MINIMAH: Deployment Of Soldiers For Election An Elixir
Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen. Kenneth Tobiah Jacob Minimah spoke to some journalists on the state of the war against Boko Haram, the imperative of the on-going court martials in the army, the Chibok girls and other issues; during the visit by members of the Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar-led National Peace Committee on the 2015 elections last week to Defence Headquarters last week. Our Abuja Bureau Chief, MADU ONUORAH was there.
How do you see the visit of the National Peace Committee on the 2015 elections to the military and the commendations?
We are filled with humility, that the committee has been watching and observing what we have been doing. I think it is a highly pleasant commendation, just as it is a surprise to us, that they want to come and thank us and commend us for what we have done. Like the CDS (Chief of Defence Staff) said there, most of us here today are products of this same democracy. I have always believed, and with my colleagues too, that the Nigerian military is better off under a democratic government because our needs are more and enormously addressed than in a military government. And in that direction, we believe strongly that our military would be able to sustain the more, in observance of its constitutional roles, in a democratic process. We are humbled that a committee of this level commends us. I think it is also a reflection of the feeling of the senior citizens and a good percentage of the elites in the country, that we did our best in the election.
You know there were stories and counter stories about that Nigerian military, and Nigerian army particularly, is up about something. People went to court, that the military should not be used to do this and that. But at the end of the day, a winner emerged and the Nigerian Army was not in any way blacklisted for any acts of impropriety.
Troops have to be deployed to ensure that there is security and that there is no violence; that a good atmosphere is provided for the ordinary citizen to come out and vote without fear for his or her life, without fear for intimidation, without fear of his environment and family. That we did and I am sure everybody came out and voted well.
There was tension all over the country, how would you rate the idea of troops deployment for the elections?
I think if you ask me to rate myself, I will score 100 per cent, because for our state of political development, we cannot expect to see our elections held as it is done in the most advanced nations. We are still bugged down by little prejudices of inter-party issues, thuggery, violence, ballot box snatching and confusion around the arena of polling units, and so forth, that has to do with our level of political development.
For now, I don’t think we can say that will stop easily. It is the more the democratic process and electioneering process strengthens, develops, then people will learn over time that thuggery cannot change results. And if you hire a thug, he will tell you why he would not be available. But for now, there are several reasons why he would be available.
What did the soldiers do right on election deployment?
Honestly, I will speak from my own perspective, which is that we have a responsibility to ensure peace. I have the responsibility to ensure that there was no violence. We have the responsibility to ensure that the country is stable. Others may have their interpretations. But from our own perspective, what we went out for, we achieved.
This is because, we deployed in the possible flash points areas where violence always erupts, where violence starts, where people converge to hatch ideas other than positive feelings. We were deployed all over there, drawing experience from the 2011 post-election violence. Where those things emerged, we deployed in all those areas and hooligans, vandals and thugs did not have freedom of action. So, everybody is in retrospect believing that it worked.
Of course, there will be people who for whatever reason will never accept defeat and would never agree they lost. They would keep shouting either wolf or foul or whatever. But majority of law-abiding citizens believe that the deployment of soldiers calmed everywhere and enabled them to come out. And they voted and there was no violence.
How was the turbulent Northeast secured for election in six weeks?
I am sure before the deferment or postponement, the atmosphere in the Northeast was still charged with the activities and violence of the Boko Haram sect. They still had a handful of local councils across the three states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, and inclusive of the fourth state, Gombe. They had also threatened that they would disrupt elections; that the elections will not hold.
There were also those who had fears that the army or the Nigerian military did not have visible capacity to doing much within the time frame of six weeks to reduce the menace and invincibility of the terrorists. Anyone could have as well believed it, that it was not going to be possible. Alas, today, the reality on ground has vindicated the Armed Forces of Nigeria because so much has been done that as at today we are moving already into Sambisa forest and hopefully very soon the military action will be rested in the Northeast.
At the last Council of State meeting, most of the speakers disagreed and wondered what could be done if in the last five years they couldn’t do anything. Is it a miracle or what do they think that they would achieve within this period? Of course, I convinced them that it was very much achievable, more so that our neighbours, who have been lukewarm, have all of a sudden decided to join the battle. They realised in their own right that if Nigeria eventually defeats this terrorism, it will empty into their own territories if they do not join the war.
Of course, Chad had its economic blockade and had to join the war for economic reasons, to reopen the routes. The Maiduguri-Malam Fatori trade route, the Pulka from Cameroun side to Chad was blocked by these elements. They blocked the Nigerian side. And much of their goods and services were coming from Cameroun and Nigeria. They had no choice but to join the war.
Niger also saw the genuine reason to joining the war because they knew their country was like traffic for both Boko Haram arms and ammunition, and sometimes, for recruitment of individuals who they used as war machines and indoctrinate them. They too decided they were going to join the war because to me they saw it lately that we are going to turn this thing and if we turn it these elements would run into their countries. Prior to this time, these countries have always been sanctuaries to the terrorists. They move in freely and come out freely.
Cameroun did not show much enthusiasm, until they (Boko Haram insurgents) moved in en mass into Cameroon and started causing destruction, killing and kidnapping. They now realised that they also had to fight the Boko Haram terrorists. I tried to explain it to that august body (National Council of State) that with our contiguous neighbours showing greater enthusiasm to participate in the war; that the end is near. This is because all we need now is to push them up. They cannot run into any of those countries. Once they all block their borders, we are good to go. And of course, it was reluctantly agreed. And today, we are witnesses to what has become of it. So, it’s a feat that was never thought of. But we have achieved it.
What do you tell some Nigerians from the Northeast who feel that the six weeks rescheduling of elections was political, that Nigerian troops were reluctant to take over territories captured by Boko Haram in order to use it to score political points through the extension?
Everybody’s mothers’ soup is sweet. Everybody eulogises his own bearing, his own person or his community. But such doesn’t happen here as the Nigerian media has failed to eulogize the Nigerian Armed Forces. I will not speak on that.
Let me rather address the one I know. You see, it is plebeian fury, plebeian anger and plebeian discussion. We are all Super Eagles’ fans. When the team is losing a match, you abuse the mother of the players. You leave the issue and start talking of the coach, the assistant coach. You forget that you are playing a match; that you will win or you will lose.
It is common knowledge too that the Nigerian Army has been demanding equipment from the government. It is common knowledge too that part of the teething problems of the war against insurgency has been requisite modern equipment for the Nigerian Army and the Nigerian Armed Forces.
It is common knowledge too, that the equipment the Nigerian army had were old, aging, obsolete equipment and that we were doing local repairs to maintain them. It is common knowledge too that the Nigerian troops were running from battle. It is also common knowledge too that the government was doing everything it could to buy equipment for the army.
At one point, equipment came in. And with my personal effort of ensuring that officers and soldiers were court-martialed, dismissed or sentenced for running in the face of adversaries, for abandoning the equipment, the psyche of the Nigerian soldier changed. The equipment that arrived changed the battle dynamics, it changed the battle platform. Everything was reversed. The terrorists started running and we changed the battle. That is what happened.
The personality of the Chief of Army Staff, utility of the equipment that arrived changed the dynamics, changed the individual soldier himself. That is what we have. So, for the common man who does not understand, let him have his rights to free speech. He can interpret it any way he wishes. But for you who knows, you know that certainly nobody was keeping war and losing colleagues every day because he hopes he was going to win at the end. What if victory does not come at the end? Leave them it’s their right to free speech.
From what you have just said, it means you have no regrets convening the Court Martials?
Jesus Christ! One million times, I will redo it. The courts are still on.
In spite of the public outcry?
Is it the public that is fighting the battle? Is it not the public now that is saying why did they not do this thing since? Why are they doing it now? The public can have their say. But war has to be fought. And in fighting war, there must be sanctions for people who breach the process of war, or, for people who ran away from battle.
Where do you draw the balance that we have aging equipment and our soldiers were running and now because the equipment are there they are not running; it means they have come back to their normal selves because they know what they have can withstand the enemy?
What you do not know too is that the battle had been turned before the equipment arrived. Why? Because the average officer realised now that if he runs, he would be court martialed. The soldier knows that if he runs away he will be dismissed. So, everybody was prepared to stand and fight and die because if you run back there is nothing. And the fact that they stood and fought, the insurgents were surprised. They turned and ran and said these people, they are not Nigerians. This is because before, when they come and fire, everybody runs away. Now, people were standing to fight back. And in the sustained firefight of two hours, three hours they say; no, we don’t understand these people’. They (Boko Haram) now run away. That’s how the turning point started.
Look, in Konduga I, Konduga II and Konduga III firefights, we held the town. When the other fellow, the other Mr. Shekau, I don’t know the number he is, he was killed, it was the old equipment that were used. And it was the soldiers themselves that said, no way, we are not running anywhere, that when you run back, that ‘mad man’ is waiting for you. He will court martial you. He will dismiss you. He will jail you. They remained there and fought. And that was when the ice broke that these people they are not invincible. Since then, the thing picked up. The equipment arrived just six weeks ago.
It is the soldier that fights not the equipment. If I had set up the Court Martials as soon as I came, we wouldn’t have lost all those territories because at one point they would have realized it that they had to stand and fight.
How can it become fashionable that soldiers are running? They were even running, soldiers telling civilians in Mubi, “Boko Haram dey come, Boko Haram dey come.” They were running. And now, you want me to listen to some person who says why didn’t we do it since? Why did I set up the court martial?
What is the level of the effectiveness of the counter insurgency operation now?
I will tell you; militarily they (Boko Haram) are defeated. But as armed groups, thieves, armed robbers or people who go about to steal, burn markets and loot to go back to the forests, that will continue for a while. The other programmes of government will take care of those ones.
With all these successes, is there any lead to the rescue of the abducted Chibok girls?
Yes. By the time we capture Sambisa forest completely, we will be able to find out where the Chibok girls are because as it is now, anybody you ask they say they did not see them. They are not here. They are not there. When we capture Sambisa forest, we will be able to know where they are and government will take it up from there.
Give us a projection of where the war against Boko Haram will be in the next six months?
You know, the Nigerian is one creature with large accommodation of mind and whose memory shifts. Soon, he forgets everything that happened. In the next six months, I’m sure that Nigerians would have forgotten that Boko Haram reigned and terrorised a region. I believe so.