t happen the way people thought, is that what you are saying?
Umahi: I don’t want to make a conclusion. I want everybody to be the judge.
Realnews: You were involved in the security of this country at a point in time; you still have a lot of information about what is happening as regard to the security of this country. What do you make of the insecurity that we have now from kidnapping, banditry and the Boko Haram we have been told that is technically defeated is still raging?
Umahi: It is a very unfortunate situation. There are some issues I want to line up properly. Number one is that fighting Boko Haram, terrorism everywhere in the world is an operation that you can compare with drinking tea with knife. It is grinding, it is involving and it is time consuming. And ab initio Nigerian Armed Forces are not trained for it, even the formal training that is still going on in the military is still on conventional warfare no unconventional warfare.
Unconventional warfare training is just being given a little bite, but the bulk of the training is on conventional warfare where your enemy is limited to a particular area and you are in a particular area. So you plan operations and choose the best options to meet him, to attack him, to dislodge him or how you will respond to him if he is coming, but terrorism is a different ball game. So fighting terrorism involves a lot of intelligence and we do not have facilities, human and material intelligent gathering facilities, we do not have.
Even the security agencies that are fighting terrorism and insecurity in Nigeria, they do not have good relationship with the general public because the general public is expected to be a real source of intelligence for the security agencies. But in Nigeria the security agencies do not have such chummy relationship with the general public.
Sometimes the general public even see them as enemies. So instead of acting in their favour, they act against them. We must address the issue of intelligence gathering. Security agencies must go back and build a relationship. For instance, if you talk about positive identification operation, what you are saying is that everybody in uniform has open license to stop any person on the street, which means you can molest him or her saying you are in for positive identification. You can do anything to anybody. That is not in any way correct.
That kind of operation is something that is done in an environment of police state where there is gross infiltration of enemies into a system or gross infiltration of immigrants, who do not have valid papers. In a democratic environment like Nigeria, you can’t do such a thing. The security agencies should redefine themselves, redefine relationships with the people. There is what is called civil relations, is a very important issue in the military.
They should emphasis on it knowing that the civilians are masters to the security agencies. Anywhere they have operations; the first thing should be how do we have a cordial relationship with the people. So once they have good relationships with the people, they buy the hearts and minds and it will be easy for them to relate with them and get information. In the Ireland operations, it was a major issue, so the military resorted to civil relations and it resolved a lot of issues.
Realnews: Which Ireland are you talking about?
Umahi: The Ireland in the United Kingdom. So the military should change their orientation and approach.
Realnews: What kind of approach are you specifically advising or recommending?
Umahi: In civil-military relations, once you see the civilians as masters and you as the servants, the way you treat civilians and relate with them will make them to develop a lot of confidence in you. So anything that happens anywhere and they have access to such information, they are already looking for how to pass it on. In that way that is what is called force multiplier. Intelligence is force multiplier when you can gather information through civilians it means that you are deployed everywhere and all of them working for you at no cost.
Realnews: Would you say that the military strategies that have been adopted by this present administration is a failure?
Umahi: No. One cannot talk about failure because they are trying. If they are not trying we would have been overwhelmed, but they are trying. But the issue is that when a particular insecurity persists, every day you begin to look for a new tactics and new strategy to address the issue because it is often said that he who continues to do a particular thing in a particular way and expect a different result; that is a definition of madness.
So what we are saying is that they must begin to find solutions that are different from the one they already know and they are working on. Like we said, come up with ways of having a good civil-military relationship.
Realnews: There is a debate going on concerning inter-agency rivalry, why do they have it? They are supposed to maintain security for the country and work together to ensure security. While you were in the military, did you experience this and how can we resolve this situation so that we will not have the police fighting the army, police fighting DSS and DSS fighting EFCC because you can see the competition among security agencies?
Umahi: That inter-agency rivalry is as old as the organisations. Remember that in 911, that issue played out. CIA got information, they didn’t share with FBI. There were other agencies that got information, the intelligence about possible bombing and they did not share it with those that they are supposed to share it with that would have led to pre-empting that particular attack.
In the case of Nigeria or generally speaking, the only way to address inter-agency rivalry is for the leadership of the nation in question to stand firm. The moment you begin to compromise issues on democratic principles, on constitutional guidelines, when you begin to compromise on all those with the security agencies, you will lose control of them.
If you use security agencies to rig elections, you can’t control that security agency. If you use a security agency for acts that border on indiscipline, maybe oppress your political enemy, I’m taking generally that agency will become a lord to you, who is the leader rather than you being the lord to him. And I guess that is one area that leadership must address. Everybody must be on his own constitutional part and let there be separation of powers.
Let the police act without going to ask the president should we do this. Let the chief of army staff act in line with the constitution without going to ask can we do this. He knows what he ought to be doing as a routine. When something that is not routine comes, he knows the constitutional part through which it should come and when it comes through that constitutional part he will know and he must obey constitutional orders and instructions from the leadership.
But if the leadership gives you wrong order by all means. This morning I was reading one newspaper and it was stated very clearly for instance that the vice president just like the president they owe their loyalty to the constitution and the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Immediately after election, the vice president’s loyalty is to the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the constitution of this nation not to the president.
In America for instance, the directors are very powerful because they know their work and they work on their pact and no power can manipulate them. You can’t manipulate them because they know their constitutional roles and they stick to it. If you try to manipulate them, they will come against you even if you are the president. That is what we are saying, in Nigeria, our political institutions or general institutions have not developed the culture that can help Nigeria to move in the right direction.
So we need to develop institutional culture, political culture that will bring discipline into the system that nobody can manipulate them. And once we begin to do that, I think Nigeria will change.
Realnews: There was a time the police and the army got involved, I’m focusing on security because that is your area. Police and army are talking about who gets the better training, the army or the police? Is part of this rivalry, the army claimed that they are better trained and qualified to protect Nigeria and the police is not. And there is also this accusation that the army is wading into the space of the police in Nigeria and right now the argument is that Nigeria is completely militarized because you see the military all over the country instead of being in the barracks and allow police to do their job?
Umahi: It is not a good signature and it is not a good story about Nigeria. The first line of defense as far as security is concerned in Nigeria is the police. That is Nigeria’s first line of defense, and that is if we are talking under normal circumstances. It is when the police have failed that through appropriate channel and procedures, they will give a report to the president that we can no longer cope with the scale of operation, we are requesting you to invite the military.
When the president invites the military there will be proper handing and taking over and that operation is supposed to be swift and within a short time so that the military will hand back to the police and return to the barracks. But it does appear that there is escalation of insecurity in Nigeria and that is why the authority given by the president to the military to intervene in internal security is subsisting year in year out.
And honestly, the truth should be told. If not for the military, Nigeria would have been overwhelmed by insecurity. So the issue of saying who is trained better than the other, that is not fruitful and there is no need talking about it. In the real sense of it, police training is different from military training. Police is trained to handle minor skirmishes. Police is not trained to handle full scale operation and what we are talking about in Nigeria are mostly full scale operations.
But the Nigerian military is supposed to handle it swiftly and then return to the barracks and hand over maintenance of peace that they have achieved to the police. But I do not know whether the police is even strong enough to maintain such peace when handed over to them. But the truth is that all the agencies are trying, but there is room for improvement.
Realnews: Do you think the country is militarised the way it is now?
Umahi: Of course we know it is. If you are travelling and you are seeing military road blocks everywhere, that is militarization.
Realnews: What kind of effect will that have on the psych of Nigerians, we are under siege?
Umahi: Well it could be split opinion. Someone who feels I’m so threatened, I’m afraid, if he sees them he may become comfortable and secure. And some people, especially those who have hard ugly encounters know perhaps you were innocent and unjustly punished so any time you see that you have a psychological problem accessing it. So it’s a mixed bag. But the truth is that it is not good for any nation because if you have investors who come to Nigeria and they keep seeing the army everywhere, it means that there is problem.
People try to hide the level of insecurity they have in their country for the purposes of development, for the purposes of foreign investors. If there is insecurity problems a country tries to address such issues in a way that it doesn’t become an advertised issue as it is in Nigeria. You see military everywhere telling the whole world that no place is secured in Nigeria, which is not good for us. So we must have to sit down and consider the best approach to help this nation move forward.
Having military and police all over the road is not good. A quick alternative is mobile patrol and that is what is done in other countries. You do mobile patrol and clear the roads. The vehicles that state government bought for the security agencies; if they are deployed they are more than enough to do this mobile patrol across the states of this nation. But when vehicles come they disappears before you know it or when they come there is no money to put fuel or when they come you see them carrying things for madam from the market.
These things are little bit embarrassing and look if the governors buy vehicle and give to the police even the governor is afraid to ask the police where are the vehicles, because it will look as an affront to them because the police are not under the governors. So that is why the basic way of addressing insecurity in Nigeria is to introduce state police. If you don’t introduce state police, insecurity will continue to gain ground in Nigeria and the worse is even the insecurity of herdsmen against Nigerians. That is even worse.
Realnews: You said that insecurity arising from the farmers/herdsmen crisis is even worse, why is it so?
Umahi: This is because oil is losing its potency as a prime revenue earner because you can never even plan with it. It keeps fluctuating and if there is a problem in the Niger Delta, Nigeria will crash, our revenue will crash and Nigeria will crash with it. So if the government is saying we want to diversify by going into agriculture, beautiful. But how can you lay emphasis on agriculture and then you allow cows on the loose to attack people’s farms, that is inherently self-contradictory.
So any policy that you come up with in order to achieve this diversification must integrate every issue that will affect the success of that policy. You must identify it and address it. If the issues of attacking farms with cows are not addressed, it means that government is not serious about diversification? And the only way it can be stopped is when there is state police. The state police should be able to protect the state from the marauders, from people that carry cows and just let loose on the people.
Morally, it is reprehensible. There is no way you can justify it that you put all your resources into farming and you are expecting harvest that you will use to put borehole that government is supposed to provide, you are using it to buy generator to provide light that government is supposed to provide. You are using it to train your children in private school that government is supposed to provide, you are using it to provide security for yourself that government is supposed to provide. You virtually do everything that government is supposed to do and perhaps you are expecting to get your revenue from that farm and then cows will come and mess it up, destructing your source of livelihood, hope and your future.
Realnews: That is terrible. One last thing, is this closure of the border, how do you see it, is it a wise security step?
Umahi: I think that strategically speaking it is good for Nigeria. But there are some people who do this importation and do the smuggling, they can never be happy with it. But talking about protecting our industry, I think is a good thing. We may be lacking things in the shelves today but that is okay if we can exploit this and address the problems with our industries. I think things will change in our favour in the near future.
– Nov. 15, 2019 @ 18:35 GMT |