Williams: Candidates Should Focus More On Dismantling Impunity

ISHOLA-WILLIAMSRetired Major General Ishola Williams is the executive secretary of the Pan-African Strategic and Policy Research Group (PANAFSTRAG). In a chat with KAMAL TAYO OROPO, the social justice activist says,  rather than engaging in mundane things, the ruling party and the opposition political parties should dissipate more energy on how to halt impunity in the system, as well as, reduce the high insecurity in the country. 

Nigerians are complaining that the presidential campaigns of the two front line candidates of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) are not addressing issues. That we are yet to hear or see their blueprint on foreign relations, education, youth, women, environment etc. But they only hear of tackling corruption and fighting insecurity, two issues some say have become trite. What is your take on these feelings; What do you consider core issues?

NOT only the political parties, but also all of us inclusive, need to focus on impunity and insecurity and not to keep on beating the horse of corruption that will never die. This because, especially as one often hears and reads from both local and external sources, corrupt practices in our security agencies contribute immensely to the spate of insecurity currently bedeviling this country. 

   The practice has become so systemic and endemic, permeating all levels of our institutions and organisations –– public, private, civil and religious sectors. When offenders are caught, they are rarely punished and made to pay back. Therefore, impunity reigns in all sectors, including human rights abuses and other form of abuses.

  But as for insecurity, we have an archaic security architecture with a plan that needs to be redesigned with serious depth and strategic thinking. For example, we do not need a Ministry of Defence; but one for national security, because we have no external enemies who will attack us in the immediate future. This ministry will work closely with the Ministry of Interior responsible for community safety and border security in conjunction with the police, immigration, customs and NCDSC. 

   The same with the anti-corruption agencies, which must be fused into one and restructured into a separate and autonomous Financial Intelligence Unit. The effort made will lead to having the resources for infrastructure, which overtime has been shortchanged because of corrupt practices. 

   We must also reduce inequality. For example, the difference in compensation (salary and allowances) between a permanent secretary and a messenger in the same ministry is far too wide) while public schools and health care systems can be far better. We need innovators. The political parties’ manifestoes must deal with these two fundamental issues.

Apart from all these, what other important issue do you consider missing?

   The parties’ manifestoes must place serious emphasis on family; with good traditional African values of pride in family’s good name, be our brothers and sisters keeper. A good social security system from generations to generations, respect for hard work, honesty and history, rather than women and youth. A country with strong family values will have a safe and less corrupt society.

   Then with this established foundation, we must make our research scientists, technologists, economists and development experts from multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary studies come up with a blueprint for innovating our informal sectors; the small-scale industrial and marketing sectors. I am not talking about shopping malls economy, which makes no sense at all. But indigenous knowledge to produce unique products and services for our self-reliance to diversify our economy. For example, one-village-one-product and protect our economy from the vagaries of the western economy. In short, fund studies and think tanks within and outside the universities to think and incubate workable concepts and ideas.

What should be the economy talking points? 

   It is surprising we are not hearing much on the nature of the nation’s political economy. We must strive for our own system and not to keep on adopting instead of adapting. We must pay specific attention to innovation in our budgeting system and processes.

  The Sports and Leisure Commission, for example, are avenue for corruption and an inefficient sector that is opaque and money guzzling without impact on making us a sporting and healthy nation. Emphasis is always on Football.

   A good political party must have a think tank, which will study all the various reports, white papers, documents that are in government archives on various sectors before and after the setting up of vision 2020 committee. NIPSS and other Institutions have articles, thesis etc; that can be useful. None of our political parties do any strategic thinking and planning. None has any think tank except adhoc groups. This is why there is no incubation system for ideas coming from within and without in the public sector. 

What about the concern on insecurity?

   I will say that we have not been strategic at operational level. I have not seen any political party since 1966 that has put in their manifestoes, issue of security, whereas the country deserves to have stability. That is the way we have been treating the police and the army. The thing is that we continue to create new agencies instead of strengthening the ones we have. Instead of strengthening the traffic police, we created the Federal Road Safety Corps; you increase the cost, you give people jobs, but of what use? Instead of creating a volunteer force within the communities for civil defense and security, you decided to create a special force called Nigerian Civil Defense Corps, and what do they do? They are quarrelling with the police over arrest of armed robbers and defending pipelines. 

   The people want to defend the pipelines themselves, not for you to give it to any government agency to defend. Until the day we behave like people who really want security forces for the real reason of having security forces as a public good and public service, we will continue to run into problems.

   The second aspect of it is that most of the political leaders do not understand what security is all about. We need to be able to look at security from the two important aspects; first, the safety of the community and second, the security of the country itself. You should put emphasis on the safety of the community because when the community is safe, the country is safe; when the community is safe, the individual within that community is also safe. And what does safety mean? It is being able to live a life free of insecurity. So, when you have a country like that, then you have community safety and at the same time, you are able to protect your leadership so they don’t get assassinated, they don’t get kidnapped and this gives you a foundation for development.

   In order to have the necessary force to defend that, what we should do first and foremost is to have a sort of total security approach, building on that community safety. The security agencies can then make sure that people within their communities don’t create problems. After all, where did the current insurgency come from? It came from the communities, the terrorists come from the community areas. So, if the communities take security serious and they work with all the elements of security agencies, we won’t have terrorism or the so-called insurgency. Look at Niger Republic for example, why don’t they have Boko Haram? They have majority of Muslims. Why don’t Cameroon have until we exported it to them? 

   People talk of governance as the cause of this problem, but Biya has been in government in Cameroun for over 30 years, why was there no insurgency there?

What could the political leadership do to urgently to address insurgency?

Unfortunately, if I discuss that now, it will be a story for the deaf and dumb. In fact, the President himself said he gets advice from the left, right and centre, and he is confused and that is failure in strategic leadership. To a certain extent, it means he has a problem with his strategic team because he is supposed to get advice from right, left and centre but he has special advisers who are supposed to diagnose same. If there is an urgent  problem, you don’t analyse anymore, you diagnose because when you are sick, you go to a doctor and at that point, a doctor doesn’t bother himself analysing, he diagnoses and asks for the symptoms and things like that and then prescribes medicine for you. We have passed the stage of analysis, we need some diagnosis and that is what we are not doing.

   The second thing is that every time we do things, we look at the western model; every time we have a problem, we run to the United States. Now that the US says they are cut off, what is going to happen? It makes sense to me that if terrorism is a global problem and affecting us locally, we must find local solution to it. What the president needs is strategic thinking and tactical action. We are doing the tactical action because we put soldiers there to fight with the civilian JTF, but at the strategic thinking level, I don’t see anything. I don’t see any innovation. If you look at the tactics that Boko Haram is using, it is normal guerrilla tactics where you hide, come out to strike and then go and hide again. It means that we are reacting to Boko Haram, we are not proactive. How  we should become proactive is the challenge.

   The third thing is that we just believe that we need weapons to be able to confront Boko Haram. To me, weapons are of less concern. How to use the weapons and train the people to use the weapons properly is the bottom line; because if you know how to fight, then you know what sort of weapons you need to fight and who you are fighting.       

   That is the way I think the whole thing needs to be approached. It amazes me that every time the military tell you that they have captured a place, Boko Haram will capture another place and abduct people and so on. The military has lost its credibility. Unfortunately, nobody believes what they say anymore.

   Terrorism war is the most difficult war to fight and most countries that have succeeded is because the communities were the ones who were really on the look out for the terrorists. That is why I will continue to talk about community safety and building on that community safety. To be able to do that means the traditional rulers have a responsibility. We need to go back to the past when the Emirs were in charge of security within those communities. If not, we have a very long way to go.

   However, if the state governments in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa are waiting on the constitutional provision that the Federal Government is in charge of security, they will wait for a long time. In the countries where they have managed to curtail terrorist and insurgent activities, it has been states’ responsibilities. 

   Now that these states have created some sort of civilian JTF, the best thing is to convince the Federal Government to let them train them up to that level where they will be able to take up the job. The Boko Haram seems to be more afraid of those boys than those in uniform and if that is the case, it means that if these civilian JTF are properly trained with the community support, they will be able to curtail Boko Haram elements to a certain extent. 

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