Former Secretary-General of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) Chief Anthony Sani has blamed the worsening insecurity in Nigeria on the mass unemployment and introduction of cashless economy. In this interview with ABDULGAFAR ALABELEWE, the elder statesman, who note that kidnapping for ransom had supplanted armed robbery, says government must address the underlying causes because it cannot be combated only by the military forces
At what point did Nigeria get it wrong to the extent that kidnap-for-ransom is now the order of the day?
When people lament the state of insecurity that has culminated in kidnapping-for-ransom, it makes one to wonder their sense of history. This is because for the past 30 years, we have been hearing the chorus that unemployment is a time bomb waiting to be ignited by the indifference of the political elite. We are also aware of the fact that poverty which comes with unemployment and ignorance has been growing steadily due to a steady increase in population without the corresponding growth of the economy for many years. The introduction of a cashless policy made armed robbery unattractive. Hence the emergence of kidnapping-for-ransom has supplanted armed robbery. That is to say, the inability to grow the economy to absorb the youths coupled with ignorance and the introduction of the cashless economy have combined to spur kidnapping-for-ransom as a business venture which produces billionaires in a very short time. This has also attracted citizens of neighbouring countries to flock to Nigeria in order to participate in kidnapping for ransom.
Schools are being closed and there is a general atmosphere of insecurity and people are living in fear. What are the implications of this on our education and general wellbeing?
The level of abductions of school children have become the deed in the fashion of recent. As a result, parents are afraid to send their wards to schools. The children are also afraid. More distressing is the claim of responsibility by Boko Haram either rightly or wrongly for the express purpose of furthering the cause of its agenda that western education is taboo.
The implication is that there will be no educated Nigerians in the next generation. Imagine the fate of a country populated by a majority of uneducated ignorant people. This is not acceptable. The government must therefore go as far as efforts can go and put an end to kidnapping for ransom through both military action and address of the underlying causes.
Happily enough the new service chiefs have assured the nation that with the arrival of the Tucano Jet Bombers from America and the promised increase in the number of well trained and equipped security personnel as well as their motivation, they would take the fight to their doorsteps by dominating all the forests harbouring those posing insecurity to the nation.
Talking about the underlying causes, a retired naval officer said on national television last week that the centre of gravity of banditry and insurgency are the sponsors. Do you share that view and how can the sponsors be brought to justice?
We all know without sponsors, insurgents and gunmen cannot prevail. Sponsors know the underlying causes of terrorism which they exploit for their advantage. When you consider the fact that terrorism transcends national boundaries, you would at once appreciate why America first put up a coalition of 66 countries of all faiths against IS, which is ISWAP in Nigeria. The coalition has now been increased to 102 countries. Also, 140 countries met in Rome last month and discussed how best to assist the Sahel region perceived as weak and could serve as safe haven for terrorism. One item on their agenda is about who sponsors terrorism. Given the global concern about sponsors of terrorism, I do not believe that the actual sponsors are known. This is because America which put a price tag of $7m on Shekau when he was alive would not spare Nigeria, if actually, they believe the Nigerian government knows the sponsors. I, therefore, do not believe sponsors of terrorism are known by the respective countries. If they did, curbing terrorism would not be that difficult.
The NDA was attacked by bandits last week, leading to the killing of two officers and the abduction of another. What does this say about the state of the nation’s security?
While I share the view that such an attack of NDA should not have happened, it is too early to forget that this is not the first time gunmen have attacked military formations in Nigeria. There have been several attacks of military formations and installations in Borno State. Most were repelled, while few of them were overwhelmed by the insurgents. We even heard claims by insurgents that they downed the jets that crashed recently. If it is true, the insurgents can down our jets, then what happened in NDA is child’s play. So, there is nothing new about the attack of NDA, which is just another military formation. I heard the gunmen were able to get into the officers’ quarters where most of them were not around due to assignments. And the very few who were in the quarter put up a good fight but lost two officers and one was abducted. I, therefore, see the attacks of the NDA as one of the challenges facing the nation’s security and its management for performance.
What lesson should the armed forces learn from the attack on NDA, considering that the academy is the nation’s premier university and the alma mater of military officers?
What I can say on this issue is that the army should insist on having enough number of trained and well-equipped personnel who are well-motivated to secure the nation without any hindrance. At the moment, the soldiers are overstretched and spread too thin across the country which geopolitical zones are facing different kinds of security challenges needing the attention of the soldiers. I was happy when I read the recently passed supplementary budget was devoted to fighting insecurity.
Do you subscribe to the call by the Katsina State governor that citizens should arm themselves against the bandits?
I share the governor’s concern that because many of the villages are not manned by police and the military personnel which makes the villages to be vulnerable and targets of attacks by gunmen, the villagers have no choice but to defend themselves. But the idea of allowing the citizens of Katsina State free access to firearms runs counter to the presidential directive that all those with firearms like AK47 be shot at sight. I, therefore, do not see the possibility of Governor Masari’s order prevailing over the presidential directive. Furthermore, when one considers what happens in America, where free access to firearms has killed more than 11,500 American lives this year alone, including 150 through mass shooting during this year independent celebrations on July 4, 2021, it is frightening to imagine what will happen in Nigeria, if the citizens are allowed free access to firearms.
But the governor’s outcry has brought to the fore the need for more trained and well equipped security personnel to man the villages and dominate the forests which harbour the gunmen.
What in your opinion is the way out of this quagmire to prevent the Afghan experience?
The way out is to provide enough number of well-trained security personnel who should be well equipped and well-motivated to man the villages and dominate all the forests harbouring the gunmen; more so that the Tucano Jet Bombers have started arriving to help the air force bomb their hideouts in the forests. With the link of SIM cards with National Identity Numbers (NIN), new technology of ICT which has help humanity overcome time and distance should help security agencies track the gunmen. Since fire-power alone cannot put an end to insecurity, gunmen, kidnappers, armed robbery, cattle rustling, ritual killings and cultism, consciously directed efforts should be made to address the underlying causes of insecurity. Happily enough, recent reports that the GDP grew by about five per cent in the first quarter of this year despite the myriad of challenges that include paucity of funds suggest the economic policies of the President Buhari-led administration are beginning to yield positive results.