Yinka Ogunsanya (retd), a seasoned security and defence expert versatile in anti-terrorism defence, VIP protection and insurgent operations served meritoriously in the US army for 15 years as both a non-Commissioned Officer (Combat Medic) and Commissioned Officer.
A military expert who held various staff positions in the US army, he had combat experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan where he served meritoriously at the initial stage of the Operation Iraqi freedom and was part of the Invasion Task Force, and was later deployed into Afghanistan to a remote outpost as a Combat Advisor to the Afghan Army on the Pakistani border.
Ogunsanya is a multiple award-winning soldier who was also highly decorated, some of his awards and decorations include: the Bronze Star; Army Commendation Medal (6th awards), Army Achievement Medal (2nd awards); the National Defense Medal (2nd numeral device); Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal; Global War on Terrorism Service Medal; the Korean Defense Service Medal; the Army Service Ribbon; Overseas Service Ribbon; Navy Presidential Unit Citation; Iraq Campaign Medal; the Afghan Campaign Medal; NCO Professional Development Ribbon, the Parachutist Badge and Combat Action Badge. He is an alumnus of Obafemi Awolowo University, where he studied Estate Management and Appraisal. He worked as an Estate Surveyor and Appraiser in Nigeria, specializing in the appraisal of commercial and industrial properties. He also holds a Master’s of Arts, Leadership and Management, University of Texas, El Paso, Texas and MBA Management Information Systems, Western International University, Phoenix, Arizona, US.
He speaks with Sultan Bello about insecurity in Nigeria, why Boko Haram, ISWAP and other terrorist groups in Nigeria seem like hydra-headed monsters and how the Nigeria military can defeat them.
Having served meritoriously in the US Army for almost two decades, how will you compare Nigerian security situation with that of the US?
First, we are talking about two different landscapes, two different orientations, cultures and languages. An advantage the US has over Nigeria is that it is almost a mono-ethnic society, apart from the racial issues we have there, you don’t have people who say I am from north, I am from south. People are just Americans. You see a lot of families that don’t even know where they are from in the States. So here, our issue is we are not able to blend that ethnicity properly to move forward. It is the same thing you see everywhere you have multi-ethnic groups. There is going to be some kind of security and power struggle. And that boils down to how the actors actually play it. Some people would play good, and some people would play bad. It’s just as we have bad actors in Nigeria right now. Because the banditry you are talking about is not occurring in isolation. There is a system to that madness that is just not being uncovered.
We’ve been having insecurity for the past 12 years. Initially we had Boko Haram and then banditry now came. What do you think is the problem with Nigeria? Why haven’t we been able to tackle this problem?
Honestly, my own assessment is true intent. I don’t think there is a true intent to stop it. If you have a purpose-driven intent to stop it, I think it is easier to stop it in Nigeria than anywhere else in the world I have seen. Because our landscape is very suitable for combat and it is also very suitable for economic development. So it is like certain groups are more in tune to support the Boko Haram existence because it is in sync with their way of life. And it is also an economic issue. Let’s take an example. If you are doing well in life, why would you want to risk your life to die? But when you really don’t have anything to live for, that is the only option, it provides you meal everyday, a kind of security for your family, you would go into it. As I told some gentlemen yesterday, most of these fighters are not religious fanatics. Some of them are doing it as a job. To them, it’s a means to an end. The same thing they did in Afghanistan. They were paid to fight. They would put a bounty. If you kill X amount of soldiers, you get X amount of money. So that propels them to go out there and unleash mayhem. It is because there is no economic assurance for them elsewhere. That’s why you cannot fight insurgency with just combat alone. It’s not possible. Even we the Americans failed doing that in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Though that was more of a nationalistic thing because they saw the American troops as invaders. But here it is homogenous to Nigerians. It’s going to be, “can we develop the economic ability of the area, In infrastructure as well put some combat pressure on these people?” If you don’t do those two, the more you go out and kill them, the more hatred they have for you, the more people are willing to die and they come out to do it. The same thing we talked about yesterday is happening everywhere. It is happening in Nigeria. The more you kill them, it seems that they are multiplying. It is because we are combating them by killing them for them to have no any other options.
Rumour has it that the government really has a part to play in the formation of Boko Haram and even banditry in Nigeria. Is what is happening now a political issue?
(Laughs). That’s a tough one. Okay, let me be careful here. This is the situation. I don’t have access to Nigerian government documents. From intelligence reports I read in the States I have a top script clearance and I have access to certain dossiers on Nigeria I read on weekly basis. Things I know. To me, I think the government is guilty of negligence. And that’s why I started with “do they have the intent to do it?” If you put somebody in power and he doesn’t really have the true intent to curb that thing, it’s not going to happen. Let’s take a step back and look at what happened during President Obasanjo’s administration. There was a mild insurgency in Odi, in the South South. He went there there with overwhelming force. And that was the end of it. That’s true intent. That I am not going to take it. You have to send a very strong warning. When you start having a religious Sheik coming mediating between the government and the bandits, you’ve already created a whole mess. I am in support of negotiation. I think government can negotiate. But you have to do it from a point of power. When you do so, you dictate the terms of negotiation. Right now, those guys are dictating to Nigeria, what they want or what they don’t want. So this is not even the time to negotiate with them. You have to overwhelm them to make sure they know that the only option you are giving them to negotiate is actually to give them a lifeline. But if they think they can inflict more damages, then nothing can be done. When you read the reports, the first question I ask myself is why is Boko Haram killing more soldiers than soldiers killing Boko Haram? That’s unusual. You have soldiers that are professionally trained compared to guys that are a rag tag group, that don’t even know how to aim their weapons. But they are killing more soldiers. Is there somebody infiltrating the military ranks and giving information to these guys? Those are the things that I am willing to question. What is the intelligence picture like? I think the biggest part of our government is creating the right intelligence. I don’t think our troops have the right intelligence. I am saying this so that it can be clear. Nigerian soldiers are probably one of the bravest in the world. I tell people all day long. They are just unfortunate they don’t have the right training and equipment to do the job.
They would say yeah we do have it. I have met with a lot of guys who said they do have it. But when it comes to it and you see them on the video actually engaging Boko Haram, the basic marksmanship doesn’t exist. I have seen some of the equipment they put on. None of my soldiers will go to battle with that kind of equipment. I think it is because they make the military seems like a do or die thing, that they would overwhelm these guys when they become military guys. We have an option. If I as a commander gives my troops an order and it is deemed to be ethically wrong, they have a right to refuse. I can’t just start making them to do frog jump. If I say let’s go to that village and level it. They can say no, sir, we don’t want to do that. Then we look at the ethical aspect of it. If it is the right thing, there is no problem. They just want to make sure they don’t get tried for war crimes. Because you will be tried for war crimes if you kill innocent citizens. But here it is as though our soldiers can’t question their superiors. They cannot say oh, why? Every soldier must know what they are doing, why they are there. If your job is to look at that wall, I have to tell you why you are looking at the wall to have a clear picture of things. Because it is going to get bored. But when he knows watching that wall is very important to the rest of the mission, he will pay more attention to it. So I think intelligence picture is what we missed. Because I don’t see how if they are localised in Sambisa Forest, and Sheik Gumi can go in and out with ease several times, even with reporters, to meet these people. So what is our intelligence asset doing? Are we using them right? Why are we refusing to do air missions? In the Sambisa Forest you will have UAVs all over the place 24 hours. Because that is how you see their movement. That is how you know what they are doing. Because those guys are actually smart. The soldiers are not stupid. They’re watching the Nigerian army movement. This is my own personal assessment. I think they might have infiltrated the ranks. We have five principles of war. The number one is the element of surprise. When the Nigerian army is getting ambushed, day after day, somebody is giving them information. Somebody is telling them oh they’re going northwest, they are through this valley. We encountered the same thing because we were running out with the Afghan army and I narrowed it down to one guy. Because every time we did a mission brief we would run into roadside bombs. After tracking all of them I saw one guy had a satellite phone. So we sent him on a mission and we took it from his bike, they bugged it. It had all the Taliban commanders’ numbers. So every time we talked, he just called them and tell them “they are going to that village, they are taking this route.” Because I normally don’t go on road. I go off road. But once you give them the intel, at checkpoints they have to cross the valleys, place the bombs we saw there. So intelligence picture is the most important thing. There is no soldier that can be successful all day combating insurgents alone without continuous intelligence. It is not just a one-time thing. It has to be continuous. The Nigerian military has to infiltrate Boko Haram camp.
As they say, if there is no war or insecurity there is no way the army will get funded, there is no way they can get promotion. Some people believe that the army is the one sponsoring this thing, that it doesn’t want this insurgency to stop. What is your take on this?
I don’t think they are the ones sponsoring it. You might have bad elements within the ranks. Let’s say somebody from the village where Boko Haram started might be a sympathizer in the military. He might pass information to his family and the family might carelessly talk about it. The basic problem we have in Nigeria is actually discipline. The troops need to be totally disciplined. Discipline is not just when you start beating somebody on the street. Whenever I come to Nigeria people would say you are a military officer you can just flash your car. That doesn’t mean anything. American corps stop you and you flash your car and so what? When you step out of that military zone, your compound, you’re a civilian and you have to respect peoples’ rights. And so if you are not disciplined, it goes into everything else you do. Watch Nigeria soldiers carry their weapons. They carry these weapons aimlessly. You have to carry your weapon like it is loaded and ready to go off anytime. You can’t just be pointing weapon everywhere. If you point the weapon, you should be ready to shoot. So I think discipline is the first thing. Because they have to do things that every normal person is not going to do. So they are to endure a lot of things. And we have to empower them to be able to have the right tools, equipment and information they need to do the job. Sending them to Sambisa Forest without the real intelligence is like sending them to a hole because they don’t have a clue. Let me break it down to the smallest unit you can have in the military, that is, a platoon or squad size element. If I send my squad out to go patrol that area, they go out with a small plane called The Raven. It’s human launched. You launch it and you are on a tablet you watch it. Before we cross to the other side I already have my eyes on the ground. These guys don’t have that capability. They basically walk blindly into an ambush all the time. So training them properly and equipping them is very important. The other thing I alluded to was the people we do transactions with. We depend on the Israelis, Yemenis, and Eastern Europeans. I would continue to say that again, they don’t have skin in the game.
They come in to do business and make dollars. That’s it. But those of us who are from Nigeria, it’s our homeland. I don’t care if you’ve left here for 40 years. You still going to have relatives here. So it’s hard for me to bring some half-baked body armour and sell them to the army when I know my uncle, my cousin, somebody in my family might be the one wearing that thing to battle. They get paid. And most of the time you don’t see them after they come here. They get paid after the contract. They supply what they need to supply. And come to think of it, are the equipment they bought necessary for what they are doing? Because I met a gentleman some time ago who asked me, what’s your proposal? I am like I don’t write proposal just to sell something. I have to gather what your needs are. What kind of weapons are you encountering in the battle space? What kind of tactics are they employing? Then we come back and do intelligence battle space assessment. Then you say, ok we need this, we need this, we need that. One thing I know they need they don’t have right now is combat motorcycles. Boko Haram is moving fast on motorcycles. We are running with heavy vehicles. In that kind of terrain, they are not going to catch those guys.
Are you saying our soldiers don’t have the right training and equipment to fight the war?
That’s my own opinion. From the clips I have seen, from what I have read in the news, they don’t have the right training; they don’t have the right equipment. You can have armoured tanks. There are many types of armoured tanks. You have ones with wheels, chained wheels, tracks, then you have one with tyres on it. It doesn’t mean you can use it in the same space. It depends on what type of operation, the terrain you are going into, that would determine what you are going to take in there. Sometimes you have to go on foot. I have gone on a 10-mile run in America because I know if I go with a vehicle, the enemy is going to see me from the mountain from a long distance. But if I go behind him, on a two or three day hike on the mountain, I am going to surprised him. Surprise is the main thing. If you are not surprising them and they know you are coming, it’s a waste of time.
This insecurity has been lingering for more than 12 years now. And it seems we have not made any headway. In the case of the Niger Delta crisis, in 2009 they introduced amnesty programme and it solved the problem at the time. Don’t you think we can also stop the insurgency by giving the insurgents amnesty?
Amnesty is something you have to be very careful with. First of all, the golden balls of the two groups you compared are two different things. The Niger Delta guys want a piece of money. So if you grant them amnesty and give them a little security job on a pipeline, they are happy. They have cash flow. Those guys in Sambisa Forest have two things they are trying to achieve. They want some terrain. They have a foreign backing somewhere. I don’t know exactly who. But I know it’s going to be from some kind of Mujahedeen in the Middle East they are getting it from. So that gives them confidence that we don’t really need your money. We just want to control our stake. Now, from Boko Haram we have the Islamic State of West African Province, ISWAP, because it is beginning to grow. That’s the problem. So there are two different things. Amnesty might not work for Boko Haram. I think economic development and a lot of combat pressure in the right places will change their minds. We get to make a statement that we mean business. Sambisa Forest can’t be bigger than the whole of Nigeria.
Let’s compare the war in Afghanistan and how American was able to handle it. Is there possibility that we can adopt some of the techniques?
Yes. Those guys are using the Taliban template here. Anybody who has been in Afghanistan or Iraq would tell you that it is the same thing we saw playing out there that they are doing here. They started out by harassing people and shooting. Now they are developing some kind of bombs. So there is no pushback.
There was a time they had a bomb in Abuja. There was a time they went into the Nigerian Defence Academy, NDA. They go on getting bolder and bolder. If they come into NDA, there should be an overwhelming response, raze down the entire forest. They would know that that is not something you play with. But when you say may be we need to talk to them, they see you as weak. You don’t negotiate with these guys in a manner that you will be regarded as a weak person. One of the tactics we used is infiltrating the ranks. There are people in there who are not happy to be there. And they are willing to talk to somebody if we can find them out.
Money is very powerful. When you promise the men a good future. Let me give you an example. When I was in Iraq, we looked for Saddam forever. I personally drove through that area at least 500 times. Saddam was hiding in a hole. But nobody knew. As soon as we placed a 25 million dollars bounty on his head, it didn’t take a week. You can check it. The record is out there. All of us were wondering how come we couldn’t find this guy. He was in a little palm groove area. There were about four or five palms there and a little. They dug a hole and they put a wood on it. Nobody knew there was even a bunker there. Nobody thought there was anything there. It just looked normal. Humans are naturally greedy. Everybody has a price. For a guy that is there and is not happy, give him three million naira and promise of security for his family, you will be surprised how much trove of information you will get.
Maybe we are even identifying the leadership wrongly. Because they do that too. They do misinformation and campaign. They would prop up some people as their leaders. But those are not the real leaders. They do that. You will be going after the wrong people I have chased the wrong people for about three months until we fished out the actual guy we were looking for. So being able to infiltrate them is going to be a big one for us. But the intent has to be there.
You said something about placing a bounty on them. But with the kind of information and experience you have, have you got the opportunity to move closer to those that you can share those information and experience with, that can help us find a solution to this problem?
I have been trying since 2012. And I get a little frustrated when I think about it. This is my home. I don’t want to give up. And that’s why I feel I should speak up more again. I am actually not the only one. I could mention on top of my head lieutenant colonels, majors, captains who are of Nigerian descent and served honourably in Afghanistan and Iraq, who have combat experience. The only thing is that most of them were in support role, which is still good. It is just very few of us that are in combat, as in combat arms. Because I was in air defence before I went to infantry. So we are the ones on the ground, kicking the dust, moving around, manoeuvring. But the thing is, sometimes it is hard for people to ask for help. Because I think when some of my colleagues come to Nigeria, they try to talk down, saying the Nigerian military is not good at all. I think that is a kind of a pushback that most people get. I have just being super careful because I know these guys are professionals as well. I am trying to get their buy in to see what we are trying to do. That’s why I introduced motorcycles to them. They loved it but the contract ended because certain people were not satisfied with the value of the money that was going to come out of it. They know they are going to need these motorcycles. You cannot operate in that kind of treacherous terrain without a motorcycle that you can put a machine gun on and it can go anywhere. It might be a menace in the city. But if you really want to get to somewhere on time, they will get you there. Because they are so tiny and they can go anywhere. Imagine a sturdy motorcycle that is built for that purpose, that could go about 70 per cent gradient, climb anything, go into water up to one metre deep and the wheels have reservoir for fuel so that you don’t run out of fuel for your vehicle. They can always use it to catch these guys. But I always say it is going to be the true intent of what the government really wants to do and the will to start empowering people. One of the problems we have in Nigeria is that we have one power failure centre. If you look at our political setting, if you want to do something in a state, nobody can talk to you unless the governor says something. I find that very weird. So if the governor is sick, nobody is going to make a decision until he comes back. No.
Everybody at different levels should have a scalable amount of decision they can make, so at least to get the operation going. If they don’t talk to the CD, they can’t move.
Why does the President have to tell the CD to move to Maiduguri? That’s no brainer. When the war in Iraq was going to start, the Chief of Staff that was going to run that war, task force were sent straight to Doha to set up the template and mass everybody there. He was part of the invasion to Iraq himself.
Once that area was secured, they established his base, the troops moved forward. So he could command and control fires from his base. You can’t sit in Abuja and control anything. You cannot.
I don’t expect a General to go to the war front but you have to be in proximity to be able to talk to your ground commanders. And communication is big for them.
I have seen them use cell phone. There is no military in the world that uses cell phone for communication. It has to be secured radio. I know they won’t like people talking about them. But I have seen it. If you go on YouTube right now, you see all kinds of cell phones. You see people when trying to defuse a supposedly IED, they use a stick. IED is an intelligence package.. You should have capable equipment to defuse an IED and look at it so you can tell the origin, you can tell who is producing it, who is supplying it. That was how we knew Russia and China were the ones sending bombs to Afghanistan. Because when you defuse it you see the name on it. But if you put it off all the time, how do you know? Then funds is another thing I think everybody is trying to shy away from the funds. If America is going to catch you in any crime, it’s money it will use. If you look at the crimes the mafia committed in the 1950s, they killed hundreds of people in the US. They did not convict them for murder. But every one of them went to jail for tax evasion. They follow the money. Somebody there is eating, they are buying weapons, they are buying vehicles. Somebody is funding it. Where is that money coming from? You cannot stop from finding out. There must be a wire transfer somewhere. Let’s say somebody is transferring it to Niger. That’s why government does partnership. Who is withdrawing this money? We have too much information these days that we are not using. How are those Toyota trucks getting there? Which dealers are they buying it from? Who is moving them to Sambisa Forest? What route did they take to Sambisa Forest? These are questions we should ask. But they are just roaming about, doing whatever they want.
There are so many questions, yet no answers. Do you think the war can be won?
That war can be won easily.
How? Can you tell us briefly how it can be won?
If this is my area of operation and I am told to take charge of it, first thing I would need is a good intelligence picture. I want to know exactly who’s who there, what do they do? When he coughs in the morning, what time does he cough? When he sneezes, what time does he sneeze? When he goes and drink his beer, what time does he drink his beer? I need to know everything about the command structure. What their training regime looks like? What their daily activities look like? Then secondly, I am going to follow the funds. Thirdly, I am going to shut down the entire border behind them.
Nigeria is a sovereign nation. No other nationals should be coming to Nigeria the way they like. You know some people argue if you do this, it’s going to isolate Nigeria. You cannot come through the southern borders of US or Mexico. We have a border patrol that is empowered to capture or kill you if you resist it. Because you are committing a crime. Even the government is losing a lot of money. People bringing in cars to sell here. They are not paying any VAT. They are just doing whatever they want. And taking the funds back to their country. That border needs to be sealed, totally sealed that whatever goes in and out is documented. So if we have issues with our own personnel, allowing people to come in, then we know. But now we don’t even have a data to know who is in Nigeria right now on that border. You may be surprised that when you go there you find all kinds of mercenaries. Even some of our American mercenaries may be right there. If you pay the right price, there are some guys that will do anything for the price. If you give them two billion dollars, they will come and train them. All they need to do is go through Niger or Chad and they are there training them. We don’t know. I am just citing examples to prove that closing that border and controlling it is very important. You have to control the border and the funds.
A presidential spokesperson recently said that 17 months is enough to end insurgency before President Muhammadu Buhari leaves. What is your stance on this?
(General laughter) It is like saying you are going to wait till the last 15 minutes to come back from a 4 – 0 deficit. They have allowed them to dig in too deep. They’ve not done anything since the last six years they have been in power. They were building their resources, their pipelines. The insurgents are stronger now than when he took over. So if he is going to clean them in 17 months, maybe he is going to throw an atomic bomb. I don’t know. That’s the only feasible thing I see. Because these guys are not stupid. They are growing and growing. They are entrenching themselves. They are building their own networks. They are selling whatever they are selling. They are making promises to somebody somewhere. We are going to take over Nigeria. We are going to make it an Islamic country. You guys are going to have access to the oil. They are telling them something. Because nobody just throw their money away for no reason. So if there is a guy- let’s just say Osama. I know he’s dead – that’s interested in this place, he will pump money into it. So for the presidency to make that statement, that’s why I said there are too many sycophants around the president. Because I look around some of his staff and I question them. The Chief of Staff is about 82 years old. It is not really about age but you want to put your best bet. If you go outside Nigeria you will be surprised that the most developed worlds are training and employing a lot of smart Nigerians doing a lot of stuff. Nigerians are first in a lot of stuff in America. A young man, I went to Ife with him. He is a doctor in Houston. He was the first person to do a surgery on foetus. He took it out of the womb, did the surgery and put it back. A friend of mine, Rotimi Badero is the first corona and cardiologist in the whole world. These guys are everywhere. People respect Nigerians as talents everywhere. Let s take a look at internet crimes. If you look at some of these things these guys do, it takes a professional that has been doing it twelve years to do it in the developed world. MIT will study these guys and say what are they doing? You see a guy just with his laptop and he is able to move money around. We are wasting brain power because we don’t have the intent to develop it. We should be doing what India is doing right now. India is the outsourced capital for the United States. If you pick your phone in the United States and you call for servicing, somebody in India would answer you and they get him paid. But because we didn’t empower our youths here, they have taken to crime. People are scared to do that kind of thing. I am also in the corporate world. If you pick up your phone and you want to drop your credit card number here in Nigeria, they would say no you are coming for the first time and you want to use my credit card. But we give it to the Indians. They do the same thing. But they cleaned up their reputation. They made themselves look like they are the smartest when it comes to IT. No, I don’t think so.
How much support do you think the government can get from you with all your international exposure?
We are ready to do it if you are ready to partner with us. But what some of us are scared of is compromising our integrity. We are not going to compromise our integrity. Everybody here wants to work and make money, the same thing with me. But I am not going to work and make money at the expense of somebody else’s life. That’s just one of the ethics that is embedded in us. To me, it is like blood money, like blood diamond.
If I supply substandard equipment, it’s going to haunt me for the rest of my life. And supplying them is not the big thing. It is training them to know what they need to do without a commander telling them. Every soldier has to know exactly what to do. When you do your briefing, everybody is clear on what objectives, what the end stage should be. . Every soldier is going to back the briefing and tell you this is my role, this is my sector. People are willing to help. But the common saying among my friends is like I am not going to lose my life for nothing. I would rather lose my life For Nigeria to be great. But to just die for nothing? No it is not going to happen.
An average American soldier is always ready to die for the United States simply because your family is going to be taken care of. I don’t even want to show statistics. If a soldier dies in combat, his family is taken care of. If the wife doesn’t remarry, she gets a paycheck for the rest of her life. I get free health care for the rest of my life; my kids get stipends to go to college because of my combat experience. If you serve, America would serve you. We have our own department for veterans- the Veterans Affairs that takes care of your health, your pay and everything. You don’t have to fight for your retirement. When you do the parade, you leave. You get an email the next day. This is your money. They even sent me a letter, telling me we missed you by 50 cent. Then they sent the 50 cent to me. That’s how it works. That’s how it should work. And we have the resources and the brain here. Some things have to shift in our country too. It’s not everything in our culture that is okay. We like to show off. That stimulates crime as well. When everybody wants to do I better pass my neighbour. You can drive the biggest Mercedes Benz in America. And if you talk to somebody that doesn’t have anyhow, he will talk down on you. Because they don’t even see that Mercedes Benz. If that guy wants to buy a Mercedes Benz, he can. All he needs to do is to have a good credit card, have a job. It is only him that knows that he is not going to be eating at home and he will be paying high bills on the Mercedes Benz. So they don’t see it as anything classy. You’ve got a Mercedes Benz and so what? Are you the first one in your family? They would insult you. Anybody can buy anything they want. The credit system is there. So that prevents a lot of crime. So that’s why I keep talking about the socio-economic aspect of this fight. I don’t even know how they came about the word, banditry. Because to me, banditry is terrorism (this interview was granted before banditry declared terrorist by the President). It is only in Nigeria that we use the word, banditry. I don’t know if anybody was called a bandit in Afghanistan and Iraq. If you disrupt people’s lives, kidnap and kill people, you are a terrorist.
So why do we use the word, bandit?
I think it is probably being politically correct, not to incite fear into people. But at the end of the day these people are inciting fear into people. I am from Ijebu. The road linking Ijebu and Ibadan is isolated. Nobody wants to travel through that route. People now have to come all the way back to Lagos- Ibadan expressway, when they can just go 25 metres. Because people are being kidnapped every single day on that road. These people live among us. That’s why I say if we have the true intent, I think the military can do the job if they want to do it. The police is what I don’t know anything about. I don’t even know how they are doing. The police is a totally different story. There should be no bandits in Nigeria at all. If only America had the resources we have. If you come to Texas, they dig everywhere for shallow well to find oil. If America had what we have, this country would have been the best in the whole world.
We’ve been trying to find solution to this security issue since 2012, what has been the problem?
It is getting the ears of the right people to listen, that they want to want work with us. I think it is a trust issue too. They don’t know. We want to work with people that we trust. This business is something that is classified. People make mistakes. They don’t want somebody that is going to go out and say, they they are doing this, and they are doing that. That’s not our role. Our role is, you guys can do whatever you want to do, it is none of our business. We are ready to provide a solution for you. Let us know your challenges. Let us sit down together and come up with an intelligence picture and design a battle for us so we can curb this. How long do we want to live with this?
How you saying people like you can give us support in the area of intelligence?
Why not? The way America works is this: As long as I am not divulging American secrets. Everything I am talking about is on the internet. Most of American’s training. They are not hiding it. Actually, their battles are on the internet. If you google Army Regulation XYZ, you will find it on the internet. Actually they are not hiding it. The American people have been trying to share a lot of stuff. We buy weapons from Israel, right. Do you know that the number one spy in America is Israel. People are always talking about Mossad. Mossad is basically trained by the United States military and forces. Without the US backing they will not survive the Middle East. They know that for a fact. That’s why they have been bold enough to poke their head on Syria, to poke their head there because they know the Big Brother is watching. All their jet fighters are F16s. It is not classified. It is in the news.
So, why is the United States not backing Nigeria?
Because Nigerians don’t want. That’s the truth. When the African command of the US army was in Europe, that they were coming to Africa to establish, I reached out to General Ward. I gave him all the reasons why it should be established in Nigeria. The man called me back and said your people don’t want us. That’s why they are in Ghana today. People fear America for stupid reasons. If America wants to take our oil, it doesn’t need to set up a command to take it. They would take it anytime they want. And there is really nothing we can do about it. They went to Afghanistan and Iraq and did what they wanted to do. Even Russia can’t do anything about it. So what’s the fear? Since 1950 American has maintained 50, 000 troops in South Korea. Imagine 50, 000 soldiers, all in small camps all over Nigeria. One, they will be stability and security because we have joint missions, we have joint patrols. They would employ the locals, all the services they need. That’s putting money into our economy. As American soldiers, we spent all our salaries in South Korea. We were living there. But for some reasons our leaders don’t want it. The world has changed from what the cold war is, when people think if they come here, they are going to do this. No. I don’t think that is what is going on. America has bases in Lithuania. They have bases in Ukraine. If US is not in Ukraine right now, Russia would have just run in there and do whatever they want. So I don’t know what the fear is. The fear is America would take our oil. Okay, if America is not taking our oil, some people are taking our oil right now because we are not enjoying our oil. So what’s the fear about? I don’t see what America would do differently than what we are doing to ourselves right now.
There is no where you have America stationed, that you will not see some kind of stability. If you are talking about Kuwait. At least Kuwait has about six camps that I know of. And it is all the locals that are supplying the water, doing the cleaning and construction jobs. You will never see Americans bring contractors from the US to come and do construction jobs. That also applies to their embassy. I think we need to demystify that fear that America is going to do this to us but use nationals who are expatriates that can do the job. And again we price ourselves low. I would give you an example. I have a friend. He is also a military officer. But he is now a pilot. They hired him as an expatriate to come and fly in Nigeria. They were paying him the fees of an expatriate. Two months into it, they said, Oh you are a Nigerian. We are going to pay you something lower. But when they needed somebody that has an American passport to go to London without visa, to go bring a plane, then they called him. That’s what we do to ourselves. They withdrew his driver and his aide. So we are paying a Ghanaian as an expert. But we can’t pay a Nigerian well enough. We don’t take care of ourselves.
There’s a friend in the military. I had an argument with him over a little thing. They bought some tanks from Russia. So I called and asked why are you buying from Russia? They bought some new tanks from Israel. The same tanks is made in Ogere. So why are you taking our money to somewhere else because of selfish interest? That’s what it is. People can come in from Mozambique to buy from Ogere . But we are going to Israel to buy it. You will never see any government agency in America drive a foreign vehicle. Innoson should be providing all the legislators vehicles. Why are they using Lexus? If you don’t trust and promote yourself, who will? I have a small business in the US. I was talking to this lady to patronise my business. The first question she asked was are you a Christian? I said yes. So does your church members patronise your business. That hit home. That if your church family can’t support you, why should I support you. But if we cannot support our own here, why should anybody support us? That’s why the foreign issue is there. Innoson should be a household name in Nigeria. Every government agency should be using a made in Nigeria vehicle, since we have the capability. Do you know how many jobs that will create? Secondary jobs. But we don’t think about that. When there is economic stability, crimes will fizzle out. It can’t be zero. But it would go down a lot. Who wants to die? Being a bandit is a high risk job. And secondly, as a culture, we have the fear of the unknown. I went through that myself. It got to a point before I overcame it. I remember the first day I went for basic training and they handed my rifle to me. I didn’t want to touch it because we were not trained with weapons. Even till today I have friends that come to visit me. If I bring my pistol out, they would say, no no no I am going. Weapon does not kill anybody. It is a human being that is going to pull fire pressure trigger to kill. If I leave a weapon here, loaded. Every weapon has a safety. If you don’t pull it down and put fire pressure on it, it is not going to go off. It won’t fall and shoot nobody. That’s the truth. The reason why they worry is that most of these soldiers are not trained to pull it back on safety. You see them carrying their weapons. Their hands is in the trigger hazzle. That’s a no. You don’t put your hand in the trigger hazzle. Your finger is always outside. So those are the basic techniques they need to enforce for people to know what is going on. If somebody shoots now, you will see everybody running helter-skelter, which is wrong. You don’t even know where the shots are coming from. You might be running towards the gun shots. The first thing they teach civilians is that if you hear a gun shot, you drop down where you are. . You look around, you identify where it is coming from, then you run in the opposite direction. If you watch any movie and somebody shoots, people drop down.
They teach you from elementary school. They do fire drills from elementary school. They will do it when there is no fire over and over again until it is etched in their memory. But we take a lot of risks, don’t worry, I will do it later. It won’t be too long. We just go, we come back. No. Every time my vehicle rolls out, I have to do a risk analysis and my boss has to sign it. If I am only going from here to that gate. As soon as I step out of safe zone, I have to do a risk analysis. If forces you to think of all the risks you might encounter on the way and how you are going to mitigate it. You rehearse it with your soldiers. You give it to your boss. If he sees you holding it, he will question you about it. It is not because he is trying to get you. He is trying to stimulate your thinking. We can’t take everything for granted? If I am going to Sambisa Forest, I am not going to just put on my helmet and start going. I want to know where my check points are. Where is my supply point? Where is my resting point? If I get into trouble and I am being overwhelmed, who is going to come in and support me? They have to be within a certain radius. All these things have to be done. I have seen soldiers stranded somewhere alone. And I am wondering how that is possible.
On a final note now, do you see hope?
I see hope. This is a beautiful country. I have been driving around myself. Let me just chip in this. It’s a lot of work. I appreciate it. It would make you appreciate what people go through. So there is hope. There is a lot of hope. But we have to save our youths from the direction they are going to to be able to have hope for this country. Because now, they’ve bought into this culture of hip-hop from America. The problem we have in Nigeria is that we take American culture and go overboard with it. I think one of the things America does well to stabilize itself is to encourage young men between the ages of 18 and 21 to serve America. South Korea makes it mandatory, regardless of who you are. You dad can be the president, you have to serve for 18 months. They have to serve their country for 18 months. It changes their orientation. They have never been somewhere some body is telling them what to do, somebody is ordering them around. So they change their orientation, their mindset.
These kids just want to sit down in a café, wear chains. I saw a video of a guy saying if he makes money for three months and die that’s okay. That’s bad orientation. We have hope. If the generation between 40 and above goes, it’s going to be tough for this country. Because the youths don’t really want to do the heavy lifting. They just want quick money. Advance fee fraud, popularly known as yahoo-yahoo in Nigeria is everywhere. It is not only in Nigeria. It is just that we make it a lifestyle in Nigeria. Advance fee fraud is not peculiar to our people. But we are making it a culture. That’s the problem here. Some parents are even supporting it, telling their children to go and do what their mates are doing. We need to bring some subjects back to our schools, subjects like Social Studies, things that teach you to be a good citizen. I remember in primary school, we had to do all that stuff. I learnt they don’t do it anymore. It’s sad. Some people in the South don’t even know anything about the northern part of Nigeria. We knew what was going on in Afghanistan, what was going on in Russia as students in Nigeria from our Geography classes because we studied all that. And it helps. Because when you get there and see those things you’ve been taught, you will say, oh that is the pipeline they are talking about. But these kids what matters to them is money. I pray God help us. I strongly think there is hope. But I would ask for our leaders to please help us to have good intent.
Let me summarize this. For me, leadership is doing things to inspire others to do things they would not want to do on their own and also putting their needs above your own self. That’s when people are going to follow you. When somebody knows that they would follow you to battle, it is because they know you have a genuine interest in them. They know you are not going to lead them wrongly. If we go on a mission, my soldiers have to eat and tell me they are full before I eat. That’s just the way we were trained. But here if you go to an event, the high table is served for the leaders. These are the people that can afford it. I always laugh when I see such. Because the people that can afford it can always take their phone snd order something. But these people are here to celebrate with you, take care of them. Your troops are here, you as a commander can go somewhere else to buy food. But they can’t leave on their own. . So why are you eating before them? No. We take it personal. Taking care of the soldiers’ welfare is number one. I commanded 200 troops. I know every one of them by name.
I know every spouse. Because your boss is going to ask you. You don’t want your boss to ask you a question you don’t know. They would take you out of command quickly. You have to visit them, do welfare visitation to them on weekend basis. As commanders, we don’t have days off. When it’s Thanksgiving and everybody is on holiday, we are in the dining facility serving food to our troops. Two, three stars will be standing with me serving privates and telling them thank you for what you do. We appreciate what you do. You make them feel important. You make them feel they are part of the game. So our leaders have to have a true intent and empower the right people. I pray we get there. We would keep pressing and see what would be the outcome of it.