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Nigeria Decides 2023: 2023 elections: Nigerian military’ll remain neutral –CDS, Irabor

By Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye

The Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Lucky Irabor, during the 61st guest of the Ministerial Media Briefing organised by the Presidential Communications Team at the Presidential Villa, Abuja on Thursday, assured that the military will not be at the forefront of the 2023 elections providing security but will be assisting the police. He spoke on various issues.


Politicians have a way of putting pressure on security forces. And we are witnesses to some of the things that occurred in the past exercises, where some military officers were used to try to compromise electoral exercises. Now, given this kind of scenario, how far are you prepared to go to ensure that the neutrality as directed by the president is maintained?

I’m glad that you reiterated the commander in-Chief‘s directive to the armed forces. I’m afraid you say you have a worry. Rather than worry, I would rather think that trust should be anchored. Why? Of course, there will always be  pressure from all quarters, wanting to induce security forces, not just the military, the security force, the police. And that’s what criminal enterprise is all about. That is what something that is wrong is all about. But what makes the difference is the professional approach to dealing with those issues. And that’s what the military we are committed to is doing.

Now, the reason why we have ramped up our training in that regard, sensitization, a lot of engagement across, you know, the formations and units is being undertaken. And then more so to no articulate code of conduct for all our personnel, which has been done and distributed.

So what, why should they act before, during and after the elections; these are being codified in the SOP that have been issued to them. So, it remains the duty of the commanders to ensure that the directive, as indicated, and the contents of the SOP is adhered to by every personnel in the armed forces.

So, please cease from worrying, rather trust and also engage others to trust that we will keep faith to these desires.

You did appeal during your presentation that the media should cooperate with the military in dealing with the issue of terrorism and other social biases. But you have not engaged the media by way of training, bringing in experts from countries that have had experiences like Pakistan, US to train them properly on reporting adequately on the issues affecting terrorism. 

Secondly, the issue of terrorism has eaten up so many areas in this country and generally affected the economic and social affairs in the country. Why is it difficult for governments to trace those responsible by way of intelligence to track terrorism for me?

I’m glad that you made an appeal. You didn’t see that as a question. But I think you’ve also thrown up a challenge. Which is the first part of your question, the issue of training the media. Well, if you believe that we need to interface along the part of training, of course, within limits of resources available, we could do that. But I think that essentially, it remains the responsibility of your employers to engage in training. Of course, there are things that bring us together, things that you may not have had a clearer understanding, maybe during workshops and baroque  symposia, who could together partner with us to be able to bring our perspectives, our experiences in light of operational engagement and news that you have reported and also things that we believe that you have not taken into consideration in our everyday activities; that of course, can be done. But I think the primary role, the primary responsibility for the training lies with your various establishments but again, I take very good note of that. For those who are certainly the defense correspondents, they know that I’ve actually done a lot of trainings together. We’ve had to do capacity building workshops for them.

Now to your question, who funds the terrorists, perhaps I will also throw it back to you, for you to carry out deep investigative journalism for us to be able to bring such criminals to the fore. But in my presentation, I did mention that a lot of arrests have been made with respect to those who are collaborating. And also indicated the cache of arms and ammunitions that have been recovered from those who engaged in gun running. And I think that from that, you have a sense that a lot has also been done. But again, I believe that perhaps you’re looking for big names,somebody who is a billion or whatever, or has, you know, some establishment anchored or focused on having to fund criminals across the country and beyond.  But, again, like I said, please help us if you can undertake such assets, because when we talk about intelligence, intelligence gathering is actually not that there’s a coalition of people who do that. Is for every one of us. But then the information you provide, of course there are experts that would synthesise that information to bring out operational intelligence from them. But of course, if there is no information, what can he synthesised? So I’m seeing that you help us, you know, by working very closely for us to be able to improve on outcomes.

On the church attack in Owo, when it happened you said some people were arrested but just wondering why there’s no prosecution yet? And also is there an update on the Kuje attack?

On the Owo attack. My job is to deal with those, then, of course, in the line of operation, those neutralized and if there are those we arrest, we handover. I have actually not taken time to find out, what is the level of prosecution. But now that you’ve mentioned it, perhaps I will have to ask the IG, as well as the DSS and other security agencies who are following up on the prosecution?

So if you will help me out, I will do more on this. But what I thought it’s necessary to keep it in confidence, those who were apprehended did they say that they were not involved? I think that should matter to us.  And have they been freed? I think that should matter to us. What is most essential is that criminals are taken out of circulation, let them be cooling off while the rest of us out here have some form of sane environment to transact.

There’s this general belief that whenever we purchase military hardware from most of the developed nations, there are quite a number of conditions attached to them. And sometimes, they could decide to not sell to Nigeria. And that could put us in a very bad situation. So how much has the Nigerian military committed to Research and Development; we just like to say, necessity is the mother of invention. And if that’s the case, is the Nigerian military open to private entities, also helping them invest in the area of research and development?

In part of the presentation you would have seen the outcome of the output of our R&D. But of course, it’s not sufficient. But you also know that the Federal Government established a committee where I am a member, where we’ve been able to look out how we could increase on military industrial companies, to aggregate the assets that are currently available, both within the military and of course, outside the military; the industrialists, you know, what can they bring to the table so that we could expand the local production of our hardware. That of course, is being done. Of course, the impact may not have been phenomenal. But of course, we’re on the right path. But we can’t say that until that matures, we are not going to engage with those from outside, otherwise, decision will not be contained. So in that light, we’ll still continue to go outside to procure and sometimes some of the things we’ve also procured, we’ve done some modification; there are a lot of ingenuity that has been brought to bear as to some of the assets that we’ve deployed in our various front lines to make the impact that we have made to suit our environment.

But of course, some of those are not something you come to the media to begin to let you know, but all I can say to you, is yes R&D is being focused on. There are so many R&D outfits within the military and outside of the military, there are a lot of engagements that are conferences, workshops that enable us. And I’m sure you were at NASANI the other day, I saw that Mr. President commissioned an edifice and you also saw what NASANI is doing and some of the pronouncements of the DG, that of course, have a lot of input to the military industrial complex which of course falls in line with your contemplation. So, we’ll move on the right course.

During ENDSARS, the military was called up to break that resistance  and a lot of people have come up with accusations, allegations, even a panel of inquiry about the whole of that incident was set up. When will the Armed Forces declassify these operations ?

On the ENDSARS, actually, the operation was declassified last year. I personally made a presentation to a group of journalists in my headquarters, where I showed them a clip of what transpired from the beginning to the end, which was not even recorded by us. Eventually, through the presentations made at the investigative panel of inquiry, which was analysed and because that was not available to the entire citizens, we made it available. I showed them, we took time to look at the issues stage by stage. But you see, sometimes the notion of my mind is made up, don’t confuse me with the facts, is what hangs on around many people.

And the question I keep asking is this, what would be the interests of the military, to want to kill their own kits and kin?  What is the interest? You see, this narrative, when people say you engage in certain practices against our people.

The Armed Forces are peopled by people from 774 local government of this country. And there is no single unit or formation where you have only a group of soldiers coming from a particular part of the country.

So what will be the interest? Sometimes, the consciousness of the people is what has been transmitted to their consciousness, perhaps it might be necessary to interrogate them and see how we can reconscientise our people to know that we are in this together.

What do I stand to gain? Yes, I’m the CDS. I know the officers and men that I lead, I know what we have transmitted into them by the way of training, I know the fundamentals, our ethics. So, what you don’t know makes illusions. And I think I will also join to appeal to you, to reconscientise our people for them to know that the apparatus of the state in terms of looking at the issue of security is for the good of the people and not against the people. We are not against the people.

So, there’s no way the military will go and shoot people, it is not possible. We won’t do that and it was not done during ENDSARS.

But again, if you have a problem with a regime, just confine your problem with a regime but not the government. Let’s get it right, there’s a difference between a regime and government because you are part of government. And this is also what the media must also help illuminate.

There is nothing like partisanship when you are talking about governance. No. It does not exist. Government is the government of the people. But the regime is partisan; why? We are going into an election, there are political parties that are contesting, one political party will win and when it wins, it forms a government and the government becomes a government of all of us. Because it is by virtue of our votes.

So, if you now have a few people who still want to stick to partisanship dealing with the regime, then of course, there is a problem. You don’t bring that into governance. No. And I think we must understand that so that you don’t end up making the military embroiled in those inanities. It makes no sense. We need to make progress, we need to move forward.

No doubt you have done a lot towards ensuring peace and stability in Nigeria. But the concern of many Nigerians has to do with the new report by Reuters World News Agency accusing Nigerian military of involving in massive abortion programme in northeastern part of the country. Over 10,000 people according to the report are said to have their pregnancies aborted without consent or information. Can you share with us what actually happened?

I’m glad you asked that question. I didn’t think I needed to dignify that report. That’s why I did not mention it. Why? I was informed by my officer, the director of Defense Information that he received a mail from Reuters, requesting to have an interview with me. And he gave me a letter written by one Alexandra Xavis, making amour of spurious allegations, many of which have now been published by the same Reuters. And when I went through, I asked myself, how could a man be so laden with evil, to contemplate the content of which he wants me to respond? I said, he should go back to the person and if he wants to, that he already knows the military; if he wants to answer he should go ahead. But I’m not going to dignify such. Because you’re saying that the military since 2013, has been engaged in a planned abortion programme. And that is the military that is running that programme. And then in that letter, he also indicated that perhaps is part of government design. And that letter, he indicated 12,000 abortions have been conducted. But they have now published yesterday that is 10,000. And then went on and on to say their sources. And I say which source and of course, there are people who have worked in the Northeast. So I think, I mean, the problems that we’re contending with, I should waste my energy for such things.

It falls within the realm of ‘My mind is made up, don’t confuse me with the facts.’ So since that is the position of Reuters, I didn’t think it was necessary for me to, you know, call them up, and then to engage in because that’s outright nonsense.

Now, on the report, my name was mentioned that at some stage, I was in charge of the operation. Yes, of course, I was. In 2013, I was not in charge, I took leadership of the operation in Northeast in 2016. That I did till the later part  of 2017, that is close to two years, and the other officers. And so let me even confine myself to the time of my leadership of the Northeast  itself. The allusions they made is news to me.

It never occurred, I never saw anything like that both from the Division of center from Giwa projects down to Malari cantonment where I lived, where we have Seven Div (Seven Division)  hospital that was a major hospital for the treatment of our personnel and their families. And especially the wounded.  That again, we had unfettered access by all the members of the media; I recall the engagement I had with the media all through and I take them there, to all the wards except of course, the mortuary we’re trying to build at a time. The whole essence of having to have that kind of engagement was to say, look, this war is real. The deaths, and the wounds inflicted on our troops are real. Please go and see because we need you to work with us to be able to make…and I’m glad that it paid off. And that is why today, in the Northeast, sanity, not only has it returned, we have continued to play our part.

Now of course, we’re not unaware that  there are extraterritorial elements, who really do not want to have us live in peace. Who really do not want us to move forward. I am also aware that of course, the war economy has affected a good number of people. So that now that we’re making progress, they think that status quo ante, we need to return to it.

So, those inanities by Reuters in any case, he said, we interviewed 33 women over a period of how many years, 2013 till date, and then, you were able to conclude, what kind of extrapolation is that? That from 33, we may be able to get 10,000 abortions. The reports claim that there are some soldiers, security personnel that were interviewed; who they are, I don’t know, come on. I think that I will leave it to you to do the interrogation. I’m here. And in many cases, the report also indicated that Reuters, I’m sure one of you, you’re here.

(Turning to the Reuters Correspondent), he said: my brother, were you involved? The man is here reporting for Reuters and he was not involved in an investigative journalism? I do not think that he was involved because that report did not mention his name. And you have some elements outside the country who were able to interview those within the country. And then they came up with the report?

Well, again, I’m a Christian. What the Bible tells me is that the heart of man is desperately wicked, who can know it. So I am by this out, I now understand, beyond what I know, why that representation in the scriptures. So again, I’m not going to be deterred, and I don’t think that any of my officers or men are deterred. We work as part of the security architecture of our country. And I’m glad my Commander in-Chief, has absolute confidence in what I do and what we do. I believe Nigerians are also giving us the support that is required. I think Nigerians are better informed as to the disposition of the Armed Forces relative to the allusions of Reuters for them to take a stand. And to know that certainly the military, the Nigerian armed forces can never be involved in such things.

So my dear brother, please go tell your friends in Reuters that perhaps they may have to do some more work.

I’m disappointed to say the least. Because you asked and I’m glad that you asked. What else can I say? It’s not true.

In October, it was reported that the military destroyed an ocean-bound vessel allegedly involved in oil theft. With Nigeria being part of those fighting the issue of environmental degradation, as well as climate change and all that, the military seems to be contributing to destroying the environment. What’s your response to that?

We know in every decision you take, of course let me  limit it to the armed forces. There is what we call cost benefit analysis. And, when we are given a task, there is an assessment that we do, we call it estimate process. Now what does it entail?

It is looking at tasks, the objective that needs to be achieved and then what the strengths are, what the vulnerabilities are.  Based on the strengths and vulnerabilities, that is, relative to both the armed forces and of course, the adversary, you’re able to come up with approaches to achieving the objective, and how best to achieve that objective.

Now, what we’re dealing with, has to do with economic losses of monumental proportions. And under the circumstance, there is an overriding consideration, which is that the gains from our oil and gas resources has gotten to the lowest within the period of our history and everything must be done to ramp it up to at least a minimum. So that became the overriding consideration for us to take the extreme measures that were taken, and I think it’s paying off.

Yes, the action, of course, of destroying that motor tanker, with its products may have contributed to the degradation of the environment but that is minimal. And there are remedial measures that can also be done, but if we do not, there is no remedial measures that will bring back the losses that we’ve gotten. But that destruction, we can still remediate. And so, I do not agree that we have by virtue of our actions, you know, degraded the environment to such a level that it cannot be managed. We want to get to a stage where we do not even need to begin the destruction at all. And I think we’ll get there. Rome, they say was not built in a day. I can only seek your support and understanding to know the basis for the actions that we have undertaken thus far. I believe that as we finetune the processes as we make greater gains, then of course, many of those observations will not be made.

In the Niger Delta, during your presentation you showed an illustration of what the military has done there with the destruction of illegal refineries. Why can’t the Federal Government tap into the ingenuity of these illegal refineries to refine petrol, kerosene and diesel, since NNPC cannot refine these crude oil?

I share your sentiments that unfortunately things are not always the same as they appear. The ingenuity,  maybe I will say it’s more of a facade alright. And the reason why I say it’s a facade is you have quantity x of crude in a bottle. And then at the end of the day, what you get is a quantity from the cap and you say the man is ingenious? And then the rest is wasted. So what kind of ingenuity is that? And let me also correct you that everything that has been laid is centered around diesel not PMS, otherwise it will consume them. I’m sure you saw the kind of thing that happened somewhere in Imo a couple of months ago. That was an attempt to want to go beyond diesel.

Now having said that, I’m surprised that you don’t even know that the government actually came up with a programme to absolve people like that. There is an approval for modular refineries to be established; licenses were issued. The processes were properly outlined. The question you need to interrogate is why have these ingenious people not taking advantage of that. So please, we must understand that a criminal is a criminal. And he can always come up with stories to justify his or her criminal enterprise. But on this matter, there is no iota of truth to it.

I’m also glad that the PIA has been able to articulate how we could improve on the oil and gas exploration and amongst other issues. So, my appeal to you is that we need to zero in on the notion of ingenuity within the oil and gas space, and let us clean it up. When we clean it up, then sanity can return, then we can begin to do things in an ordered fashion. So that you and I and of course the government can gain the whole essence of those investments. And then the impacts will be felt by the inhabitants where these resources come from.

On the issue of what was earlier on seen as internal sabotage within the military sector and, of course, the issue of lack of synergy among the security forces when this issue of terrorism and advanced challenges came up; in the course of your work, have you had cause to discipline some of your men because of the roles that they have played in the system that weakened your  response mechanism? And you did mention that 1.9 trillion resources were lost to crude oil theft, between what period did this happen?

On the issue of sabotage within the military. I will not sit here to tell you that there is nothing like that. No, it would be wrong for me to do so.Otherwise, I will not have any basis to be sending people for court martial. I would not have a basis for instituting administrative and disciplinary measures. It is in anticipation of the fact that within an establishment, there are those who will not keep to the code of ethics of that profession. And so those disciplinary procedures are targeted at those kinds of people. Many of you have also joined in publishing, so called competitions by this class of people, that we have had to deal with.

He comes into the army and will tell you, meanwhile, he has not told you what he has done. That he gave information. In any case, some of them we published, you saw them when we arrested and handcuffed, giving information to the adversaries, trying to steal ammunition in his fold,  and he was caught. And he’s dismissed and sent to jail. He said no, it is because I come from so  and so place that is why or  that his, commander does not like him. And then many of us, we believe them and write petition.  I have so many petitions that come to me amongst several others. So I’m using that to say yes, that they have not succeeded. And that’s why we keep catching them and dealing with them. And some may not have gotten to the stage where we will  execute them. Because there’s also provision within our laws for us to execute such people.  But of course, the ones that the level of crime that they have committed did not get to the level, we’ll just tie them to the stick in the front lines, and execute them. And  we will if there’s cause for it. So just to let you know.

Then added to that. You talked about lack of synergy amongst the security agencies. I’m sure you’re not talking about the present, otherwise, is in with the Armed Forces, is it the interaction with the police, even with the DSS or other agencies agencies? There is a good working relationship. And that, of course, will continue to improve. Understanding there is an expertise that each and everyone brings  to the center within the ambit of the security architecture of the country, there is no one establishment, that is a jack of all trades. No, there is a content you bring and another  brings another content. And then when mixed, it then gives us the right outcome. This is precisely what we’re working on and I’m glad and I feel very proud that many of the allusions that we’ve had in the past, have been eliminated.

Can we have some statistics?

Well, I don’t have that data.But of course, if you want over a period, we could collate and give you but of what uses that? I’m looking at increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the Armed Forces. Why will I be engaged in renegades? Of course. Some of those data also help to refine our recruitment process. You know, there are certain requirements that we now demand when you go for recruitment. And then, the reason for scrutiny is by virtue of some of the experience that we’ve had. So, if you don’t mind, I won’t give you; so it won’t go to the wrong hands for them to know how we identify them.

You did say 300,000 hostages have actually been freed from across the country. What time are you speaking off?

Timelines for these rescues. Of course, I said about the period from 2016 to date, over 300,000 have been rescued. And I think if you also put together, you know, some of the district reports that you’ve received over a period, should give you that outcome.

If you really admit that there is sabotage within the Army, how is it that when you receive that report by the International news agency to make an investigation, you don’t respond?

No, no, no, that’s not true. That’s not true. We did have…is like you are accusing me today, that I came from my house to the state house. Now, you go out and accuse me that I was anonymous, before coming here… that is not true. Because I am here. I can’t be in two places at the same time. I don’t know. I’m trying to use that context to explain to you

And in any case, there are also some journalists who have also done some work. In any case we have over 250 NGOs, they work with us. Not just with us, but with state governments – with Adamawa, Yobe. And they don’t know? Including the UN agencies or is it the UN agencies that are involved? I don’t know what that means.

This is the point I’m making. You don’t investigate what is not what you know is not true.  I know my house. I live in my house. You will now tell me that in my house there are rooms that are not occupied.

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