Abdullahi Bego is Special Adviser on Press Affairs and Information to Governor Ibrahim Gaidam of Yobe state. In this interview with pressmen in Damaturu, he discusses what the Yobe state government is doing to help restore peace and security to parts of the state affected by Boko Haram insurgency. He also described as shocking and unfortunate comments credited to retired General Bamaiyi on emergency rule, amongst others. Our correspondent, Uche Uche, was there. Excerpts:
Since the latest extension of emergency rule in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states, there was an escalation of Boko Haram attacks in the affected states and a humanitarian emergency has ensued. What’s your take on this?
Well, we have opposed the latest extension of emergency rule after having supported it the very first time it was declared back in May 2013. Instead, we had asked for a change in strategy with special emphasis on three planks: Robust equipment and technology support for the military, improved intelligence gathering and capability to penetrate digital communications of insurgents and terrorists and a more robust engagement with the civilian populations of the affected states to further mobilize them for sustainance of peace and security.
It is sad that as we speak the hardworking military troops and other security agents on the ground in the affected states do not have the requisite kits and gear they need to subdue the insurgents. Remember that ours is a military which has done wonders in many troubled spots around the world; and they helped to restore peace in places like Liberia and Sierra Leone. They could do even better here at home. I agree that what we face here in the country is an asymmetric warfare. The insurgents do not have known addresses.
Still, there were plenty of missed opportunities when we could have routed and defeated them and brought their senseless violence to an end. I know you in the media have followed all the key happenings here in our region. Since the civilian population in Damaturu and our other major towns began to use their mobile phones to report to the security agents about the presence of any suspected criminals or insurgents in town, almost all of the insurgents and criminals left town to the bushes fearing the people would expose them. The same thing happened in Borno state with the emergence of ‘civilian JTF’. That was when we started hearing that the insurgents have moved to and are operating from Sambisa Forest.
Now, that’s a known address! Sambisa Forest is a known address. I am not a security expert but I believe strongly that as asymmetric as the current war with Boko Haram is, the very fact that they have been narrowed to a location – Sambisa Forest – where the civilian population close by is not nearly as concentrated means that we have plenty of opportunity to devise more effective strategies to deal with them. I still hope our security forces can deal decisively with them going forward. But, as we have seen, Boko Haram has continued to undertake their ruthless and senseless campaign of violence. Very recently, about 24 of our security forces were sadly killed in Buni Yadi in an encounter with terrorists.
So, the emergency rule extension has got to be better. This time, it should be different and more substantive. The federal government should do everything it takes to provide any and every piece of hardware and support to the security forces which would help bring this madness to an end.
Let’s talk about the role of the affected state governments. What are you doing to support and advance the quest for peace because very recently, a retired general in the Nigerian Army, General Ishaya Bamaiyi has said in an interview with a newspaper that the declaration of the state of emergency meant that governors of the affected states have failed…
I have read Bamaiyi’s interview and I am particularly piqued by his rather uninformed views about emergency rule. They are shocking and unfortunate. First, our Constitution has never contemplated the appointment of sole administrators simply because an emergency rule is declared. So, his statement that the affected governors should each ask themselves, “what am I doing there?” as governor of a state where emergency rule is declared does not hold water. The governors have to be there because they were democratically elected by their people just as the president.
Bamaiyi’s reference to the time of former President Obasanjo is also ill-informed not just on the questionable legal basis of Obasanjo’s action but also because the situations in Ekiti and Plateau states at the time and Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states now are completely different. To say that emergency rule was declared because the governors of the north-east states have failed is to suggest that the control of the armed forces and police and other security and intelligence agencies is in the hands of the governors and not the president or the federal government. It is amazing that a retired army general would equate emergency rule declaration in our three states with failure of the affected governors.
Well, for emphasis, I want to state that our governors have not failed. In fact, under the circumstances they are going over and beyond the call of duty to do their part to support the security forces and the quest for peace. And they have always done so.
For instance, in Yobe state, Governor Ibrahim Gaidam has used every available platform to remind and call on people to support security agents and to remain vigilant in their localities and to pray in mosques and churches and homes for Almighty Allah to help restore peace.
He has also provided thousands of our youth and women with direct employment and employment opportunities to help channel their energies to productive use. And the Yobe state government continues to spend heavily to provide for the security forces on the ground.
It is the same with the governors of Borno and Adamawa States. They are also doing their part and their best and it is my considered opinion that anyone who truly knows the issues should commend and not disparage these governors.
What are your main challenges in the state now? You said you are spending so much on security and yet you have to provide social services for the people…
That’s very true. We have to provide social services and we are providing to our people and we will continue to provide going forward.
For example, we have made remarkable progress linking our communities with roads. We have drilled thousands of boreholes and sunk thousands of wells to provide clean and potable drinking water. We have improved on the conditions in our schools and are doing more. We have improved on healthcare and took steps to attract more medical personnel including doctors. And we have taken all-of-the-above strategy to make life a little easier for our people.
Our major challenge is that we continue to divert funds we could have used to do more for our people to support security. But we are not regretting. Security is the number one responsibility of government. So, we will stay the course and hope that it will not be long before peace returns to our states and country as a whole.