Retired Gen Ishola Williams is a blunt and die-hard critic of government policies. In this interview, he painstakingly examines the security apparatus of the present administration and gives reasons the country is vulnerable to violent crimes. According to him, Buhari’s security appointees are inept and incompetent.
You’ve been following some of the recent happenings in the country. In your moment of personal reflection, how do you perceive Nigeria as a nation?
People often say that leadership is our problem. It is not so. I keep saying all the time that leaders don’t drop from heaven, leaders are not born. As a matter of fact, only very few people that are trained for leadership get to leadership positions. And that is why it has been very difficult to predict succession in political leadership in Nigeria because like Harold Wilson said, ‘24 hours is a long time in politics. Anything can happen. Again, our political parties are dominated by a few individuals who have money. And in most cases, the ideology of these parties is defined according to the dictate of those who have the money. As a result of that, we have leaders without character. And when you have a leader who does not have character, he can be irresponsible, even though he may have integrity, he may be incorruptible. That is what is happening in the case of Nigeria. And who is responsible for that? Of course, the followership! In most cases, what they are looking for is not somebody who can lead them to posterity, but somebody who can take care of their immediate needs. When those people get there, what do they do? They do like Governor Fayose of Ekiti State, who is a political rascal using stomach infrastructure as an ideology to turn the followership in Ekiti into accepting whatever he wakes up to say he wants to do. The challenge before us, therefore, is how to change the mindset and character of Nigerians so that they can define the criteria for leadership and accordingly use those criteria to elect their leaders. My reflection is that we will continue to be in the situation we are in now until we have the kind of followers who know the kind of leaders they need to lead them.
Do you share in the opinion of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo who in his recent letter accused President Muhammadu Buhari of nepotism and clannishness, among others?
If there is nepotism, it is the fault of political parties. This particular regime is the only regime in the history of this country which took about six months to appoint people into cabinet. Interestingly, some boards of parastatal and agencies have just been constituted a few months to the next general elections. What do you expect such people to do? They will only be there looking for how to make their own money too. Most board members in Nigeria go there as compensation for helping the party to win election. So, the newly constituted boards are also for the elections. There was no time in Nigeria when a Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, was bold enough to write letters to parastatals that they should help members of boards who wanted to contest elections. What does that mean? Where will the parastatals get money? From the coffers of government of course.
You are painting a picture of ineptitude here.
Yes, it is ineptitude. President Buhari has created a very bad precedent in this area. It took him so long to appoint ministers. And even at that, all his talk about appointing incorruptible people is balderdash. Who are the incorruptible people? Amaechi had already said: ‘I cannot say there are no corrupt people in this government.’
Looking at the incessant killings in the country today by the Fulani herdsmen, would you say that this government has responded early enough to nip some of these crises in the bud?
If it were a country with people of integrity, the Chief of Army Staff and the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) would have resigned or asked to go. Secondly, the president called the abduction of Dapchi girls as national disgrace. Yet, those who created that national disgrace are still there. Thirdly, he said he instructed the IGP to go to Benue and he didn’t. In a country of integrity, he would have fired him immediately. He just said, ‘you mean he did not come’? We are waiting to see what he is going to do. When you have that kind of situation, it means the president is not in charge. It can never happen in any country. He is not in charge. I have been complaining that this government has no strategic security plan. I have said it before the tenure of former President Goodluck Jonathan ended that there must be a total overhaul of the security apparatus. He thought the whole thing was a joke. He wanted to do that of the military and I told him I wanted a total security reform. I told him one-on-one. I wanted Jonathan to do the reform because of this Boko Haram issue. I wanted him to lay a foundation for Buhari for him to build on. But what he did was to appoint a committee and put inappropriate people in that committee to do a report. I am not sure anything has happened to that report till today. I have not read the report, but I know that many people in that committee do not have the expertise and knowledge to be on that committee. What we need now is a total security umbrella.
If Jonathan refused to carry out the reform of the security, what makes it a burden for President Buhari to do the needful, especially with his military background?
That question is better answered by Buhari. He has been saying it that he has told them to do a security report and they did not do it. That again has to do with the character of the president. You told people to do something and they did not do it. Then, what did you do? He did not do anything about it. Otherwise, by now, the Minister of Interior and Minister of Defence should have gone for all that happened in Benue, Plateau and the rest. The IGP too should have gone. But they are still there. If you have a president like that, the people in the security agencies will not take him serious. We also have a National Security Adviser. Has that one too put any report before him? The other day, the National Assembly summoned him to give report on security. That is the most stupid thing on earth to do. Are they security experts? What I expected them to do is what South Africa did in 1994. Kayode Fayemi was one of the key players there. He knows what I am talking about. His Doctorate degree is in the area of security. I was expecting that he would do a major reshuffle, put Fayemi in the Ministry of Defence and put the other man wherever he wants to put him. That guy does not know his left from his right. Then, Fayemi can now do what South Africa did in pre-1994.
There is a difference between safety and security. When you are in your house and you see electric wires everywhere, you try to put them right, that is safety. If you are comfortable in your area that you can come out even at 3 o’clock in the morning, that is high level of security. You are living in a safe community. If your emphasis is on safety, then you concentrate on safety. That is why there is community policing in every part of the world. If it then comes to the level of riot or something like that, that will come under security. For safety, you need community policing. Federal police will only come in when your state and local government cannot take care of the situation. When your community is safe, your local government is safe, and your state is safe, will Nigeria not be safe? When you have a case like Boko Haram, then you have what we call national security which involves the military. That is the kind of intelligent structure that you need to provide national security. Because of the need to provide extra training for the police to carry arms to be able to deal with violent crimes that is why we have the mobile police. In most countries, the mobile police command is separate from police. So, the police should be divided into three separate structures. The IGP should be responsible for training standard for community and state police and evaluating them to make sure they are up to standard. Then, we need a Director-General for the mobile police which will be responsible for counter terrorism and also provide support for the army for counter insurgency. Look at the case of Dapchi, the army said they handed over to the police, police said they did not. If things had been working the way I am talking now, that won’t have happened because there will be separate commands. The command will not come from the IGP. There is also intelligence agency which works in conjunction with the police. Part of safety is what we call disaster and safety management. In this regard, Civil Defence and NEMA should have been one. It is because of corruption, that is why they are separate. You can see a clear division of structure. Where they all need to work together is in the area of intelligence. There must be proper coordination of intelligence system. But when you look at the whole system, it seems things are not working the way they should.
You make it look as if the president is a novice in the area of security even though he is a retired army general.
First of all, he has forgotten what he learnt about security when he was in the army. Two, he has chosen the wrong set of people. The people are not living up to expectation. They are trying their best, but their best is not good enough. I have not even talked about the structure of the military. That is another topic entirely. The present structure of the military is similar to where Britain and other countries were in 1960s. The whole world has left us behind. I don’t think he has got the right person as National Security Adviser. He has forgotten everything he learnt about security. In the area of governance, I don’t think he can cope. He should just go.
What about the anti-corruption war of the administration?
In the case of corruption, Nigeria’s corruption is systemic. Some few months ago, the Group Managing Director of NNPC said the Chief of Staff to the President told him to keep aside N50billon. Who are they deceiving? If you have exceptions like that, they won’t allow the system to work. Secondly, the procurement system is not working. If not, how can the SGF award contract to himself to go and cut grass? Of course, he was exposed by the National Assembly. Most embarrassing of all, a very bad writer wrote a speech for Buhari to go and read in Ghana telling Ghanaians that Nigeria will help them to fight corruption. It is the greatest joke of the century. Since the time of Jerry Rawling, they have got a special court for corruption. I was in Ghana when a former Minister of Sports was publicly tried and jailed for mishandling money. If that happened in Nigeria, all the people in the NFA would be in jail. Above all, impunity is one of our greatest challenges
Does that also explain why head of security agencies defy the order of the president?
They defy the president and nothing happens. That is impunity of course. In a country where you have impunity, can you change anything? The other day, Osinbajo was trying to rationalize why they should not be in the position where the Transparency International (TI) placed them. Impunity is the key. If the President cannot use his influence in the National Assembly for special court to be created to fight corruption, then there is a problem. No single person, not even a dictator can run a government. There are hordes of people who keep away those who can tell him (Buhari) the truth. There are some people who are saying on the Internet that some people hate Buhari. And I was warning them that if it were another country, you’re either in the cooler or you disappear. Some people just write something and give it to him every morning; this is what they are saying about you. We have a situation where a leader is surrounded by people he believes he can trust but they are not telling him the truth. What were the people around him telling him about the situation in Benue, Plateau, Taraba before he decided to visit the places? Why did he now choose to visit them? You can see that something is wrong. He should just go home on the 29th of May, 2019. Please, I beg him, he should go home. He can’t manage the country any longer.
There have been separatist agitations in different parts of the country. Do you see Nigeria returning to peace with a new person emerging as President?
Nobody wants Nigeria to split. But what is happening is good for us. In a multi-ethnic and cultural nation, you have to listen to the kind of governance structure that people want. People say they want devolution. Some jokers in the National Assembly are saying devolution for what? For the first time in the history of Nigeria, there is a consensus on the so-called separatist movements for devolution. We are fortunate, Saraki as the president of the senate says he will find a way by amending the constitution to make sure that devolution happens. So, I am not afraid of any separatist movement. It is an advocacy rather than irredentist movement. It is a pressure group.
If the National Assembly and the political parties do what they are supposed to do, it will go down. Already, what the APC committee came up with in its report about restructuring is revolutionary. It went completely beyond my dream, including resource control that has been a bone of contention. If they implement that, will there be any separatist movement again? There will be none. Everybody has accepted that the Federal Government must do less, states must do more.