Exclusive Interview with Captain Yahaya Umar

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Captain Yahaya Umar (retd) is a student of Peace and Conflict Resolution, and also a PhD student of International Affairs and Strategic Studies with the University of Jos. Captain Umar, hails from Yobe State.

In this exclusive interview with Aina Damilola, he spoke on the current issue of insecurity, banditry in the northeast and also about the Northeast Development Commission and the way forward in the political scene.

Neptune Prime: Good afternoon sir. Can we meet you?

Captain Yahaya: Thank you so much. My name is Captain Yahaya J Umar (retd), a student of Peace and Conflict Resolution. Am also a PhD student of International Affairs and Strategic Studies with the University of Jos. I am from Yobe State.

NP: As a concerned senior statesman, what are your views concerning the insecurity in the northern part of the country at large especially the northeast.

CY: Actually security is a collective enterprise and in recent times Northeast has witnessed a lot of insecurity challenges which has affected the socio-economic aspect of the region but today with the coming of President Muhammadu Buhari though the challenges are still there, we are seeing some tremendous improvement unlike in the past when you can’t even live in your house and do your normal business.

Though security is a primary responsibility of the government as is stipulated in the constitution of the country, the challenges of insecurity at times is not the physical insecurity, we have two kinds of insecurity, social and physical.

Most of the activities the government, even in the past and recent times are doing is not the practical aspect, You know when we are talking about insecurity, we should be looking at the causes of insecurity because if we don’t tackle the causes we can never attain the level of security in secured places.

Talking about infrastructure, now if you go to the northeastern part, you hardly locate villages because they don’t have good roads. If you have good road network in the community, you can get information…

NP: Cuts in… Would you attribute joblessness as a major criterion for insecurity in the northeast?

CY: Actually it is just one of the causes, we are talking about mal-administration, corruption, illiteracy, then unemployment which leads to poverty. These are basics of insecurity in any society not only in the northeast. If the government is not done with good ideas, definitely you will have a problem.

Corruption today is a cankerworm and disaster in the society because anybody in a position from the local level to state-level can embezzle money. You will see somebody wretched before assuming office, tomorrow he is a governor then becomes a multi-billionaire. How did he get the money?

At times they use the insecurity to syphon government money because, by law, the security fund is not accountable for, so sometimes they instigate the crises for them to get money because if money is removed from security purse nobody will challenge you, so it’s an avenue to enrich themselves.

Now, a project meant for the community will not be executed but the budget approved, and at the end of the day, when you go there physically you won’t see anything, the money has gone to somebody’s pocket. With that, it creates unemployment because the money that you should use in employing people to work, somebody has syphoned it, so no money.

In a nutshell, if we want to move forward we should go back to security sector reforms. Security sector reform is one of the newest concepts of security model to checkmate the security agency that operate by the government and even in the private security sector.

Is the military accountable? Is the money budgeted for the military checked? Then we can talk about the oversight function of the National Assembly. These are ways to be accountable.

Budget allocation by the Ministry of Finance are all part of accounting aspect, then we now go back to check core security agents- the Military, the Police, Civil Defence, Quarantine, Custom; you know these are security agent that need to be reformed in line with global best practices, then we can now talk about the sensitivity of the society, they need to know why these things are happening, they should be carried along, you can’t sit down in Abuja headquarter to design policies and program without involving the locals because they are the victims and also sympathisers to the criminal element because they are living with them. So if you don’t collaborate with them, you won’t know who is who, you send a military man to Yobe state, to a village where he has never been to in his life, he will not know who is Boko Haram or who is not but the locals know that Mr B is Boko Haram, so there should be synergy between the locals and the security chiefs.

Lack of social amenities is also a major setback in fighting terrorism, now Boko Haram is in the bush, his informants are in the town telling him what is happening, working based on intelligence which the military lack, the military need local informants to get information.

At times even the local informants are afraid of telling the military the whereabouts of Boko Haram because they are unprotected thinking that if they tell the military, Boko Haram will come and kill them. So the government need a framework to protect the local informants, from exposing them and also be giving incentives to encourage them so they can give more information.

The military has only been reactive instead of being proactive, how many kilometres is the northeast that they can’t wipe out the entire Boko Haram. Nigeria is our territory, it is the constitutional responsibility of the military to protect the country and if Boko Haram is the one attacking and we are repelling, then it means Boko Haram is the owner of the land. So we need to hear that the military is attacking, chasing them everywhere and wipe them out totally, so the military really needs a synergy with the paramilitary agency to cooperate effectively and win this war of insecurity.

Back to the issue in the north-west concerning banditry, kidnapping and the rest. All of this goes back to the lack of social investment, the people are poor and becoming poorer and they don’t even know there is a government in power. So anyone who is lord in that community is their president, interestingly this issue has been going on for a very long time.

For instance, in 2002/03 during the Numan crises in Adamawa, I was given information about some cattle rearers who had raided villages, open fire on them, collect their cows and move on foot with their load full of arms and ammunition.

According to the theory of conflict, power lies in the hands of those that control conflict, power lies in the hand of the one that holds the gun, so we waited at the only bridge that leads out of Adamawa and caught them red-handed with heavy sophisticated weapons.

NP: What solutions can you prefer to solve these challenges?      

CY: As I said earlier, good governance is important to fighting this war, good governance entails doing the right thing in the sense that each officer has his job description and should stick to it. Another thing is to create jobs and get our youths working, the man who picks up a gun to shoot has shown an ability to learn and do something with his hands which will help our economy.

Solving the challenges in the educational sector is another solution to the problem of insecurity in the northeast, the government should make basic education more accessible and more affordable, most of the people there don’t even have money to send their children to school, even me I can still say during my time in secondary school we used to be paid transport allowance which we were using to transport ourselves, but today if you are going to primary school you must pay for a uniform and the rest, to secondary schools which are increasing fares by the day. Even the educational system is losing its value.

The government need to provide the necessary infrastructure, provide school material, teaching aids, pay a good salary to the teachers which will encourage them and reduce the level of illiteracy, which will in turn curb insecurity in the country.

And last but not the least, moral consciousness. Our people today no longer have that moral soundness to say no to something pronounced by the government as illegal, in those days when a child commits a crime you don’t need to call his parents, someone there will take action and punish the child but today if you punish someone’s child, the parent will come to fight you even when the child is wrong.

We practice religion but we don’t believe in it because no religion tells you to kill people. In the church, it is said that crime is a sin, even in the mosque, the same thing is preached but why are we not putting it into practice.

The people committing this crime are our children, our brothers, so what is religion doing. Today religious leaders have become a business people, religion have a business enterprise flouting their wealth and the country is becoming an eyesore and if these things can be tackled I believe insecurity will become an issue of the past.

NP: Sir, there is a development agency established by the president called Northeast Development Commission (NEDC) with the aim to reform and promote peace in the northeast, how would you rate their performance since inception?

CY: The creation of Northeast Development Commission is a welcome idea because it is part of peacebuilding mechanism, and in the stage of the conflict, we have before the conflict, during the conflict and after the conflict, so if the Development Commission is a peacebuilding mechanism which we all know, but the question now is that, are they performing their function?

I heard in the news on Sunday that the North Development Commission has donated 10 vehicles to the military and some to the police and DSS. I think that is not their core mandate, their mandate is to take care of the victim, the vulnerable people, the victims of insurgency, the victims of insecurity.

If you go there now, they have a budget and in their budget, they can create roads to link the communities, they can build hospitals, schools and empower the youths, design a framework, a lot of things on how to address those challenges or even the victims among many other things and not to be giving vehicle to the military and police when they have their own ministry budget even more than your own.

In the 2020 budget, the defence had the highest allocation from the federal government and you are buying vehicles for them when your mandate is their suffering, so I think it not good enough and with that, they have not solved the problem because the things we spoke about in the past are causes of insecurity.

It is their mandate to tackle some of these issues, where there is no road, do it. The population of people are much in these areas, go there and solve the problems. You see more than thousands of houses, not a single road, not even water, citizens still go to the stream to fetch water to drink in this 21st century, so if you are talking about the insecurity you must be seeing more than that.

The Northeast Development Commission as far as am concerned are not doing the right thing apart from the National Assembly who has an oversight function on them, they do not checkmate them.

Some days back Refugee Commission was called by the National Assembly to account for the billions they said they had spent which they could prove in their accounts, they started shivering and were sent later, the report by the United Nation that there are about 2 million refugees suffering in the northeast and the NEDC is giving military vehicle so what are we doing?

The government should not overlook certain things, they have to tell your mandate, this is your job description, you are not authorised to do another job, go back to your core mandate, achieve your mandate and stop doing what we don’t need, supply drugs to hospitals, provide electricity, organize seminars and conference to enlighten the youths and the people, motivate them and help them not to gather traditional rulers inside a hall and give them tea when the youths are out and nobody to talk to them.

By right, Northeast Development Commission should be doing seminars and conferences on peacebuilding and talk them on the advantage and disadvantage of conflict so people would desist from violence and give them hope like the case of Rwanda after the genocide, the United Nation devised a way to integrate them and today Rwanda is one of the vibrant economies in Africa.

So as far as I am concerned NEDC is not in the right track, they need to amend and the appropriate authority needs to checkmate them, what have they done, if they have a plan what is the plan? let’s see it, but unfortunately for us in the northeast, I can say nobody cares, nobody will talk, nobody will checkmate, this is our problem.

If not for this government, Boko Haram will be worse than now because nobody talks on behalf of the people, nobody challenge on the part of the people though we know Buhari has done well but what are the people under him doing? They are not doing their function and that is why people are blaming Buhari. Though I pity him when people blame, he is not at fault, blame the people he gave the chance of creating an enabling environment for to do the right thing, they are only enriching themselves and sitting down. So if the northerners are not helping themselves who will do it for them? The NEDC need to sit up and tackle these challenges.

NP: What are your views concerning the power tussle in Apc with 2023 in view?

CY: You know politics is a game of manoeuvring and numbers and at times if you don’t have good candidates or good leaders in the party, they can damage the party. This was what happened to the PDP just like what we are seeing today in the APC. When PDP was about to collapse the internal rumbling of the party, it made the party to lose ground and give the APC a ground to even merge. Remember it was a merger of four parties, so are their values still intact? That’s why there are so many cracks.

Before the APC had so many numbers of state governors which has now reduced to only 19 states, so it’s a big challenge with the power struggle within the party which the national leader is not soothing nerves by saying that anyone the leader chooses is what everyone in the party must vote for, which is making many party members unhappy.

But our fear now is that, are the masses with the APC? From the party elections, there were signals there was going to be problems if the party does not reform themselves and resolve their internal crises. APC lost Bauchi, they were about to lose Kano if not for intervention, they lost Adamawa and Zamfara. Even in the west, Oyo State is no longer in the circus of APC ruling states, in few months there is going to be an election in Edo and Ondo, which will serve as an eye-opener and will show where we are going.

Now the Governor of Yobe, Mala Buni has been appointed as the Caretaker Committee Chairman to organise convention in six months so that the party will have a good structure. I believe Governor Buni is a good man and knows the party, for now, he does not have any personal ambition. So that lack of personal ambition will make him do the right thing and as a sitting governor, he will resolve the internal conflict of the party against 2023 but in the nearest future, if care is not taken, you will see people decamping from APC to any vibrant party, even the PDP is working hard to come back and if Buhari leaves, since he is not contesting and openly declared not supporting anyone, which leaves the ground open for anyone to contest, which can invoke a contest between Northern APC and Southern APC as there was no agreement in the constitution for power rotation.

Unlike the PDP who had a gentleman agreement to rotate the zones that can contest and if this happens that would lead to a beginning of decamping.

NP: Lastly, what would be the future of the country in the next three years?

CY: With the issue of COVID-19, which is now a global pandemic, and we are all part of it, I think there is going to be a slow pace of activities of government projects before the economy can pick up. Although Nigerians are resilient and we can struggle and succeed in any situation and am sure we will survive this.

NP: Thank you, sir, for sharing your thoughts with us.

CY: Thank you so much.