Professor Tukur Mohammad-Baba is the Dean, Faculty of Social and Management Sciences, Federal University Birnin Kebbi. He is also the spokesperson of the pan Northern Nigerian group, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF). In this interview on Trust TV’s Daily Politics programme, he spoke on the recent abduction of female students of the Federal University Gusau in Zamfara State, the lack of synergy between the federal and state governments in the North West to address banditry which has crippled social and economic life in the region, among others. Excerpt
How did the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) receive the abduction of these girls from the Federal University Gusau?
Very sad, very disheartening and very discouraging. I mean it is a tragedy from whatever perspective you look at it: One, it involved students; two, female students in a part of Nigeria that is highly challenged in terms of allowing the girl child to go to school and of course, this is a very soft target. It’s very sad because of the wider implications which is more than the incident. However you look at it, it’s a tragedy in my opinion.
In your introduction, you made reference to other abductions of female students. We, as a society, especially in Northern Nigeria, have a glaring deficit and we are doing everything we can to remedy it; international organizations and so on are helping, and so when you have something like this, it’s a real tragedy.
We saw the anger in the statement you issued; what informed the choice of some of the words you used?
It’s not anger as such; it’s desperation, it’s a cry for help, a cry that we need to do something. More than getting angry, what lessons can we learn? I am a parent, most of us are parents, you can imagine this kind of thing happening to your daughters. We know about the Yauri incident, what happened? Chibok and so on, I mean it’s something that should not happen.
The Arewa Consultative Forum said in our release, it is something that should not happen, not just in Northern Nigeria which is already weak, it’s something that should not happen anywhere in the world. For God’s sake, what war are the bandits and terrorists fighting? Who has annoyed them? What have those girls got to do with whatever deficit government is having in its policies?
The terrorists picked these people not necessarily because they are in school but to put parents and everybody in disarray. It’s the psychological impact itself on not just the victims but everyone around them – their parents and guardians, the school authorities, the security forces, the state and federal government, every one of us involved.
We first had mass abduction of female students in Chibok over nine years ago; then we had it in Dapchi, before we had others in Birnin Yauri. As a sociologist, why are terrorists targeting school girls?
They (girls) are soft targets. Number two is to cause a disruption, to remind you that this menace is around and it will hit you where you least expect, it hits you where you leave your flank open and so on.
They know, for example, the role of females in our society and especially in places like Northern Nigeria where people pay special attention to what happens to the girl child even within her home. There are necessary things that you do for the girl child – you provide protection, you provide privacy, so it’s a violation of societal norms and it’s deliberate because in ancient times, when people invade others’ society, the first thing they do in order to castrate the society is to take over their females because it has a special significance in the dignity of a human being whether as a parent, guardian, spouse and so on.
Anything that touches the chastity of women in one way or the other has double tragedy because it tends to have psychological effect on the person and it’s one way of bringing people down on their knees.
So, in my opinion, I think these bandits are trying to point their fingers direct into our nose and eyes…to say we are here and we will hit where you don’t want – girls’ education.
Even on the world scale, one of the things they look for in war crimes is the use of underage and evidence of rape and molestation of females. We see it, we hear about it, we see video clips in Democratic Republic of Congo, in Yemen it happened, in Syria, in Rwanda. If you want to hit society badly, hit at the female folk and then those who are going to school.
You mentioned that the attack and abduction was clearly planned and executed, why do you think so?
Because of the manner it took place – success of the mission, timing, definitely they came in the wee hours of the night, at three o’clock. The majority of normal people are asleep at that time. Two, they didn’t go to the university campus, they went to an off-campus location; and three, they targeted females only.
We understand from the testimonies of the girls that the bandits came in groups, some groups specialized in picking their targets and running away, other groups specialized in firing guns to scare people or to repel any attempt by security forces, so I mean everything was planned, it’s as if these people train in the best military establishments we have in the country.
Is the university area forested?
No, it is not forested, this is a Sahel Savannah environment, there aren’t too many trees but of course, the Kwatarkwashi Mountains are in the background.
Another thing, those terrorists have a good echo intelligence of the area, by echo intelligence I mean knowledge of the environment and its geographical features.
Where are we getting it wrong because I know in Zamfara, Katsina, in parts of Kebbi and Kaduna states, we have military operatives…
One, I would say we are getting it wrong by way of operations, what do all these establishments amount to in terms of being effective on the ground? Is there a synergy between the different security agencies? How do we gather and disseminate intelligence?
There are rumours, and I emphasize the rumours, we don’t have an official confirmation that there is an audio clip making the rounds. One of the girls that witnessed it said the army unit was informed and those people dismissed it as a rumour, I don’t know but if that is true, I think government needs to investigate and get to the root of that.
In Zamfara, it’s not a place you will take anything for a rumour. As we say, lack of security awareness, lack of intelligence, lack of synergy, lack of operational effectiveness are recipe for security disaster.
It’s not merely changing personnel, it’s not merely hosting personnel, it’s not the purchase of arms, it’s how effective you are in deployment. I agree that the level of insecurity in the country has worsened, but things are changing and I doubt very much if we, until recently maybe in the last 10 years or so, have trained our security personnel in guerrilla warfare because that is what this is talking about, hit and run.
As you have listed, this is not the first time school children are picked; this is not the first time girls are picked, for God’s sake whoever is in charge of intelligence should be up and doing. You are dealing with a target that is very vulnerable.
So, what do you do? You take all precautionary measures, you gather intelligence, you become very active, you always try to move one step ahead of the bandits so that whatever they plan, they come into surprise, you are ready for them.
I think our government needs to investigate and find out exactly what happened. We are not likely to be told, sadly, but let it reflect in operational effectiveness. And then of course, the federal government as we said should spare no effort in bringing those girls back, we must not allow the terrorists to think they have brought us to our knees.
Where do you place the unhealthy and negative intervention of informants in undermining national security?
It’s a monumental disaster! You see, security architecture is like a chain, they are linked to one another. Now, the most dangerous or the weakest part of any security architecture is the internal saboteur, who will give out information about plans, who will give out information about deployment, who will give out information about who is to be attacked, what they have.
Of course, we talk about the bandits in town and so on but they cannot operate without information, they cannot operate without intelligence. Where is this coming from? From informants, people who are living within the communities or the people who are visiting the community. They observe, they talk, they survey, they gauge and so on, and then pass on information. Just like we gather intelligence, the bandits and terrorists also gather intelligence, so no matter what we do, we should be able to have our intelligence gathering, to fish out the informants. Who is the informant? You and I! Who is the informant? Our neighbour. Who is the informant? The person buying recharge card from us. Who is the informant? The landlord. Who is the informant? The caretaker and so on. Who is the informant? The person who will talk carelessly without minding who he is talking about. Who is the informant? The guy who goes to the bank and takes money without precautionary measures; it could be the bank teller, it could be the bank security, that is what makes the informant most dangerous because he is what you can call your normal person. We have seen it in Katsina State where an Imam was an informant; we have seen it in Zamfara State where traditional rulers were informants.
I would say that the thing is very, very complex and we need a multi-prong strategy to deal with it. We cannot solve it by military means, the police, the Department of Security Services (DSS), the army, navy, air force, cannot do it on their own because even as they are planning, they are being undermined.
Let me include within the cycle of the informants some rogue security elements so that once you have this chain and you have the informant out, no matter how good your plan is, if you don’t have a counter way of gathering informants, you are in hot soup. I would remind you that the big powers have informants.
There was this disturbing statement from Zamfara State Governor Dauda Lawan that he founded on good authority that, at the national level, a lot of negotiations with the bandits are ongoing and he was not involved; how do we place this in a country like Nigeria, a state chief executive is not in the picture of what is happening?
This is one of the major shortcomings; this is one of the major gaps in our constitutional arrangement. Yes, the governor complained, you cannot dismiss it because the week before the abduction, there were video clips going round on social media, where we saw officials negotiating with armed bandits. It was scandalous! We are in trouble in this country, these were government officials and you could even see army personnel providing security for that kind of meeting, and then someone saying on the phone to someone else, “please these people are coming with their arms do not touch them we have reached an agreement.”
Lo and behold, today, the governor of Zamfara State came and said “these are federal officials negotiating with bandits without our knowledge.” That is a major gap in our security and constitutional arrangement.
Why do we call the governor the chief executive of the state if this kind of thing will be going on? I hope this will be investigated by the federal government and necessary action taken.
The National Assembly should also take a look at it. Under no circumstances should this kind of thing be happening; the chief executives of the state is not aware of people coming into his state, so there is no synergy between the states and the federal authorities.
Can you imagine this kind of scandal happening in the United States? A lot of people will lose their jobs, a lot of people will go to prison. They will not allow this kind of thing; you cannot come into a state to talk about security, to do anything security without the knowledge of the governor. That is sabotage and it shouldn’t happen.
How deep is this scenario affecting the psychology of parents and students?
The only way I will explain this is for you to imagine that one of those girls is your daughter, your sister, your niece, your fiancé or a girl that is married to you but you sacrificed and allowed her to go to school, only to be woken up at five in the morning with the news that she has been abducted by blood thirsty terrorists.
Can we say these bandits are queuing into the psychological approach of Boko Haram?
It’s a strategy; they look at the impact, they see how society reacts. They pick the girls, so that you go on your knees begging them to return the girls. Then they tell you, “Okay, give us N5million or if you don’t, we will marry them off.”
Think of your 18-year-old girl being married off to some stark illiterate in the bush with her dignity violated. Yes, we should be graphic about it so that it hits everyone in the head what we are dealing with. It deals with the psychology of what, in sociology, we call the significant others; father, mothers, parents in general, husbands and so on.
Do you see external conspiracy in what is happening?
It looks like… And I hope not but of course, we have been talking about this for a long time. In fact, former president Muhammadu Buhari said some of these things are caused by the post impact of Western intervention in Libya. You ask yourself where the arms are coming from because these people move with sophisticated arms.
Is there a nexus between the insecurity in Zamfara and the gold mining in the state because we have all kinds of security operatives guarding these mining fields?
From what we are seeing, there must be a nexus, anybody who is familiar with Zamfara will tell you that. You go to some locations where you see foreigners operating, places where you and I will be afraid of going to, afraid of getting shot or getting abducted, you will find foreigners sitting down, they are not mining, they’ll just be sitting on a chair with bag of money. Someone mines, give them the minerals then they are paid, we have seen that.
We have heard that truck loads leave Zamfara every night and they are escorted; you know these things are there but you know the idea is even if it is exaggerated, it is from some basic truth. If people don’t observe things, they are not likely to exaggerate, so there is definitely a nexus.
Do you think the school initiative is working, if it’s not working what will you subscribe for the federal government?
Safe School Initiative is not working. If someone can come in the middle of the night and take a number of girls out, it’s no safe school. If it is working, it’s not producing enough results relative to the problem. We want to see more action, we want to see more results; for God’s sake I would have preferred to see a situation where within 24 or 48 hours these girls are brought back.
Finally, how do we save our girls?
Everybody should be involved, it’s not just a function for the government alone, everybody – all the big people, traditional rulers, businessmen, politicians, should all be involved in creating a safe environment for our children.