A member of the Presidential Committee on the Review of Defence Policy in 2014/2015 and Professor of African History, Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Ibadan, Isaac Olawale Albert, speaks with DARE ADEKANMBI on the implications of terrorists attack on Kuje Prison, the call for Nigerians to protect themselves, restructuring of the security architecture, among other issues.
The attack on Kuje Prisons appears to have shown the helplessness of the Federal Government in addressing the biting security challenges in the country. Is that your reading of the development?
In the last two years, we have had about nine attacks on prisons across the country. One would have expected any government that is serious to have acquired sufficient knowledge on why the prisons are attacked, who the perpetrators are, what are their patterns of their operations, what is the general impact of the attacks on national security. Unfortunately as could be seen with other forms of attacks, our leaders are not just ready to learn any lessons and that is why some people are saying we should probably begin to talk complicity, we should now begin to say it pleases some people the way things are going because these are problems that are avoidable. Why are they happening? I personally will not think it is a problem of capacity because if the issues are known and the patterns of attacks are predictable, then I actually don’t think it should be difficult for us to avert the attacks. But the attacks happen and we are helpless.
The prison attacks are not isolated cases, even the community of President Muhammadu Buhari has been under attacks. The community was attacked last year when he was going to Daura. This year, the attack was repeated in the community. So, it is difficult for us to come up with any new theory now because it is like nobody is just interested in solving the problems. So, you media people are better informed about what is happening to Nigeria.
We in the media are not security experts and that is why we are talking to experts like you…
Let me tell you this. Any baby born two years ago should be a security expert in Nigeria by now.
This is because the problem occurs on a daily basis and our children are now making security predictions; they know an attack is likely to happen next year and next month and so on. They know the patterns because they see the attacks every day. What I think is debatable now is how each of us will protect ourselves from these escalating problems. Six or even seven months ago, people had been predicting that Kuje Prison would be attacked. People living in Abuja knew that some attacks would take place. Where it would happen and how are some of the things they could not figure out. One of the aides to Sheikh Gumi had been saying it that the attack would happen. The question is: what did we do as a country? Why was Kuje so vulnerable? Why were the attackers able to operate in the prison for hours? I am not in Nigeria at the moment, but what I read in one of the dailies is that the assailants even had enough time to preach to the inmates before leaving. This means they did not leave in a hurry. I think our leaders should just become altruistic and save us from this escalating crisis. It is impossible for them to develop the economy of the country with this kind of things happening. It is also difficult to develop politically too.
I am beginning to doubt the possibility of the 2023 elections with this kind of attack. Our president has left the country. They said he went to Dakar, Senegal to discuss African development. When your country is not secure, what development are you discussing elsewhere? Buhari’s country is burning and then you are going to discuss Africa’s development! If Senegal was on fire, would Buhari leave Nigeria to go there and attend the summit? Our leaders are not actually inspiring any hope in us. They are not making us to look like proud Nigerians.
Where I am outside the country now, people are just making jest of us everywhere, asking us ridiculous and humiliating questions because they have been reading about our problems for too long and they see that rather than the problems going away, they have been escalating. It is not healthy at all. I think at this moment in the history of Nigeria one is not proud to call oneself a Nigeria because there is nobody that is charge of anything. Things just happen and then we explain them away.
You said Nigerians are now thinking of protecting themselves since government has failed to give them protection. Are you supporting the call to bear arms made by the Zamfara State governor?
That is the direction in which we are going now and some governors have led the way. The governor of Zamfara said people should be allowed to acquire arms to protect themselves. Governors Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo and Samuel Ortom of Benue states have supported it too. But the question is, if we all arm ourselves, are we not actually escalating the problem? If state officials that are supposed to be organising national security and be protecting us are now asking us to go and protect ourselves, it is an advanced sign of state collapse because the primary responsibility of any government is the protection of its citizens. But when those we have paid taxes to, those who are extracting our natural resources to earn money and spend same to protect us are now asking us to defend ourselves while they are buying more security gadgets for themselves, it is an ominous sign that the state is on its way out, a sign of total state collapse. How do I protect myself for example if I don’t know how to shoot a gun? Citizens don’t collect intelligence; intelligence is collected by those in government. So, if they don’t have the capacity to utilise the intelligence they have collected to protect the citizens, how do the citizens protect themselves? Even the terrorists we are talking about do not wear uniforms neither do they write on their foreheads that they are terrorists. It has never been this bad for us as Nigerians and it is unfortunate.
Is the motivation for the attacks the fact that high-profile terrorists are kept in those prisons that have been attacked so far?
Yes, it is because high profile terrorists are kept at the prisons. When we gave high profile terrorists, government must ensure it provides high profile security in the areas where the terrorists are kept to deter fellow terrorists from coming to dare the state by freeing their colleagues. The question we are asking ourselves now is: why are we not actually putting the necessary structures and facilities in place? Kuje Prisons houses some of our high profile terrorists, some are in Kanji, others are in Niger. Some of the high profile terrorists that we have kept in Kuje, one would have expected that there will be high profile security measures, including the use of technology to ensure that these people do not have the kind of capacity to do what they did.But they did it successfully in Abolongo Prison in Oyo and several parts of the country. But the biggest of them all which brought national shame is the one they did in Abuja. Everybody in the world is talking about it. I am currently outside Nigeria and people are talking about it where I am. They turn to us and ask: what is happening to your country? So, it is a big national shame and I doubt if we will not witness another one because since this thing happened, we have not heard any statement from government showing that the next one will be prevented. We have not seen any major statement like that or any sign that the government is going to avert the next one. Well, we might say the next one may not happen because the terrorists have succeeded in freeing their high profile colleagues kept in the various prisons that have come under attacks in the last two years. So, what are they coming back for? It is a national shame.
The Federal Government has been finding it convenient to police elections for which tens of thousands of security personnel are deployed. Why do you think the government can’t protect prison and security facilities?
This is one thing one finds very difficult to explain. An average politician is protected by many security officials. Whenever we are doing election, we are told that thousands of security operatives are deployed to maintain law and order before, during and after the election. But when it comes to protecting the citizens, there is a problem. Why is it difficult for us to protect what is called critical national security facility? But when it is election time, you will see security personnel harassing people all over. We have never had it so bad. People are laughing at us outside the country and some people have taken to pretending they are not Nigerians because of the kind of humiliating questions people are asking them is unacceptable.
Buhari promised to end insurgency and insecurity generally, but the evil has festered under him in seven years. Now that the presidential candidates have emerged, do you think any of them possesses the capacity to deal with the monster?
I am a student of African solution to African problems and I preach it everywhere I go. I am a student of Nigerian solutions to Nigerian problems. What do I mean by that? Our problems are better solved by us and our problems will ultimately be solved by us. I believe those who will solve the problem must emerge from Nigeria. But that is not to say they will not need international support. So, what we need now is a leader that is sincere enough to admit that we have a problem. But what I see all over the country now is that our leaders pretend that we don’t have a problem. When you say we have a problem, they will tell you that you are the problem. We deny it on daily basis. We need a leader that will come out to confess to the fact that we have a problem. Then, that leader will come up with a framework for solution to the problem. It is possible and doable. Our problems are escalating now because our leaders do not own up to the fact that we have a problem. It is like someone who has HIV and keeps denying it and everybody is aware that the fellow has HIV and then the HIV becomes AIDS. That is what is happening to Nigeria at the moment. We have HIV and our leaders do not have the capacity to solve the problem and they keep pretending that there is no problem.
My own belief is that the new leaders coming will accept the fact that there is security problems that must be sincerely solved and then we can move from there, as different from those who are ruling us now and are pretending that we don’t have problems or are pretending that they have the capacity to solve the problems are not being solved. Everybody is afraid. The last time I was in Abuja, people said to me that they could no longer move freely. They are afraid Abuja would come under attack and it has happened. What we just need is sincerity. I don’t any close contact with the presidential candidates. So, I can’t say whether they have the capacity or not. They know what they are going to face. They know the resources required to solve the problems. We expect them come out and begin to share their ideas with us on how to solve the problems. But what we hear them saying is ‘I am the next president. It is my turn to be president.’ That is what they are saying. None of them is actually coming out to say this is how they are going to solve the security problems. So, let us give them time to unveil their agenda on security. But politically, Nigeria is sick and we must accept that.
Will state police be part of the solution as being canvassed by many people or is it the restructuring of the security architecture that is needed?
State policing is the way to go and we must decentralize policing. In fact, the conference I am attending now, which is an African Union meeting, is discussing state policing, community policing and community engagement. That is the direction in which all sensible countries of the world are moving. But for political reasons, we don’t state or community policing and yet the federal policing that we do is producing no results. We are not protecting citizens and we are not allowing them to protect themselves. That is part of the tragedy of our national development. People are frustrated. When people are kidnapped, the government is saying relatives of the abducted people should not pay ransom to the kidnappers. If they do, they will go to jail. Yet, nobody is telling them how they are going to be set free when they are kidnapped. Look at those abducted while on Abuja-Kaduna train journey. Nobody is saying anything on how to free them. Nigerians are in a very bad condition. Nigerians are in the hands of very wicked leaders and I don’t know how we are going to get out of it.