INTERVIEW | Theatre Commander: We’ve Suggested Peace, Reconciliation Strategy to End Insurgency

•Maj-Gen Chris Musa
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By Sam Kayode

 

ON LINGERING CURFEW IN THE WAR THEATRE

•Maj-Gen. Chris Musa.

Curfew is not punitive. When we compare where we started to where we are now, you would see that a lot of things have changed. Economic activities has improved in the capital. Life is coming back, schools are open, the airport is open unlike before and we have about four airlines flying in unlike before. We are gradually improving and we will take one thing at a time. Curfew is just part of measures you put to check the security of a place. Assymetric warfare is a different phenomenon because you are dealing with the minds of the people involved. It’s an ideological thing which makes it complex. It’s not like a conventional warfare where you know who the enemy is. In this case you don’t know them and even their direction. You must think outside the box to get at them because of how they operate and the reason for their operation. They hold on to specific ideologies and that is what keeps them going on. I believe that peace is still very key for curfew to be lifted. It’s very important for everywhere to remain peaceful and for us to have a sense of appreciation for each other because these are the ingredients for leaving peacefully. Residents must learn to forgive one another because that is the only way we can move on. Holding bitterness is not ideal because it could eat one up in the process. I believe that people should look after one another. That is the only way we can move on in the peace and development of the region. In operation Hadin Kai we work together. We put measures like curfew together to ensure the safety of the citizens themselves. We look at pros and cons before taking the decision if it’s time or not for lifting. Curfew as I said is surely not punitive against the freedom of the citizens.

WHY IS IT TAKING SO LONG TO HANDLE THE DERADICALIZATION OF THE LATEST MASSIVE SURRENDER FROM BOKO HARAM?

Deradicalization takes a long time. This is because it has to do with the ideologies of individuals. I think all the options are being compared to make sure that it is full proof, iron tight and we are carrying the community along because of reintegration. The community must be carried along because if you don’t, that is another problem entirely.

WHY THE SHIFT FROM GOMBE THE HUB OF DERADICALIZATION FOR SOMETIME NOW. DOES IT HAVE TO DO WITH THE LARGE NUMBERS?

I don’t think so because nobody has even talked to Gombe yet. So the idea of rejection has not even been discussed. We are trying to create a model that would be unique to Borno. Something that would work very well because most of the people are from this state. But right now, our main business is to disarm them when they surrender and keep them safe. Residents will soon see the results of the surrender from the political leaders. We have done our own part. The rest is for the political leaders to decide on the when, where and how. We are only supposed to play an advisory role at this juncture.

YOU WERE QUOTED AS SAYING THAT THE REPENTANT INSURGENTS ARE NOT SINCERE…….

Cuts in……let me clarify that because the reporter played with words in the report. What I actually said was that the surrendering exercise was a good thing. Look even during war, when we fight and an opponent surrenders, you are duty bound not to shoot him. This is because international Iaws state that you must treat him humanly. So since they surrendered, we brought them in after disarming and profiling then, we have handed them over to the state government. However we are still together because we are providing them security while the state government is thinking of how to handle their matter. I did not say that we don’t trust them. What I implied was that it was not 100 percent proof. There is no situation in which you can say everybody is 100 percent. If myself as the commander will doubt the whole process then what am I doing here? We will be wasting time then. I meant that if we handled the process very well, it has the capacity to end this insurgency. But as I noted in that interview, the process is not 100 percent so we are mindful of that and watching our flanks for the next moves. It has been unprecedented because nobody expected that the surrender will be in such a large number. But that is what we have been praying for. It’s one way of building the peace process so why not let’s hold and see what happens. That is why it’s important for the victims to be part of it.
The good thing about Borno is that everyone knows everybody. So they know most of the perpetrators and what they did. We have advised the state government to talk to the Federal government to eventually create a peace and reconciliation committee so that the peace talks will be solid. We made that suggestion because we believe it would be the backbone of the peace process. There is a man from the victims who said that they killed his parents, grand parents and nine of his kids but if forgiving them will bring peace, he has done so already. And that is the spirit we are looking for. It’s important for the peace process. The problem with assymetric warfare is, don’t allow it to start at all and do not allow it to linger for longer than necessary, because it’s a difficult operation to end it.

INDEED AND FROM OUR INTEL SOURCES ISWAP SEEMS TO BE MORE DEADLY THAN BOKO HARAM. YOUR OPINION

This is because the Islamic state of West African ISWAP has foreign support. Apart from that the insurgents survive more when they are accepted by the communities. They will not thrive or grow in strength if communities do not accept them. Look at Kano, they are business minded people into trading. If they allow Boko Haram to enter their place, they will loose so they refused to allow them space and that is the spirit we are preaching and looking out for here. So it’s important that the community understands that you cannot allow foreigners to come in and be funding their strange ideology saying they love you. What manner of love is that? And what they don’t understand is that those guys do not mean us well. Anyone working with ISWAP is trying to enslave the the Iocals and the community should never allow that.

GENERAL, HOW MANY SURRENDERED INSURGENTS ARE WE TALKING ABOUT IN THE ENTIRE THEATRE?

So far, we’ve gotten over 20,000 of them. And these figures include both the combatants, women, children and people who were forcefully constricted to be used as farmers and traders. We also have children who were born into the system and women who were abducted and converted to so called wives. So all these added to give the high number. On the Chibok ladies, so far we have gotten one now but we are hoping that we will make more progress as time goes on. It’s a matter of time we should be able to identify the others.

SURRENDERED EX INSURGENTS

We can’t keep them in the barracks. Some have been prosecuted while others are awaiting trial. Their cases are being handled by the attorney general of the federation. We expect them to do the prosecuting as the days go by. Ours is to secure them accordingly.

WHAT IF WE HAVE 20,000 MORE SURRENDERING BEFORE THE END OF 2022?

There is always a secure place to keep them. Even though we can’t keep them in the barracks we surely have were to keep them.

ON FORGIVENESS OF EX INSURGENTS

This is how it’s done all over the world. Rwanda, South Africa, Sierra Leone and many countries that have been involved in conflicts have done it this way. And that is how we came about it this way too.

HABIB, MOHAMMED YUSUF’S SON WAS KILLED BECAUSE HE WAS TOO SOFT AND WANTED TO PULL OUT WHILE OTHERS IN ISWAP BELIEVED HE DOUBLE CROSSED THEM IN THE DAPCHI EXCHANGE OF SCHOOL GIRLS. WHAT ELSE DO WE KNOW ABOUT THIS?

I think they found out he was changing his mind having realised that they were fighting a fruitless war. They can’t win the country or the Federal government. They will keep on going in circles until they are tired. The top hierarchy of the Islamic state of West Africa ISWAP are the ones making money by getting foreign funding. They are enjoying that so any one who tries to say no becomes their enemies. That is the issue in my view.

HOW SOPHISTICATED IS ISWAP?

What we know is that they are a determined enemy that has nothing to loose. They were also banking on using the Boko Haram boys as foot soldiers because they don’t have the numbers. Unfortunately the Shekau boys felt it was better for them to leave the bush with the death of their own leader. Note this we also know that the ISWAP have developed task forces that kill any one who tries to surrender. This is because if the Boko Haram insurgents leave, who will they use? Don’t forget they are also reporting to their masters that they are gaining ground, by having man power which is not true. We all know they have lost a lot and will keep on loosing till the war ends. Now the fear is supplies are coming in from outside and not from within. They keep on coming in from Mali, Libya, Chad and so on. And of course they come in through the porous Niger, Cameroon and Chadian borders. And that is why it is important for the Federal government to discuss with those countries so that they can close their own borders through diplomatic means. If this is done, the insurgents
cannot come in just like that.

FOREIGN BACKERS OF ISWAP

We are surrounded by francophone countries so who controls them? We also cannot rule out renegade elements from countries where ISIS originates from. We must get the international community to corporate. They must intervene to stop their backers. How does the cash flow? Reinforcement!, leadership! Who are the leaders? We should be able to track them. And get them prosecuted. Logistics and all that. They must be stopped.
And you know we have an open belt that Sudan, central African Republic and all those areas. We can’t do it alone. It must be done through international collaboration. We collaborate very well with the multi national joint task force mnttf in the general area to reduce the menace and we hope these countries will fall in line.

COLLABORATION WITH OTHER AGENCIES

I think every agency should just play it’s role to support the general course towards peace. The Police,DSS should play their roles. They should realize that security is everybody’s business and not just for the military or paramilitary. The challenge we are having here is that everyday we are struggling with people wanting to smuggle to go and supply the enemy. And you know what, they sell it expensively and make a lot of gains from them. Motorists will drive vehicles to them at very high prices and they buy. You can see that there is a whole lot of business going in within the camp of the enemy. Lots of business people making money out here too. A bag of rice sold at 25,000 will sell at 50,000 and they are ready to buy it without blinking all because of this foreign support they are getting.

GENERAL, CAN YOU SPEAK TO THE PEOPLE OF BORNO STATE ON HOW THEY CAN HELP YOU ACHIEVE THE TARGET OF YOUR CHIEF WHICH IS PEACE?

They should refuse to be recruited to do evil. You know very much that money can easily tempt them to be involved in such evils because everyone wants a better future. If this country does well, they gain more. They go to school, they grow up, they have their own families they are proud of and all that but if they destroy the country they will have nowhere to go to. We have countries that have been at war which means nothing for their children. They don’t have any future and all that. They should know that all those criminals do not mean well. They only use them for their own gains. The people benefitting are the ones in the top echelon of the rankings of the insurgents. I tell you, most times when we trap these people in the bush and they surrender, they used to look like animals . They don’t eat well, and always look unkept. Meanwhile the commanders are always looking very well. They are just exploiting and deceiving them.

YOUNG PEOPLE PAYING FOR RECRUITMENT IN THE ARMY

Its not true that young people pay anything to join the army. We don’t need your money. We just want to know that you are committed and fit and you are willing to be trained to become a soldier. Or you are fit and healthy and you have the ability to carry out instructions. We look out for the best and make you what we want you to be. We may not have enough personnel which is why we want everyone to join in fighting the war from their own calling. That is when we can be able to kill the wrong psychology from the insurgents. We have the numbers so it’s just for us to increase our recruitment. We are lucky we have people willing to join us fight the enemies of this country.

FAULTY INTEL MANAGEMENT

That has been handled with clear evidence because the residents are more corporative now than before. I have three sectors I oversee and I can tell you we are doing our best. The locals have seen that we are committed to end the war and so they go all out to help out now.

GENERAL CHALLENGES

Fishing on lake Chad is taking place because the Nigerian Navy is back to base. We have the 403 amphibious brigade of the Nigerian army. We are also working towards a blockade of the waterways against the insurgents. The Chadians are equally involved in policing the waters. We are making sure that all illegal fishing is check mated.

ACCUSATIONS AGAINST SOME SOLDIERS ALLEGEDLY FISHING ON THE LAKE.

One good thing about the military is that we have laws. And we follow them very well. We have about five court marshals going on between here and Yobe. And everyone of my men know that if you commit you will go for it. And we are not 100 percent perfect but I can assure you we have been able to stop some of these things from happening to the best of our abilities.

BUSH AND PETROL MARKETS

We have taken steps and decided on what market to stay and which one should go. And we monitor them strictly. Whoever is doing what and what nots and we ensure they follow the rules. When an individual is going to buy something in very large quantities, it becomes of interest to us when we observe it’s beyond him alone. These are just few of the indices we look at.

THE POLITICAL LEADERSHIP BELIEVES THAT A LARGE CHUNK OF BORNO TERRITORY IS STILL UNDER THE CONTROL OF BOKO HARAM. RESPOND TO THIS PLEASE

That is not exactly true because we have troops everywhere you may think of. These criminal elements live mostly in the tumbus. They come out to do their evil and run back to the islands. And this happens because we cannot be everywhere. It is not possible to have troops everywhere. Sometimes they have their own informants among the residents who pass information to them and that is inimical to us. They have strong and loyal informants they rely on. So they come quickly strike and run away to the bush. Let me debunk that notion of territorial control. Insurgents do not have territories they control, they just come in between the gaps, strike, collect Cash and food stuffs and run away. They are very hungry so most times when they come, it’s food they are looking for. They are really starving so they always look for where to get food for survival in the bush.

ON LINGERING ABDUCTIONS

I think this is also tied to the body language of the community. When my men are going on patrol they will tell the enemy to wait but when the convoy is gone, they will call them to return. We have evidence that people are aiding them otherwise they will not be succeeding. That is why we always call on the public not to support them because there is no special individual or collective gain in working against their country.

WHEN WILL THIS WAR END?

WE are putting out our best to make sure it ends . We are humans not god’s so we cannot say exactly when. Tomorrow or next. But hopefully it’s our desire for this war to be done with before the end of 2022. The mistakes we made was that when this thing started, nobody looked at it as serious. And you know that when something is allowed to become a monster it becomes difficult to manage.

MEDIA PARTNERSHIP

The media has a lot to do which is why it is critical for practitioners to be mindful of what they churn out concerning this war. They should avoid anything that would demoralize the troops. If we don’t have peace, even the news cannot be written in the resultant violence and confusion.

 

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