Like every Nigerian, General Ishola Williams (rtd) is worried by the rising spate of killing, banditry, and kidnapping in the country. In this interview, he challenged the National Security Adviser (NSA) to come up with a strategic plan about how to end the wanton destruction of lives of innocent citizens, declaring that President Muhammadu Buhari has run out of ideas.
Despite the government’s assurance to safeguard the lives and property of Nigerians, the insecurity in the country is still not abetting. How do you see things generally?
I don’t know why we are deceiving ourselves in this country. Can you imagine how the situation would have been if the Southwest had not created Amotekun? It would have been worse. Now, they have troops of their own to call upon and the situation is getting better. When the Chief of Army Staff went to Ibadan, Oyo State governor, Seyi Makinde, told him that he had been getting cooperation from the army and the police. If we are in a country where people are thinking, why won’t other states do the same? Why can’t the National Assembly amend the constitution to allow that arrangement to be perpetual? Out of frustration, Governor Aminu Masari of Katsina State recently told the people to defend themselves. But the army came out to say no, ‘you cannot do that.’ What is the business of the army in that one? The army has no business there because it is purely a political issue. The army is putting its nose in what is not its business. Now, he has created his own vigilante group to work with the police and the army. He has also set up grazing areas in each local government where cattle can graze. What else do you need to address the security challenge? However, the situation in Zamfara State is a different scenario. Instead of addressing the issue of banditry, Governor Bello Matawalle is asking for a state of emergency in the whole of the North. In Kaduna State, Governor Nasir el-Rufai has even given up a long time ago. He doesn’t know what to do anymore. We have a situation on our hands where many governors have security funds, but they don’t know what to do with it. The National Security Adviser (NSA), the Ministry of Police Affairs, and the Ministry of Defence have all run completely out of ideas. They don’t know what to do anymore. But as I have always said we can solve the problem of this country in six months if we will do the right thing.
The same Governor Masari told the people to defend themselves. What is your own position on the idea of self-defence?
No, it cannot work. One of the problems the United States is facing is the license for everybody to carry guns. You see the way they are shooting the police and shooting themselves. Do we want that in Nigeria? I keep telling people, law enforcement has three actors: the political authority, the community that is being protected, and the law enforcement agency itself. The law enforcement agency is controlled by the political authority. The community itself must help the law enforcement agencies to protect the people. Nobody knows how much money is being spent by the political authority at the state and federal levels on the police in this country. For me, the security situation is not insurmountable. It can be solved within six months. But the presidency has no initiative, period.
How did you feel when you heard the news about the recent attack of NDA by the bandits?
To me, it is not an attack; it was a breach of whatever measure they have put in place in the NDA. The person I sympathise with is the young officer who died. That was a serious breach of security and it has affected the integrity of the whole Nigerian Armed Forces, including the Commander-in-Chief himself. It has affected the integrity of the institution and their personal integrity. It’s like they have run out of ideas. They don’t know what to do anymore.
Are you not also worried about the level of sophistication these bandits have assumed, bearing in mind also how they recently shot down an Air Force helicopter?
As a General, I am not yet convinced that the helicopter was shot down. But let’s put that aside. It is something that will be difficult to repeat. Yes, the helicopter is easy to shoot down, but then you have to have anti-aircraft guns. I am not convinced yet that the helicopter was shot down. I need to see the picture.
What will the military Command be driving home if actually it was not shot down?
Planes have problems all the time. I need to see the photograph of that plane for me to be convinced.
What message has the attack sent to the military command?
It has affected the integrity of not only of the NDA as an institution, but also the whole of the military as an institution. The whole world has taken it that we are not serious people. Recently, the US ambassador announced openly that the US is ready to help identify Nigerians who are supporting Boko Haram.
When the new Security Chiefs were appointed, the general expectation was that they would bring fresh ideas into the fight against insurgency and other criminalities. But this doesn’t appear to be so. What do you think is happening?
I read in the newspapers that about 1000 Boko Haram members had surrendered. That shows that the number of people with Boko Haram has been depleted, meaning that their fighting strength has reduced. But recently, the same Boko Haram insurgents attacked Rann and killed some people, while scores ran away to Cameroun. Where did Boko Haram get the arms and the men to attack Rann and kill people? Is the idea of people surrendering the way to defeat Boko Haram? Everything borders on intelligence. How come that the military did not know that they were coming to attack that popular area? To me, these people have run out of ideas and they are not thinking of new ones. I have told the army not to keep running after the bandits and kidnappers so that they can focus on a new way of fighting ISWAP and Boko Haram. They cannot be running after bandits and at the same time be running after ISWAP and Boko Haram.
Are they trying to impress Mr. President who says he doesn’t want to leave office as a failure?
The President has spoken so much, but little has changed. He should talk to his NSA to come up with a strategic plan if he doesn’t want to be a failure. People have had enough words from Mr President. What they want is a plan that works and that can only come from his security adviser.
Recently, Commodore Olawumi said that the sponsors of Boko Haram are serving in the present government.
What Commodore Olawunmi said is not new. General Owoeye Andrew Azazi, the NSA to former President Goodluck Jonathan, said there were members of the PDP who were supporting Boko Haram. Did anybody investigate? So, what is new in what Olawumi has said?
But the Defence headquarters is after him.
(Cuts in)… No, they are not after him. They only called him for questioning, but that is hypocrisy on the part of the defence agency. They just want to be seen to be doing something. What information did they want to find out from Olawumi that they did not know already? The story of Boko Haram has not come out yet. What makes Boko Haram tick will come out one day, may be after Buhari is gone.
Do you think the police have the capacity to deal with the menace of bandits and kidnappers who are all over the place?
There is nowhere in the world where there is enough manpower for the police. That is why they use technology. What I keep saying is that they should separate mobile police from the Nigerian Police so that they (Mobile Police) can be like the army that will take care of bandits, kidnappers, and terrorists. That is what the president has refused to do. It is what is creating problems.
If the police actually have the capacity to deal with the bandits, why is ransom payment still a lucrative business?
You need to ask the police. You need to ask why they cannot mark the money they pay as ransom so that it can be traced to people who are spending the money in whatever market. Why are they making people suffer by selling their houses and lands to pay ransom in order to be able to rescue their children?