Timothy Chimezie Iwuagwu is a retired Naval engineer who served the Nigerian Navy for 31years before he voluntarily retired from service. A former member of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Iwuagwu contested for a seat in the House of Representatives in the 2019 general election on the platform of the Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party of Nigeria (ANRP) for Mbaitoli/Ikeduru federal constituency in Imo State.
He is a Fellow of the Institute of Safety Professionals of Nigeria (ISPON) and currently the Lagos State coordinator of the body. In this interview, he spoke on a number of issues, including the present state of insecurity in the country, farmers-herdsmen clashes, and the call for state police. Excerpts:
What’s your take on the present state of insecurity in the country?
First of all, we should look at the issue from a global perspective because Nigerians are not living in isolation from other comity of nations. Nigerians are human beings like other human beings living across the globe, so, we are also affected by global events. The world now being a global village has made movement of people easier. You have now almost seamless trans-national and trans-intercontinental movements. Now, people have started interacting in different clusters, so the development has given more tasks to the issue of not only national but also international security across the world.
Nigeria being a part of a regional bloc in West Africa, called ECOWAS, is a signatory to the bloc’s convention which allows free movement of people among member states. Then, in other parts of Africa you have similar blocs which allow free movement of people. The aim of all these regional collaborations and cooperation is to ease commerce and social relationships. But this good intention has not always been 100 percent successful because you see some criminals with sinister motives will infiltrate the system, thereby leaving those saddled with maintenance of security in different countries with a lot of work to do.
Looking at insecurity in Nigeria, we are looking at a country that is so large but also a nation so brotherly and accommodating, willing to foster African oneness to the extent that it is now causing Nigeria so much pain. Nigeria has a lot of security challenges, they are enormous. For example, while Nigeria has seaport, some of our neighbours like Niger, and Chad are landlocked and under international law, Nigeria as a littoral nation is forbidden from preventing these landlocked nations from receiving their consignments. We have a duty to ensure that the commodities imported by these nations are not unstuffed while in transit to their countries through Nigeria, but a lot of criminals take advantage of this to smuggle arms into Nigeria. They used the opportunity to bring a lot of terrible things into Nigeria. Nigeria is facing a lot of challenges in this regard. Nigeria is also sharing boundaries with a lot of countries that share boundaries with North Africa, and we are all aware of the Arab springs where revolts started in Tunisia and spread to other nations, including Libya.
Unfortunately the death of late Libyan leader, Muammar Gadaffi led to a state of lawlessness, thereby resulting in influx of armed gunmen with sophisticated arms into Nigeria and some other nations. Some of these people are sponsoring different groups in Nigeria including Boko Haram. But in a way, these terrorists have brought out the best in our security forces.
How and in what way?
A lot of people before never believed that we can have terrorists in Nigeria or that terrorism can flourish on our soil. Then in the absence of terrorism and terrorists, our security forces were on holiday, but now they have been put on their toes. We now have a more dynamic Army and active Police Force because those policemen that were sent to where insurgents are operating, their attitude changed because it is not a place to start looking for who will give you money because you can just be given bomb thinking that it is money. So, the alertness and consciousness of our security forces have been beefed up because of the dangers inherent in operations they now found themselves carrying out.
What’s the way out of the insecurity challenges, including Boko Haram insurgency?
For the Boko Haram, the group has now been tagged as one of the most dangerous in the world. They even now have different factions, and some of these factions have taken to kidnapping and banditry in order to survive. They now kidnap for ransom, and they use ransom money to procure arms, food and other logistics. Some of these insurgents are also involved in cattle rustling. They kill herdsmen, steal and sell their cows to raise money to buy arms. Sometimes, they use cattle to transport arms. They even use cattle to infiltrate agrarian communities to attack farmers.
Nigerian security men have now found themselves in a very tasking position to the extent now that men of the Civil Defence, and what some states in the North call Civilian Joint Task Force have to join our security operatives to tackle insecurity, and this is a positive development.
What this means is that we have now realised the important roles the local people can play in the battle against insecurity. Army personnel may not have a good knowledge of the terrain within a locality, and we have such experience while I was serving with the ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone and Liberia.
The rebels then were familiar with the terrain and the ECOMOG forces and the United Nations peace keepers were not that familiar with the terrain, so a lot of casualties were recorded on the side of the ECOMOG and UN peace keepers side. But the ugly trend was reversed when some locals called Kamajors in Sierra Leone were embedded with the ECOMOG and the UN Forces.
These Kamajors became an asset, so it is the same way members of the Civilian JTF here in Nigeria are proving to be useful to the soldiers in helping to tackle insecurity and insurgency. So, part of the solution is for us to use the local people as informants for our security forces. This is part of what some people will describe as community policing.
Some Nigerians have even suggested the creation of state police as a way out; what’s your reaction to that?
State police is very relevant. But in a way, what many Nigerians don’t know is that state police is already here with us and what is just needed is to formalise it. What do I mean by this? In Lagos State, you have some groups called Kick Against Indiscipline, you have some called Sanitation Corps, you have LASTMA, you have Neighbourhood Watch, all these are local police whether we want to admit or not, and it is not only in Lagos State that you have such groups, they are in other states across the country. What we just need to do is to give these groups relevant training and orientation on issues relating to security. Are LASTMA people not helping police with their traffic duties? The only thing is that they can’t charge and prosecute people like the police. But then, they are also policing the traffic system. We may not know but what we are canvassing and looking for is already here with us, and that is state police. Nigeria is already becoming a state police, and there is no big deal in having state police. In other countries, they have state police including Italy, and the United States.
How would you react to the clamour by some Nigerians that security votes being collected by state governors should be scrapped in order to have more funds to boost security and also to recruit more policemen?
Policies are dynamic. What led to security votes being given to state governors may still be relevant but then there is need to confirm whether security votes being given to state governors is being used for the purpose for which it is being collected.
Whether the security vote is meant to protect and save the people or just for the sake of having money in the pockets of the state governors have to be reviewed. But it seems today that security votes have become pocket money for some state governors. The fund is not being used by some governors for the purpose for which it is intended. It is unfortunate that when people come to positions of authorities, sometime, they lose contact with realities so they need constant reminders and our political leaders must also have listening ears. Nigerians should also stop demanding money from politicians. What they should be demanding for is accountability and service. Service and accountability are what Nigerians should demand for instead of asking for a bag of rice or money from politicians.
If a politician gives 500 bags of rice to people in a community, he will just conclude that the people have got their dividends of democracy.
Our security and citizens’ welfare should be paramount on the minds of our leaders. Nigeria is a very big country and so the issue of security and welfare should b e accorded top priority.
Ranching has been suggested as a way of resolving the farmers-herdsmen clashes; what’s your view on this?
The concept of Ranching is a good idea. Advanced countries of this world are practicing it and it is working – so why must we not embrace it? We must change with time. Ranching can to a very reasonable extent solve farmers-herdsmen clashes. Even farmers can cut the grass on their farm, take it to the ranches and sell it to herdsmen instead of herdsmen taking their cows to destroy farmlands.
We should emulate the way ranching is done abroad and I believe we can also do it here if we have the will power to do so.
Some state governors including that of Zamfara and Katsina are now negotiating with bandits in order to secure peace in their states,; how do you see that development?
It is a wrong idea. It is like legitimising the nefarious activities of these criminals. Some well-to-do citizens are sponsoring some of these kidnappers and bandits and they are making money from it. They may be the ones that even go behind to pressure the governors to negotiate with bandits. They have turned banditry and kidnapping into commodity of trade. Negotiating with bandits is wrong. It will send wrong signals. It should not be encouraged.