All posts by Dele Agekameh

Wild, wild Nigerian soldiers, By Dele Agekameh

Dele Agekameh

Nigerian soldiers are known for their penchant and proclivity for violence.

It has become a recurring decimal in our national life; I mean, the satanic practice of armed security agents unleashing terror on the populace and destroying public property at the slightest provocation. And there is no security agency – be it the military, police, civil defence or what have you – that is left out in this perennial ‘madness’. But the worst culprits are military men.

Last Friday, they were at it again as Ikorodu Road, Lagos, was turned into a ‘theatre of war’ by soldiers who were said to be protesting the death of one of them, a lance corporal, who allegedly died in an accident involving his power bike and a commuter bus belonging to the state government.

According to reports, the soldiers went on the rampage in the early morning of that day around Palmgrove and Onipanu areas of the ever-busy Ikorodu Road. They were said to have destroyed buses belonging to the Bus Rapid Transit, otherwise known as BRT, owned by the Lagos State government and brutalised residents.

At the end of the melee, several buses were allegedly set ablaze. Apart from the burnt buses, many others were said to have been vandalised with their windows smashed and tyres punctured. That was not all. Journalists and curious residents who attempted to take photographs or make recordings at the scene of the mayhem were not spared as phones, cameras, tablets and iPads were confiscated and smashed by the rampaging soldiers. The soldiers also ordered the people passing along the route to raise their two hands in the air, as if they were in Sambisa Forest.
But trust our security agents and their inexorable capacity to concoct and manufacture lies. Pronto, Rightman Ogeh, a spokesperson for the Army formation in Yaba, Lagos, denied that the soldiers from the unit were responsible for the mayhem. Instead, he blamed the ‘area boys’ for the escalation of the problem. Though Ogeh admitted that the soldiers from the unit were aggrieved that the soldier who was knocked down was allowed to die because no one took the initiative to rush him to a hospital, he still exonerated his men.

According to Mr. Ogeh, “A soldier, who was passing through the bus stop saw the soldier and called the office… By the time we got there, we realised that our colleague was inside the bus already dead. He was riding a licensed motorcycle. So, why was he not taken to the hospital until he died? Of course, our men were angry and we decided that no BRT bus would be allowed to pass through the road”.
While denying that the soldiers burnt the BRT buses, Mr. Ogeh puts the blame on miscreants, who, he said, perpetrated the act.
“When things like this happen, you will hear different versions, but I can tell you that soldiers did not burn the buses. It is possible that some ‘area boys’ carried out the act. No one was harassed by soldiers; we only stopped some people who were taking pictures and wanting to film the area,” he said.

In the same vein, the 81 Division of the Nigerian Army also exonerated his men. In a statement signed by the Deputy Director, Public Relations, Lt. – Col. Omale Ochagwuba, the army alleged that one of its personnel was killed by a BRT bus, but claimed that soldiers did not carry out reprisals.

According to Mr. Ochagwuba, “…when the other soldiers who witnessed the incident rushed to the scene, the driver of the bus ran away with the key. The soldiers then secured the vehicle which was later towed away to safety in our custody. ‘Area boys’ then took advantage of the incident and started attacking BRT buses… Our personnel were immediately dispatched to the scene to restore normalcy so that traffic could flow.”

Both Messrs. Ogeh and Ochagwuba’s claims were quickly debunked by the management of the BRT buses.
Nonye Onwumere, the Public Relations Officer of the company, said, “On Thursday night, a red LAGBUS, which is run by Mutual Assurance and marked Mo63 broke down on the Ikorodu Road before Palmgrove Bus Stop. Early in the morning, around 7.15am, a soldier on a bike, driving on top speed, rammed into the stationary bus. After the accident, three female and two male soldiers going to work alighted from a vehicle to help their colleague. After seeing the extent of the accident, they gathered and became violent, stopping all BRT buses and ordering the passengers down. They beat some of the passengers and the BRT personnel, and then set some of our vehicles ablaze. They did not even care to know that our BRT are different from the red buses.”

From these narrations by Messrs. Ogeh, Ochagwuba and Ms. Onwumere, it is not too difficult to decipher who was telling the truth and who was just cooking up stories to cover their tracks.
Only those who have ever fallen victim to all forms of brutality visited on hapless Nigerians in the past, especially in a situation like that of last Friday, can appreciate the depth and extent of inhuman treatment usually meted out on people by our uniformed men. While many witnesses insisted that the violence was coordinated and carried out by soldiers, their spokespersons have laboured hard to wriggle out of blame. They were simply economical with the truth. I am sure they are conscious that the undisciplined act exhibited by the soldiers in their moment of temporary insanity that day clearly negates the ethics of service discipline that the military should be known for.

Mr. Ogeh’s explanations cannot hold water. If, as he claimed, the soldiers were angry but no one was harassed, what method did they employ to prevent people from taking pictures and filming the incident? Was it by persuasion or brute force that the angry soldiers prevented people from recording the event? In any case, why was it important to prevent people from recording the event when the soldiers could have used such recordings to prove their innocence? That is why I believe that all these cock-and-bull stories are clever ways to pull cotton wool over the eyes of Nigerians and sell them a dummy about what actually transpired on that day. Even Mr. Ochagwuba’s claim that soldiers did not carry out reprisals is hollow and falls flat in the face of rational thinking. Why didn’t the other soldiers who witnessed the incident and rushed to the scene convey the lance corporal to the nearest hospital? In other words, what was more important: securing prompt treatment for the wounded soldier or securing the bus that was allegedly involved in the accident?

Assuming it was ‘area boys’, as claimed by the Army, which took advantage of the incident and started attacking BRT buses, what efforts did the soldiers make to checkmate them? They also claimed that their “personnel were immediately dispatched to the scene to restore normalcy so that traffic could flow”. Was any effort made by the soldiers to alert the police? Are soldiers now traffic wardens?

Indeed, there are too many questions begging for answers. Moreover, in the history of such incidents in this country, soldiers are known for their penchant and proclivity for violence. So it is easy to conclude that what happened that day was a well-beaten track and behavioural pattern our soldiers are known for.

This is quite unfortunate. The fact that four out of the more than 17 buses either vandalised or torched were barely a month old in the BRT fleet shows that these soldiers don’t even value public property and the hardship they would cause commuters who have apparently been groaning that the buses were not even enough to cope with the demand. Apart from this, huge revenue was lost as the BRT buses were quickly withdrawn from their routes to prevent further damage to them.

At any rate, if and when investigations finally identify these vandals, the appropriate thing to do is to demand compensation for the cost of damages to public property. We cannot afford another ‘unknown soldiers’ episode. Neither would we accept to trade ‘area boys’ for ‘area soldiers’. Chikena!

This Frankenstein Monster, By Dele Agekameh

Dele Agekameh

‘In essence, the Boko Haram crisis, which escalated in July 2009, has continued to grow into the Frankenstein monster it is today because some entrenched interests are busy poking the fire’

It is basically a war of attrition: “you kick us, we kick you”. This is how best to describe the current situation in the country. These days, the Boko Haram terrorists seem to have broken loose – targeting schools, isolated villages and security officials, ambushing, killing and capturing people, using weapons and tactics that have shaken the country’s defence and intelligence establishments. Already, there are fears that the terrorists may even resort to using chemical and biological weapons, especially as Governor Gabriel Suswan of Benue State recently cried out on the activities of the bandits operating in the Benue-Nasarawa states axis. With the spate of bombings and attempted bombings now rampant all over the place, we must pray fervently against some more devastating weapons falling into the hands of these terrorists. It may sound impossible or even incredible to believe but, looking back, would anybody have thought that this rag-tag hoodlums could go this far?

Although there is no definite research literature on causational factors and diverse goals that drive people to resort to carrying out terrorist acts, multiple reasons are listed, some of which seem to be more applicable than others while some others tend to go together for identification of more or less convincing causational factors. Probably the most contested justification for terrorism is given by those who see terrorists as an aggrieved group resorting to violence over poverty and economic disadvantage, to make a statement. A more important factor may be the social stratification and inequalities in the distribution of scarce resources. In simple terms, this is the poverty argument. When a group is absolutely or relatively deprived, they rebel. However, in an attempt to solve the Boko Haram menace, we need to examine, critically, the real motive why the terrorists are up in arms.

Several suggestions have come up in the past. The terrorists themselves came up with an initial propaganda that they were out to enthrone Islam and Sharia law all over the country. Some other people have argued that the Boko Haram thing is a political weapon by a section of the country to wrestle power from other parts of the country. While the religious dimension may no longer be tenable in the face of indiscriminate attacks that have consumed both Christians and Muslims alike, the political angle may subsist in view of the constant attacks on state institutions, especially the concentration of attacks on targets within the nation’s capital, Abuja. The point is that among the multitude of causes that may lead a person or a group of people to resort to terrorism, there is none that conclusively links a sole cause to the act. Ethnicity, tribalism, poverty, economic disadvantage, lack of true democracy, extraneous interests, dehumanisation and religion all have arguments confirming a possible existing link, as well as reservations against a causal relation.

We must try to find out why a group would suddenly decide to bear arms against the country. From my own findings, it is almost clear that the Boko Haram terrorists are engaged in a violent revolt against the perceived injustice of the political class and the aristocracy in that part of the country.

This is evident from the selective annihilation of notable political figures as well as the undeclared war against the aristocracy as manifested in the killings of traditional rulers and village heads. The thinking among the terrorists is that some of their people, especially those earlier mentioned, are directly or indirectly responsible for their backwardness and woes. Why is this so?

For many decades, the aristocracy in that part of the country has enjoyed certain privileges which are denied the majority of the population who have been sentenced to mere subsistent existence. While the children of the aristocrats are born into wealth, with good education within and outside the country, the rest of the population wallows in abject poverty, deprivation and want. Their children are deprived of the basic necessities of life, including access to good education as they are easily dumped in Quranic schools where they form the bulk of Almajiris or homeless youths, roaming the streets and scavenging the refuse dumps. At the end of the day, the children with aristocratic background acquire all the education that is available under the sun and come back to be lords and masters over these deprived children and their subsequent generations. It is probably this obnoxious, retrogressive and debilitating scenario that the poor, who forms the bulk of Boko Haram foot soldiers, are out to correct willy-nilly.

Another causal factor is seen in the political dimension which may have gone awry. Prior to the 2011 general elections, events in the country had pointed to the fact that a section of the country was desperate to monopolise state power. The prelude to this was the ‘internecine’ war that engulfed Aso Rock Villa in the wake of the death of former President Umaru Yar’Adua, who passed on, on May 5, 2010. The choice of a successor to Yar’Adua almost led the country to a great constitutional crisis as hawks within the corridors of power mapped out strategies on how to side-track the constitution to deny the then Vice-President, Goodluck Jonathan, the right to assume the mantle of leadership as enshrined in the country’s constitution. As a result of this, the whole country was driven into the precipice. This was later resolved by the “doctrine of necessity” enacted by the National Assembly.

This constitutional breakthrough notwithstanding, some elements in a section of the country would not be pacified. The electioneering that followed provided a good platform for these disgruntled elements to ventilate their anger and resentment for losing power so easily. It got to a stage when some of the dramatis personae openly threatened to make the nation ungovernable if any of their own did not emerge as President of Nigeria. In any case, what they were trying to say was that Jonathan should only spend the remaining one year to complete his Principal’s (Yar’Adua’s) first term of four years in office and vamoose from the scene. Constitutionally, it was wrong, and Jonathan refused to be cowed. He also had the support of quite a large spectrum of Nigerians who believe that the Presidency of Nigeria was nobody or group’s birth right. Nevertheless, the animosity persists. The results of the Presidential election in 2011 drew blood in certain parts of the country. Many lives were lost in the carnage.

Surprisingly, those perceived as brains behind the violence were never apprehended. They are still going about with their baggage of anger and another election is around the corner.

Truly, the ongoing terrorists’ war has greatly impacted negatively on our collective endeavour to build an economically strong, politically stable and militarily formidable nation that would have been the cynosure of all the nations of the world. That is why all of us, irrespective of ethnic, tribal, religious, political and other primordial differences, must play a major role in helping to put an end to this senseless carnage that is threatening to obfuscate and obliterate our country from existence. This, we can achieve by reconstructing our polity and reviving the country’s economy, apart from restoring the cultural and political relationships among all the ethnic cum tribal groups, which had been based on secular principles. This is necessary because there are reports of the involvement of ‘well-trained terrorists’, who are out to create communal discord in the country to achieve their selfish end. The methods they use and the inhuman tactics they employ are trademarks of a trained terrorist organisation bent on creating discord and disharmony in a country where Christians and Muslims have always lived in peace with mutual respect for each other.

In essence, the Boko Haram crisis, which escalated in July 2009, has continued to grow into the Frankenstein monster it is today because some entrenched interests are busy poking the fire. Our leaders should stop playing the ostrich, thinking that, suddenly, one day, the problem of Boko Haram will be over. This is not possible. Since the causative agents are a combination of factors, only a holistic approach would solve the problem. Certainly, not finger-pointing; not the heaviest military armaments!

The ‘forgotten’ girls of Chibok, By Dele Agekameh

Dele Agekameh

‘It’s appropriate for government to explore dialogue, whether put together by Obasanjo or any other person, to get the Chibok schoolgirls out’.

On Saturday, May 10, 2014, Wole Soyinka, professor and Nobel Laureate, appeared on the British Broadcasting Corporation’s programme, Hardtalk and added his voice to the growing international discourse on Nigeria, especially the issue of the disappearance, on April 15, 2014, of more than 250 schoolgirls from the Government Girls’ Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State. Among other things, Soyinka said: “The Nigerian nation-space is poised on a knife’s point; it is failing, but not beyond redemption. The rescue of the abducted Chibok schoolgirls and the outcome of the National Conference would help define the country’s future.”  Today, more than one month after, the opinion canvassed by the Nobel laureate remains fresh in our national psyche as the issue of the abducted Chibok girls remains unresolved.

The country has been thrown into one huge, dramatic macabre dance since that midnight hostage-taking by the Boko Haram terrorists. The incident has drawn both the anger and dagger of civilised humanity all over the world who have continued, in no unmistaken terms, to condemn it as sordid and barbaric. Regrettably, two months down the line, what we have been witnessing are empty talks and promises of a phantom rescue operation to free the girls from their captors who are in no way ready to relax their stranglehold on them. With various pressure groups mushrooming daily all over the place, the whole thing has now ascended a crescendo of pulsating emotional gyration, ventilation of anger and global condemnation. Perhaps, for the first time in the history of Nigeria, the entire global community is united in solidarity with the country.  

Many foreign countries have offered and are still offering assistance in several ways to help the country in its bid to rescue the abducted girls as well as defeat the terrorists who are now holding on to the country’s jugular. Everybody seems to be eager to get the girls out of the gulag. Unfortunately, days have turned into weeks and months, and nothing tangible or cheering has been on the horizon about the girls’ return to reunite with their loved ones. For the parents and relatives of the unfortunate girls, hope has turned into despair, and a big nightmare with no end in sight.

While all these are going on, the military, saddled with engineering the release of the girls, appears to be stuck. On May 26, 2014, Alex Badeh, Air Marshal and Chief of Defence Staff, told a curious nation that the army have located the abducted Chibok girls. He said this while addressing members of the Citizen Initiative for Security Awareness (CISA), a non-governmental organisation (NGO), who were on a solidarity campaign to the Defence Headquarters. He assured them that everything was being done to ensure the girls’ safe rescue but he quickly chipped in that the military would not use force in the rescue operation. His words: “We want our girls back, I can tell you our military can do it, but where they are held, do we go with force? Nobody should say Nigerian military does not know what it is doing. We can’t kill our girls in the name of trying to get them back. So we are working. The President has empowered us to do the work and no one should castigate the military”.

Good talk. Except that many weeks after this promise, there is hardly anything to show that those girls are getting nearer to their freedom. In the first instance, many people opine that what Badeh said was very unprofessional in that it was tantamount to playing to the hands of the enemy. Or else how does one view such a statement which is like giving away what could have been a closely guarded secret while the army strategises to free the girls? Why announce to the whole world that the army was aware of the location of the girls? The terrorists’ response will be to simply relocate the girls further into the wilderness to avoid any surprise from the army. This is why people believe the statement was either totally uncalled for or grossly lacking in military diplomacy.

Just like Badeh has said, the issue of using force to free the girls may not be feasible. But what are the options available now to achieve that aim? Many people, including Shehu Sani, the human rights activist believed to have a channel through which the leadership of Boko Haram could be reached and engaged, have advocated dialogue as a way of breaking the logjam. Sani, it was, who facilitated the interface between former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the family of Mohammed Yusuf, the slain leader of the sect and other surviving leaders of the sect in Maiduguri in September, 2011. Although that visit generated a lot of controversies and even led to the death of some of the leaders of the sect who met with Obasanjo during the visit, it has, so far, remained the only serious interface anybody, either within the government or outside of it, has had with the sect.

Now, the former President has come up with yet another suggestion that he could reach out to Boko Haram on the fate of the school girls, but regretted that the Federal Government has not given him the green light to act. In an interview on the Hausa service of the British Broadcasting Corporation last week, Obasanjo said: “I have ways of reaching them (Boko Haram) but I have not been given the go ahead”. The former President expressed fear that some of the schoolgirls may never return home but added that the terrorists might free those found to be pregnant or have given birth. He also expressed worry that the girls might have been separated and kept in different locations.

As if giving government’s reaction to Obasanjo’s statement, Mike Omeri, coordinator of the National Information Centre, recently created to brief the public on the war against the terrorists, said the former President did not need any clearance from President Goodluck Jonathan before engaging in dialogue with the Boko Haram sect. He wondered why Obasanjo would be waiting for any formal clearance from President Goodluck Jonathan when he had unfettered access to him (Jonathan). He expressed surprise at the development and said: “The government has not stopped any individual who has access to the sect not to come forward and intervene in this matter.”  This is playing politics with lives.

Earlier last week, some newspapers reported that the parents of the abducted girls had become disillusioned about government’s efforts to free the girls. In fact, some of the parents are said to have died heartbroken, while others have relapsed into all forms of depression as a result of the continuous absence of their loved ones. As they say, he who wears the shoe knows where it pinches. But for how long would these parents remain traumatized? This is why the government should consider the proposal for dialogue as a way of putting an end to the nightmare created by these girls’ kidnap. After all, the US government recently exchanged one prisoner, who was even a deserter, for very senior five al-Qaeda leaders who had been in Guantanamo prison for years. For the exchange to have taken place, they must have been talking.

What this implies is that there is need for dialogue. It does not appear that the country can free these girls by using force. There is nowhere in the world where that has worked. We have wasted precious time after the abduction before embarking on a rescue mission while the terrorists have fully settled down with the girls in their dungeon.  As things stand now, it will be most appropriate for the government to explore dialogue, whether put together by Obasanjo or any other person, to get the girls out before it is too late. It is really getting late. Like Obasanjo said, right from day one, I have always had this feeling that not all the girls may come back alive. That is the bitter truth. We must move quickly to forestall a high casualty rate among the girls as well as avoid turning them into the forgotten girls of Chibok.

A Military In Tatters And The Senseless Onslaught Against The Media, By Dele Agekameh

Dele Agekameh

It is no longer in contention that the military is in tatters, no thanks to the many years of military dictatorship and the rapacious corruption.

It is most apt today for this column to open with the timeless saying “Those who the gods want to destroy, they first make mad”. Otherwise, how would someone describe the unpalatable development that has been going on since the early hours of last Friday across the country? Last Friday, the Nigerian press came under a coordinated assault by security agents who had laid ambush for the daily newspapers on the highways and distribution centres. The assault bears all the trappings of the dark days of military dictatorship as soldiers claiming “orders from above”, intercepted, seized and, in some cases, destroyed newspapers on sight.

According to reports, soldiers who laid ambush at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, confiscated copies of the The PUNCH, The Nation, Daily Trust and Leadership, while , in some cases, wrappers and cover pages of The PUNCH were damaged. In various statements issued after the early morning rampage, Leadership reported that soldiers intercepted and destroyed copies of the day’s publication at the Kaduna toll gate. The Nation too saw its vans ambushed in Abuja, Benin-Warri Road, Port Harcourt, Kaduna-Kano Road and Nasarawa-Jos Road. In Benin, Edo State, soldiers stormed the Nigerian Union of Journalists Press Centre to disrupt activities as they stopped vehicles, hunting for some national dailies. And this is still an ongoing thing.

Giving excuse for this brazen travesty, Chris Olukolade, major-general and Director of Defence Information, DDI, attributed the ugly development to a “routine” security operation. According to him, the military was acting on an “intelligence report” that “materials with grave security implications” were being moved across the country “using the channel of newsprint-related consignments”. And in spite of public outcry, the DDI has vowed that this uncivilized operation will continue until the Army is satisfied. Satisfied that the papers are ruined?

The excuse given for this action appears not only hollow but very shallow as well. Assuming that, indeed, there was any intelligence information that incriminating materials were going to be concealed and transported by newspapers’ distribution vans across the country, the honourable thing, in my opinion, that could have been done would have been to get in touch with the managers of the newspapers and put them on notice. This, nobody did. Instead, they chose to enact a satanic plot to throw the newspapers, their distributors, vendors and advertisers into unnecessary pandemonium leading to loss of revenue. Of course, that was uncalled for, more so, as we have not been told that anything incriminating has been found. The whole exercise is suspect.

By the nature of their job, journalists have remained faithful to the Nigerian people by sticking out their necks every day to hold government accountable to the more than 180 million descendants of Homo sapiens that, incidentally, form the largest concentration of the black race anywhere in the world. That, indeed, is the job of any journalist worth that name. Although, like any other profession, particularly in this part of the clime, there may be some bad eggs here and there, a greater majority exist who can stand their own anywhere in the world.

Basically, the press exists to serve the people, not the government or any of its agents. That is why when government buries its rickety skeletons, it is the duty of the press to exhume them and showcase them as exhibits before the court of the people. It is regrettable, however, that right from independence, through all the period of military interregnums and civilian rule (or misrule), journalists have always had security agents bloodying their nose for having the audacity to uncover the many evils being perpetrated against the people.

With all that have been going on in recent times in the country, what is happening now is symptomatic of the fact that, once more, the cycle of anomie is returning even in a worse dimension. Rather than face the “Axis of Evil” encapsulated by Sambissa forest and rescue our innocent young girls who have been turned into sex slaves, hewers of wood and fetchers of water, our security agents have adopted repression of the press as a deliberate policy to muscle opposition to their lethargy and misrule going on in the country at all levels. When the vocal and irrepressible journalist, Dele Giwa, was assassinated on October 26, 1986, almost 28 years ago, the nation was gripped with shock and disgust, especially because of the novel fiendishness of the device employed to silence him – the parcel bomb. That was the first clear indication that Nigeria would become a more violence-prone nation in the foreseeable future. That future is already here.

From the inglorious, locust years of the late General Sani Abacha’s tyranny, when bombs literarily planted by his security goons exploded everywhere like Christmas bangers, to the present day, it is as if it has become an accepted norm to use bombs to settle political scores in the country. What this signposts, to borrow a line from one of the lyrics of Wyclef Jeanelle Jean, the Haitian-American hip hop artist, is that Nigeria “is in trouble, really big trouble”. But unlike Wyclef’s plaintive cry for someone to help him call 911, Nigerians have no one to call to rescue them from the brutal terror of state agents, who are always eager to go on the prowl to hunt real and imaginary enemies of the state. Consequently, the country has now been turned into one huge war zone without defined battlefronts. Whether in the North-east, North-west, North-central, South-west, South-south, South-east or what have you, crooks, miscreants and other agents of darkness, full of demonic intent, are reaching out to everybody – man or woman, young or old. Even innocent children usually insulated from such inhuman treatments by conventions are now vulnerable.

It is as if our politicians do not appreciate the enormity of the problem confronting the nation today. The economy is still marooned in the dead zone, and unemployment among the young educated Nigerians has reached an intolerable crescendo. When this cheerless news is combined with the many social maladies afflicting the country, you end up with this sort of prevalent dangerous situation. A young, vibrant and significant segment of the population is feeling betrayed, ignored, abandoned and very angry indeed. And violent crimes, which we now witness, provide an outlet for them to ventilate their anger, make a statement or a living as the case may be. With a decrepit security forces whose structures creak in every joint, every day brings fresh reminder that, in this country, you are simply on your own in respect of security, just as in virtually every other thing. Nobody is safe anymore, not even high officials of government who are provided with all manners of security.

It is no longer in contention that the military is in tatters, no thanks to the many years of military dictatorship and the rapacious corruption that came with that era and subsists till date. The depth and breadth of the rot has been amply demonstrated by its lacklustre performance so far in the war on terror and terrorists now threatening to overrun the country or at least a section of it. Nigerians are scandalised by the shallowness and cowardice of most of the officers and their amazing capacity for fibbing. Nothing explains this more than a recent submission by Mark Welsh III, a United States general and US Air Force Chief of staff, who said that the Nigerian military is becoming afraid of engaging the Boko Haram insurgents. He said this while testifying before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee. According to him, “We’re now looking at a military force that is, quite frankly, becoming afraid to even engage”.

The stage seems set for the total subjugation and emasculation of the press. But come to think of it, I don’t really know what now remains of the once great country that used to be called “the Giant in the Sun”! Everything has been turned upside down and inside out, and now the iron boots are getting prepared to march on our collective psyche. As this is going on, the blunders and plunders continue unabated while the hope of a glorious dawn continues to dim like a receding star.

Nigeria And The Cyber Frontier In Crime, By Dele Agekameh

Dele Agekameh

The advent of mobile phones in the early 2000 brought a great relief to Nigerians. However, the revolution in communication also brought with it some pains as some unscrupulous Nigerians quickly cashed in to peddle their nefarious trade – fraud. This was followed by the email, a communication system that has now relegated the old system of posting letters to the background. Email is faster; with the speed of electrical current you get your message across and also receive a response within minutes or even seconds. But, as it is, it is as if the more the growth recorded through technological advancement the more sophisticated the criminals around becomes. Hardly will a day pass without you receiving five, ten or more scam messages on your Blackberry phone, all designed to make you fall a “Mugu”, the underworld term for foolishness.

On December 19, 2013, I had my first raw deal with these crooks. I was in my house in Lagos sleeping when, at about 1:30am, I opened my eyes and saw my blackberry beeping. I quickly reached out to it. What I saw jolted me. My bank in America had sent me a mail to the effect that there was an “unusual activity” on my small account. Apparently, some smart alecs had cloned my Debit Card and were on a spending spree that night in far away New York city. I quickly called their information desk, which immediately put a lien on the account. Though the bank promptly did a refund and changed my card within a week, I am sure the whole thing originated from Nigeria and I seriously suspect someone who is very close to me as the brain behind the scam.

That was not all. Five months later, precisely on May 1, 2014, the crooks were at it again. This time, my e-mail account was hacked. This was purely a criminal act aimed at extorting money from people on my contact list, a commonplace occurrence in today’s digital world. Ordinary criminals with advanced to minimal computer know-how and time to spare can, in the comfort of their homes, rake in millions of other people’s hard earned money with the use of a simple computer and an internet connectionIt is a reality of our world today.

In this case, a generic message was sent to everyone on my contact list, explaining that I was stranded in Rome with financial difficulties that a thoughtful loan of 950 Euros can fix, if the recipient would only be so kind. These messages went out at around 2.00am while I was fast asleep, with no difficulty, at my home in Lagos, Nigeria. The following morning, I was woken up by endless calls from friends who had received the message, much to my surprise. Little did I know that more surprises awaited me from the cunning cyber-criminals.

Promptly, the password was changed and the security questions reset, but it did not end there. Incoming mails had been cunningly re-routed to another email address set up solely for the purpose of this particular attack on my privacy, as I found out. My email account is “dagekameh@yahoo.com” but mails had been set to be forwarded to “dagekarneh@yahoo.com” without even being retained by the original account. Attempts at signing into the compromised account proved abortive and may not have been possible but for the measures put in by Yahoo in such cases. It took answering security questions that were set back in 2009 to prove to the Yahoo mail service that the account was indeed mine, because it had been completely taken over by the criminals.

It literally took hours to purge my account of the attackers’ imprint, and measures are still being taken to ensure that nothing else has been compromised. A large amount of mails in my inbox were lost however. It later became clear that this was the modus operandi of these cyber criminals who operate from multiple locations around the world and have syndicates spread across continents. The account activity log showed that the breach originated in Netherlands and the operation somehow shifted to South Africa in a matter of minutes where the larger part of it took place. For these people, it is obviously a full-time job considering the kind of delicate, victim-specific operations they carry out.

Although Nigeria will make many lists of countries where most cyber frauds originate, there are worse countries on those lists like Egypt, Ukraine, Malaysia and even the United States (U.S.). It is a global phenomenon. The credit card rings are serious, and every financial institution in the world is a potential target. This, however, is a tip of the iceberg of cybercrimes, cyber-terrorism, espionage and cyber-conflicts in the modern world. Like in the physical world, where clandestine activities are not only carried out by criminals looking for ill-gotten proceeds, governments all over the world and other players are also involved in some of these activities on the internet.

Indeed, modern warfare has expanded into cyberspace. A big example is the group known as the “Shanghai Group”, which is said to be an arm of the Chinese military that has targeted U.S trade and critical infrastructure, collecting data discreetly through electronic means. U.S gas pipelines access, its power grid and companies like Coca-Cola have been reported to have been victims of this group. The U.S itself has been involved in Cyber-warfare. In collaboration with Israel in 2010, it developed a malicious software called “Stuxnet” and launched an attack on Iran’s Uranium enrichment program. In 2013, the U.S also joined a cyber-terrorism group called “Anonymous”, in league with South Korea, to attack “critical websites” in North Korea, including the state-owned network station.

As cyber-criminals and terrorists are on the increase, countries around the world too are raising cyber-warriors to protect themselves and, it must be said, attack others. Even in the midst of this international cyber-warfare, there are yet groups of hackers whose scope of activities cannot be determined but have attained global fame for their successful activities against all levels of organisations and governments. An outstanding example is the Chaos Computer Club in western Germany that hacked into the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) network in the United States and remained undetected for three months. Its “Trojan Horse”, which is a malicious computer program, was able to access over 135 computers across Europe. It is currently acting as a kind of non-governmental organization. In February, it filed a criminal complaint against the German government, accusing it of complicity with the U.S National Security Agency and British intelligence in spying on German citizens. The group also requested Edward Snowden, now famous (or infamous) U.S whistleblower, to be allowed a safe passage as a witness.

In a world where countries now sponsor “Trojan Horses” and collect confidential information secretly, in addition to the activities of criminals looking to make a quick buck and non-state players like “Wiki-leaks”, one only wonders where African countries are positioned on this new frontier. Currently, Nigeria still imports 90% of software used in the country and the 100 plus IT companies in Nigeria mainly engage in integration, maintenance and customisation services for commercial packaged software for public institutions, banks, and energy and telecom companies. No recognizable government’s interest in developing an airtight cyber-security unit to protect government information and the privacy of citizens. Where are our cyber warriors?

Nigerians who have picked up expertise and show promise in cyber security are picked up easily by foreign countries or have joined the criminals that have ensured inclusion of Nigeria on the least of countries with the most computer fraud cases. In saner climes, these individuals would be found, rehabilitated and drafted into the government efforts, where they exist, to protect the information of its citizens. On the new frontier of cybercrimes and terrorism, it appears that information is the currency, weapon and the target, and as such, its protection becomes the only concern. Now that banks, mobile communications companies and the government have stepped up efforts to collect information on users and citizens, the question is: Have they stepped up efforts to protect this data?

 

What Jonathan should Consider In Choosing New Police Chief, By Dele Agekameh

Dele Agekameh

As stakeholders in the enterprise called Nigeria, we all have a duty to provide useful insights that could properly guide the President on his choice of a good successor for IGP Abubakar. The bottom line is that there is the need to find a suitable successor who is capable of moving the police forward in these trying times.

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While Nigerians, particularly the security agencies, are still engrossed in the war against terrorists in the country, it is almost certain that the incumbent Inspector-General of Police, IGP, Mohammed Dahiru Abubakar, will, anytime from now, proceed on his terminal leave, preparatory to his final retirement from the Nigeria Police Force. Abubakar has served for about 35 years, having enlisted on July 30, 1979. In the civil service, retirement is determined by either clocking the age of 60 years or 35 years in service, whichever comes first.

Writing under the headline:“Presidency shops for IG Abubakar’s replacement”, one of the nation’s tabloids recently informed its readers that “the search for a new police chief has begun”. According to the report, “likely to make the PSC’s list are Deputy Inspector-General (DIG) Suleiman Fakai and DIG Michael Zuokumur.Also likely are Assistant Inspector-Generals (AIGs) Solomon Arase, Sulaiman Abba, Hassma Agungu, Bala Hassan and Baba Adisa Bolanta”.

According to the report, “the IG is not likely to come from the Southwest since the region has produced Alhaji A.K. Smith and Alhaji Tafa Balogun. The Chief of Air Staff is also from the Southwest and has not been in that position for more than four months…It is not also likely to be from South-south since the President and the Chief of Army Staff are from that region and PSC (Police Service Commission) Chairman Mike Okiro has also been IG. The IG is likely to come from North-central but where we cannot get a good candidate from there, the position could still remain in Northwest”.

The report quoted a police source as saying that “the Presidency ensured that Zuokumur, the DIG in charge of ‘B’ Department, was elevated to that position to prepare him as IG. Zuokumur was AIG in charge of Zone 4, Makurdi, Benue State, before his elevation. He is from the President’s home state, Bayelsa. Fakai is the DIG in charge of ‘A’ Department. He is from Kebbi State, which is in the Northwest”. The report also has it that “another source at the PSC was said to have narrowed down the choice before the President to three candidates – Arase, Abba and Bolanta”.

Obviously, Abubakar has tried his best. But trust Nigerians. The gossip out there is that the IG may have lobbied for an extension of tenure which was rejected by the President who prefers that he leaves when his tenure expires. If actually there was a lobby, the President might have turned it down in view of the prevailing atmosphere in the country. Today, the nation is confronted by a worsening security situation which is aggravated by ceaseless attacks by the Boko Haram terrorists group now on rampage in the North of the country, particularly the Northeast, where a state of emergency has been in place for more than one year. In spite of this, there seems to be no let-up. Presently, more than 250 students of Government Girls’ College, Chibok, Borno State, have been held as hostages by the terrorists who abducted them from their dormitories on the night of April 14, 2014.

In the last few weeks, the terrorists have successfully detonated their lethal wares outside their traditional strongholds in the Northeast. First was the powerful bomb blast that killed more than 100 people and injured many others at the busy Nyayan bus terminus, near Abuja, on Monday, April 14, 2014. While the dust was yet to settle down, there was the Kano bomb blast of Sunday, May 18, 2014, in which no fewer than nine people were killed while scores were wounded. On Tuesday, May 20, the terrorists were on the prowl again, this time, in Jos, which is just recovering from many years of sectarian violence and bloodletting. The city’s rowdy Terminus Market was hit by a twin bomb blast that left more than 200 people dead and many more injured. The killings in the Northeast have not abated either.

One thing is that with the moral and professional albatross hanging on the neck of some of the officers mentioned, it is not likely that the President may be looking at their direction. One of the officers is Fakai. As Commissioner of Police in Katsina State during the tenure of the former President, the late Umaru Yar’Adua, as Governor of the state, Fakai was said to have incurred the wrath of late Yar’Adua. The late Yar’Adua was said to have given the State Police Command some welfare package to be given to each of the policemen in the Command for not involving themselves in the attempted strike action by the junior cadre of the force while he was governor. However, it was later discovered that the welfare package was not used for that purpose but converted to personal use by the hierarchy of the Police under Fakai. That worsened his relationship with the governor. It further deteriorated with the CP’s romance with the opposition All Nigeria People’s Party, ANPP. This became intolerable to the ruling PDP, and the late Yar’Adua had no other choice than to request for the redeployment of Fakai out of Katsina State.

Similarly, another senior police officer at the Police Headquarters may have to contend with the ghost of the late Yar’Adua. That officer is Dan’Azumi Job Doma, an AIG, who was also one-time CP in Katsina State. Doma was CP when the incident leading to the mysterious death of one Alhaji Tasi Katsina, a PDP Leader and supporter of the then President Yar’Adua, occured in 2008. It was the day Justice Umar Abdullahi, former President of the Court of Appeal, was turbaned Walin Hausa by the Emir of Daura, Alhaji Umar Faruk Umar at Daura, Katsina State. A report was made against Alhaji Tasi that he mobilised a youth group at his home town, Mashi, to boo the governor and his entourage on their way to Daura to attend the turbaning ceremony. Following the report, Alhaji Tasi was invited to the CP’s office, where, in the process of interrogation by the CP, Alhaji Tasi suddenly collapsed and later died in a hospital as a result of what was attributed to the CP’s personal harassment. That irritated the governor who made sure that Doma was transferred out of the state. This may now hunt him.

A plethora of petitions also greeted the elevation of Bala Abubakar Hassan from the rank of CP to an AIG by the PSC, on August 12, 2012. He was promoted without first determining some cases against him. Successive IGs too have also received but failed to act on petitions against Hassan. In one of the allegations of “conspiracy, forgery and stealing”, brought against Hassan while serving as CP Rivers, the report of investigation by the Police Special Fraud Unit allegedly indicted him. It was widely considered an act of debauchery that the PSC could promote such a man who carries a heavy moral baggage rather than sanctioning him as deterrence.

With the terrible state of insecurity currently starring the nation in the face, nothing less than a clean sweep at the Police Headquarters in Abuja will bring the desired change in the country’s approach to solving this endemic insecurity problems. As stakeholders in the enterprise called Nigeria, we all have a duty to provide useful insights that could properly guide the President on his choice of a good successor for Abubakar. However, the bottom line is that there is the need to find a suitable successor who is capable of moving the police forward in these trying times. Such a person should, in addition to high professional performance capability, be able to parade good moral credentials that are needed to galvanize the present crop of men and women in the force into action. There is no doubt that there are still officers with good moral and professional credentials in NPF, my only prayer is that the post of the IG should not be compromised or sacrificed on the altar of political exigency to the detriment of the security of the country.

 

Boko Haram and Nigeria’s flawed security policy, By Dele Agekameh

Dele Agekameh

These days, whether you are in London, New York, Berlin or  Johannesburg, the debates and discussions on Nigeria are most certainly centered on the rapacious corruption that has eaten deep into the fabric of the nation as well as bad leadership which has turned the country into one rudderless ship unable to navigate its way on the mighty ocean of life. At least these two factors have dominated discussions on Nigeria for a long time until terrorism increased the tally. Now, with a combination of these three afflictions, the country seems to be headed for Golgotha.

Presently, more than 230 school children (their total number is shrouded in controversy) are marooned in an evil forest called Sambisa in Borno State, northeast of Nigeria. The schoolgirls were writing their final year examination, more than a month ago, when terrorists of the Boko Haram terror gang swooped on them in their dormitory at the Government Girls’ College, Chibok, near Maiduguri, capital of Borno State, abducted them and disappeared into thin air. The issue has since become internationalised with people across the globe calling for their release. Not only this. Following the lacklustre performance of the country’s security forces that have, so far, been unable to record a breakthrough in their efforts to free the abducted girls, a good number of countries have offered military assistance to the country to help in freeing the girls.

Even with the presence of military assistance to the country, it thus appears that there is no let-up in the spate of terrorists’ attacks. The attacks have not only been brazen, exposing many chinks in security for which heads should roll, but also, we have witnessed some of the worst attacks in recent times. In the wake of the international outcry that greeted the Chibok abductions, the government finally got down from its perch and took a position. But the current inflow of foreign security assistance and the so-much-mouthed government’s determination to go the whole hog to rescue the abducted girls as well as defeat terrorism is seen not as a comprehensive strategy to combat Boko Haram, but more of a reaction to a situation. It is not something pro-active and well-thought out.

Now that the government has indicated its willingness to act more decisively, it is relying on the security forces especially the military, to make and execute operational plans. That is the job for the military, of course, but the problem with the whole approach is that there is hardly anyone on the civilian side to understand such plans, much less analyse them critically. An operational plan is not just about acting out a script; it is also about assessing how the adversary will react. We must have a fair idea about their reaction. The Boko Haram’s asymmetric advantage is urban terrorism. Its affiliated groups in the northern parts of the country have enormous social penetration. There is no shortage of funds and motivation and they have sympathisers seriously embedded in the population. Besides, operating in the northern part of the country is somewhat easy. Against a determined, superior force, the terrorists will not hold ground. They don’t need to. An operation will also disrupt their lives for a short while, resulting in a reduction of their attacks. But it will be a brief reprieve.

Just like the military, the terrorists also have contingency arrangements. The question is: does the government, including the military, have any plans to disrupt their contingency plans? The application of strategy is like a game of chess. The successful commander is the one who stays ahead of his opponent’s likely moves. Let me be more specific. Once the terrorists are smoked out of the forests of the North, they are likely to react by moving to the major cities. Does the government have the wherewithal to deal with that? It is quite unfortunate that military operations in the last one year have not succeeded in breaking the backbone of the Boko Haram terrorists. This is an important point that needs some clarification.

Military operations have cleared and physically dominated the major cities in the Northeast, thereby pushing the terrorists to the fringes – the border areas. That, in itself, is a success. But it is not the entire story. In the strategic triangle, physical dominance is only one end of the triangle. Any operational success hinges on securing at least two ends of the strategic triangle. In this case, the other ends, socio-psychological and fiscal-economic, have largely remained unoccupied by the government. Add to this the fact that the reprisals have come in the urban centres, including Abuja and last Sunday, in Kano, we then have a situation in which it looks as if the military operations have ended up doing nothing.

It is as if the government has been reading the intentions and the ideology of the enemy wrongly, and many presume that these terrorists are merely reacting to a situation. While it is correct to say that the situation has given them a fillip, their motives and motivations are selfish and stupid. That is very clear from their statements, videos, and other materials available for anyone interested in constructing their narrative. Even so, in making one point, they are right, notwithstanding whether the point is made crudely or unwittingly. Thus far, we have been looking at the problem like the blind men figuring out an elephant. Fighting terrorism (or regular and irregular wars) is not a function of military operations alone. It requires the employment of the full resources of a country.

What does this mean? It means many things. Most of all, it has to do with dealing with the whole rather than just the parts. Take urban terrorism, the preferred operational space of the enemy. The threat has to be handled through efficient counterterrorism strategies. That presupposes an effective police force and a transparent and functional criminal justice system. As for the police and its counterterrorism function, it is sad to note that the government has no plan to improve its capacity. There are other important aspects of counterterrorism, which, funnily enough, are about the enforcement of everyday laws rather than any James Bond activity. The country needs an effective security policy. Improving the capacity of the police must go beyond a narrow definition of security and, by implication, a counterterrorism strategy. The point is that counterterrorism is not an isolated activity. It is woven in the warp and woof of a country’s laws, and presumes that a country can effectively enforce those laws at all levels. Effective enforcement presupposes that state functionaries are aware of the threat of keeping any activity under the radar. This includes those who do not have any direct affiliation with a uniformed force.

Dealing with our internal threat is not about kneejerk reactions. It requires a policy and a sustained effort. How? First, there must be a clear understanding and acceptance of the fact that we face a threat. If that requires a declaration, let there be one. Let the country say that Boko Haram and its affiliated groups, regardless of where they might be located, are enemies of Nigeria, and the country will not rest easy until it has rid itself of this threat. This would mean knowing that we are now in a state of internal emergency. Doing so would mean subjecting the political visage of these groups under laws relating to terrorism. Such an emergency will give the country the authority to track communication. Furthermore, government officials found involved in any activity that helps keep anyone below the radar must be dealt with as accomplices.

Nigeria’s problem is not just terrorism. In fact, terrorism is the byproduct of an extremist mindset which has seeped into some sections of the population. If the country wants to fight and win, it does not just have to deal with the terrorists but also with a mindset. In that, our existential threat is very different from that facing other countries. We sowed the wind; we now have to either reap the whirlwind or do something about it. Simplicita!

 

How Nigeria is romancing terrorism, By Dele Agekameh

Dele Agekameh

Nigeria is now being stretched beyond its elasticity and when that happens, the possibility of breaking apart becomes real like the dawn of another day

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In recent times, Nigeria has been bedeviled by all sorts of vices and problems so much that when the country is trying to solve one, another one or so many other new problems tumble in. The rapidity and speed with which these problems manifest on a daily, if not on an hourly basis, has become worrisome to the extent that it appears there is a deliberate machination by some people or a group of people to shuffle the country, Nigeria, into history. And then the whole issues of Nigeria, as we now know it, may become “Once upon a time” or in the true sense of it, something akin to the late Chinua Achebe’s most controversial book, ‘There was a country’.

I am neither a Prophet of doom nor someone who does not believe in the indissolubility of Nigeria. If you ask me, I believe in one Nigeria, a country that is so richly blessed with human and natural resources capable of making the most populous country in black Africa, the envy of the whole world. Our strength lies in our diversity as a nation. However, recent events in the country, especially the ones being stage-managed by our so-called politicians, have tended to erode my confidence in the ability of this country to further carry on as one indivisible entity for too long. In short, it is like saying that the country is now being stretched beyond its elasticity and, when that happens, the possibility of breaking apart becomes very real like the dawn of another day.

In years past, our worries were about bribery and corruption, nepotism and all that, which were the fulcrum of the January 15, 1966 coup led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu and some other middle-level officers in the Army. That coup infuriated young army officers from a section of the country who saw the mass killing of politicians by the coup makers as a ploy to eliminate notable figures from their section of the country to pave the way for domination by another section of the country as represented by the major actors in the January 1966 coup. It was this feeling of despair that eventually crystallised in the July 29, 1966 counter-coup, which invariably set the stage for the 30-month Nigeria Civil War that followed from May 1967 to January 1970.

From what is happening now, it is as if the war was only meant to settle scores between a particular ethnic cum tribal group and another in the country. This argument is more germane because those vices, that is, bribery, corruption and nepotism, are not only still prevalent in today’s Nigeria, they have been elevated to a higher pedestal as they have now become a state religion which everybody, old and young, now worships. The worshipers are no longer the “10 percenters” as Nzeogwu puts it in his coup broadcast, they have moved far ahead to a thousand percent and even more. If we aggregate the level of stealing, pilfering, forgery, and other fraudulent activities and official corruption that pervade our system today, anybody who still has some dose of patriotism flowing in his blood stream will weep for this country. It is as if the country is on a free-fall to an irretrievable perdition.

As if the monster of corruption in our body politic is not enough to asphyxiate us from existence, from 1999, particularly since the advent of the current democratic experience, the country has become vulnerable to all manner of crimes and criminalities previously unknown in this part of the world. While endemic corruption has taken over our public and private lives, those who are not opportune to hold public offices, which are now regarded as shortcuts to affluence, have devised various ingenious methods to acquire ill-gotten wealth. Perhaps, to rub salt into our festering wounds, in the last five years, a new sinister dimension has been added to the catalogue of woes confronting the country. These are the current rapacious, debilitating and devastating acts of terrorism which have now become a national cankerworm. Many a commentator on national affairs are quick to lay the blame on the extra-judicial killing of Mohammed Yusuff, the leader of the religious sect now popularly known as Boko Haram, which means “Western education is bad”, and scores of his followers in Maiduguri in July, 2009. Not much has been written about how the sect was nurtured, the leadership structure and all that.

We have been told that the late Yusuff and his band of ragtag army actually confronted the security agents in Maiduguri in 2009, leading to several deaths. Many properties were also torched, looted or outrightly vandalised. For quite some time, we have been sentimental about the casualties and damages caused by the Boko Haram uprising that has now engulfed a large section of the country. But why will a so-called religious group turn so bloody in the propagation of their so-called religious ideology? As for me, what I see is that beyond this religious shroud is a political undertone which goes beyond fighting Jonathan’s Presidency. What is going on is a well-calculated broad-based agenda to completely take over this country by violence using religion as a veil. In the last few years, I have been talking to people within and outside this country who can see beyond the narrow prism of politics and decipher what is actually going on. One thing to note is that until late last year, no notable figure in the Northern part of the country has ever raised his or her voice to condemn, in its entirety, the brigandage being unleashed on that part of the country even though the rampaging sect had completely destroyed the little they had since 2009. Even then, what the few notable figures have done so far appears too little, too late.

Today, we talk about the impoverished North. Who are those responsible for this impoverishment of the people? Of course, it is a documented fact that in the 54 years of Nigeria’s independence, elements from the northern part of the country have ruled the country for more than two-thirds of the period under review, leaving a miserable one-third of the period to the rest of the country to grapple with. Go through the records of the Federal Civil Service, you will find out that the list is top heavy with the names of people from a certain part of the country. In the few instances where others hold sway, they are more or less like figureheads as they are ensconced among these powerful people who virtually live on government and government’s patronage all their lives. That is one aspect of our national life, and this attitude is replicated in all aspects of our existence as a nation – a situation where everybody worships at the feet of a powerful few.

Nothing quite illustrates the existential anomaly in the system more than what Bola Dada, a retired diplomat, unveiled in his recent interview in a national daily where he chronicled his experiences in international affairs as a former diplomat, especially his experience in Sudan. Titled “I was chased out of Sudan when I raised the alarm about Boko Haram,” Dada said, at a point during his stay in Sudan, a former governor of a Northern State, now a senator of the Federal Republic, “was in Sudan for two weeks and underwent indoctrination.” He also said the former governor was “exposed to all the training camps of Osama Bin Laden,” who incidentally was Dada’s neighbour. According to Dada, “Osama Bin Laden also had many firms and industries which he only used as a façade because he was actually using those firms as training camps for Al-Qaeda. Among his trainees were many Nigerians from the North. They would leave Nigeria as if they were going to study but were at the training camps of Osama Bin Laden”. He said “the former governor got back to Nigeria and the following day, he declared Sharia. And from then, they were sending students for Jihadist training… As far as I am concerned, Boko Haram is an offshoot of Sharia”.

Boko Haram Insurgency: How Nigeria’s Intelligence Agencies Have Failed, By Dele Agekameh

Dele Agekameh

The dust raised by last week’s early morning bombing of the bustling Nyanya motor park located on the outskirts of Abuja, Nigeria’s Federal capital city and seat of government, is yet to settle down. Surprisingly, as if to really demonstrate that they are actually in charge, after the blast in Abuja, the terrorist moved to Girls’ Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State and swooped on the students writing the ongoing West African Senior School Certificate Examination, WASSCE. There, they abducted more than 200 girls. According to reports, the operation lasted for more than six hours – from 9pm till about 3am – without any challenge coming from the security agencies. The whereabouts of majority of the girls is still shrouded in mystery.

With the recent developments, it is pertinent to reappraise the whole campaign against terror in Nigeria. The Boko Haram episode may have escalated in 2009 but the truth is that the whole thing was planned by Nigerians for a long time before the bloody skirmishes that eventually unfolded in 2009. Many of the foot soldiers and their commanders had received extensive training in some West African countries as well as some Middle East countries before that bloody encounter.

Some years ago, the Chief of Defence Staff of Niger Republic had intimated the Defence Headquarters in Nigeria that they arrested about 600 Nigerians who were in their custody in Niger Republic. They were allegedly sniffed out of their training camps in Niger Republic. Regrettably, the Nigerian authorities did not follow up this piece of information, and when Niamey could no longer cope, she merely allowed the people to go their own way. At about the same time, in the wake of the overthrow of Muamar Gaddafi, the Chief of Defence Staff of Mali also inundated the Defence Headquarters in Nigeria that a whole brigade of Libyan fighters had taken over Northern Mali and cried out for help from Nigeria to confront them and chase them away. Again, the Nigerian authorities, as usual, turned a deaf ear.

It was at this point that the French Government was contacted and subsequently, French troops stepped in and rained bombs on them in the hills of northern Mali. By the time they were dislodged from Mali, they left Mali and settled in Sambissa Forest, from where they recruited a good number of fighters in the northeast of the country to wage war on Nigeria. Though they are using Nigerians as foot soldiers, most of their commanders are not Nigerians. Majority of them are Libyans, which account for the speculation in military circles that some of the dead bodies found at Sambissa forest after each military encounter, were more like bodies of people of Arab descent and other non-Nigerians. Besides, the Libyans and others of Arab descent now pillaging the country, many Nigerians have also visited such countries as Iran, South Yemen, Iraq and others for terrorists’ training. They usually go there under the pretence that they were going to study.

Unfortunately, our Intelligence network in this country is at best comatose. The Department of State Security that has statutory responsibility of carrying out internal surveillance and intelligence gathering seems not to be doing much. Instead, its lean manpower resources are being dissipated as VIP escorts for politicians rather than concentrating on their primary duties. It is sad to note that up till date, no single person has been fingered as one of the sponsors of these terrorists’ acts in the country. You only see the security agencies running after the inconsequential foot soldiers while the big guns are moving freely. I believe that the reason for this lackadaisical attitude is that somebody or some people somewhere don’t want to offend anybody and, therefore, are more inclined to cover up rather than expose those behind these devilish perpetrations.

The other day during the Anambra State election, I saw SSS operatives with buses marked DSS and uniforms. I challenged anybody to tell me that he or she has ever seen any bus or operatives of the Central Intelligence Agency, CIA, going about in buses marked CIA or in uniform with CIA boldly written on the shirt or T-shirt. Today in Nigeria, every Tom, Dick and Harry, particularly politicians and even fraudsters have SSS escorts assigned to them. At the Nigeria Intelligence Agency, NIA, the story is worse. That agency is as dead as dodo.

At the onset of the Boko Haram insurgency, the SSS members who were sent to spy on the sect members soon became more Boko Haram than the sect members they were detailed to spy on. Today, you have virtually all members of the security agencies – Military, Police, SSS, Customs, Immigration, Prison officers and others – who are active members of Boko Haram. That is why the ongoing war may be difficult to win. At present, the army is seriously overstretched in maintaining internal security. It has less than 88,000 men, the navy 12,000, the Air force about 11,000 while the police has 350,000 men or thereabout in its nominal roll. Since the incumbent IG withdrew policemen from checkpoints, what have they been doing to fight crime and criminality?

The only way out of the present quagmire is to go back to the drawing board and like this column has always advocated, let us close our borders with Niger, Chad and Cameroun. These terrorists are domiciled in Northern Cameroun, which is far from Douala, the capital. That is why the Camerounian authorities are less perturbed. All these countries mentioned have fallen to the intimidation of these terrorists who may have simply told them: “If you don’t allow us to operate in your territory, we would turn our guns against you.” That is why all these countries that share boarders with us are not raising a finger against the terrorists. They are comfortable as far as the heat is not on them.

I believe the best way to regain total control of Nigeria’s territory is for the military to embark on a grand assault of the hills and forests in the North-east. They could do what the United States did to Osama Bin Laden at Tora Bora in Afghanistan. They should engage in indiscriminate bombing of the hills and forests even if it means dropping napalm bombs ceaselessly for about a week. That was what the US did in Afghanistan and Bin Laden was forced to take to his heels when the caves where he had taken cover came crashing under the crushing weight of the devastating bombs. He fled to neighbouring Pakistan and finally pitched his tent at Abbotabad where the US Marines finally dealt him a deadly blow. So, the Nigeria Air Force must take up that role. If the terrorists are hiding inside the caves in the hills, they will collapse in the face of intense carpet bombing.

Above all, there must be a joint information room for all the services so as to be able to properly coordinate this anti-terror campaign. The situation where the security agencies do not share information is bad enough. Even where, may be, the military gives information to the SSS, the service goes and takes the credit. As for the police, they are not known for sharing information with any sister agency no matter what.

The other day, Alex Badeh, the new Chief of Defence Staff, said the role of the military is to confront the terrorists while the civilian authorities will do the politically-needful. He is right. Now, what is the role of emirs, politicians and elders in this fight? A closer look at the tactics of these Boko Haram terrorists shows clearly that they rely more on people drawn from the lowest cadre of the social ladder to fight their war. These are shoe shiners, mairuwa (water vendors), and other artisans. Remember that they used a firewood truck in the bombing in Maiduguri sometimes ago. The fact remains that the security agencies have as much information as possible at their disposal, what is left is the ability to piece them together and do the needful. May God help us; help Nigeria!

 

 

Ken Ogbechie Vs INEC: The lesson for recalcitrant agencies, By Dele Agekameh

Dele Agekameh

I recently stumbled on a story in one of the national dailies. It was captioned “Journalist wins contract breach case against INEC”. The story reads: “For breaching the payment of N7.5 million to Godson & Godman Ventures Limited, a Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court sitting in Apo has ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to pay the firm the sum and a 10 per cent interest, running from the day of the judgment until the debt is liquidated. Justice U.P. Kekemeke gave the order in the case brought against INEC by Ken Ugbechie, a former editor of Daily Times, for the media consultancy and publishing firm. INEC was not represented in court.

“Ugbechie had dragged INEC before an Abuja High Court over the agency’s alleged refusal to pay him for contract executed… In his statement of claim, Ugbechie said his company was, on January 19, 2010, awarded contract to inspire and generate expository articles, commentaries, news analysis, editorial and comments, among others, to sufficiently enlighten the electorate on all that the commission was doing to ensure a hitch-free 2011 general elections. He averred in an affidavit in support of the suit that the said contract was thoroughly verified by INEC officers after completion. According to him, despite repeated demands, the defendant has refused to pay the said N7.5 million due his company since the execution of the contract.

“He added that after the receipt of the plaintiff’s solicitors’ demand letter, the defendant referred the matter to its Alternative Dispute Resolution, ADR, Department, adding that his lawyer also had a meeting with the director of ADR, wherein it was decided that the matter be referred to the Public Affairs Department for confirmation. According to him, the department had since confirmed that the contract was creditably executed by the plaintiff, but despite this, the defendant would not pay the said contract sum”.

This is a landmark judgement delivered against a recalcitrant federal agency, which had elected to trample on the rights of an individual who had no other option than to approach the court for protection. Many Journalists have, in the past, fallen victims to this type of crooked treatment in the hands of highly placed individuals and government officials who take delight in “using and dumping” these professionals at their whims and caprices.

Now, let us analyse this judgement. The “undefended list procedure” is a procedure within the Abuja legal jurisdiction and contained in the Abuja High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules. It is similar to the summary judgment procedure in the rules of the Lagos High court. The procedure is adopted in both jurisdictions to provide an easier and faster avenue to determine cases which are straightforward and not likely to go to trial as the defendant, in most cases, is expected to admit the claims brought against him.

Basically, the plaintiff, that is, the party instituting the suit, believes that the defendant has no defence – hence the resort to this timesaving procedure. The plaintiff will state this in his affidavit in support and attach all relevant documents, which must naturally point unmistakably to the defendant’s liability for the claims against him. The matter should be so straightforward that an independent observer examining the documents can reach the conclusion that there is an obligation left to be performed by the defendant.

The procedure is usually employed for cases of debt arising from simple contracts and monetary claims generally. However, the monetary claim must be liquidated or ascertainable by simple means, but in practice, plaintiffs will include the total figure for which they claim so as to save the court from making any arduous calculations. The snag here is that the suit cannot be initiated until the judge has read through the processes and is satisfied that it merits inclusion in the “undefended list”. Otherwise, it is sent to the general cause list, which is naturally for contentious matters where issues will be joined. In this case, Ogbechie must have had all his documents intact, which on the surface shows that there is some money to be paid and the judge must have been satisfied that it is a straight-forward debt recovery case and that the documents were sufficient to support his claim.

According to the story, INEC did not make any appearance at the suit, even after it was served with notice of the suit. This is not unusual in this kind of cases. Ordinarily, the plaintiff must serve the defendant with the processes after the judge must have given leave to include it in the undefended list. The defendant in turn is expected to file his notice of intention to defend, together with an affidavit disclosing a defence within five days to the date on which the case is set for hearing. The judge will consider the affidavit and if it discloses a valid defence, the defendant will be granted leave to defend the suit and the case will be transferred to the general cause list.

If the judge cannot find a valid defence in the filed affidavit, or the defendant fails to file anything before the date for hearing, the judge’s only duty is to grant judgment against the defendant on the said date, without more. That is the situation in this case as INEC did not make any appearance at all; talk less of filing an affidavit disclosing a defence. The law is clear on this point. The judgment given will be valid and can be enforced just as any other judgment.

It is not uncommon for the court to make an order for post-judgment interest when it gives a monetary judgment. This is done to dissuade judgment debtors from sitting pretty and dragging their feet over payment of a sum granted against them. However, for the order to be made, the plaintiff or judgment creditor must have included it in its reliefs. The court does not award benefits that are not sought. It was a good thing that the lawyers to Ogbechie included this in their reliefs and the interest continues to read for as long as INEC refuses or fails to pay the sum.

ADR is a substitute to litigation which should be explored by disputing parties more regularly. It will help to clear the courts of many cases, especially frivolous suits that only require patience and understanding between the parties to resolve. People include this clause in their agreements but still run to the law courts at the first sign of trouble. Others do not honour the clause, or if other forms of ADR are adopted, they do not abide by the resolutions or decisions reached, leading them, eventually, to litigation.

The case here is a classic example of a government agency which, according to the story, even has a dedicated ADR Department. Unfortunately, the department has little effect on the operations or the enforceability of any resolutions reached. The courts still had to be visited in this straight-forward matter of “A” provides certain services at agreed rate that “B” refuses to pay. Where government agencies rubbish the ADR process, how will private individuals be encouraged to adopt it? The ADR that is systematically being introduced by the courts themselves has not been received as well as expected by the same populace that decries the snail’s pace of justice.

Government agencies should be at the forefront of the efforts to increase the acceptability of ADR procedures by their responsible adoption of it. As INEC has shown, that is not the case. One need not go into the list of cases against government agencies in courts. It will not be surprising if it is found that such cases constitute 30 percent of the case load in most jurisdictions. Individual citizens can be unruly and uncivil, but governments in Nigeria and their agencies, including the federal government, are at the forefront of uncivilised practices that include reckless disregard of the law and its machinery through incessant breach of contracts and trampling on the rights of private citizens. Certainly, there are lessons to be learnt from this judgement!

Jobs, not ‘Chinese Rice’, By Dele Agekameh

Dele Agekameh

‘It would be a good thing if the delegates at the ongoing National Conference can do away with getting enmeshed in discussing such inanities as ‘Chinese rice’ and what they need to fill their stomachs, their craze for high-decibel but meaningless titles and all that’

The avoidable deaths of Saturday, March 15, 2014, when more than 18 unemployed persons were trampled upon and lost their lives at the kangaroo Nigeria Immigration recruitment exercise, have, once again, brought to the fore the dismal statistics of and the raging debates on the state of unemployment in Nigeria. However, amidst the calls for resignation, suspension, dismissal, the tragedy should not be a platform to vent pent-up anti-establishment feelings or try to score cheap political points. I think what went wrong should be something that will sensitise the government and the generality of the citizenry, towards finding a lasting solution to unemployment in the country. This issue has remained unaddressed in view of the wanton job preference that is usually displayed by the teeming number of employable youth when openings are either advertised or announced.

The unfortunate incident should form the fulcrum on which a solid programme of employment generation – at both the public and private domains – should revolve, not one that should be subjected to the application of fleeting palliatives. A system that allows impoverished job seekers to pay money to obtain job application forms, which, in the main, does not even guarantee them a job, is sheer robbery by the privileged. According to the International Labour Organisation, ILO, unemployment statistics for 2012, there are 197 million persons currently out of work worldwide, which accounts for 6 percent of the total world workforce without a job. In the Nigerian context, the issue of unemployment is traceable to many factors that include the soaring population figure; proliferation of educational and vocational institutions; structural and frictional unemployment; and the one that has flourished for over four decades -the preference by many graduates (and non-graduates alike) for socially-elevating and wealth-creating positions in the banking and allied industry, mobile telecommunications; Customs, Immigration, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency and other Para-military formations; foreign service etc which provides leverages for immediate financial and job fulfilment.

Perhaps, more than any other thing, the tragedy of this craze for “preferential unemployment” is that a large percentage of those unemployed persons seeking placement in these “life-changing” working environments are least trained or suited for such positions. Therefore, one issue that is incidental to finding a lasting abatement to the issue of chronic unemployment is that of self-employment through job creation. Though not an end-all panacea for full employment, being one’s own employer provides self-fulfilment and the platform to manage available time and also create employment avenues for others. This is the ideal situation, and this is where entrepreneurship readily comes in.

Sometimes, when the various governments – federal, states or local governments – talk about creating jobs, I wonder about the magic wand they intend to employ to create these jobs when, in actual fact, what is on ground does not show any genuine commitment to either grow or support entrepreneurship in the country. Entrepreneurship or investing, in the Nigerian context, runs like a torture process, especially where basic and strategic infrastructures that will foster the holistic setting-up and growth of commerce and industry are lacking, grossly inadequate or outmoded.

Many unemployed persons who have attempted the self-employment solution have been constrained by bad roads; lack of constant and adequate power supply; non-provision of potable and regular water supply; stress-filled allocation process for suitable and adequate land in rural and urban areas, including the procurement of certificates of occupancy; the non-liberalisation of regulations, procedures and approvals for the formation of new commercial enterprises and industries; the dearth of professional advice with back-up services by the relevant government agencies. Above all, any prospective entrepreneur, especially those coming from the unemployment queue, are confronted with the most debilitating and excruciating hurdle: financial capital to actualise the dream of self-employment.

If these critical draw-back factors are surmounted by the willingness and resolve of governments at the various levels to provide the enabling environment for commerce and entrepreneurship to thrive, then the magnitude of the unemployment statistics will be greatly reduced. In tackling the ever-present ogre of unemployment with its attendant social problems, Nigerians have been greatly fixated on the Keynesian model that emphasises a preference for government’s intervention in the economy to reduce the spiraling cases of unemployment in all the strata of the production chain and those of service providers.

In reverse, there are certain government’s economic policies, programmes, actions and inactions, that tend to trigger recurrent shocks and disequilibrium that sometimes reduce the aggregate demand for goods and services, which, in turn, reduces the demand for workers. In essence, government intervention has more or less amounted to mere tokenism. They include job creation in the public service, financial stimuli to employers of labour in form of waivers, tax holidays, low interest rates, protective import restrictions etc.

Available statistics point to the inexorable fact that rather than creating long-lasting job opportunities for the teeming unemployed persons, the various levels of government tend to provide glorified “soup kitchen” alternatives that only address those issues that expire or lapse with the tenure of such governments. These include street-cleaning; traffic and crowd-control; communal farming; revenue collection; business clusters and cooperatives and even thuggery or bodyguard gangs.

When viewed from the prism of the failure of various governments in their primary responsibility profile to cater to the welfare of its people, it is pertinent to say that the fear of the unknown and lack of focus in career choice for self-employment, contribute in no small measure to the frightening population of unemployed persons in Nigeria. Therefore, what should engage the attention of all Nigerians at the moment, is providing a holistic solution to what could have propelled 522,650 jobless youth to apply for, pay the sum of N1,000 each and be shortlisted for 4,556 actual vacant positions in the Nigeria Immigration Service.

When we place undue emphasis on issues of reparation and restitution as atonement for the unfortunate death of the applicants, which are merely cosmetic and tangential, we only scratch the surface of the ingrained problem of acute unemployment rather than provide a satisfying and holistic solution. The nagging question has always been: why is a large proportion of our employable populace unemployed? The sore point of the unemployment bottleneck is that the unemployed, including those that lost their lives struggling to fill non-existent places and extricate themselves from the millions-strong unemployed queue, are victims of the weak leadership modems at federal, state and local levels that lack the political will to create or enable platforms to reduce the frightening unemployment statistics which have overshot the irreducible indices of the ILO.

It is glaring that we have lost the battle to provide decent jobs for our teeming population of employable youth, especially graduates of various disciplines who are roaming the streets after many years of graduation. In retrospect, the tragic occurrences of Saturday, March 15, 2014 were avoidable if proactive actions and due diligence were applied in the fateful recruitment exercise, rather than the commercialization of a process that would assuage the unemployment status of the 522,650 applicants.

The delegates at the ongoing national confab should focus attention on the prime issue of unemployment in Nigeria, which should be given as much prominence as those tagged as contentious or important to the survival and continued cohesion of the Nigerian nation. It would be a good thing if the delegates can do away with getting enmeshed in discussing such inanities as ‘Chinese rice’ and what they need to fill their stomachs, their craze for high-decibel but meaningless titles and all that. Instead, they should concentrate more on the nagging issues of chronic unemployment among both the skilled and unskilled cadre of persons in the country, as well as, insecurity, especially the perpetually rising cases of ethno-religious conflicts all over the place. These should be part of the highpoint topics that should be in the same realm as that of fiscal responsibility and revenue allocation, devolution of powers, creation of local governments, elections and so on. In fact, unemployment in the country is a tinderbox waiting for a stray spark!

Immigration Recruitment Tragedy: My Niece Was Involved, By Dele Agekameh 

Dele Agekameh

“I mean we were out to look for job and not to be treated like refugees.”
 

In the wake of the hullabaloo that greeted the unfortunate death of more than 19 applicants at the charade recently organised by the Nigeria Immigration Service, NIS, I reached out to Evelyn Abiodun, my niece, who participated in the event at the National Stadium, Abuja. Below are extracts from her account of the tragedy:
 
“Exams into Nigeria Immigration Service holds (sic) Saturday, March 15, 2014, at 7am in your preferred exam state. Come along with a comfortable fitness wear” was what we were told. Harmless message, so it seems, but with unexpected consequence.
 
“The day before the ‘exercise’, Friday, the 14th of March, I set out early to get all the necessary requirements ready. The preparation included shopping in the market for a pair of white shorts and shirt, white socks and running shoes. I also went to a government-owned hospital to obtain my medical fitness pass. I had arranged all my credentials, read up some past question papers and headed to bed with my alarm set for 4am the next day.
 
“At 3:50am, earlier than my set alarm time, I was up from my bed, as I couldn’t put my head to rest from revising and envisioning how the day would look like. I was ready at exactly 4:45am, waiting for the taxi I had hired to come and pick me up at 5am (which cost me more than I would have paid anyway). I took off for the venue of the exercise, National Stadium, Abuja. In my excitement, I was already wearing my sport wear in the taxi because I couldn’t afford to be late or sloppy as a result of not being properly dressed before the exercise would take off.
 
“On getting to the venue, my head stopped thinking for a while. I was startled by what I saw. Thousands of people were already at the venue! What! At 5:30am? What were they all doing overnight? Watching the clock tick all night? Or they just woke up earlier than I did? I thought that was shocking, not until I waited 10 more minutes to see troops pouring in. And it wasn’t even 6am yet! Then, the reality of how the day would look like kept sinking into my head. I was beginning to panic at the sight of the crowd alone. It then dawned on me that this must be the jungle for ‘the survival of the fittest’ – although many people didn’t seem qualified to me (they were so old, I could have sworn they were my grandparents’ age-mate).
 
“As the day went on, at 7am, there was no more air to breathe, even in an open space. I was suffocating many times, as well as the rest of us. Hungry and confused, (I didn’t have breakfast because I thought we were actually going to do a fitness test), I walked around, assessed people, listened to their conversations; at least, I thought, to console myself that the crowd might actually reduce, as I saw many people who didn’t meet the requirements and there could be other reasons to disqualify many. I saw a good number of pregnant women and nursing mothers. What were they doing in this kind of exercise?
 
“We were tossed around like ‘zombies’ most of the time. Walking and running around, whichever direction the crowd was going, even if we didn’t hear any firsthand announcement from the officers present. Yet, there was no sign of us actually getting into the stadium and we were drying up under the sun like damp clothes, with the officers watching helplessly across the gates. We waited and kept the hope of getting into the stadium, but no sign, not even a simple address from any of the officials present. Like marooned people, we were left alone and confused for hours!
 
“Sometime around 12noon, to my greatest astonishment, I saw people climbing over the gates to get in. Suddenly, we were all struggling to climb the gates together; it looked to me like it might be the only way into the stadium anyway. Men and women struggling to climb and jump over the gates; it was a jungle indeed! As I tried to squeeze myself through the squash, then I noticed they had opened a small gate on the other side. I began to change my direction towards the gate instead. But that was also not an easy way to go, as it was tightly guarded by the crowd of people trying to get through. Many sustained all kinds of injuries in the process of struggling, but I was lucky to have made it in one piece.
 
“Having finally made it through the squash, what next? We were told to sit according to our qualifications – higher degree holders were to sit upstairs and the rest to sit downstairs. I made my way upstairs and noticed all the seats there were as dusty as a desert. The usual struggle was not as bad as it was downstairs. I got my seat cleaned and sat down, awaiting the next call. We’ve been seated for more than one hour now; I was thirsty, hungry and tired at the same time.
 
“I later went down to get something to eat and drink. The prices of refreshment had astronomically increased! Gala (usually N50) was sold at N100; Nestle bottled water (usually N100) sold at N200; pure (sachet) water (usually N10) was sold at N50. The most ridiculous of them all, a pack of jollof (white) rice with no meat and obviously no flavour was sold at N300! Why? N10 pencil was sold at N50, for those who didn’t come with their writing materials. Some people thrived on the suffering of others and were making cool cash on the spot. So sad!
 
“As we sat, we noticed ambulances going in and out. People were being rushed into ambulances. Some of them had sustained serious injuries, while some had lost their lives in the midst of it all. May their souls find rest. That was the saddest point of the day for me. We still sat there for hours; no sign of anything going on at the venue. Everybody got impatient and frustrated at the long silence and lack of empathy shown to us. I mean we were out to look for job and not to be treated like refugees.
 
“In no time, the anxious crowd started doing things to keep themselves busy. Some of the applicants entertained us with performances on the tracks – parades, football matches (sachet water bags were turned into football), running competition, funny kung fu practices and so on. I was sitting up there, clapping and hailing them (out of boredom). But as I watched people perform, I came to a realization: we actually do have many wasted talents in this country. If people could be so creative and entertaining, why on earth are these talents not adequately trained and utilised?
 
“About 4pm, when everyone was tired and many had lost hope (including me), the examination kicked off. As if the wasted hours were not enough insult, the examination was the biggest of them all! The question papers could barely go round (of course, the crowd was more than the number of papers they brought in); the questions comprised 30 objective mathematics questions only. There was no supervision or rules guiding the exam – you could actually discuss the answers with the next person and just anyone around you who knew the answer. In fact, you could answer your phone calls while you write. Everywhere was noisy and rowdy. In short, it was my greatest point of discouragement because it was obvious to me that the examination was just a cover-up.
 
“After I had submitted my paper (only God knows what I did in there), I left for my house, looking like I just got out of a mud fight. On getting home, I didn’t even have the energy to speak with anyone as I went straight to bed. As I lay there, I thought to myself: ‘Was it really an examination or extermination?’”

Minister Gusau Vs Service Chiefs: An avoidable friction, By Dele Agekameh

Dele Agekameh

The embarrassment suffered by Gusau has again brought into focus the call for the formation of a “war cabinet”

A few weeks ago, precisely on Wednesday, March 5, 2014, under the headline: “Wanted: A war cabinet,” this column wrote: “ …The only way out of this quagmire in which the country has been enmeshed all this while is the urgent need for the President to form a war cabinet… A senior cabinet minister must coordinate the ‘war’. As things are now, it may be impossible for the National Security Adviser, NSA, the only person who probably performs the role of coordinating the military interventions in the Northeast, to summon any of the head of the services to a meeting – I mean summoning someone like the Chief of Army Staff or the Chief of Air Staff that are both involved in managing the crisis to a meeting – not to talk of the Chief of Defence Staff. They will just ignore him because the NSA is more or less a Staff Officer to the President. That is why there is the need to quickly put a war cabinet in place.”

This story was featured the very day new ministers were sworn in at the Federal Executive Council meeting in Abuja. And of course, among the new ministers was Lieutenant-General Aliyu Mohammed Gusau (retd), who was designated as Defence Minister. Gusau came in to occupy that position which had remained vacant for some time while the insurgency in the northeast of the country rages like harmattan wild fire. A week before, the Boko Haram terrorists had added a bestial dimension to the orgy of bloodletting and brigandage which they have unleashed on innocent Nigerians by massacring sleeping school children at the Federal Government College in Buni Yadi, Yobe State.

Not only that. The terrorists literarily went on a killing-spree in the three Nigeria’s northeast states of Yobe, Adamawa and Borno that have been under a state of emergency since May 16, 2013. Apart from the attack on FGC, Buni Yadi, where no fewer than 43 students were killed, they moved to Shuwa, in Magadali Local Government Area of Adamawa state, where a Teachers’ College, a secondary school and a Catholic Covenant were attacked. Next, it was the turn of Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, and epicentre of the terrorists’ attacks, where a twin-bomb explosion tore through the heart of the city, killing more than 50 people. Other adjoining villages, including Mainok, a village about 50 kilometres from Maiduguri, were not spared. More attacks had followed. It was the spate and ferocity of these attacks, which the terrorists carried out with ease as they moved in and out of hamlets unchallenged, leaving sorrow, tears and blood in their trail, that prompted the call for the formation of a war cabinet to help the government in the successful prosecution of the ‘war’ and bring an end to it with limited casualties.

Since the publication of the column coincided with the appointment of Gusau as Defence Minister, my thinking was that the government will take a cue from the unsolicited advise the Column gave to put things in the right perspective in order to checkmate the festering act of terrorism in that part of the country. But events last week, which allegedly infuriated Gusau, the Defence Minister, did not only confirm my fears about the absence of a centralised and coordinated command and control of the ongoing counter-terrorism operation in the Northeast, it has also exposed the lack of appropriate synergy in the whole operation. This is probably why the terrorists appear to be invisible to some extent as they kept on having a semblance of upper hand over the Nigerian security forces that appear to be outgunned, outmanned and overwhelmed.

The incident of last week also coincided with the day the terrorists had the audacity to mount an attack on Giwa Amu Barracks, a strategic military outpost in Maiduguri. Though the early morning attack proved costly and fatal for the terrorists, it is indeed a sign of the times. Reports have it that a Shilka Tank, a military artillery weapon that was strategically stationed to ward off attacks on the barracks, actually failed to fire when the terrorists attempted to swoop on the barracks ostensibly to pave way for the release of their comrades-in-crime numbering well over 250, who were detained at the military formation. The soldiers were said to have fallen back on other weapons to defend the barracks and subsequently repelled the invaders.

Though they were successfully driven back, the terrorists were said to have torched the MRS, the traditional medical facility within the barracks as well as the detention facility but no detainees were freed. The detention facility is believed to be holding some highly placed terrorists’ commanders and therefore, their colleagues will prefer them dead than volunteer useful information to the security agents. Besides, the terrorists’ camp is said to have been seriously depleted by recent military onslaughts on their hideouts and so, they are badly in need of replenishment to boost their dwindling fighting capabilities.

The temerity of the terrorists may have been halted for now, but the recent embarrassment suffered by Gusau so soon after assuming duty as well as the unrelenting terrorists’ campaign in the North-east has again brought into focus the call for the formation of a “war cabinet” to tackle the menace of these terrorists. There must be someone to bring everybody together. The present hierarchical arrangement, in which all the service chiefs have access to the President, is not helping matters. It must be properly structured. It is a good thing that Alex Badeh, an Air Marshal and Chief of Defence Staff, CDS, has quickly made up with Gusau, but the integral roles of the CDS and the service chiefs must be clearly defined to avoid any friction in the future. The Service Chiefs must be responsible to the CDS, while the CDS in turn is responsible to the Defence Minister; and the Defence Minister will then interface with the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.

Unfortunately, what has hitherto been in place is a wrong system whereby the Defence Minister was more or less sidelined in the scheme of things. Also, what had been in place is a figure-head CDS, who was supposed to coordinate the services on paper but nobody reports to him as even the President could summon any of the service chiefs without recourse to the CDS. This is wrong. For instance, the CDS does not know the budget of the defence. The common practice is that individual services – Army, Navy, Air Force – prepares their budgets and go ahead to the National Assembly to defend same without any iota of involvement by the CDS. The proper thing to do is that the CDS should present the budget and then go to the National Assembly to defend it. In other words, the CDS should coordinate the activities of the services and serve as a link between with the Defence Minister.

Furthermore, we could achieve a better result if the Defence Headquarters, DHQ, is merged with the Ministry of Defence, with a mixture of soldiers and civilians working together instead of the present situation where only civilians sit in the Defence Ministry and award all manners of contracts which are not even required by the DHQ. I have no doubt whatsoever that the present Defence Minister parades excellent credentials and experience to stir the country through this turbulent period if only the government can do the needful. It is exigent to have somebody in charge because, as it is, it is clear that the ongoing counter-terrorism campaign lacks proper coordination as a result of the absence of a synergy among the security agencies in the country. What easily come to mind are the United States’ Department of Homeland Security and the Counter-terrorism Strategy in the United Kingdom, two agencies that are solely devoted to checkmate terrorism and terrorists’ activities in both countries.

In the alternative, the government could appoint somebody in the mould of the coordinating Minister of Finance to coordinate this anti-terrorism war. If the government wishes, the person could be called Minister for Counter-terrorism or even Minister for Boko Haram.

Wanted: A war cabinet, By Dele Agekameh

Dele Agekameh

‘By now, I believe the security agencies should have the list of suspects who are collaborating with these terrorists in one way or another to wreak havoc on unsuspecting Nigerians, but, perhaps, because of political expediency, nobody wants to touch them.’

It was a catalogue of deaths and destruction last week when the Boko Haram terrorists went on a killing-spree in the three Nigeria’s northeast states of Yobe, Adamawa and Borno. The attacks started on Tuesday at the Federal Government College, Buni Yadi, Yobe State, where no fewer than 43 students were killed. From there, they moved to Shuwa, in Magadali Local Government Area of Adamawa state where a Teachers’ College, a secondary school and a Catholic Covenant were attacked. By Saturday, it was the turn of Maiduguri, the Borno state capital, where a twin-bomb explosion tore through the heart of the city, killing more than 50 people. Mainok, a village about 50 kilometers from Maiduguri, also had a taste of the orgy of violence and blood-letting.

The attack on the Government College, Buni Yadi, bore the full imprimatur of a similar one on Saturday, September 28, 2013 at the College of Agriculture, Guijba, in the same state. In that attack, more than 50 students of the school met their untimely death. The terrorists attacked the College at midnight when most of the students were deeply asleep. That also, was not without precedence. In June 2013, the terrorists killed eight pupils and a teacher during an attack on Government Secondary School, Damaturu, capital of Yobe state. They also killed 29 pupils at Government Secondary School, Mamudo, also in the state.

On Saturday, April 13, 2013, an unspecified number of students of Monguno Secondary School, in Monguno Local Government of Borno State, were killed as they returned home on foot and bicycles from the centres where they wrote the West African Examination Council (WAEC) Senior Secondary Certificate Examination (SSCE). Before that daylight massacre, six secondary school teachers, including a principal, were also hacked down by the terrorists in the same local government area.

It is sad that our so-called security forces have always been caught napping each time these marauders come calling. In the killings of the school children who were accosted on their way from their examination centres in April 2013, no security agent was sighted at the scene of the slaughtering until more than three hours later. The same scenario has played out again and again. It was the same story at the School of Agriculture, Gujba. In the recent incident at FGC, Buni Yadi, the killers did not only have the luxury of time to carry out their devilish act, they also proved that they were out to destroy the hopes of tomorrow by separating the girls from the boys. While they mowed down the boys, they simply drove the girls away from school and advised them to go and get married instead of wasting their time at school. That is true to their name Boko Haram, which means “education is bad.”

What is more sickening in all these, especially in last week’s incident, is the fact that the security agents who were stationed within the proximity of the schools left their checkpoints shortly before the terrorists came calling. Now, the security agents are running helter-skelter to unravel those who might have been complicit in the attacks among the local populace. Talk of medicine after death. By the way, why is it that these security agents, with the hordes of intelligence officers in their midst, have never for once nipped these attacks in the bud while the so-called rag-tag terrorists are daily giving them a bloody nose?

There must be something wrong somewhere. It is either a failure of intelligence or non-intelligence at all, as the case may be (if I am permitted to put it that way). It is obvious that some people are aiding and abetting these criminals within the local population and among the security agents as well. For how long will the blood of our children be spilled like rotten milk on the altar of greed, selfishness and vaulting ambition of our overfed politicians both in uniform and babaringa? Every time, you hear about a fleet of vehicles consisting of more than 10 or 15 attacking a particular location. Why is it impossible for the security forces to pick them as they move along? I am quite aware that because of the dry season, almost everywhere in the affected areas is motorable at this time, but if the security forces are doing their work well, these terrorists should still be spotted.

It is rather superfluous that while the brigandage and blood-letting that have been going on in the northeast of the country in the last four or five years (2009 – 2014) continue to spiral out of control, up till this moment, no single person has either been fingered or arrested on account of being the sponsor of this brazen terrorism against our fatherland. The other day, a former governor of one of the states in the Northeast was allegedly arrested in Cameroun by a Camerounian security officer who said he was convinced that the former governor is one of the financiers of the Boko Haram insurgency. The former governor was arrested on his way to see the governor of Northern Cameroun.

Although the former governor in question was later released by an order from the Vice-President of Cameroun, after he quickly reached out to people, he is strongly suspected to have played a role in the rise of Boko Haram in the first instance and so, it will be difficult to isolate him from the unrelenting assault of the criminal gangs on the country. There is also this belief that this former governor may not be a Nigerian as he is said to hail from neighbouring Chad Republic, where he currently operates an airline and maintains a mansion. After his tenure as governor many years back, it was to Chad that he went to cool off and observe developments in Nigeria from the sideline until his recent visit to the country which sparked off a wave of violence in his native state.

By now, I believe the security agencies should have the list of suspects who are collaborating with these terrorists in one way or another to wreak havoc on unsuspecting Nigerians, but, perhaps, because of political expediency, nobody wants to touch them. That is why some people think that if the President announces today that he will not be contesting the 2015 presidential election, the whole Boko Haram brouhaha will die a natural death. Since the President has an inalienable right to contest as President a second time as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution in use in the country, if he wishes, the onus is on the security agencies to do their work properly and contain this avoidable carnage that has continued to cast a dark spot on the image of the country. The only way out of this quagmire in which the country has been enmeshed all this while is the urgent need for the President to form a war cabinet.

In the first instance, the troops which were deployed to the theatre of war in the Northeast went there purely for peacekeeping operation. Now the whole scenario has snowballed into a real war situation. Therefore, the strategy must change. A senior cabinet minister must coordinate the ‘war’. As things are now, it may be impossible for the National Security Adviser, NSA, the only person who probably performs the role of coordinating the military interventions in the Northeast, to summon any of the head of the services to a meeting – I mean summoning someone like the Chief of Army Staff or the Chief of Air Staff that are both involved in managing the crisis to a meeting – not to talk of the Chief of Defence Staff. They will just ignore him because the NSA is more or less a Staff Officer to the President. That is why there is need to quickly put a war cabinet in place.

The war cabinet, as envisaged, will consist of seasoned Generals, both serving and retired, as well as some respectable and responsible civilians, whose duty will be to take care of the political angle to this festering crisis. It is time to end this genocide!

Tukur as sacrificial lamb, By Dele Agekameh

Dele Agekameh

‘With the exit of the erstwhile Chairman who is a loyal ally of Mr. President, the battle this time around, will shift to the agitation by certain elements within the PDP that Jonathan should not contest the 2015 election’

In the last few months, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has been engulfed in crises. Every other day, new dimensions are added to the roiling crises. Most of the issues involved borders on contest of supremacy and arbitrary use of power through which many party faithful have either been emasculated or pushed to the back burner of party affairs. In such a dire situation, it is only natural that the bubble will soon burst.

When the bubble finally burst last week, the lone casualty was Bamanga Tukur, the erstwhile Chairman of the party. But he did not go down without a fight. He fought frantically to secure his position but he was overwhelmed by the array of opposition mounted against his person and his office. The President, Goodluck Jonathan, and his henchmen tried as much to shield him and ward off attacks against him, but at the end of the day, the President capitulated when he realised that it was better to sacrifice him and keep the fractured party together.

Since Tukur took over the reign of leadership of the party in March 2012, the party has been mired in scheming and internecine war. It started like a fratricidal war among key chieftains of the party, especially the aggrieved governors, many members of the National Executive Committee, and National Working Committee, as well as some members of the Board of Trustees. For the 22 months of his turbulent reign as Chairman, Tukur was perpetually placed on his toes as the groups perfected their strategy to unseat him.

Trouble started for Tukur when the disgruntled groups within the party started clamouring for reforms in the party. The struggle for reform later snowballed into a major conflagration last August, when some party leaders, led by some State governors, staged a walkout from the party’s National Convention ground in Abuja. Not only have the various reconciliation meetings even with the President in attendance failed to yield any fruitful result, there appears to be the presence of a certain clique within the party that is opposed to any form of reconciliation with aggrieved members. The reason for this is the fear that such reconciliation may pose a threat to their present comfort zone in the party. Therefore, they are hell-bent on maintaining the status quo.

Now that the fate of Tukur as National Chairman has been decided, there are other major issues involved in the simmering crises confronting the party, and several meetings, which attempted to resolve the knotty issues, have yielded no tangible result. Two of the issues are Jonathan’s candidature in the 2015 election and the control of party machinery in the states. Going by the body language of the party’s hierarchy, the issue of Jonathan’s candidature in the 2015 election appears to be a no-go area. In order to consolidate the hawks’ hold on the party machinery, Tukur became a willing puppet that was used to perpetrate illegality and arbitrariness in the states’ party executives.

One of the problems created for the PDP under the chairmanship of Tukur was that his leadership was particularly divisive. An example was the unilateral dissolution of the executive of the Adamawa State chapter of the party loyal to Murtala Nyako, the governor of the state which was achieved through the courts. The appointment of a new one was strongly suspected as a clear move to cripple the governor’s influence in the party and the state. In the wake of the dissolution, Tukur’s opponents had alleged that his decision to sack the Adamawa PDP executive was motivated by a selfish desire to pave the way for Mahmud Tukur, his son, who is currently on trial over his involvement in oil subsidy scandal, to become the next PDP governor of Adamawa State.

Similarly, the executive of the party in Rivers State was wrestled from the hands of Rotimi Amaechi, the state governor, through the instrumentality of a court order and replaced by a team loyal to Jonathan and Nyesom Wike, the Supervising Minister of Education. Ever since, both Rivers State and Amaechi, have known no peace as Wike has become a willing tool in the orchestrated campaign against the governor.

In the case of the South-west, the situation is more pathetic as Tukur’s arm-twisting led to the installation of some largely unwanted leaders whose credibility has been severally called to question as interim managers of the South-west zone of the party. The takeover of the South-west machinery of the party by Tukur’s men was well planned and skillfully executed like a civilian equivalent of a military coup d’état. In early February 2013, agents of Tukur cleverly lured chieftains of the party from the South-west into Abuja for a meeting. Though the ‘family meeting’ was cloaked in the façade of a reconciliation gambit, those at the meeting were dumbfounded when they discovered that they had voluntarily walked into a booby trap set for them by Tukur and his clique. In one fell swoop, all the contending groups in South-west PDP were all deposited inside the trash can. The only man left standing was Buruji Kashamu, who, apparently, had a fore-knowledge of the tsunami that was about to happen.

A few days to the Abuja parley, Tukur, through a top legal practitioner based in Abuja, went round the courts and withdrew all the pending cases instituted against the PDP by some of the groups jostling for control of the party machinery in the zone. The dummy that was sold was that the withdrawal of all the court cases would pave the way for genuine reconciliation. But this was not to be. As soon as the cases were withdrawn, the leadership of the zone was ceded to Buruji and his group. That was how the other contending groups were led to the slaughter slab. With power now fully in Buruji’s kitty, the businessman turned politician has been calling the shot with the tacit support of the party’s National Headquarters.

That was not all. On Wednesday, November 6, 2013, a Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja reinstated Olagunsoye Oyinlola as the National Secretary of the PDP. The three-man panel, chaired by Justice Amiru Sanusi, upturned the January 11 judgment of the Federal High court, Abuja, which sacked Oyinlola. One would have thought that this judgement would provide a good opportunity for the party to resolve the intractable crisis that had enveloped it, but rather than find a solution, some desperate elements within the party, led by Tukur, went ahead to suspend Oyinlola and others under puerile excuses.

The Presidency then came under heat from some stakeholders who felt that certain forces were exploiting the situation for their selfish motives. Some governors loyal to the President were also said to have made contacts among themselves and with the President to express deep concerns that the leadership of the party scuttled the opportunity for peace presented by the Appeal Court verdict. This is why Tukur may have incurred the wrath of Jonathan over his handling of the moves to resolve the crisis in the party. Since then, Tukur’s days were numbered as the President was said to be unhappy with the unilateral decision he took to suspend the party leaders, including Oyinlola, who have been reinstated to his post by the appellate court. It was clear that instead of the party creating and getting more followers and friends, the hierarchy was busy creating more enemies for the party and the Jonathan administration.

With the exit of the erstwhile Chairman who is a loyal ally of Mr. President, the battle this time around, will shift to the agitation by certain elements within the PDP that Jonathan should not contest the 2015 election. But that would be against the President’s right to vote and be voted for as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution. Tukur’s tenure was characterised by intrigues and intra-party squabbles which resulted into mass exodus of prominent party leaders, five state governors, members of the National Working Committee and lawmakers in the National Assembly. Perhaps, only the President, for whom he was a cheerleader, will, most certainly, miss him.