Terrorists’ threats to kidnap Buhari shouldn’t be ignored –Ex-DSS director

A former Director of the Department of State Service, Mike Ejiofor, speaks to GODFREY GEORGE about the security threats in the Federal Capital Territory and general insecurity in the country

There has been a spate of killings in the country with terrorists and kidnappers on the rampage. What can you make out of this?

It is surprising, worrisome, and very disturbing for me as a person and as a security practitioner. I cannot explain what these people want but, at least, some intelligence has shown their plans each time they want to attack. People used to call them herdsmen. Some say they are bandits; others say they are foreigners. But, the most worrisome part is that nobody actually knows what these people want. Our intelligence agencies, some of which I have interacted with, are speculating what it might be. The Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, said they (attackers) came into Nigeria from other countries. How did they come into Nigeria? Nobody seems to know. It is quite disturbing because nobody seems to be safe anymore.

Whether they are from Niger Republic or Chad or wherever they cannot come into this country and operate freely without the connivance of the locals. They don’t know the landscape, so somebody must guide them. This simply means there are local collaborators. They cannot, on their own, operate freely. There are some rogues amongst service personnel, some who may have been dismissed, who decide to join these people. We have heard of cases where some service personnel deliver or take delivery of ransom. So, what are we saying?

Recently, there was a series of attacks in the nation’s capital. Only yesterday (July 28), there was another reported attack on a military checkpoint and many were feared killed. Some of the terrorists even threatened to kidnap the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.). What exactly does this portend for Nigeria?

These attacks in Abuja portend grave consequences for the security of the nation. The bandits who came up with the statement that they will kidnap the President should not be joked with. Those threats show that these people are very organised and well-funded. What is going on now, mostly, apart from the kidnapping, is that they go around attacking our military personnel. The things happening in the military and other strategic institutions, like what happened in the railway, weaken the people’s trust in the government. I think that is one of their main aims – to weaken the people’s confidence in the government and make the government unpopular.  For them to come to Abuja, this must be very serious. You will recall that in 2015, there were bombings in Abuja until the threats were checked. They then retreated. Now, they have resumed with Abuja again, which is the Federal Capital Territory.

How do you explain that a group of bandits said they would kidnap the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria? How possible is that? I wouldn’t join the people who said it is laughable. It should be taken very seriously even if it may seem unachievable. These are groups of people who have brought down aircraft and high-jacked passengers from a  moving train. You think they will issue a threat and people will say it is laughable. It is not. It should be accorded proper priority.

This calls for very serious concern, but we should not lose hope. People must get involved in protecting themselves and their environment. You cannot just rely expressly on the government. The government has said it has tried its best; this is the same talk with the military. Series of military meetings are being held to re-strategise. At the last one held yesterday (Thursday), we were still reassured that they would change strategy so they can get a different result. Let us hope that this happens.

Before the recent attacks in Abuja, there were a series of intelligence reports by the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps but it didn’t seem like the government heeded any of those cautions. How do you assess this?

There is an issue with intelligence management. We have overcome that stage where there is no sufficient intelligence. The Deputy Speaker of the House while presiding said that about 28 reports or so were received from different bodies. So, a lack of intelligence is not the case. The core objectives of the NSCDC are to secure the pipelines. How many times have you seen the DSS issuing such statements? If we begin to issue alarms or alerts like this, people will get distressed, and there may be a frenzy just as we have now in the FCT. I am shocked that the NSCDC is now issuing statements to members of the public, causing panic. I think the NSA should streamline all these, especially with the issue of intelligence management. It is not the business of NSCDC (to give intelligence). If they have such intelligence, they should liaise with other security agencies. For them to come out and issue alarms is disturbing. They should be called to order.

Do you think this regime has done enough to end the killings in the country?

What do you expect me to say? If the President has admitted that he has not done well, am I in the position to say he has? It is left for Nigerians to judge whether or not he has performed well. Even the National Security Adviser yesterday admitted that Nigerians are worried. They know that there are security challenges on the ground that are mounting. The country is unsafe.

People have recommended the sacking of the security chiefs since it seems they are overwhelmed by the situation. What do you think?

How long have they (security chiefs) been there? It has not been long since they went there. I have been one of the people clamouring that even changing the service chiefs will not make any difference as long as they are operating in the same environment. What we should be talking about is to re-strategise. We have the Tucano jets parked somewhere; we have not heard that they have been put in use. Each time we talk, they will say, there will be collateral damage and human rights accusations against Nigeria from the United States. So, what do we do? We cannot fold our hands and watch our people get slaughtered and subjected to unnecessary suffering. I suggest that we should involve more technology since we don’t have it in place. With just a phone, one can view what is happening in one’s house using a camera. How do we explain that in the whole of the FCT there are no operational CCTVs that can even give one some hints?

We should not shy away from collaborations with other countries and organisations. When we say so, people will say we are asking for machinery. It was in our presence that an American citizen was kidnapped from Niger and brought to Nigeria. The US deployed everything valid, released its citizen and killed the bandits. There is no rocket science about it. We need to collaborate more and get assistance from foreigners. From what we are seeing, the regime does not have enough capacity to deal with insecurity. We know that the economy is not healthy. The cost of governance is high; the cost of the dollar to the naira is unimaginably high and the like but we need to do something about these issues. We need to save money and invest in our security. Every day I wake up, my heart bleeds because of the many killings of soldiers and civilians going on in the country. The military is not even helping matters. They just issue a statement stating the number of people that have been ‘demobilised’. We need to see pictures of all those people. Imagine what happened in Kuje prison, where terrorists operated unhindered for three hours. There are no casualties encountered, no arrests, nothing. It is saddening.

Many have said that with the Kuje Correctional Centre attack, the Buhari regime appears to b sympathetic to terrorists. Do you think so?

There was a turbaning of a wanted criminal in Zamfara State. It was not Buhari or the government that did it; it was an emir, maybe out of fear because people are losing confidence in the government. I won’t speculate to say Buhari’s regime is sympathetic to the terrorists, because that may be seen as unfair. We need to change our strategies to ensure that we save lives. Each time all these attacks happen, we don’t see the outcome of the investigation. See the way they handle the Indigenous People of Biafra and make numerous arrests, but when it comes to these people (terrorists), we never really hear of anything. I am at a loss to draw a conclusion as to whether the government is sympathetic to the bandits or not.

The Abuja-Kaduna train hostages are still in captivity and are being released in batches months after their abduction. Families of the victims have said the government has abandoned them to their fate. Should this be?

I feel very bad having been a victim of kidnap. Anyone who tells you not to negotiate with the bandits has not been affected. If any of your relatives are kidnapped, you would do everything possible to get them released. I think the government does not want to openly admit that they are involved in negotiation (with these terrorists) but I believe the government is liaising with these families even if the families would be the ones providing the money. This is because the government would not openly come out to say they are negotiating with these terrorists. It is the responsibility of the government to provide security and welfare to all citizens. They should not abandon it for the families. They should do everything humanly possible to get the abductees released because there have been threats that they will be killed. If they are killed, it will make the government more unpopular and that will not be good for the country.

These bandits have two main objectives – to make the government unpopular and raise more funds to buy arms. After the jailbreak in Kuje, you will notice that many of these inmates have reunited with their terrorist colleagues and are causing havoc. There is bound to be an escalation of all these crises. That is why Abuja is like this. Everybody is afraid since no one feels safe anymore.

Why has it been difficult for the military to apprehend the terrorists since it is equipped with technology?

These people (terrorists) are very well organised. If they use their phones, they can be easily tracked down. What they do is use the phones of the abductees to make calls and videos. When they are done, they would leave that location with the victims. Sometimes, they would take the phone outside the place the victims are kept to make a call before going back to join the rest. If they are tracked to a particular place, when the military goes there, they (terrorists) won’t be there again because they, too, know they are being tracked. If the military has protective drones, it can get a hold of all these. When these bandits move with bikes, for instance, they move in hundreds. How can 100 or 200 bikes go past a place without being seen if we have effective drones? If they are seen, they should be bombed, not until they pick victims and then the government raises the issue of collateral damage. The most important thing is that these attacks should, first, be prevented from happening.

You will agree that the South-East is boiling from the quantum of killings in recent times. What are your thoughts about that?

There have been a lot of allegations and counter-allegations on who should be blamed. Some say it is IPOB, which has long denied its involvement in such killings. The Eastern Security Network has also been accused. Some say these people are Fulani herders; some say they are soldiers. All these are speculations. The most important thing is that the root cause of the problem in the South-East should be addressed. This will go a long way in solving the problems in the region. There are agitations. Some people are feeding on that agitation to become criminals and killers. There is no justification at all for these killings. How does that help the agitation? That is why I want to believe that the IPOB is not involved in these killings. If you look at what is happening in Anambra. Sanity is coming in. The governor, Charles Soludo, has taken the bull by the horn and tried to isolate the criminals from real agitators. If the state and the federal governments can take such a decision, I think we would have some sanity.

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