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INTERVIEW: Current administration tackling insecurity headlong….Minister

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The Minister of Information and culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed in this interview with selected media spoke on the efforts by the government to address the security challenges bedevilling the country and also the assumed biases of Amnesty Interntional.

EXCERPT BY GIFT HABIB

Q: The issue right now in the country is security. There is serious concern about the security situation and fortunately the president announced new service chiefs. What do you think the appointment of the new service chiefs will bring to the table in the fight to contain insecurity?

Ans: First, the appointment and engagement of service chiefs is exclusive prerogative of Mr President. And that is because he is in the best position to know exactly which area of security needs to be revamped and who best to handle it. There is no point second guessing his appointment or his choice, but don’t forget that in his New Year speech, he actually promised Nigerians that he was going to re-energize and restructure the security apparatus in a manner that will meet the ever changing demands of security. The cheering news for us all Nigerians is the fact that when you look at the background of the new service chiefs, almost every one of them had at one point or the other been involved in the prosecution of war against insurgency and which means they would not be new to the challenges and will be able to take off from the brilliant performance of their predecessors. I think I want to use this opportunity to thank the recently disengaged service chiefs, they did their own bits and we hope the new service chiefs will be able to build on their very gallantb performance.

Q: So what should Nigerians be expecting from the new service chiefs considering the wave of attacks, especially in the North?

Ans: Like I said, the good thing is that both the new Chief of Defence Staff and the New Chief of Army Staff have both been commanders of Operation Dole, the Operation Command in North- east fighting Boko Haram. So there is a good expectation that they are not new to the conflict and having at one time or the other commanded the force that is dealing with the insurgency, they will hit the ground running. I also think that when we look at the recent exploits of the Nigerian military in the fight against insurgency and banditry, they have been making a lot of successes in the last months especially in January and before then. So we look forward to them building on the successes especially since they have the experience and have led the Commands at various times of their career.

Q: As a follow up the issue of the service chiefs, will you say the appointment of the service chiefs is a result of pressure on the administration by variious individuals, group and even the opposition?

Ans: No. Like I said, the disengagement or engagement of service chiefs is the exclusive prerogative of Mr President anywhere in the world. He is the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces with exclusive prerogative .Because there are many things that we don’t see that he sees. He receives reports from both formal and informal sources. And he makes the decision as the bucks stop on his desk. So I don’t think it helps matter saying that it was it late , was it early in choosing the new Service Chiefs. There is no point second guessing the President on this issue. He is the Commander in Chief and he makes the calls and based on his perfect understanding of the situation. And he is the only person who has a comprehensive view of the situation.

Q: Sir concerning the issue of quit notice being given to Fulani herdsmen in the South West, do you think it is right for the South West to issue quit notice to Herders and what do you think should be done to ensure that peace and security returns to the country?

And: I think we should stop playing politics with the issue of security. And we should stop bringing ethicity and religion into the issue of security. Yes it is true that the Governors are the chief security officers of their states and they would do everything possible to maintain peace and stability in their states, I believe the matter of quit notice or no quit notice has been politicised completely. I am glad the two Governors have met the President and the matter is being resolved. They have briefed the President and every stakeholder, whether political, religious are all working to be on top of the situation.
I want to appeal to the media not to sensationalise this kind of report. People are giving interpretation and headlines. But the truth of the matter is that the issue of security should not be sensationalised. Otherwise we will never resolve it.
I want to go back to the issue of security which you asked me. I don’t want anybody to think that Governors are not the chief security officers of their state, no. While they are the chief security officers of their state, the concern is on security issue, but we should stop reading politics and religion to security.

Q: Earlier on in your assessment of the Military, you said they have done pretty well in the month of January but if we juxtapose what you said to what we have there they believed that insecurity has not improved. What is your take on it?

Ans: Let me correct you. It is not that the military has improved in the last one month. No. They have been improving all along. The only thing was that at my press conference of Monday, because we were starting a new year, I put emphasis on the success of the military in the month of January. So its not just this month. I say with all confidence the situation we met in 2015 is by far worse than what it is today. Put in other way in 2021 security is by far better than what we met in 2015. And I note people are fighting me with emotion, not with facts and figures. I know that until we came in 2015, between 2010- 2014 December, there was no Christmas Eve- Christmas Day that there were no bombings –Is it the Madalla Bombing in Suleija, is it the one in Jos in 2010 on Christmas Day, is it the one in Kano, Kaduna, check the records. 2016 was when we started having Christmas, New Year free of bombing and Boko Haram tragedies
Two before 2015, at least 10 states in northern parts of the country were regular victims of Boko Haram- Kano, Kaduna, Bornu, Yobe, Nigera, FCT, Plateau- the records are there. These same FCT, I remember anytime I left Lagos to come and attend meetings of National Working Committee of our party, when we were opposition, I would do everything possible not to sleep here in Abuja because the city was not safe. The UN Headquarters was bombed with casualties, the Police Headquarters was attacked with casualties, THISDAY Head office was bombed, Nyanya motor park- this same Abuja. When people start to talk about insecurity heightening, I say what is your data.
Before now, bombs used to explode in different parts of the country that you even lose count. Before now young boys and young girls blew themselves up in market. When last did that happen? Whoever wants to challenge that should come up with his own facts and figures in the issue of security. But there will be occasional reversals which happens in any war and don’t forget, this is not your type of conventional war. Talking about insurgency, where in addition to you curbing the violence you’re also mindful of not using excessive force because of collateral damage this will bring. While there is no rule of engagement for the insurgents, our military must abide by the rule of engagement. When last did you hear International Criminal Court inviting Boko Haram to come and explain why they burned down villages or to come and explain why they poisoned water for people? Because they are not a state actor. What they can do, we cannot do. When people start talking about state of insecurity, I ask them, those who are from the North East will tell you that security is much better. For six years, some people could not go to school in North East of Nigeria. Many roads were closed, basic services like hospitals were closed, markets were closed. Today the entire North East is open. Before now, 14 of the Local Government Areas in Borno were under the effective occupation Boko Haram. They installed Emirs and deposed Emirs. This is the situation we met on ground.

Q: Still on insecurity, the argument right now by many is that before the APC administration came on board, the country had just the issue of the Boko haram, kidnapping and armed robbery, but now there is additional one which is seriously making waves though in the negative, that is banditry. Is this not really a sign that we are yet to get it right in the area of security ?

Ans: Banditry had been on before we came. What you call banditry today is no different from the farmers, herders’ clashing and cattle rustling which has been on since before we came in. I remember in my conversation with Governor of Kebbi State in 2016. He pleaded we should not introduce religion or ethnicity into this banditry. Because he used his own state. He said the bandits are Hausa-Fulani and they are Muslims; the victims are Hausa –Fulani Muslim, so it is a social problem which must be resolved. So for anybody to say that banditry started under Buhari is not correct or to say that the South south problem started under Buhari is not correct. Bunkering, PANDEV formed beyond or to say IPOB was started during Buhari, no. But the important thing is what have we done. Why I had the press conference on Monday to let you what we have done and what we have been doing in combating banditry, kidnapping and cattle rustling. And if you listen and look at the test of my press conference, I said not only were 17 of kidnapped people freed, I gave the number of cattles that were released. Our success in Kankara kidnapping is evidence and testimony of the seriousness and effectiveness of this administration. So it is not correct on any front to say there is more banditry or more kidnapping.

Q: Amnesty International alleged that government was culpable in the Lekki shooting to disperse “ENDSARS” protesters . What is your response to that?

Ans: Honestly, my view is that Amnesty is becoming an irritant and I think they are purveyors of disinformation and fake news. Why did I say this. Amnesty International came up and said according to their report that 12 people were shot at the Lekki Toll Gate. And we challenged them if anybody has proof of people that were killed at the toll gate they should go before the judicial panel of inquiry. Give the names and addresses and lest forget legality, three months, 100 days after the Lekki Shooting, if anybody has lost a relation, a son, a daughter or a ward, won’t she or he has come forward. And we are waiting. And it’s the level of contempt that Amnesty international has for Nigeria. It does not respect our judicial system. What AI ought to do if there is any judicial evidence is to go before the judicial panel of enquiry or at least wait for the outcome of the judicial enquiry. And of course for AI there are two sets of rules: one for Nigeria in particular and one for other parts of the world. Otherwise, when ENDSARS protesters leveraged Fake news and disinformation, to kill 37 policemen because it was the fake news by the ENDSARS using social media that led to the looting, killing and arson by the hoodlums. Don’t forget that until the night of October 22 there were no killings. There was no violence, the ENDSARS protesters were even reveling and the Police were looking at them. Trouble started when the hoodlums tried to hijack it and the federal government had to on the advice of the Lagos State Government declare a curfew. Now back to Curfew, Nigeria media questioned the declaration of the 4pm curfew at 12 noon, but when they went o invade Capitol Hill in Washington, how many hours were they given for the curfew. Two, the same media including CNN that described the ENDSARS protesters as defenceless protesters, harmless and peaceful protesters, when they went to Capito Hill, they took them as insurrectionists. The same media that said that we were wrong to try to regulate the social media, when Instagram and Twitter suspended the President of America, because they said he was using that platform to spread fake news and was dangerous.
EU today has agreed that social media is causing disunity and violence everywhere, But when we said in Nigeria that we must regulate the social, the world took up Arms against us. How come that the same CNN that went and concocted lies against us is now the one championing the crusade in America that social media must not be used for fake news and disinformation.
Now coming back to Amnesty international, when AI that is now accusing the FG of cover-up in the US as we speak today, the American government is arresting and prosecuting every person that took part in the invasion of Capitol Hill. They are also investigating the source of funding of those people. When Nigeria started it they went to court and went aghast, forgetting that because Nigeria exists as a country that we are here. And we all have our source of livelihood that we are alive. America saw the danger. When one policeman was killed in Capito Hill, It was an insurrection. They should not even tell us about this thing—Look if not because we were proactive, they were coming to Villa, they went NASS and CNN did not see anything wrong in that.
Amnesty is guilty of double standard. When the US refused a visa to ICC investigators, Amnesty did not find its voice. It should respect us as a sovereign nation and should stop vending lies, disinformation. Their purpose we don’t know, but this is very clear, when it’s Nigeria they find their voice, when it is America, they keep mute.

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