INTERVIEW | Theatre Commander: Boko Haram’s IEDs Remain Greatest Threat in North-east Today
- We have removed 98 of them and still counting, says Gen Chris Musa
By Sam Kayode
BANDITS WERE LESS DEADLY THAN INSURGENCY BECAUSE THEY WENT FOR THE CASH FROM KIDNAPPING, BUT THE LATEST DEVELOPMENTS IN THE NORTH WEST AND CENTRAL OF THE COUNTRY IS BRINGING A NEW TWIST SUCH THAT NIGERIANS WONDER IF THERE IS ANY IDEOLOGICAL DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO.
..cuts in … There is no difference between the two. They are all Boko Haram. The thing is that anywhere you line up criminality, even if it’s armed robbers that are in it, other criminal elements will join it. That’s always the process. What do they really want? When a trade is going on and it’s succeeding, the tendency is for everyone to want to be involved. It’s normal. So that is the point. They started it small and have seen that this one doesn’t pay, what is paying now is banditry.
BUT GENERAL, DO YOU REALLY HAVE BANDITRY IN YOUR THEATRE?
Not really, but when things like this happen, they always say, trail the money. Where is the money going to? Cattle rustling is one way they are making money. How do they make money? When they get like 200 cows, they take them to the market. A big bull may cost about N200,000. But he is telling you to pay just N50,000 and take all of it away. How many people will really say no to that? A business man who knows he is having N50,000 per cows, knows how much is involved. He or she is ready to take the risk and because it’s free, the criminals are getting it at N50,000 which is good price to them. These are some of the issues we are dealing with. People are also selling fuel to the insurgents. They take full tank of fuel and off load for the criminals. This is simply because if you have 20 litres, you will get N150,000 cash from Boko Haram. And that was the deal before the last scarcity of fuel. So you can imagine how much it goes for now. And this is why we are having sympathizers. And the evil continues because some business people are making money. Now we have adequate Intel to indicate that some NGOs are paying as much as ten years for accommodation. So what is their plan? Before now, how much did it cost to rent a house in Maiduguri? For them to want to pay ten times the amount. If the people selling fuel are getting N150,000 for just 20 litres. How many sympathizers would want to say no to the deal? Let me tell you, anything you take to them, they are ready to pay over 100, 200 percent of the market price to get it. People don’t care anymore and that is the danger of monetizing the society. Every one is after the money. Yahoo, cultists, all of them, what are they fighting for? It’s the cash, nothing more. The society doesn’t seem to care how you get it, just make the money and that is all.
ON YOUR PROMISE TO END THIS CONFLICT WITHIN THE NEXT YEAR, GOD WILLING?
We have more than 51,000 surrendered insurgents and their families now. That means that we are doing well. And they have been building up in numbers since July last year till this year and more are still surrendering. They are tired and are not finding it easy because they lack food. Most times now when they commit their crimes, they used to visit people’s kitchens to get food at all costs. So it is getting to that level. That is why we think that if we stop these things
And all these people conniving with them are the ones prolonging the matter. You are sneaking out to give them food, fuel, medicines etc. Those are the things prolonging the war and that is why we want the people to understand that this kind of warfare needs everyone to be on board. You must not allow them get those access, meaning that you must report when you see them doing those things. We are not every where and we can’t be everywhere. And you know they are not wearing uniforms that would enable us to know them. So if we don’t see them and people don’t tell us, it’s difficult for us.
BUT THE INSURGENTS ARE NOT NEW TO WEARING MILITARY FATIGUES. THEY DO WEAR SOMETIMES TO TORMENT TROOPS AND PAST MANAGEMENT HAS NOT BEEN ABLE TO DO THE NEEDFUL BY INTERFERING IN THE SALE OF THE MATERIALS IN THE OPEN MARKET.
….cuts in , we don’t control the market or the borders. That is why for any nation to prosper, there are key elements that can actually check mate asymetric warfare. You must have a good border control system, a good forest reserve system with forest rangers manning them, you must have a good policing system and good governance. So you see if these things are not there it becomes a problem. Libya is still in uproar after how many years. Mali, Central Africa and all these areas. Every thing just flows through Niger and that country is so big, it can’t be controlled easily so it just spills out into Nigeria. Another key element I want you to pick up is that we can’t develope without a good policing system. The police has a vital role to play towards the successes against criminality in any community. Also, we need data to strengthen security for instance. But we don’t have a comprehensive national data base. We need to conduct a national census which will capture every Nigerian in the world and then the ones in the diaspora. If we build up that aspect every one will have a number. Your thumb print would be captured and other vital details. So it would be easier to monitor these things.
BUT WITH THE NATIONAL IDENTIFICATION NUMBER (NIM), WE SHOULD BE MAKING PROGRESS AS A NATION ISN’T IT?
Indeed we are but if they want it to be comprehensive, they must capture from toddlers. So that it builds up a complete data base. If you visit some countries, every hospital, schools, are registered. If you are giving birth in a hospital, the hospital will give you a number. Who is the doctor? Nurses? All theses will be recorded. So they will track you all through your life. So there is nowhere you can go and lie. If you come here and say I am a Nigerian, once it’s imputed, it should bring out your details. Everything about your history. The current NIM system doesn’t involve toddlers. It starts from 16 or so which eliminates new born. And you see with the internet technology now, all you need here is complete. So every year they give birth, their names comes into the database and once they are 18 their Identification cards are given to them. Other countries start their NIMs as early as the first year of the child. NIM should go with birth certificate if we must make progress not only in security but in all spheres of life. By now, we should have eliminated the issue of affidavit etc whenever the need comes to prove ones date or place of birth.
Again we must bring back the issue of toll gates. That too is very important. Toll gates is not only meant to generate revenue. It enhances security. That means if you have 5 vehicles, all would be registered in your name. We will know your house, your phone number, email address, thumb print, signature and picture. As a result, you can be tracked from anywhere in the country. If a vehicle is stolen today. The owner would just call the police. And as soon as your stolen car drives into any of the check points, it would be locked in and that is how it would be retrieved for the owner. Abroad that you have all these security checks it’s not as if they are doing witch craft. They put all these things in place as checks. So you know that if you commit a crime, there is always a 50/50 chance that you would be caught. That is the difference.
BUT GENERAL, HOW DO WE HELP THE POLICE WITHOUT INJECTING TOO MUCH MILITARY INTO THEM?
Training, training and training. They must upgrade and train continuously. Human rights and many conflict issues are there for them to handle. We need to start from their training institutions. Why do you think the military has been making so much progress against all odds? Training. I have been writing exams since I enlisted into the Nigerian Defense Academy (NDA). And I am still undergoing training till this day. By training I mean we attend courses with people all over the world. The police needs those kinds of consistent exposure too, to enable them become a formidable partner against these criminals. We must upgrade our police to be able to do some contemporary things properly. Training must be increased for all cadre of police for them to catch up. Even the recruitment process has to be improved. Who are we recruiting? By now we should not have any police man recruited who is an illiterate. If we are serious.
AGREED BUT THEIR TRAINING BASE IN GWOZA IS A DANGEROUS TARGET AND A RISK ZONE FOR TERRORISTS.
…..cuts in.. That place is safe now. Take my word. They can go back. We have secured the place and some of their men are on ground as we speak. We have moved on beyond Gwoza to Sambisa clearing the entire general area. This is the much I can tell you for now. All what these criminals are doing now is hit and run. We have uprooted them from all their strongholds. The same applies with the Timbuktu triangle and we have made so much progress. We are grateful for the input from our Chief because now we have been further empowered with more equipments. And by the grace of God, we are making progress. Imagine if we had 100 percent of what we wanted. These criminals would have been history long ago.
YOU ARE LUCKY CHIEF YAHAYA WAS HERE AND FOUGHT ALONG SIDE TROOPS LIKE YOU ARE DOING, SO HE KNOWS WHERE THE SHOE PINCHES.
Indeed, he is doing his best. You see we have gone very far within a short span of doing our best too. All the criminals are doing now is what you described as hit and run. We have uprooted them from all their strongholds. They don’t have permanent bases anymore. We have started “Operation Desert Sanity” while the Multi National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) is conducting “Operation lake sanity”. Normally, when you strike here, they run to either Niger, Chad or one of those countries. But now the MNJTF is making sure they are trapped, while we make progress from here ensuring that they don’t have were to run.
UPDATE NIGERIANS ABOUT SECTOR 2 ESPECIALLY THE TROUBLES AROUND GEIDAM REGION.
We are making progress. Before now, operations used to be concentrated mostly on one area. Now we are running operations in the three sectors simultaneously. We have the MNJTF coming from the lake Chad axis and it’s our business to pursue the remnants. You see we can’t be everywhere bombing every one because the criminals delibrately mix with the people as a smoke screen. Our business is to go after them and clear the general areas.
We are doing our best. At least people can sleep with their eyes closed in the state capital. Our results speak for itself.
BUT COMMUTERS CANNOT DRIVE FROM THE STATE CAPITAL TO BAMA AND BEYOND UNESCORTED
…cuts in Why? People do drive down. It’s just because of fear. When something strikes you once , you want to be cautious on how you move. But I think it’s a gradual process before it picks up fully. But let me tell you this. The main challenge we are having now is the IEDs they plant on the way and run away. This is the greatest threat we are having on all our roads now. The roads have deteriorated over the years because they were not well made. If the roads are tarred, it eliminates such threats against commuters totally. We have opened up Maiduguri-Damboa-
Biu road but daily we must go with escorts to re-check and ensure that the criminals do not add anything on the road. We have removed over 98 IEDs so far and we are still counting. It could be devastating when it happens to people.
And then when we see it happening to soldiers or civilians it becomes really painful. We are making do with hampholders to sort this lingering IED menace. You can imagine 180km between Maiduguri and Monguno, you have to drop down to the ground intermittently to clear the road before continuing the journey. But if the roads are fixed, that would be eliminated completely. The Government should just help us tar the roads such that the criminals would not be able to plant such IEDs easily.
RESIDENTS OF NGANZE ARE UNHAPPY OVER THE MILITARY’S INABILITY TO
CLEAR GUDUMBALI FOR A LONG TIME, TALK TO THEM ABOUT THE EXPLOITS OF YOUR TROOPS IN SECTOR 3.
I can assure you that we have cleared Gudumbali and the troops are now combing the general area of Darere, Arege and beyond Kareto. If this continues, they will not have the ability to come in from the Timbuktu area to terrorized any resident.
GENERAL, HOW FREE IS THE LAKE CHAD AS AS AT TODAY?
The good news is that Baga is unbelievably fine now. Farming and fishing activities are back to normal. Garere, Metele up to Abadam is fine and open to returning residents. The idea is to open up those areas. That means that we shall soon deal with the criminals inside the Tumbus.The Navy is back in Baga and have started full clearing operations.
We must hold that place and I will see to that because we realized that the criminals are making money from selling of fish to further their course. With that settled it would be all over for them, except for the support they are receiving from ISIS.
Even that, we have advised the Federal Government to trail and block that money line.
We understand that ISWAP is much more established than Boko Haram which is why ISWAP is still there but you should also realize that recently we have started taking out their Commanders forcing them to change guards many times.
I UNDERSTAND THAT WE HAVE DOZENS OF ISLANDS IN THE LAKE/ TUMBUS REGION. PRECISELY HOW MANY ARE WE DEALING WITH?
Many but we don’t really know their numbers doting the lake. They are so many of them used by the criminals as hide outs. But as I said we have the Navy there. And they are fully supported. We gave them all the support they needed to go back to work. And don’t forget we have the 403 army amphibious brigade. They operate both on land and water supporting us over there. Since our operations are all over the place now we shall surely overcome.
IMPROVED SYNERGY WITH THE AIRFORCE
100 percent I would say. We have a fantastic synergy and we all work together. The days of inter service strifes are over now and I can tell you that we enjoy the Comradeship of each other now. Why? Because the current service Chiefs were all Commanders here. Right from the Defense Chief down the line, they all understand the dynamics of what is on ground. By our training it’s strange for such rivalries to exist in the military. Take it from me.
A COUPLE OF YEARS BACK, EACH SERVICE WAS TRYING INDIVIDUALLY TO PLEASE THE COMMANDER IN CHIEF SO IT’S GOOD DEVELOPMENT THAT THE PERCEIVED STRIFE HAS BEEN JETTISONED.
cuts in.. The services were never wired to work that way. But now we are all together. We work in synergy. Every challenge in the theatre is crushed as a team. We assist each other to achieve the common goal which is meant to eliminate the criminals. You should also know about our welfare package for troops. Every two weeks, flights C130 comes down and picks troops on pass to any part of the country. That’s is the result of good synergy between services.
LOOPHOLES ON STRIKE TIME BEFORE THE ADVENT OF THE TUKANOS?
The airforce is doing it’s best. You know everyone has challenges. They battle with platform challenges like us so we understand them better now because it’s the same platforms we utilize to do the job. Don’t forget they have man hours to work with. They must take these planes for regular turn around maintenance. And off course the weather is another challenge. Most times if the weather is bad, there is little they can do because of impeding factors. But thank God now we are having drones which can get to anywhere the planes can’t. Off course the drones can’t be enough. We surely need more.
OTHER RECURRING CHALLENGES?
Well, If we can get more modern anti IEDs equipments, it would increase our capacity coupled with the personnel for that. Surely we will always do with more fighting personnel.
From here to Monguno is 145km yet it takes up to six hours to get there instead of the normal one hour if we must connect in time. This is because if you don’t check well and you drive on them, you will burst and that is dangerous.
Good roads will help in the enforcement of supplies and many other logistics issues. It also aids the economy, because once people can move easily it’s easier to escape ambushes. These attacks take place mostly where the road is terribly bad. Smooth roads also aids the economy because once people can move their lives will improve.
Let me use this opportunity to assure Nigerians that we have worked on our skills and tactics and we are making progress quietly to achieve our set goals and targets. We are also carrying everyone along from the Imams, Bulamas to the Limans. They have accepted that the war is a collective burden everyone must bear. And for it to end, all of us must partner. Even the media. I can tell you I have visited the media houses to spread the word and they all understand we must work as a team against a common enemy.
RATE YOUR COLLABORATION WITH BORNO RESIDENTS ON THE ANTI TERROR CAMPAIGN
Frankly I will rate them 75 percent. They have been wonderful giving us maximum support on anything happening anywhere. They always try to reach out to us as soon as they see anything strange. They have been helpful partners. Further on safe routes, all I want people to know is that wherever you are going to be very careful. Our troops are always there to clear the place, but you know you can’t be every where. Anywhere we have troops, residents should cooperate with them. They will tell them where, how and what to do for their own safety. Residents should stop sympathizing with Boko Haram. All those buying and selling with the enemy should stop the commercial activities. We have banned fertilizer in the theatre yet people are still going out to give them urea fertilizers. Residents should understand that these guys don’t mean well for them. And you know what, a lot of them want to surrender but their Commanders are making brisk money so they don’t want them to surrender. The more we move into the Savannah, the more they have been surrendering and that is a welcome development.
CAN YOU PEEP INTO THE ESTIMATE POPULATION OF THE ENEMY REMAINING IN THE SAVANNAH?
For now I can tell you that over 11,000 fighters have surrendered. We have more than 20,000 kids fathered by them. And they have one system of increasing their population. They impregnate their wives four months after they have given birth without allowing them to wean the previous baby. Strange mentality to increase their population which is why more kids will soon be coming out with their mothers. We have been picking out the combatants from the non combatants.
This is so that the Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) model that will become the Borno model that will sort them out. The legal system would be there and the victims would also be part of the system. So we are working together with the victims so that everyone knows what is going on.
SO NIGERIANS SHOULD NOT BE WORRIED ABOUT THE SPREAD OF THE ISWAP IDEOLOGY INTO THE NORTH CENTRAL BY KIDNAPPING BANDITS.
No these are just splinter groups and it happens when the heat is turned on them here. And the next step is let’s look for some new areas so we expand our money making schemes. Boko Haram and ISWAP were together before the split. Boko Haram had their own in fighting before the formation of ISWAP and now even within ISWAP there is inner fighting too. And you know that was how they kept fighting themselves to our advantage.
ANSWERED PRAYERS AND DIVINE INTERVENTION BY GOD WE CAN CALL IT GENERAL THEN
Yes indeed. ISWAP never had much man power to take on Boko Haram head long. They had always dreampt of poaching from the Boko Haram might. So even with the death of Shekau and the decimation of Boko Haram, the subcommanders scattered around are still more in population than the ISWAP. The only strength of the ISWAP is that they are more organized but the Boko Haram guys are still higher in numbers out there. Boko Haram were killing people brazenly only to show that they had the upper hand. Nothing more.
DO ISWAP STILL SHARE SALLAH PACKAGES TO PEOPLE TO SHOW THAT THEY ARE BETTER OFF?
Indeed. This war is about warming the hearts of the people. Once the community is not with them, they can’t penetrate. They went to Kano and what happened? Kano rejected them. This is because Kano is a commercial city so they could not tolerate their excesses. It is now that we are beginning to get to that kind of arrangement in this Theatre. Residents now report strange people in their environment. They give us instant Intel as soon as anyone strange comes into their area.
GOD WILLING, INSURGENCY SHOULD BE HISTORY BY MAY 29, 2023.
Sure but remember that this is asymetric warfare. And they are fighting a course with their minds. We cannot say for sure 100 percent. We believe that by that time God keeping us, they will not pose any serious challenge to us. To further answer your questions what were the causative factors that led to this war? The Government needs to begin to address some of those factors that led to this strife. Like poverty, illiteracy, hunger and all that.
VERY WELL GENERAL MUSA, I WISH YOU THE BEST AS YOU HOLD THE GROUND FOR NIGERIANS. I ALSO PRAY AND HOPE FOR THE BEST FOR YOU IN YOUR WAR CAMPAIGN.
Thanks very much.