Recently, the Senate recommended capital punishment for terrorists in the country. In this interview, Mr. Mike Ejiofor, a former Director of the Department of Security Services (SSS), commends the parliament for the bold step, but goes further to recommend same punishment for corrupt government officials. Excerpts:
The country is facing a lot of security challenges. As a security expert, what is responsible?
As you are aware, the greatest challenge facing Nigeria for now is the issue of Boko Haram, a new dimension has just been introduced where this new group called Ansaru was involved in the kidnapping of French nationals in Cameroon. In fact, this is an international dimension that the group is actually affiliated to Al Qaeda since they are operating across border now and that calls for worry. Security agencies too, I believe, are following events and monitoring developments, but, generally speaking, apart from this major challenge, the security situation in the country is quite appreciable.
The Senate recently recommended death penalty for kidnappers, terrorists and other similar criminal activities.What is your take on that?
I was very excited when the National Assembly, precisely the Senate, passed the Amended 2011 Terrorism Prevention Act prescribing death sentence for offenders; that is quite commendable and I must congratulate the Senate for taking this bold initiative.
Terrorism is a fight that everybody should be involved in, all arms of government should be involved in the fight. And I think the fight against terrorism received another boost when the State Security Service paraded some terror suspects who were affiliated to Iran, that was a major outbreak and I think, with that, some of the international connections of these terrorists would —and don’t forget that these suspects were not arrested in the North, as you are aware that the North is the hotbed for terrorism; this cell that was established in Lagos, the Security Service had been following them for long and, for the service to come out that they have arrested suspects in respect of espionage and terrorism involving another national organization is something that we must commend the SSS for, and I plead with Nigerians to come out and assist the security agencies.
General insecurity could be linked to political, religious and economic reasons, they are all interwoven. If you look at when the president came to power, some people threatened that if he assumed office, they would make the country ungovernable and, even though nobody has be specifically held responsible, it does seem that an agenda is being pursued to make his government unworkable and unpopular.
That is the political angle. One group also said Nigeria should be Islamized. Nigeria is a secular state and it is definitely not possible to Islamize Nigeria. On the economic front, the economic downturn in the world is not peculiar to Nigeria and, with time, I think government has made promises of transformation and the transformation takes a lot of time for us to get to where we are now and I think with time we will make a headway.
How can these challenges be handled to ensure that there is peace?
There must be synergy among the security agencies, the people must be committed in providing information, the government, on its part too, should encourage and assist the security agencies in getting modern equipment to fight this war because it is an international war.
It was alleged that the situation is so bad because some security personnel are working with the terrorists.
I don’t see how security agencies should be working with terrorists, but one thing I can tell you, like Mr. President once said, they have sympathizers in the security agencies. Nigeria is the most religious country in the world yet we don’t reflect it in our lives; so, you cannot rule out the possibility of moles in the security agencies. But that is not the position of the agencies themselves, anybody caught divulging or passing information to criminals, there are measures, laid down rules on which such persons can be dealt with but I would not subscribe to the fact that the security agencies are part of the security problem.
Some of the people who say that, say it out of ignorance because if the agencies tell you exactly what they do, it will create fear in the people. It is only when it is obvious that people get to know.
For instance, the kidnapping of the French nationals, the security agencies can’t begin to tell people what they are doing because it will definitely compromise the outcome of investigations, it is only when investigations are concluded, they are many ongoing investigations that get to know what is going on. Our asecurity agencies based on my knowledge are doing their utmost and, just to think of it, why is it that when Nigerian troops or security forces go outside Nigeria, the are adjudged the best?
So what are the challenges facing the security agencies in the country?
Inadequate funding, lack of training, rivalry among the agencies because as things are now, every agency is under pressure; so everybody wants to take credit, and this leads to haphazard coordination in terms of operation. I must advise them to work together in the best interest of the country.
Before the advent of the Yar’Adua/Jonathan administration, no government has taken security seriously as this administration, but it can never be enough because of a lot of damage had been done; remember we witnessed over 40 years or about that of military regime that was interested in protecting itself, instead of seeing to peoples welfare as it is in Section 14 of the Constitution that says that the primary responsibility of government is security and welfare of the people. It is only in this democracy that government started taking the issue of security seriously so there is a quantum link in terms of funding but we still need the government to put more money into security.
The present administration has faced more security challenges than any other administration. Take the issues of Boko Haram and kidnapping, these are the aftermath of the long neglect of the peoples welfare by previous governments.
Government has been accused in some quarters of lacking the political will to fight corruption. Do you agree?
Government is very prepared. Everybody is equal before the law but the poor people don’t have the means, the economic means to hire senior advocates for legal representation. But the ‘big men’ have the means, the money to manipulate the legal process, influence through technicalities.
Our judicial process is very cumbersome, there is a lot of technicalities. If you have a SAN as your counsel, the tendency for them is there to raise technicalities and to warrant series of adjournments and not pursuing the mean issue.
That is the problem, so we need to set up a special tribunal to try cases of terrorism now that the National Assembly has come up with this punishment of death they should go ahead to set a timeline on which these cases like the electoral cases could be decided so that they just concentrate and finish up the cases instead of the unnecessary technicalities and diversion.