Mike Ejiofor is a former Director of the Department of State Security Services (DSS). In this interview, he warns against the freezing of bank accounts of #EndSARS promoters, saying the action may drive them underground and worsen insecurity in the country.
He advises the police to be careful on the roads, especially during Christmas festivities in order not to compound the security situation in the country. The security expert also speaks on other issues in the polity.
What do you make of the EndSARS protests?
Well, the #EndSARS protests were an eye opener and a new awakening for Nigerians that people can no longer sit down and fold their hands as the country drifts. The protests were as a result of accumulated grievances and anger from the youths who feel marginalized, you know that is our normal language now; everyone is talking about marginalization or are not involved in the scheme of things and they have not actually come out to say that.
And you know the result of this issue of police brutality especially by SARS, although they hinged the protests on #EndSARS, as an Intelligence Officer, I think it goes beyond #EndSARS because government immediately granted that request on #EndSARS and came up with SWAT.
That, to me, was not enough to calm the situation. There were many undercurrents, underlying factors; in our political process, when you see the candidates of parties who win elections, they are not really a true reflection of the ballot or true representatives of the people. So, I believe that government should look beyond #EndSARS.
One of the critical areas we should look at is the issue of the sanitization of our electoral process so that when a leader or a public office holder emerges, he will be a true representation of the people. I think when that is done, it will placate the youths. The youths, on their own part, should be well organized. What I believe now is that they are only laying the foundation for 2023 and people have not come out to say “these are our leaders”, that is why it is difficult for government to handle.
For almost two weeks, they had peaceful protests until the incident of shooting at Lekki and you could see a wide spread violence unleashed in the country, not only in one section of the country but eventually everywhere. So I think this is an opportunity for government to look at issues critically. My take is that government should look beyond #EndSARS.
There is this allegation that some of the promoters of the #EndSARS protests are being arrested and their accounts frozen. What is your take?
It is quite unfortunate and I will talk as a patriotic Nigerian and a security expert. Anyone who offends the law must be brought to book. But in all sincerity, these #EndSARS protesters were not the people who masterminded the violence that was unleashed; the protests were hijacked by hoodlums and elements not even associated with the protests. So if government begins to freeze the accounts of the protesters so that they won’t have access to funds, they will go underground and a lot of people will also come out to fund them.
I believe that government should engage these people in dialogue. They have been engaging traditional rulers; government delegation is meeting traditional rulers trying to see how they can mediate. You cannot be approbating and reprobating at the same time. You are looking for peace, you are asking that they negotiate with you and you are also going on the offensive against them, it will be counter-productive. They should be meaningfully engaged in dialogue; even if they don’t have leaders, what about the people whose accounts are being frozen? Engage them.
I warned during the Nnamdi Kanu (proscribed Igbo group, IPoB, leader) issue, that if they drive its members underground, we may have what happened in the issue of Boko Haram. Boko Haram leaders were driven underground and they started operating from there and now you cannot hold anybody. Now we have been fighting this war (Boko Haram) for over 12 years. So, I believe that government should look for a more appropriate way to engage the youths, and not only the youths, there are so many discontented people in the country, various socio-cultural organizations and people agitating for one reason or the other. We should ask the national question.
Some people are asking the President to restructure the security architecture of the country. What is your position?
I have been an advocate of restructuring of our security architecture. The police are the first in line of duty in terms of maintenance of internal security. The military has nothing to do with internal security; they are to defend our territorial integrity. But where do we find ourselves? The military is involved in civil activities. If the police were adequately equipped and funded, then they will be able to rise to the occasion.
As things are now, the police cannot effectively ensure the security of this country because it is too centralized and completely detached from the people. The police need to have the confidence of the people to gain whatever mileage they have to gain, you have to get the confidence of the people. For now, there is trust deficit between the police and the people.
But you cannot also throw away the baby with the bath water; the people are attacking the police, it’s uncalled for because the police are the only body that can maintain law and order. So, we need to encourage our police. I have been advocating for an executive bill to provide for state police so that they can be closer to the people; that will boost the people’s confidence. That is not to say that the federal police will not be there.
When you have federal offence, the state police will get information and pass it to the federal police for prosecution. You don’t expect state police to be involved in issues like murder and felony because they are federal offences. But we need state police, it’s very important. We also need to rejig the leadership of the security agencies. Apart from the Inspector General of Police and the Director-General of the DSS, the leadership of other security agencies has overstayed and has run out of ideas. So, we need a change to inject fresh ideas and fresh blood.
They have done their best, they have served their nation, but their best is not good enough. You can see the governors, the National Assembly and the various socio-cultural organizations calling for their removal, saying “let us have a fresh idea” but the President, for whatever reason, seems not to be listening to that. But he is the person who appointed them, so you cannot force him to change them because you don’t know the briefs he gets from them and whether he is satisfied with their performance.
Some have also argued that with restructuring, the country will witness relative stability especially on security. What is your position?
Every geopolitical zone has its peculiar challenge and security problem. If you go to the North-East, we are contending with Boko Haram insurgency and terrorism; if you go to South-East, we are contending with separatist agitation, self determination; you go to South-West, they are talking about marginalization; go to North-West, and they are talking of banditry; go to South-South and they are talking of kidnapping and in North-Central, the challenge is kidnapping. So, there is no geopolitical zone that doesn’t have its own security challenge.
We cannot continue like this, the reasons are obvious. There is a national question, should we continue to exist as one entity or should we devolve powers so that the center will not be too strong? The center is too strong and it is now making the states very lazy, at the end of the month everyone is rushing to Abuja for allocation. But I tell you that there is no state in this country that cannot survive without the allocation from the center, but we have just made ourselves too lazy. So, we need to devolve powers to the states, let us practice true fiscal federalism. That is the only thing that can bring stability and peace in this country.
As a security expert, if you are to advise the President on how to handle the security challenges in the country, what will be that piece of advice?
We have a lot of security challenges but the greatest one confronting us now is insurgency in the Northeast. You are aware of the case in the United Arab Emirates where six Nigerians were convicted for sponsoring terrorism? As things are now, nobody is in charge of countering terrorism. If I ask you now, who is responsible for our counter terrorism in this country, we know the statutory body for the maintenance of order, internal security, intelligence gathering is the State Security Service which is also doing its best, but, again, what we are asking for is let us establish a center that will comprise of the various agencies charged with counter terrorism and formulate policies and ensure implementation by government.
We need to also emphasize more on technological backups for us to survive. I just heard of government taking delivery of some Tucano fighter jets that had been ordered to fight terrorism. So we need to get all these things in place. Technology is very crucial in fighting insurgency, but if we don’t have the technological backups, there is no way we can make progress.
Now we are entering Christmas season. What is your advice to security agents, especially those in the Southeast and Southsouth where crime tends to be high at yuletide?
My advice for now is that during the forthcoming festive period. I am making a projection; a lot of people will not travel because of the harsh economic realities. But there are some people, no matter how bad, they must travel, you cannot stop them from traveling. I want to urge the security heads, especially those of the police that are in constant contact with people to be civil because the tension is still there.
Policemen can stop you and begin to make unnecessary demands and there could be eruption of crisis. So the police have to be very careful on the road, while people who are also traveling for Christmas should also know that the police belong to them and so need support. Ordinarily, whenever I see policemen, I give them whatever I can but when you say I must part with something or begin to find fault with my vehicle particulars, I will tell you that “you are getting it wrong”. So the police and the people must be cautious because the signs are still ominous as a result of the harsh economic realities on ground.