In this interview with INNOCENT ODOH, former permanent secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Bulus Lolo, says the federal government must strengthen its collaboration with regional organisations to address the lingering menace of terrorism and banditry before they assume uncontrollable dimensions.
Despite all the investments Nigeria has made in tackling terrorism, the cankerworm still expands and spreads with much sophistication and this has not given Nigeria a good image internationally. So, what are we not doing right and what must we do to address this issue?
Terrorism is not a local but a global phenomenon reaching far and wide and assuming dimensions that are hitherto unimaginable. So, both the scope and nature of terrorism if you put them together you will discover that it has become very intricate, deep and wide. So, a single government isolated in one place cannot and would not by itself successfully tackle terrorism. In the case of Nigeria, in 1986 when Nigeria had the last Comprehensive Foreign Policy review, we did not even imagine that we would be dealing with terrorism in all these dimensions. Our streets and highways were very safe then, you could travel at any time of the night or any time of the day without fearing for your safety.
But in the 21st century, today you travel with trepidation from one city to another, especially in the northern parts of the country, with your heart really beating. You are not sure whether you will arrive at your destination without meeting an obstacle on the road that is man-made and here I am referring to kidnappers on the road.
Before, we had nothing like Boko Haram, we had nothing like ISIS, we had nothing like al-Qaeda, with the scope that we have today. And if we have terrorism you cannot take this away from the collapse of Libya, a country that failed to protect its borders, limit the flow of people in and out of its border and at the same time not in charge of the possession and distribution of arms and ammunition. Libya, since the demise of Gaddafi 10 years ago and just before his death, Libya had become a market of sort for all manner of weapons.
And Mali is between along that access of flow but there seems to be no body in charge of Mali.
So, you see that as national borders collapse , you are opening a window of vulnerability through which criminal gangs, terrorists and all manner of anti- people agents who are causing mayhem, pass unchallenged and, with porous borders along this axis, you have a free-flow of arms and ammunition. Therefore, if the international community does not act as one to respond to this menace, you will then see dimensions upon dimensions of terrorism rearing its ugly face daily.
In the case of Nigeria and West Africa, we should throw an umbrella that will cover our sub region by not acting alone but through the instrumentality of ECOWAS that will respond effectively to the menace of terrorism in our sub region. If Libya is safe, if Mali is safe, if Burkina Faso is safe all the way in that corridor, then , you can also say Nigeria will be safe. So, the flanks surrounding us must be covered and covered effectively. And my advocacy is, let the global community, the regional economic bloc, the African Union be partners not just in words but in action to fight against this menace that is threatening our existence.
The spate of kidnappings of school children by bandits is disturbing but perhaps more worrisome is the way the government is responding to these issues. Do you think the world will take us seriously as a people even as we seek cooperation?
I don’t have any better explanation to give you other than to say your foreign policy is essentially an extension of your domestic policy and if Nigeria is grappling with the issue of banditry, as a national problem, then we must look inwards first to understand all the contributory factors to the phenomenon of banditry. Have we exhaustively carried out an assessment of what is feeding the banditry? Is it beyond our security agencies to really deal with this? Or is it a situation where from within they are actually fueling it?
And based on these assessments , you then know what to administer as solution. First, if you find almost every bandit using an AK 47 rifle, that means there is a route, there is a channel through the AK 47 guns are finding their way into Nigeria. The second thing is, within the country, how are people transporting the AK 47 guns from one end to another?. Thirdly, who are the agents, who are the suppliers? This is important because an AK 47 is not what you can buy on the shelf, it takes a fortune to buy an AK 47.
So, we need to find out how these bandits are financing their supplies. This, in my view, will help if we take a comprehensive and in-depth assessment and it has to be within the three tiers of government. The optics for us as a government and as a people don’t look good each time there is an embarrassing incident of people being kidnapped, people being killed or people taken away in the cover of darkness. It makes very bad headlines for us.
In my view, the three tiers of government must come out with a response that will be adequate, sustainable, that has the capacity to defend and prevent. This is what we need and I don’t think it is beyond the government to achieve and we must set a time line within which this should happen.
The proliferation of small arms and light weapons has always bordered us in West Africa. There is also the issue of climate change characterised by desert encroachment in the northern parts of the country seen as a contributory factor to the rise in terrorism and banditry. How do we tackle climate change and the proliferation of small arms and light weapon?
Climate change is a phenomenon affecting nearly all the countries on the face of this earth. We are seeing the effects of global warming and we are seeing countries experiencing extreme weather patterns. Our own country is facing challenges because of desertification in the north with a large swath of land. This is because the more your water bodies dry up, the drier your land will become, and the drier your land will become, the greater the challenge of feeding your population and the greater your challenge to feed your population, the more vulnerable you will be as a people.
So, if we are to check desert encroachment by surrounding our northern flanks with layers upon layers of tree planting, we will tackle desertification but it will cost a lot of money to do that in today’s market reality. So, if you cannot cover a large swath of land at once, do it in phases and it must be protected from wild fire.
Therefore, under the instrumentality of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change, serious action must be taken. The Ministry of Environment and its state counterparts must work in partnership with one another to protect our environment . Sustainability must underpin our development policies.
Talking about flow of arms, if you have an open field, people will move easily but it also means that they will have nowhere to hide. Satellite technology today has brought the capacity and capability that we did not have before, so, we must employ this technology in the management of these issues.