After a reminder that IDEAs stands for Integrity, Democracy, Ethics and Accountability, Yvonne Okhaifoh asked Ayo Obe about Accountability for the security issues that have bedevilled the country in the last few days.
Ayo said that this was not a problem that had surfaced in the last few days, but that two recent security breaches had shone the spotlight on the question of who Nigerians hold Accountable for their security. She said that it’s true that “the buck stops on the President’s table”, because looking at the ‘A’ in IDEAs, at the end of the day he is the one we hold Accountable, but that she found herself asking who the President himself holds Accountable for our security. He is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and he has operational control of the Nigeria Police, because despite several recommendations that the police should not be under the operational control of the President, he retains that operational control. He is the one who appoints the Inspector-General of Police under the advice of the Nigeria Police Council (which includes State Governors and the Chair of the Police Service Commission and others) and he also has the various other security agencies. So he is the one who is Accountable because he has put all those people in position.
But, Ayo said, she didn’t even know whether to say Nigerians were bewildered, shocked or just completely baffled when the President arrived at the scene of the recent attack on the Kuje Correctional Facility in Abuja and was asking: “Where’s the intelligence on this?” Even if the President is not the one operating his Twitter account, it was also noticed that his Twitter account was also put out questions asking about the intelligence issues.
Ayo said that in our discussion or interrogation of who is Accountable, we have to ask if the President himself is holding anybody Accountable. Even if one does not go for the knee-jerk reaction of demanding resignations, when there have been not one, not two, not three, not four or five, but six, seven, eight, nine prison breaks and attacks on prisons in just the last two years, even if he is not going to sack somebody after one mistake, when they have been allowed to make so many mistakes, it’s time to ask: Is the President holding anybody Accountable for these lapses? She said that it seemed to her that where nobody has been held Accountable and made to sit up, everybody seems to lie back, and that seemed to have become the modus operandi. Though there were criticisms that the President left for Senegal after inspection of the crime scene, but one was bound to ask what difference it would have made if he had not gone. After all, the meeting that he had with the security chiefs on his return was a meeting he must have held many times before, and one was bound to ask: What was the result of those previous meetings? Maybe this was different because the attack on the Kuje was in the Federal Capital Territory, and it will be recalled that one of the things that the Buhari administration has been priding itself on is that it has stopped attacks by terrorists and insurgents in Abuja unlike what used to happen under President Jonathan where terrorists could attack or detonate car bombs at people standing at bus stops in the FCT.
Ayo recalled that she had sat in the very studio before talking about the need for the President to change his security chiefs, and it took forever. She referred to the joke that when Nigerians have their backs to the wall, they break down the wall and continue retreating, saying that in this case, even when it was time for the service chiefs to retire, the President broke down the wall of retirement age and extended their time, making it seem that he did not want to understand that by keeping those people in position long past their sell-by date, or the time when they were having an impact (because it can’t be denied that they did have a very serious initial impact on the insurgency in the north-east where Boko Haram was being driven back). But when we reach the point where the terrorists have moved away from the religious war and have moved to banditry, whether they are doing that to raise funds for fresh insurgency and terrorism, once one sees that happening and the only answer continues to: Send in the Army, Send in the Army!, then that becomes a problem, because the normal business of securing Nigeria inside the country ought to be that of the Nigeria Police Force.
Yvonne asked about the Integrity of the Prison wardens who are supposed to guard the correctional facility, because the Senate President did say that the attack had to be an inside job.
Ayo said that what he said was that it “looks like an inside job”, but though it is a valid question to ask, the reality is that even if it had not been an inside job, 300 people arrive to attack a correctional facility and throw a bomb to break down the wall, the only question that might arise is that the correctional facility staff did not stay to fight.
Yvonne suggested that this may be because they were overwhelmed, and Ayo agreed that they were outgunned and outmanned. She said that this raised questions about the Integrity of the whole response, because it was said that villagers around the Kuje Correctional Facility did send warning messages that people were gathering and seemed to be getting ready to attack. And there didn’t seem to have been any response. The President was right in supposing that proper intelligence could have prevented the attack, but once they were on the way and warnings were being given, there was not any rapid response. Ayo said that as an untrained person, she would probably run away if shown a gun or she might be stupid enough to think the terrorists might not use it, and that might be different for those who are trained, but she also believed that if one is trained but does not have the weapons, then one could not blame the staff for running away to fight another day.
She observed that the whole place looked very ‘anyhow’, and wondered how – even though Kuje is a medium security prison – once very high level prisoners or others accused of serious offences of violence or terrorism were being kept there awaiting trial, it raised questions about why there wasn’t a better response given that the Ministry of Internal Affairs knew that it had this kind of prisoners there.
When one sees such an attack the first time and the Minister of Internal Affairs has not made any changes that we have seen in the Correctional Facilities, we have not seen anybody removed from their position as Minister, Controller of Prisons, Inspector General of Police, Commissioner of Police, or head of the Department of State Services – all the intelligence that we should have, then it’s time for us to ask the President whether he is holding anybody Accountable. And that if the buck stops on the President’s table, through how many tables did it pass before it got to him?
Yvonne said that the details of the escapees were out in public, but wondered whether they would ever be caught.
Ayo replied that that would depend on whether the escapees are inside the country or not, but that it must be remembered that this appeared to be a targeted attack by the Islamic State West Africa Province was carried out specifically to free their partners in the crime of terrorism, insurgency, banditry and kidnapping, so they would know how to take them to where they would be secure. After all, she said, we are still negotiating with the Kaduna train attack kidnappers and we seem unable to know how to go in and flush them out and deal with them. There was a terrorist attack on the road from Kaduna and the Police was boasting that they had shot some and chased the rest away, but Ayo wanted to know: chased the rest away to where?
She said that these are questions that the President ought to be asking, because they are questions would occur to anybody even if they only watch television and get some ideas about things that can be done to catch criminals, terrorists, bandits, insurgents. So it stands to reason that those who are actually trained in security matters should be able to do more than that. But it is not encouraging to that to hear that people are still negotiating to free kidnap victims, and now expect the Nigerian public to identify the escapees … Ayo said that that was not even the problem, the issue was if people do identify escapees, what should they do? She said that the Inspector-General needed to do something to make people confident about where they could take their security information. She noted that Nigeria was yet to enter the 21st century and set up an emergency number – whether it was to be 121, 191 or whatever it is – that Nigerians could call with confidence that there would be a meaningful response.
Yvonne agreed, especially in the light of the recent attack on the President’s advance convoy. Ayo thanked Yvonne for leading her through the discussion, and both of them wished listeners a happy Eid el Fitri celebration.
As usual, we wonder what you think about this issue. Do you think the President needs to do more to hold the people he’s put in charge of our security Accountable, and to punish failure with removal from office? Please feel free to join the discussion.