*Military knows bandits’ location, can clear them in one month
*Security agencies’ behaviour, a reflection of govt’s position
The leader of the Middle Belt Forum, MBF, Dr Pogu Bitrus, has been at the forefront of fighting the cause of minority tribes of the Middle Belt.
The crises in the region, occasioned by the perennial invasion of the villages by armed bandits, who sacked villages and in the process killed, maimed and destroyed properties necessitated the formation of the forum.
In this interview, Pogu takes a look at the menace of bandits in the North, general insecurity in the country, and what could be done to address the issue.
Since bandits were declared terrorists, they have gone out of gear and have extended their activities everywhere in the North. What should be done about the situation?
It is the way things are interpreted by the press that determines what is found in the news. For those of us here, we know that though Boko Haram was declared terrorists right from the international community, it has not diminished its activities and we have said consistently that government is complicit in this case because the government gave utterances.
The military is stationed, waiting for Boko Haram or for bandits to attack before they respond. While they know their location, they don’t go there to attack them or try to eliminate them. This has been the case and so, the change in nomenclature has not done any good or changed anything since their operation.
As you have properly noticed, the bandits have increased and expanded their activities rather than diminished them. So, the issue here is not whether the name has been changed from bandits to terrorists but what has been the attitude of the government towards the issues.
Have there been efforts by the military to curb their activities? Is our military going after them in their locations which they know or are they still staying in their permanent locations rather than going to fight these bandits or terrorists? So, it is the behaviour of a government that translates to the behaviour of our security agencies and that is escalating whatever insurgency we are suffering.
I am the type of person that is convinced that given a free hand, one month is too much for our military to clear off these people because they know their locations. Bandits are not stronger than the government, they don’t have more arms than the government; anybody who tells you that they have more arms is lying.
They don’t have an airbus that can fire from the sky; the kind of artillery our military has, they don’t have. Most of what they have is sophisticated guns mounted on tanks. So, it is still the government that should mobilise actions against them.
What should government do more?
Government should do the right thing and it is not a matter of making a statement. For over two years now, as I’m talking to you, Damboa has had roadblocks mounted by Boko Haram. The military is aware and nobody is approaching them. In fact, before this event, they removed the whole settlement of up to 11,000 people in a place called Sabon Gari and left the whole area for Boko Haram. Government is the problem; this government does not want this thing to stop.
But they are not gaining anything from it or are they?
Tell me if they were gaining anything before Jonathan was kicked out of office. They used insurgency as a tool to kick him out of office. They promised that within a short while, it would be history but today, six years into this government, things have only worsened.
Remember too during Jonathan’s period when Jonathan tried to tackle the group, he was sabotaged within the system. He made a statement saying that even in his cabinet, there are some members or supporters of the insurgency. He brought in mercenaries from outside Nigeria which meant that he didn’t trust the leadership of the control and command system of the military.
And what happened? When these people started dealing with insurgents and started killing them, Buhari started saying that Jonathan was killing his people. Initially, it was minimal, they started propaganda even to the press that the government was avenging what happened during the civil war and killing northerners. Boko Haram and the northerners are sacred animals. So, Jonathan harkened to that man’s cry.
This same President who said Jonathan was killing his people is sitting on the throne as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and President and what is happening? It appears that what he said then is what is happening now. He is protecting them.
Do you believe so?
I believe he is protecting them. When we go back to the statement which he made during Jonathan’s regime, that’s why these people continue to kill. Air Force will come and fly over them without bombing them. They know where they are and they can be rooted out but this is not being done.
Security chiefs were changed not too long ago and people hoped that the new security chiefs will do things differently
The new security chiefs cannot do anything which the Commander-in-Chief has not allowed them to do. Even if these people come with the zeal to end insurgency, if the Commander-in-Chief has not given the nod, not the political statement which is said in the open, there is nothing that will happen.
And I said this when the Brigade Commander in Chibok was killed over a month ago, about four hours before he was killed, a message went to Yola that Boko Haram was coming, this is the capacity they have, and other details were given, and two hours into the time, no Air Force plane came. That was wrong.
Boko Haram terrorists came over and ambushed the general and killed him along with those with him. So, who is doing what? If there is a central commander, why can’t he just give an order whether it is Air Force, Army or whatever that something was about to happen? It means that there are forces in the government that is stopping the military from doing what it should do.
Recently, the North-East Governors’ Forum issued a statement that insurgency in the North-East will end soon…
We hope their statement has some basic things to be done, maybe they know things that we don’t know, and we pray that their statement comes true. But I believe that government has the final word in this. If this Federal Government that controls the operatives of this country wants this thing to end, it will end because all this hyping of their capacity to me is a hoax.
Do you realise that before, it was as if the bandits and insurgents were killing only Christians, like going to southern Kaduna, chasing people out of their homes but they went to a mosque the other time and killed people…
See, when clerics from Kaduna went round visiting bandits and terrorists in their den, videos of their interaction were in the public domain, that is to say, the government knows where they are, it is not something hidden. What stops the government from bombing them out of existence? What stops the government from circling them and ensuring that they are surrounded? The buck stops at the table of the Commander-in-Chief.
I believe those of us in the Middle Belt know that these people are after our land and they are using democracy as a tool. Democracy is a political tool, so right from there, we keep saying that Fulani have broken out into Nigeria to do one thing or the other but the government never wanted to talk in that direction and today, you can see where we are heading to.
From stereotyping, everybody is a target, because the thing has gone out of control. The Fulani are going to totally destroy the Hausa and the Middle Belt and take over their ancestral land and make it theirs. I am even hearing that the National Assembly is trying to pass a law which is called Fulani or something law which is in the pipeline.
What’s the bill about?
It is about establishing a Fulani-specific settlement with privileges in all 19 northern states. So, all these things are tied together. It appears that we are rewarding violence and insurgency. When the Indigenous Hausa are being deprived, Fulani is coming in and taking over our lands. The indigenous people in Plateau, over 100 villages, have been taken over by Fulani after the people have been killed, chased out of their ancestral lands, and kept in IDP camps. The government never care to return them to their ancestral lands.
Fulani is occupying those lands. So, insurgency itself has helped some people, especially the Fulani. The case of Boko Haram and ISWAP now is severe.
They are on as if they are fighting a jihad but they are not stronger than the military. The military is kept at a location to defend the communities where they are located rather than organise a warlike when we fought the civil war.
So, there is something wrong with the whole operation and the buck stops at the table of the Commander-in-Chief.
The National Security Adviser listed three Islamic terror groups in Nigeria, and identified them…
Something is supposed to have been done but unfortunately, it falls back to what I said. The problem is the government. The government has positioned powerful Nigerians in places of authority even at international levels who can lobby for Nigeria. Remember the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations is a Nigerian.
So, with such people in such positions, they will certainly lobby for the country and cover up our sins but sins of government can only be covered temporarily. A time will come that they will all be exposed, but what we want now is to let the government come out clean and be sure that the right thing is done so that we can have peace in this country.
Is it not possible Nigerians are complicit because we live in communities and we know who our neighbours are?
Some Nigerians have to be complicit because the communities where these people operate cannot operate in isolation. Some people in these communities have sympathy for bandits, Boko Haram and their operations. They believe in their cause and help them to achieve it. Nobody is doubting that there are some people who supervise this agenda. There are some who feel that this agenda supports their ideology; there are some who believe in the radical Islamic ideology that these people propagate. So, some people are complicit and nobody is doubting that.
In some communities that the insurgents operate, they move freely in the communities, they blend and that is to say that the communities are part and parcel of the whole thing. Where their cells are located is known to the government and it is up to the government to say ‘look, we know the location of these people, let’s go after them, finish them off and let’s have peace.’ That can be done if the government wants it to be done. But nothing is being done.
Nigerians have been alleging that some of the so-called repentant terrorists are being recruited into the Armed Forces…
I don’t have evidence to say if it is true or not. All I know is that in Nigeria, so many things are possible.