Benue Killings: The Issue is deeper than what many thinks
Bem India Garba, a defence industry expert, businessman and politician believes that the underlying causes of the recurrent bloody herdsmen attacks in different parts Benue State is deeper than what many would think. In an interview with Defence correspondents, he spoke on sundry defence and security issues in the country and posited that when the facts on crisis eventually emerge, many people will realize how far down the wrong path they have gone on the issue…
What is your take on the general security challenges in the country and the crisis of herdsmen attack in Benue state in particular?
Well, based on my background I tend to view the concept of national security from a unique perspective. I say unique because my views are based upon an exposure to many years of training, work on security projects, and my interaction with other industry and sector experts, etc. To answer this question properly, one needs to look at where Nigeria has been, where Nigeria currently is, and where we need to go? Nigerians though diverse, are generally uncomplicated and peaceful people. The internal security challenges we experienced during the days of military rule, plus the early days of our democracy were limited to issues like armed robbery, car theft, drug trafficking, illegal arms trading and running, etc. A careful analysis of the root causes of majority of those internal challenges were economic. Basically the activities of misguided people who viewed crime as a means to an income.
With the growth of our democracy, the dynamics that affect our national security continues to evolve. The quality of governance by previous administrations, weak legislation, the inability to adequately police the populace, coupled with the influence of foreign, extremist religious ideologies greatly impacted the quality of our socio-economic and political development. Rising unemployment and economic hardship caused individuals and groups to feel marginalized and aggrieved to the extent that many found radicalization to be a source of comfort, politicians became more desperate for power, and they sought extreme means supported by the access to illegal weapons to acquire this. It is only natural that our internal security challenges become more complex.
Our internal security architecture did not adequately prepare for this, as the capability of our internal security apparatus did not evolve at a commensurate pace to meet and accommodate these challenges. Nigeria has been experiencing what the industry calls a security mirage. Previous administrations through members of the legislative and the executive did not sufficiently look at the trends, with a view to analyzing the situation efficiently and addressing the capacity gaps. The result of this was the emergence of an internal security apparatus that was badly motivated, under manned, under equipped and under trained, etc.
There is a need to appreciate the role that the legislative plays towards improving the quality of our internal security. Contrary to what many people think the executive cannot do it alone. Benue State has a human security challenge. This is an aspect of national security that focuses on the protection of individuals and their communities. To begin with, to what extent have we analyzed the attacks in Benue, in order to determine if they are actually terrorist attacks or another form of violent criminality? Are these attacks politically, economic, religious or socially motivated? These are the issues.
According to the information in the public domain, these incidents in Benue have been going on for a long time. The Global Terrorism Database keeps one of the best global industry accepted records of terrorist incidents worldwide. These records date back many years. That database is impressively on point; nowhere in its records will you find the term Fulani herds men, or herds men, or anything related to herds.
The closest incidents recorded in that database are by a perpetrator called the Fulani Extremists, and the records show that their activities began around 2009. Between 2009 and 2016, this group is alleged to be responsible for an estimated 421 incidents in many parts of Nigeria. 196 of these incidents occurred in Benue State. The incidents range from armed assault, to assassination, to kidnapping/hostage taking, etc. Their weapon of choice has been firearms, not bombs, etc. You can’t treat a headache with antibiotics. I would like to exercise extreme caution on how I personally analyze this matter. I am personally not convinced that there is enough information in the public domain to conclude that these attacks are by the regular herdsmen and to what extent the attacks are linked to them. When I think about this, I ask who is actually pulling the trigger? What is the real identity and profile of the gunmen? For me, this issue is deeper than many people want to agree.
I don’t feel comfortable with the theories I have heard. From an industry perspective, I still have many unanswered questions concerning this subject. I have a strong feeling that if and when the facts on this matter emerge, we will realize how far down the wrong path we have been led.
Are you satisfied with the interventions of the government with particular reference to the establishment of Exercise Ayem Akpatuma by the Nigerian Army to cover the north central?
History tells us that it takes a lot to deal with security challenges if and when they present themselves. When America was hit by 9/11, how well was she prepared to deal with it? We all know that the US Government has some of the most formidable fighting forces worldwide yet they did not prevent 9/11. A critical analysis of the US Governments reaction to that day, provides a lot of insight into the reality of such matters. We saw the modification of existing legislation, procedures, protocols, policies and regulations, all designed to better protect America, prevent similar or perceived threats from occurring, and in the event that prevention does not work respond accordingly.
With reference to all the circumstances currently facing the Nigerian Government I find the Exercise, Operation Ayem Akpatuma to be the best possible reaction at this time. The current military brass has demonstrated a capacity to work within its means taking into account the deficiencies suffered from many years of poor budgetary allocation and application. The arms of government associated with these matters need to review and modernize traditional framework, methods and infrastructure needed to address these new security realities. The scope of their work should cover adequate prevention measures, commensurate response and quick recovery.
What is your assessment of Nigerian Armed Forces performance in its internal security operations so far? Are there areas you think there is need for improvement or outright change of approach and tactics?
Based on many years of interaction with the Nigerian Armed Forces, I honestly believe that they are currently doing the best they can with what they have. We must take into consideration the challenges they have faced, and have to over come. There is plenty of room for improvement, bearing in mind that as security challenges evolve, they must strive to always be a few steps ahead of the challenges so as to be able to prevent incidents or respond accordingly where prevention fails. Training, especially military and law enforcement training is expensive, as such once basic training is concluded, specialized training should be emphasized towards managing current and perceived future threats.
With regards to their equipment requirements, they should be more open and friendly towards the development of locally driven solutions. Equipment acquisition by the Nigerian Armed Forces has been a challenge due to international economic and political considerations. This has negatively impacted our ability to replenish consumables when due. The Armed Forces needs to be more supportive of strategic alliances similar to the one they currently have with Innoson Motors. If more of these type relationships are developed and sustained, our reliance on foreign support would greatly reduce, creating more local jobs, and limiting preventable capital flight. This will translate into a more robust local defence industry.
Nigeria’s defence economics problem arises basically from two pressures. First is the multiplicity of internal security challenges in the country and secondly the rising cost of equipment. As someone with deep interest in Nigeria’s defence industries, what will be your choice of policy options in meeting the need and demand for proper equipment of our security forces, in the face of the current economic challenges in the country? Do you have confidence in the capacity of Nigeria’s defence industry to service the country’s defence needs in a foreseeable future?
By default, I have been trained to think efficiently about everything. Policy options for me must be synonymous with the most efficient use of time, money and people. I would naturally support policies that reduce the amount of time it takes to make and implement sensitive decisions, reduce the costs associated with duplicating inter-agency effort, promote initiatives that support the local manufacturing of as many equipment as we need and are capable of manufacturing, impose very high standards for finished products, etc. These ideas are strongly targeted at reducing costs and making it possible to redirect any savings to other areas of need. Defence economics is very big business. It is as sensitive as our oil and gas industry. Imagine what will happen to our economy if we could not adequately protect our natural resources from internal and external threat. I am extremely confident that Nigeria’s defence industry can compete favorably with many others if harnessed and given the attention it requires.
The Defence Industry Corporation of Nigeria (DICON) was established almost at the same time that India and Brazil established theirs but the DICON is still trying to find its feet while its peers have become global brands, what will be your prescription for its total turn around in productivity, if you succeed in your quest to be a member of the House of Reps?
Firstly, I have to win the elections, and then be considered worthy to be a member of the House committee on Defence. If that happens, I will contribute my industry knowledge to the committee’s work. DICON needs to be repositioned for more effective work. She needs to be more target driven and less civil service inclined. Nigeria’s defence industry is too sensitive to be under regulated. DICON needs to know all the defence contractors that can legally operate in Nigeria, in the same way the DPR knows all the oil and gas companies doing business within Nigeria. Defence contractors should be properly registered, and vetted. There should be well thought out regulations governing the activities defence contractors and their clients.
The relevant committees within the legislature should work DICON and the Ministry of Defence to develop a workable framework that protects local content participation using offset models, etc to promote the development of our indigenous capacity. We have lost a lot of ground in the race against countries like India and Brazil. We need major industry know how, sincerity of purpose, conviction and political will to gain grounds. Those countries are not sitting on there oars waiting for us. They are constantly improving so for now the concept of catching up should not be the issue. We need to set our own targets for where we need to be and strive to get there.
A very clear road map needs to be developed to speedily help DICON rise to the challenges of its mandate. Not just on paper, but also in actual, measurable deliverables in terms of its contributions to our national defence capabilities and industry.
Let’s talk about defence contracts; are you satisfied with the prevailing systems and processes or do you worry about any form of opacity in the awards of defence contract?
With reference to defence contracts, there is room for improvement. I would love to see a shift in the dominance of foreign players to more local players. There is a need for policies to regulate this, as I know for a fact that the myth which claims there is little or no local capacity is false. I have seen some amazing local capacity, but the environment needs to encourage the growth of this capacity. I would rather not discuss more about this here.
What are the winning edge and strategic competence you are bringing to bear as a young and upward looking politician? Are you connected with the grassroots?
I’ve been a business man most of my working life. I have been forced to work in environments where time has value and money has a cost. Nigeria’s current situation is an interesting one. There is a need to bring the experiences gathered in the private sector into politics. Nigerians have this traditional mentality that the public sector cannot work effectively. This is very false as the same individuals who work ineffectively in the public sector are forced to work efficiently in the private sector. One of the keys to Nigeria’s success in the future will be in our ability to challenge the public sector to be as efficient as the private sector. The public sector need to be challenged to deliver better quality work on record time. Work that should be done in one week should not take six months. There should be serious consequences for inefficiency. Nigeria’s future politicians need to understand and think like this, so they can work with the executive to achieve these results. Nigeria’s resources must be more efficiently utilized.
Concerning my connection to the grass roots, I have been actively involved in many efforts. I have travelled to many parts of my constituency, to get firsthand knowledge of the challenges my people have been experiencing. I observed a sharp decline in the level of infrastructural development, the quality of health care delivery, and basic education. Poverty in on the rise, as economic activity is very mundane. Able bodied youth migrate to Abuja amongst other cities in search of greener pastures only to end up with low paying security jobs, graduates from institutes of higher learning return home to their aging parents, whom they should be trying to support to ask for additional help. The list goes on and on.
I have initiated a number of projects to support some communities at various levels and I continue to synergize with associates and contacts to syndicate initiatives that would contribute more. I feel very confident that I have a good understanding of the challenges my people face, and I know that I have the capacity to work closely with them to find good quality, sustainable solutions.