By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
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 North-East. 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 South-East and South-South 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.
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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.
#ENDSARS CLAMPDOWN: The police promoted officer accused of torturing someone to death —Aisha Yesufu
- ‘Instead of addressing demands, they are busy arresting, profiling protesters’
What do you make of the clampdown on #EndSARS protesters?
The arrests just showed how insincere Nigerian government is. Imagine the President’s countenance on camera when Lagos State governor presented the five-point demand to him. Protesters were killed before, during and after the protests, but there is no sincerity on the part of government. Their action says more. Many people still ask why the protesters remained on the streets when government said they had accepted their demands. But I need to remind them that the Nigerian government lies. There is nothing this government says that is trustworthy.
In 2017, SARS was disbanded. In 2018, 2019, and 2020, the outfit was disbanded. It shows that government has never been sincere regarding SARS. In 2018, the President set up a panel to look into the allegations of human rights abuses and police brutality. In 2019, they brought out their findings and reported to the President.
The President said within months, government was going to implement the recommendations. It is 17 months after the report was given to him and nothing has been done. When #EndSARS protesters stayed on the streets, they knew that this government is always saying one thing and doing another thing.
Amid all these, protesters were the ones who showed leadership. Yes, they didn’t have the traditional type of leadership we are used to, but they displayed organisational skills which is leadership. On October 11, 2020, the Inspector General of Police, IGP, said he had disbanded SARS. On the same day, the #EndSARS protesters brought out their five demands. On October 19, they explained how government can implement the demands because they knew government was not showing leadership other than mere rhetoric and blaming the protesters.
Since the arrests of protesters and those termed promoters have continued, what do you make of the situation?
Instead of implementing the demands of #EndSARS, government is arresting and profiling them. They are going after them and seizing their passports. The accounts of many of them were blocked long before any court injunction. They went as far as going to their houses to pick them. Some were picked for just being in a WhatsApp group. This is the persecution that is going on.
The youths demanded in their presentation to the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, to have Governing Council because, without Governing Council, the legality of all these panels set up will be questioned. Of what use is it for people to go through pains of testifying, relieving their pains and the horror they went through in the hands of SARS and people are indicted but, at the end of the day, nothing would come out of it just because the legality of the panel is in question.
They also asked that those who have been indicted by the first panel to be prosecuted. There are police officers and SARS members who have been indicted but they have not been prosecuted. One of them allegedly tortured Hassan Alfa to death in 2014 in Kano. He has been promoted and he is in Abuja. There is a systemic abuse that the Nigerian government doesn’t want to address. Instead, government is actively supportive of the abuse.
Today, we have seen what the Police meant when they tell you they will kill you and nothing will happen. “I will waste you and nothing will happen,” is their common phrase. Indeed, nothing will happen because the people who came out and cried to their government are being killed under the cover of darkness. What happened? The absence of sincerity of purpose on the side of government was the reason youths decided to continue the protest in the face of attacks.
On the roads
EndSARS protesters were on the roads because they were being killed. Even when government said they were meeting their demands, thugs were brought to attack protesters. They used police to attack protesters. They also used the military to attack protesters. Thugs were carried around in Abuja in vehicles belonging to security agencies.
In Lagos, they attacked protesters at Alausa. Some of the protesters were able to get the attackers and handed them over to the Police, but they refused to arrest them because they actually supervised them. Of course, as I said earlier, government lacks the sincerity of purpose and the protesters wanted to see action and not mere rhetoric. As I speak today, there has not been any action from government.
Threatening young Nigerians
We should all call on government to stop threatening young Nigerians. Government is going after young Nigerians who said they wanted the right to live. Why the threat from government? Why are Nigerian citizens keeping quiet? When things are happening to other people, they look the other way because they think they will not be victims. Indeed, they will be victims. In 2015, members of the Shi’ite group were killed by the army, Nigerians looked the other way and the Police still kill them.
Indigenous People of Biafra, IPoB, members have consistently been killed by the Police and military, Nigerians look the other way. Now, it is #EndSARS protesters that are being persecuted by the Police and the military, Nigerians are looking the other way. They will come after every one of us because when we do nothing, we are emboldening them to continue to behave in that brazen manner.
Nigerian government has no business persecuting citizens who did the right thing by coming out to make a demand in peaceful manners. The terrorists who are killing us, who attack the Nigerian states, are being given amnesty and state pardon. They are being fed, catered for and taken to government houses, but citizens who came out to peacefully say these are our demands, are the ones being killed. I think every Nigerian citizen should be sick and tired of that.
Panels of inquiry
I said earlier that the legality is being questioned since the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, doesn’t have a governing council for five years. When will Nigerian journalists ask Buhari why so many things are not happening? The journalists do not have access to the President. Why are we allowing this to happen in a democracy?
These are some of the things journalists need to ask about. Why is it that we do not have a governing council at the National Human Rights Commission for five years? Other panels have been set up and nothing has happened. Who is in control of the Police and the military? We saw what happened when the panel wanted to check the military morgue at the Military Hospital in Lagos. They were denied access. It is something to worry about.
What do you make of threats of further protests and IGP’s order to the Police to use legal force?
Absolutely, we the older generations are cowards. When we were threatened, we ran away and that is why we are having the problem we are having today. When people were coming out to protest, what did government do? They began to attack them, persecute them, kill them and everyone will keep quiet as if nothing happened.
That is why the problem continued. Government cannot mess up with this generation. They need to understand that. They are calling them coconut head generation and they are not giving up, no matter the attacks on them. For me, they have the right to protest. Government does not have the right to arrest them. The Inspector-General of Police should be ashamed of himself. He sat down in his office while his men were being killed in Borno. He didn’t give an order to his squad to go to Sambisa Forest or where Shekau is and arrest him. On the issue of peaceful protesters, he was telling his men to shoot them. Is that what the constitution asked him to do? There is a difference between rioters and protesters. We must stop blaming the victims rather than the perpetrators. Security agents have no business shooting at peaceful protesters. What they should be doing is to protect them. Recall that Buhari’s running mate, Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, died as a result of police brutality.
They went to Kano where they were teargassed by the Police and that was what led to Okadigbo’s death. Buhari has not learned from that experience. Up until now, I have not seen him honour the late Okadigbo, who was with him at the rally. Today, he is in power as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. He is sending policemen and the military to brutalise protesters, and destroy their properties. Who does that? The disruption of the #EndSARS protests was started by the Police.
On October 10, 2020, when the Police were shooting at us, they used knives to cut and destroy our tyres.
These are youths government did not provide livelihood for and youths they did not give a nation that they can be proud of. They are only fighting that they should be allowed to live. As older citizens of Nigeria, we should cover our faces because we have really failed the youths of this country. And now that they are being killed, instead of us to stand up, people are blaming them for protesting.
Are you not afraid that anything can happen to them?
Why should something happen to them? Why should government arrest them? People should be outraged and not afraid. People should be calling out government. This silence is why these things are going on. Are they not citizens of Nigeria?
Did the constitution not allow for protest? Why are we not calling on government to stop arresting peaceful protesters? Why is government not arresting Boko Haram, bandits and kidnappers? Why are they not arresting killer herdsmen? Why are they arresting peaceful and innocent protesters? Nigerians think nothing will happen to them because they pray. They forgot that the last victim also prayed.
I always tell people that yesterday’s victims were once survivors. Today’s victims were yesterday survivors, and tomorrow’s victim will be today’s survivor. The question is: Who is next? Being a victim in Nigeria is no longer a matter of if, it is a matter of when.
The next family that police will kill their child will come out and start crying because they didn’t know it can happen to them. The #EndSARS protesters are coming out to protest so that other families will not feel the pains. Most of the people who are protesting were once victims. In the words of Lawrence Osborne, this #EndSARS protest is a protest for survival.
It is not a protest of empathy that we used to have. Instead of being afraid that something will happen to them, they should join them in calling out government to do the needful so that we won’t have police brutality and we will not have another family just like the father of the 20-year-old that was killed in Port-Harcourt. They don’t want other families to go through that. It is not that they don’t have work to do as some people insinuate. Most of them are business owners, some are entrepreneurs, some have worked in the system that didn’t work and have been able to carve a niche for themselves. They are not hungry people.
You refer to the #EndSARS protesters as “they” and not “we”. Are you not part of them?
I am a huge supporter but it was done by the youths. They organised it. The beauty of it is that I don’t want it to be taken away from them. In the early days of the protest, I refused to talk to journalists about its because the youths own it.
I started talking about it when I saw that government was trying to change the narrative. I am a huge supporter of #EndSARS protesters but I wasn’t one of the organisers. I went out on October 8, 2020, to join the protest and when they were being attacked by the Police, Oby Esekwesili, I and Maureen went to see the Police to ask why they were attacking peaceful protesters.
On October 10, I was there and came to the front when the Police wanted to attack them, telling them to shoot me first. For me, they really made Nigeria proud and they really showed they are leaders through their organisation. Their logistics were amazing. I wish I had such in my organization and we must give them the credit.
Message to youths
I am proud of them. Government has the whole force but the youths have the technology, intelligence, and social media. They should use it strategically. They should ensure that they are not cowards. They should ensure that they ‘Soro Soke,” stand and keep moving because the greatest power of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed. And they should not give their minds to the oppressor we have in power in Nigeria.
Government should begin to act the way government should be. The primary responsibility of government is to protect lives and property. And any government that cannot protect the lives and property of its citizen is not fit to be a government. Government should know that they owe the citizens the right to protect them and they should also know that the youths are not the enemy. Those bandits and terrorists using arms against Nigeria are the enemies.
They should stop attacking the youths and also know that nobody infiltrated #EndSARS, it is the thugs that were brought in by government that attacked# EndSARS. They should know that weaponising illiteracy and poverty is not a good thing. They need to stop. The media should be outraged.
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