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How FG can tackle Niger Delta crisis – Albert Horsfall

From Temitayo Odunlami, Lagos As a young police officer from Rivers State at the outbreak of the civil war in 1969, would you say you…

From Temitayo Odunlami, Lagos

As a young police officer from Rivers State at the outbreak of the civil war in 1969, would you say you were caught in a dilemma between choosing to serve the federal forces and serving the Biafra army?
No, I did not. You raised a good question, because looking back now, it was rather an interesting experience. At that particular period, I was on overseas training in America and I can recall that the Americans had approached about two or so of us from the then Eastern region to ask us whether we would go to the Eastern region as we go back to Nigeria, or go to serve the Federal government.  
 I didn’t hesitate for one minute to give my answer. I hadn’t the slightest doubt about where I wanted to work. I wanted to remain a Federal public officer, which was why I joined the police force in the first place. I didn’t believe in any regional arrangement or authority at all. So instantly, I said, ‘no, no, no, I am going back to Lagos.
 And that time as a very young officer, some of the things one did, one might have done them differently today. The course had just ended in America and we came back to London, and rather than come back home directly to Lagos, I spent two weeks in London gallivanting with friends. Today, I wouldn’t have done that because it could raise doubts about my loyalty to the federal government and something like that. Luckily for me, my superiors didn’t see it that way at all, and after enjoying myself in London, I came back to Lagos and continued work from there. And thank God, the rebellion failed. I started with Nigeria and I will end up with Nigeria.
As deputy to the erstwhile Director-General of the National Security Organisation (NSO), Ambassador Muhammed Rafindadi,  when the Muhammadu Buhari military regime attempted to crate back former Minister of Transport, Alhaji Umaru Dikko, from London to Nigeria, could you shed light on how it was all planned?   
Quite frankly, I don’t know. The truth of the matter was that I just got to know that Umaru Dikko had been kidnapped. That day, when I walked into the office of my then boss, Ambassador Rafindadi (I was No. 2 to Rafindadi who was the NSO Director-General; he was in the new block while I was in the old block and from time to time, I would cross to his office to consult with him and to receive directives), there was the BBC news at 1pm saying something about a Nigerian, Brigadier Bamfa or so arrested by the British police in connection with an attempt to kidnap a Nigerian former minister, Umaru Dikko, residing in London.
 As I sat down with him, he looked at me and said, “That is our case.”  I simply replied, “Whose case? I don’t know about it.” He said, “Well, you don’t know about it, but it was done outside here but with the originating… from the NSO.” And I said, “How come you bungled such a matter; you shouldn’t do it. Kidnap a Nigerian in a foreign land?” I am not one to hide my feelings and my bosses knew about this. So maybe something they do and they think I would oppose, they don’t bring it to me.  
 I cannot imagine a situation where a Nigerian citizen would be kidnapped in a foreign country. Even if he had committed murder, due processes were there to handle the matter. You would take the matter to court in England, prove your case and he would be extradited. You don’t kidnap him; it’s not just done. I don’t condone injustice and unfairness. We have all the access. The courts are there. You will go to the court to make a case against him. You prove the case and the court will prepare extradition order and send it to our British counterparts. They’ll look at it and if it is a good one, they will honour it.
 We have a solid extradition treaty with the British. If a Nigerian had committed a crime and ran to Britain and we believe he should be prosecuted, what is the process? The law is clear. You take his case before a Nigerian court. The Nigerian court will look at the case, pass a sentence, and that matter will then be processed through the British High Commission here to the British government, saying this fellow had committed such and such an offence and is required to come here and answer questions in our court.
Umaru Dikko was accused of corruption and importation of rice, if I can remember. But was that why you must go and kidnap him in a foreign land? 
  Interestingly, he, Umaru Dikko, thought I was part of the plan to crate him back because there was even an interesting development to it. Coincidentally, the co-pilot of the plane that was used to go and bring him back to Nigeria was a Horsfall, was my cousin. So Umaru Dikko was thinking how come I was No. 2 in the NSO and my cousin was the co-pilot of the plane despatched to crate him back and I wouldn’t know about it.
 When things like this are being planned, nobody tells me because I won’t agree, and when I don’t agree, they will think I will torpedo them. I was in position to be consulted because I was head of Operations and when you wanted to do such a thing you must consult me.
 When I finally met Alhaji Dikko one day, he jokingly accused me of masterminding his kidnap. I also jokingly answered him, “You must be a foolish man. If I had had a hand in the kidnap plot, we would have succeeded because I am the expert.” Instead, they went to use Israelis and all sorts of people.   
In Intelligence, loyalty is a strong doubt. How were you able to win the favour of General Ibrahim Babangida to make him pick you to head the new National Intelligence Agency (NIA), considering the fact he regarded the NSO where you were No. 2 as noxious?
I want to see it this way. Before Babangida became Head of State, I had never met him. I am a strict professional; I don’t jump out of line to make friends outside the system. When he came in in the coup that ousted Gen. Buhari, as far as I was concerned, I was going to be cashiered. Our No.1, who was Rafindadi, had been arrested and disgraced on television. I was waiting for what else would befall the system.
 I have always been a strict professional and I am sure those who were in this business of darkness and light  – they operate in the night and you never know what pushes their actions  –  were snooping and finding out who was who. After arresting Rafindadi and parading him on television, I thought the next person they would come for would be me. I was an Assistant Director-General under Rafindadi and I had about four other directors under me.
 Somehow, we had known in the security circle that there would be a coup but we couldn’t stop it. So what did I do? My wife and some of my children were already with my cousin abroad where one of my daughters would be graduating from the Law University, Manchester. There were only two children and I here. So when I knew there would be a coup, I just took the children and drove to my cousin’s place at Shell’s quarters near Navy Town, Ojo, where I spent the weekend. That was where I was when the coup happened. I contacted my directors on telephone and advised them to take cover because we didn’t know where we stood in the new dispensation.  Rafindadi seemed to be their target, and by extension, we felt, the NSO was their target.
     We were in hiding, more or less, for five days. Surprisingly, on the night of the fourth day, Babangida was on phone to me. I didn’t know it was him since I didn’t know him before them and I didn’t have his phone number. He said, “Albert, what’s going on? We are expecting to talk with you but we haven’t heard from you. Where are you?” I replied I was alive and around, but I didn’t know his mission yet so I was taking cover.  He replied they were not after me so I should just come out.       
  So we came out. I called some of my officers. Babangida called one of his officers, Aliyu Muhammed Gusau, to talk with us. Gusau explained the coup had become necessary because of what he called the high-handedness of the NSO. He said we were the cause of the coup. When he finished, he asked if there was anything I wanted to say as the most senior officer. I said, yes. I remember very well now that I told him he had come to tell us the coup had become necessary because of the performance of the NSO. I said, “Fine talk. We know that today, it is the NSO that had caused the trouble. What we don’t know is who will cause the next trouble tomorrow. It could be you the military,” and I pointed at him.
 They were very offended. My officers were stopping me. When we trooped out, one of the officers who came with them, one Jika who is late now, stopped me, saluted and said, “I will respect you for the rest of my life. If we have officers like you, this country would survive”. Jika later broke ranks with them.
But as an insider, would you admit, as the coupists alleged, that the NSO was high-handed and unnecessary ruthless?
I don’t think so. We must understand that security and Intelligence services reflect, more or less, the attitude and objectives of the political leadership. At that time, the performance of the NSO was reflective of the objectives of the political leadership. We must note that both Gen. Buhari the Head of State and Rafindadi, the NSO DG are from the same place. They operated together and understood each other well, so if the NSO reflected the objectives of government at that time, it was the leadership.
You left the SSS in October 1992 and almost immediately, in 1993, you became the first Chairman of the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC)? How did the quick transition happen?         
I just got tired with the Security and Intelligence job. I was fed up. There was tension, and there were crises everywhere, everyday. I wanted to leave. I went to Gen. Babangida to inform him I wanted to leave. He first said I couldn’t leave. But I told him my mind was made up and if he didn’t let me go I would just walk away from the job. And he said they would arrest me.
  So we had to walk out a compromise, and that compromise was what took me to OMPADEC. They brought out a number of options for us to discuss and when they decided on OMPADEC, I didn’t really like it. I didn’t want to go to OMPADEC simply because as far as Rivers State, Niger Delta and the South-south area was concerned, I was their hero. But I knew once I went to work within and among them, they would soon begin to find faults with me and I would no longer be a hero. But of the options offered me, that seemed to be the best way out to leave the Intelligence and Security services.
And did you encounter challenges from among them establishing OMPADEC?    
Our first challenge was manpower, looking for qualified hands to drive the new body. We didn’t have any manpower of any sort to start with. But we recruited hands at the senior level and sent them for training at ASCON, Badagry and other places and we overcame that problem and started to move.
 But what I had earlier identified was a big challenge. I was always looking for the ideal, the best. I was always looking for solutions to problems. In most situations in Nigeria, people are always looking for short cuts; theirs is, ‘bring out the money, let’s share, let’s eat.’ And that was not my temperament.
 Worse, when Abacha took over as Head of State, he was also a money-minded person and we could no longer agree, so a big problem started and I left. I didn’t leave by resignation. I left because he, Abacha, had realised we were not getting on, so what he did was obliging me by dissolving the OMPADEC board.
Did the crisis that led to the dissolution of the OMPADEC board have anything to do with you sacking Dr. Junaid Muhammed from the OMPADEC board?   
No. Dr. Junaid had very funny ideas of himself and on the rules of the North, vis-à-vis the rest of Nigeria. Junaid was appointed as one of the commissioners of the OMPADEC board. Two were appointed from non-oil producing areas and he was one of them. Junaid felt that by virtue of the fact that he was a Northerner and one of the two men appointed from non-oil producing areas, he ought to be my No. 2, automatically. He actually brought a letter from my highly-respected boss, M.D. Yusuf, who asked me to cooperate with Junaid. But everybody knows Junaid is loud-mouthed and full of himself.
 Clearly, Junaid didn’t come to work; he came to do politics. The first time he declared himself was he didn’t come to work, he came with a mission that the best way he felt I should run the place was that I should run it, while I should just call the rest of the appointees as Commissioners from time to time to consult with me. I laughed and told him, “Look, Junaid, everyone of us will sit down and work here. Nobody is an exception. I won’t run a board that you will come from time to time to participate in.”
 He got defeated on that score, but he became a truant. He would not attend board meetings. Rather, he would go gallivanting. He would go to Cross River State and spend time with the military administrator there at that time. As one of the Commissioners, we had provided him a house, a steward and an official vehicle. Junaid was taking all the pleasure but he wasn’t willing to contribute anything. So I said, “Ok, you don’t do that with Albert. If you will not work, you don’t get paid.”
 So I stopped his pay. I asked somebody to recover his car. Then, he was not even in Port-Harcourt, he was in Abuja, telling lies and concocting stories. Later, I got a message that Abacha wanted to see me because of Junaid. I went to Abuja. But instead of meeting Abacha, I ended up in the office of the then Secretary to the Federal Government, Aminu Saleh, who died in July last year.
 Saleh said to me: “Chief, we heard that you have stopped this man’s pay. He is a representative of the federal government, but you have locked him out of his premises.”
 I replied, “You are the SFG. If you are to truly protect the interest of the federal government, this man Junaid has been appointed to the OMPADEC board, but he is not there to work, he is not showing up for duty and meetings, so he I don’t think he should be paid. No work, no pay. I can’t pay him if he doesn’t sit down to work. We argued that and I said, “Well, you have the prerogative”, and I left.
 But we didn’t stop at that. I was hoping to see Abacha because the last time I saw him, we had a kind of an altercation. He wanted us to give him us some money from the OMPADEC fund. Abacha’s problem was always money. I told him we didn’t have any money, that, in fact, I had come to see him to ask for funds for OMPADEC. I asked him how I would account for such money anyway. From that day, we were no longer friends.     
 Well, Junaid left. I succeeded him in chasing him out, I succeeded in getting his apartment locked, I succeeded in recovering the official car from him. That is the kind of fellow I am. Once I believe I am in the right, I don’t care who is the power behind the barrier, I will pull it down. He alone cannot be bigger than Nigeria, he must work in the national interest. To do otherwise, we will bring down this country. That has always been my principle.
You gave former president, Goodluck Jonathan, his first public service job. How did you discover him?
I didn’t discover him. As I said, when I got to OMPADEC, my greatest problem was manpower, so I recruited the first set of senior manpower. Jonathan was not even in the first 11. Those who were in the first 11 were directors, and I had about 12 of them. He was not even a Deputy Director; I had only one, and he was an Assistant Director. The only distinctive thing about Jonathan in my office was that he headed the Environment department as Assistant Director and that department was to report directly to me. But I don’t think I saw him more than a couple of times, if I saw him at all. I didn’t know him. He was just anonymous. I recruited him along with other people.
Despite federal government’s intervention efforts in the Niger Delta, starting from the OMPADEC that you headed, the region remains relatively under-developed. Why have the efforts defied visible results?
Simple. The approach has been completely wrong ab initio. You don’t solve a political issue by handing out incentives. The problem of the Niger Delta is a political problem; giving palliatives through intervention boards will never solve the problem. I am sure by now those concerned know how to solve the problem, that is if they are genuinely sincere about solving it.
 When I say political approach, I meant political issues are settled by discussions and agreements and understanding. Government should dialogue with these people and find out what they actually need. What is peculiar about their situation? I don’t think the Niger Delta people want to leave Nigeria. So if there is anything that will make the situation easier, we should discuss it.
But what about implementation of decisions arising from the dialogues, considering the fact that states in the oil producing states have been collecting the 13% derivation handout, and there are the NDDC and the Ministry of Niger Delta, and yet the Niger Delta area remains underdeveloped?
I don’t understand what is happening. But I understand the state governors are taking half of it for themselves, to serve their immediate political interests, but it was never meant for them. We’ve also said intervention agencies are not the best way to approach the situation, so government has to find the proper approach to solve it.   
You set the pace via OMPADEC, so what approach did you deploy?
We started by providing infrastructure like roads, and human development. Some people got scholarships. I, myself, wasn’t earning any salary because I was getting good pension from the two services, the NIA and the SSS. When you combine them, the total is better than the salary of a permanent secretary. I was comfortable and contented and didn’t see any need to ask for salary at OMPADEC.
You maintained that the Niger Delta problem requires a political problem rather than handouts. But what is your take on the Goodluck Jonathan approach to the issue, which curried the support of militant lords by empowering them with huge contracts to suppress militancy in the region?
I cannot say I knew his strategy; I wasn’t following the issue at that time anymore. To me, I had left that territory and it was past tense. Most of that time, I was rehabilitating youths, training deliquents in Rivers State, through the Rivers State Social Development Committee platform which I headed. I must have trained more than 1,600 peope, including all those delinquent youths, and they became useful. I trained them in areas like agriculture, petty trading, welding and other technical things. Females learnt trades like hairdressing and sewing. I love human development, and on that training I was fulfilled.
How did that affect your law practice?
My law practice is Lagos-based and my son, who is also a lawyer, was holding forth. I enjoy engaging in all these humanitarian services. But they have their own experiences. Let me share an experience. I was training these militant youths and there was a particular day they revolted…
Weren’t they paid their allowances?
I wasn’t at the centre then, I was in Port Harcourt, but I had a retired major who was the commandant at the centre. When I got there, I saw the major at the gate and asked him what was happening. He said, “Oga, don’t go near o. These boys will attack you.” I told him, “Let’s go.” But he replied, “Sir, with due respect, I survived the military, I don’t want to die now.” He declared he wasn’t going in there. So I drove into the centre and there they were standing about in batches and protesting. I have forgotten what exactly was happening on that occasion, but it was something they didn’t agree with.      
  So I went near there and said, “Come and join me.” One or two of them replied I should come over. I shouted at them, “If you say that again, I will deal with you. Come and join me, you fools.” So they came over. I asked them what were their problems, they told me and we sorted them out.
You are wondering what gave me the courage to handle the boys the way I did? The kind of leadership training we had, when you are talking to a subordinate, it goes straight through his system and he can’t possibly disobey. You are not afraid, you have confidence and you have courage. I don’t know whether they have that kind of training these days. Things have changed a lot, things have changed a lot.
Considering the startling disclosures of looting that happened during the Goodluck Jonathan administration, how would you assess the performance, or lack of it, of that administration?
I have not bothered to assess what he did. You can see my style of operation. I completely stayed out of what Jonathan was doing…
But you were part of the National Conference he constituted…
But I was not nominated by Jonathan, I was nominated by the Intelligence and Security services. That was the constituency I represented.
But you must have read or heard the allegation concerning the sum of $31.5 million lodged in Skye Bank against Jonathan’s wife. What is your take on that?
All those things don’t sound to me as coming from a normal mind…
…The reports, or the lodgements in Skye Bank?
Combine the two. They don’t make sense to me, so I am not following them. What are we going to talk about? That she has so much money in her account? Is it from a sound mind?
Are you saying you are not interested in it because the lodgements don’t sound sane?
They just don’t seem to me as coming from a sound mind, so I don’t follow them, I am not judging them, I am not considering their merits or demerits. Those who are interested in it should deal with the case; the dead should bury their dead.
As an intelligence expert, what would you give as considering to the rise of the Boko Haram insurgency?
The effect of the insurgency on Nigeria is profound, as everyone can see. We acted too slowly in tackling the situation. When the Boko Haram people started with a small portion of Nigeria, we should have quickly assessed the situation, but there was intelligence failure and there was operational failure. If we had assessed them properly at that time, we should have rounded them all up and locked them up in prison, which was never done and which has put us in serious jeopardy as a country.
As an Operations expert, how do you rate how President Buhari has been dealing with the insurgency? 
I am not one of those who just heap praises on what someone is doing because he is currently the boss. And I don’t go against what somebody has not done because of certain sentiments. No. Buhari inherited the problem and the best way to tackle it is to approach it stage by stage. At the initial stage of the problem, as I said, if we had rounded up the insurgents, the problem would have been solved. But at this latter stage that it has involved lives and properties and extensive violence, the way to deal with it is different.
It is taking it step by step, with the same objectives, rounding them and locking them up, and re-educating them. I advocated this a long time ago in a public lecture. If they claim to be Muslims, send them to Muslim leaders to redirect them, re-orientate them and deradicalise them. Buhari will have his own methods of achieving this. I wish him success.
On another form of insurgency, how do you assess how the president is handling the IPOB and agitation for Biafra republic issues, following legal arguments that he should release Nnamdi Kanu, the IPOB leader?
I am a security expert and I don’t comment on something when I don’t have all the facts. I don’t have all the facts on the IPOB/Kanu matter. Since I don’t have all the facts, it would be superfluous for me to make judgments.
But is a Biafra republic feasible?
No. That had been tested and it failed. The thing for us as Nigerians to do is to ensure that no Nigerian is discriminated against. All Nigerians must be welcomed and have a proper presence and place anywhere in this country.  All Nigerians, from East, West, North and South must have fair treatment and representation in the affairs of this country.
 What are the IPOB people complaining about: they want their own country of Biafra. We have a country called Nigeria, and if they are saying they want to break away from Nigeria, that will have a ripple effect. Those in the south will say they want to go, the west will say the same thing, and the Middle Belt, too, will say the same thing. So we have to be very careful about this.
The federal government has confirmed the Nigerian economy is in a recession. What do you say on the economic management pattern so far?
Yes, the economy is in a very poor shape, badly handled. I find it funny that only a month ago, the federal government said the economy was going into recession, and less than a month ago, the Central Bank of Nigeria governor declared the worst was over. Who will believe him? I don’t believe him, and nobody does. Is it magic? I don’t believe they are telling us the truth. Today, our foreign exchange reserves is $24 billion. Would you say for a country whose import figures are about the same as the foreign reserves, its economy is safe? No, no, no, we must be honest to ourselves and to the rest of the public.
There has been so much controversy on federal government’s proposed sale of assets. Do you support the sale?   
No. Every succeeding generation should build on our national assets rather than sell them. It is like a family head coming back to sell the vast family land that earlier generations of leaders had preserved. I don’t believe in selling assets at all.
So would you prefer that Nigeria borrowed?
Who doesn’t borrow? Every country in the world borrows.        
How do you assess the Buhari administration?
How long has he been in power? Not up to two years. It is too short to assess him objectively. So let’s watch him develop.

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