How bandits, terrorists, other criminals get their weapons —Retired Col. Majoyeogbe, ex-commandant, Army Intelligence School

Colonel Olanipekun Majoyeogbe retired from the Nigerian Army after holding various posts, including Commandant, Nigerian Army Intelligence School and Commandant, SSS Training School. In this interview by SUYI AYODELE, the graduate of English from the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile Ife, speaks on various issues bordering on the Nigerian security situation.

 

You spoke extensively recently in a television interview on the issue of the quota system and Federal Character. What has been the effect of these on the military and its performance?

Well, first, it is a constitutional requirement that anything we do at the federal level has to reflect the Federal Character. What that has done is that in the process of recruitment, you find various levels of performance from one state to another because we went through the recruitment process. Then after the exams, the successful candidates were invited for interviews. Then they went through the other processes – health, fitness and others. At the point of recruitment, you find that candidates who scored 80 per cent and above in a state are recruited and in another state, candidates who scored 70 per cent are denied entry because of the high number of candidates with high grades in that state, whereas somebody with 30 or 40 per cent score but who turns out to be the best in their state is granted admission. In essence, the grades of the successful candidates vary. Many of those admitted from some states cannot match the candidates of other states where the performance is high. Things had to be done that way so that no state was left behind. If only performance was relied on, the recruitment would be lopsided and that could create political problems because it might appear as if some states or ethnic groups were being deliberately marginalised. The system was made in such a way that it accommodated all cadets, irrespective of their scores at the entry point.

As General Ibrahim Babaginda said, there were agitations from several parts of the country over alleged marginalisation. He said when it comes to entry, every state must be represented according to the constitution, but at that point, the interest of the instructors and the administration ends because everyone in every state is given the opportunity of entry. But human beings do not decide when people die; some candidates will die in accidents or during training. The military allows for 10 per cent casualties in the process of training. If you recruit 100 cadets and 10 of them die in the process of training, the situation is acceptable, because there are extremely dangerous parts of the training. There are aspects of the training in which live ammunition are used. Efforts to ensure balance in the number of cadets is disrupted by factors beyond the capacity of any individual or group, because no one can say because of quota system, if a cadet from one state dies, a cadet from another state must die. So, human factor is removed from that point. Some die because of rigour of training and others, because they developed certain conditions that were not there at the point of recruitment and yet, others die of natural causes. So, the balance that was achieved at the point of entry is disrupted.

 

How has that affected the military?

From my experience, it has not affected the military very significantly. One of the things that military training does is to create comradeship such that long after a cadet has finished training, his loyalty to his colleagues in that training remains. That is why you find that a cadet from the South, for example, is best friends with someone from the North. It is not because they were forced but because of staying in same hostel and same company. They are not kept according to states; they are mixed up. For instance, I am a Yoruba Christian man from the South-West and my closest military colleague is a Fulani Muslim from Adamawa State. Military training reduces religious or tribal bigotry. It is your colleague who is closest to you that becomes your best friend. When you are involved in training or an operation and an officer sustains injury or needs help, he does not look for a cadet from his ethnic group or religion; it is that cadet training with him in the same company that he looks for. So, it is about who is closest to them. What the training does is to ensure that in spite of ethnic and religious differences, the bond among cadets who become officers is very strong.

 

So, in essence, the quota system has no negative effect on the military?

No, it does not.

 

Do you realise that the quota system is also applied in the promotion of officers?

When cadets become officers, they usually have the same ranks but because some cadets perform better than others, that is not always the case. For instance, in those days, some cadets would be selected from a particular course to complete their training in the United States. Those cadets naturally enjoyed slight seniority. Some were chosen as Academy Senior Under Officer, which means that whereas every one joined with them, they are the most senior. The cadet who finishes second is the academy cadet officer and we had cadets who were appointed hero leaders in their companies. You will see that what they wear in the academy is different. Their growth is based simply on performance and merit but when they get to the rank of Brigadier-General, for instance, care will be taken to make sure no state is left behind otherwise there might be a situation where every General is, for example, Yoruba, and that would make everyone uncomfortable.

 

Is it true that the president is at liberty to extend the service years of any officer even when the constitution says an officer should retire after spending 35 years in service or having attained the age of 65?

How many years you stay in service is determined according to the regulations. Your rank has to be commensurate with your age and how long you have served. In other words, you cannot stay in one rank beyond a certain age. The constitution permits the commander-in-chief to appoint service chiefs and how long they serve is contained in the statutes but one of the things that Nigerians have not realised is this: the president of Nigeria, by law, is perhaps the most powerful president in the world. He is given so much authority it is his prerogative to choose his service chiefs and determine their years and conditions of service.

 

The president, on Tuesday, expressed worry as to how terrorists are getting arms in spite of border closure. As the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, is this not an indictment on him?

Let me try to answer that question this way: the president is the number one security chief of any nation but, from my experience in military service, let me give you examples of how people get illegal weapons. Some criminals target security people, kill them or maim them and then snatch their weapons. For instance, last month, the police arrested a driver of a jeep with weapons taken from some murdered NDLEA officers. Secondly, some soldiers returning from international operations manage to bring in weapons, because where they are coming from, there is confusion and it is easy to get the weapons. The other source is gun runners who work with syndicates. These syndicates buy weapons and sell them to ordinary citizens who are not allowed by law to bear military-grade weapons.

Anywhere in the world where there is conflict, you see that it is easy to get illegal weapons. Let me refer to the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. When the former Libyan leader was to be ousted, total chaos ensued. Some soldiers who were loyal to Gaddafi ran away with their weapons. And it is on record that one of the best equipped security services in the world was Libya’s. For them, money was no problem. They had combat aircraft, weapons in abundance. As you are aware, they are fighting in that country up to today. Our neighbours in the war, Niger and Chad, were not very stable. In one instance (in 1981/82), soldiers who were involved in the political crisis in their own countries strayed into Nigeria with their weapons. It took General Muhammadu Buhari to repel the incursion. So, you will find that a lot of illegal weapons also come in through that kind of situation. It is very scandalous, shameful but it is true that even among the security agencies exist those who sell their weapons to criminals. Then, the police are always in custody of lots of weapons seized from criminals. The truth is that some of these weapons return to the hands of criminals. Foreign criminals who buy illegal crude oil from militants are another source of illegal weapons. When they come like that, they meet criminals who sell crude oil. Nigeria continues to lose crude oil to criminals who are into illegal bunkering, breaking of pipelines and other nefarious activities. Those criminals from abroad give them weapons in exchange for oil in the black market.

 

There is a presidential committee whose purpose is to see to the eradication of illegal small arms and weapons in Nigeria. How effective do you think the committee has been?

You know, when you say ‘committee’, it means it is not a permanent structure like government agencies. The presidential committee on small arms and weapons is a temporary structure and that is why it has not been as effective as it should be. What the committee does is to organise programmes at the major boarders of Nigeria; they invite security, traditional and religious leaders and discuss these problems, proffer solutions and make recommendations to the Federal Government. I am an independent citizen working for that committee and I can say that because it is not an agency, it is not as effective as it ought to be and so proposal has been made to the Federal Government to convert the committee into an agency or commission. The advantage of that is that the commission will be effective and someone can work with the commission for 35 years. So, the answer is to convert the committee into a permanent body like other agencies – whether you want to call it a presidential commission or agency which will be established by law and which will have full paraphernalia, executives and personnel, just like the NDLEA, for instance.

 

When you were in the military, you were commandant of the SSS training school. Intelligence gathering is a major function of the SSS and other security agencies. Going by the insecurity in the country, will you say they are doing enough in terms of intelligence gathering?

I was first the commandant of the Nigerian Army Intelligence School. I was seconded to the SSS as the commandant of their training school. In Nigeria, the primary agency for law enforcement and maintenance of law and order is the police. The function of the Department of State Services, the official name of the SSS, is gathering of intelligence in Nigeria. They are the primary agency for that purpose in the country. For intelligence for other countries, we have the National Intelligence Agency – an organisation that gathers intelligence about other countries of the world for Nigeria. The armed forces have the Nigerian Army Intelligence Corps, the Nigerian Navy Intelligence and the Nigerian Air Force Intelligence, which gather intelligence for them. All that I have mentioned are run by the Defence Intelligence Agency, which coordinates the army, naval and air force intelligence.

 

How effective have they been in terms of intelligence gathering and using same to nip crime in the bud?

Let me just say that the Nigerian Police has the Criminal Intelligence Bureau so, you see, we have all these intelligence agencies. I left the army as a Colonel 22 years ago, although I relate with them today as a consultant. It is not the same thing as being in service so, I cannot say categorically. From some of the operations of the army, navy, air force, like Operation Lafia Dole, which is the code name for the multinational joint task force, you will find out that they probably do not have full intelligence. For example the president announced on TV that the Nigerian Army, in Katsina and Zamfara, built a super camp and launched an operation and 23 army personnel were killed. Among the 23 were a Captain, a Major and a Lieutenant. Three soldiers were missing in action; neither they nor their bodies were seen after the operation. One can only guess that they suffered that kind of defeat because of possible lack of accurate, timely and actionable intelligence. Another example is the former commander of the multinational task force fighting Boko Haram in the North-East who recorded the video of an operation that was carried out. In that video, the commander of the multinational task force, a Major-General, said one of the problems they had was that the intelligence they were given to fight that battle ‘was very, very wrong’. After that incident, the commander was removed and replaced. If the commander of the multinational task force could say that the intelligence they were given was very wrong in a video, it means that the Nigerian Army has a lot to do in the area of intelligence.

 

You said earlier on a TV programme that trial in the military is for discipline, not justice. What did you mean by that statement?

You see, the constitution allows so many things for special bodies. Most civilians assume that if there is an issue between a soldier and an officer, what the military does is to use the law to ensure that the officer wins, because if you just choose who wins without the law, you have ruined the thing and those officers will go to the court martial.

Just like in the field of journalism, you can’t say the reporter is right and the editor is wrong, a situation which you know would cause a problem. In the military, it is more serious than that. What the commander orders is a matter of life and death. Soldiers are to take orders. If you disobey and you are reported, there will be problem, and that is why when there is a quarrel between officers and the rank and file, they do what would make the senior win, just to let the soldiers know there is no room for dragging. Afterwards, they call the officer and let him know he was wrong. Openly correcting the officer will affect the whole course. So, discipline is protected and taken very seriously. It is not an easy thing but the soldier must obey without questioning.

 

What do you consider your most engaging operation during your days in the military?

As military intelligence officers, we protect intelligence and operations. Without breaching any law, let me cite the following examples. During the war in Sierra Leone, the Nigerian troops participated in ECOMOG (Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group). The regular soldiers fought openly. You see them in their uniforms. But the intelligence people, many times, had to dress as civilians to the camp of the enemy. If they were caught, they would be killed. So, one of the most difficult things was doing special operations in Sierra Leone where there was so much lawlessness; they were fighting the government; they were rebels. ECOMOG consisted of soldiers from Nigeria, Guinea, Ghana, attempting to separate them and it was total confusion. So, if special intelligence was required, somebody had to go to the side of the enemy and get intelligence for his own side. Another example was in 1996. It was in the media that some soldiers attempted a coup in Sierra Leone —Tijan Kabba — he said to Nigeria under General Abacha that there had been a major coup and everyone involved must be brought to book and therefore, ‘our brother, Abacha, send us military investigators’. I was appointed the head of the team selected by General Abacha. I was given officers from the SSS and the police. When I got to Sierra Leone, they also gave me their officers. In other countries, everyone knew what we had come to do.

A presidential aircraft was assigned to take me and my team from Nigeria. When we got to Sierra Leone, they had locked the airport and the Nigerian news media was saying Majoyeogbe has led a team of investigators from Nigeria to investigate the coup. I couldn’t even understand their language. People were saying I had to go back to Nigeria because I didn’t understand their language in Sierra Leone and it was not good for the image of Nigeria and so on. The vehicle attached to me was from the office of the vice president and anywhere I went, they knew it was the Nigerian man going. We finished the investigation, arrested those involved, wrote report and submitted it to the government. The president of Sierra Leone sent a letter of gratitude to Nigeria that the man he posted to Sierra Leone had done a good job. It was even published in national newspapers. The place we were using was a three-storey building. On October 26, when we were talking to one of the suspects, he jumped from the interrogation room, hoping to land on his feet. He died because he landed on his head. His father, who was a warrant officer, granted interview to the press and said I killed his son. So, Nigerians said I didn’t understand the language and I was making arrests in another man’s land. One of the officers from the EFCC, Ibrahim Larmorde, attached to me then (today he is DIG in charge of intelligence of the police) knew I lived with the people for three months trying to catch the coup plotters. If they knew you were looking for intelligence, they could ambush you and kill you, even if you were in your own land, let alone being in a foreign land.

 

What do you think are the effects of using soldiers for elections on military discipline generally?

You have touched on a major security issue. The police are the primary agency of law and order, according to the constitution. What the military should do first is to contain external aggression if anybody is trying to attack Nigeria whether by air, sea or any other means. But the constitution says the Nigerian Army will take instructions from civil authorities such that when there is an incident, they would take instructions from the Nigeria Police and be on standby. When the police are overwhelmed, the military will take charge; and the police will withdraw. It happened in 1981 with the Maitatsine operation in Kano.

I ask why they are not following the constitution when there is the shout of bandits in the North. The Chief of Army Staff should give that task to the force that is charged with that responsibility. It is a major problem today. The army is in the North-East fighting Boko Haram and getting killed. Where are the policemen? The police must be overwhelmed before they hand over to the army. I don’t know why they are not following the correct thing in the constitution. The law is not being followed.

On military deployment during elections, the police are deployed in polling stations, while the army is on standby because if you don’t put them on standby and the police are attacked, they can’t be able to do anything. As soon as a riot starts, you tell the police to contain it and the correct thing is to give the job to the organisation tasked by the law to do it. The stronger force is the army.

You know every state in the United States has its own army called the National Guard. If riot erupts in a state, what happens is that Donald Trump says deploy the National Guard. But in Nigeria, the National Guard set up by General Babangida was disbanded. Why is it that when riot happens, they ignore the constitution? Why is it only the army? Where are the other forces? I was saying it in that interview that they should double the number of soldiers. Borno State is too big, for instance. How many soldiers are you going to use? Borno is bigger than the entirety of some countries in Europe like Belgium and Boko Haram fighters ran into Sambisa Forest, which is bigger than Badagry, Epe and Ikorodu, in Lagos, combined. The Nigerian Army had only five battalions. During the civil war, there were 52 battalions. Those who were recruited for the war were relieved afterwards. You have to recruit more people because soldiers die right from day one.

 

What educational background did you have before enlisting in the army?

I studied English Language at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) from 1971 to 1974.

 

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