Mr Mike Omeri is the coordinator of the National Crisis Information Management Centre, the Federal Government’s clearing house for information on the ongoing war against the Insurgency fueled by the Boko Haram Islamic sect.
In this interview, he gives an overview of the government’s efforts to combat the insurgency, the challenges ahead, and takes head on, assertions that President Jonathan’s failure to visit the theatre of operation is a failure of leadership. Omeri, who is concurrently director-general of the National Orientation Agency, NOA, also gives an inclination of how bonding by the majority of the people can extinguish the message of hate and violence. Excerpts:
By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
HOw would you describe the security situation of the country at the moment?
I think it is best to say that we are experiencing anxious moments in relation to lives and property in some parts of our country. The unfortunate situation is not as a result of lack of government efforts, not as a result of lack of capacity to deal with it, but you know that in every society you will find miscreants and deviants.
You will find people who would rather do things against the normal run of events and therefore, what we have is a situation where we are also experiencing such security challenges affecting lives of citizens in some parts of the country.
There is a perception by the citizenry and now by the international community that the administration has been slow to deal with these issues?
I wouldn’t want to say that. When these issues started even before the coming of President Jonathan, there were efforts to curb the trend. Since President Jonathan came on board, he has also implemented more programmes towards curbing the upsurge.
If you remember vividly, he at the beginning set up a Joint Task Force in the Northeast and also canvassed for cooperation in the sub-region for peace and security. You remember that there was a time he had to go to Mali and some other countries when he noticed that insurgents were training or recruiting from that axis. I also remember that when he went there that a number of Nigerians were criticising and asking why he would go to Mali?
If at that time he identified the problems and took proactive measures and Nigerians complained at that time, and now people say he has not done anything, I think that is unfortunate. Not only Mali, he has also visited neighbouring countries to canvass for cooperation towards making sure that the inflow of recruits and ammunition from these areas are reduced.
So, I don’t think that he has been inactive or too slow. And if you refer to the particular incidence of the abduction of school girls, let me understand the definition of being slow to act when before the incident, he noticed that the security challenge wouldn’t allow the smooth conduct of examinations and directed the minister of education to inform the governors of the three states in the northeast to move students to safer areas for the conduct of the examination and he went further to relocate students of Federal Government Colleges to safer areas.
One thought that the state government should also have done the same thing, yet it is President Jonathan that is getting the blame. When WAEC wrote and explained that their staff were apprehensive of the situation and would prefer that the students were moved from Chibok to a safer location, then a response came to WAEC from the government of Borno State that security would be provided, yet it is President Jonathan that is getting the heat.
If at that time that it was argued that the state was under emergency rule and that security was in the hands of the president that the president had directed that people should move away from that area and that the governor said that he was going to provide security and he didn’t provide security and now you are blaming the president, then there is something that is missing. But I am not accusing anybody!
Why is Nigeria a fertile ground for these terrorists?
Every territory that has potential for economic growth is a fertile ground for terrorism because aside from getting money from foreign backers, they can also scoop around for whatever they can get to support their activities. It is not just Nigeria.
Look at the trend, it is in the US, UK, France. They normally would like to go to countries of attention. In Africa you also see Kenya, Libya and so on. So, they go to countries of attention, not countries that will not give them the mileage that they want because it is a crusade that is meant to engulf the entire world.
Is there a political connection to the crisis?
For us in the government of President Jonathan I cannot see politics in it because nobody from this side is attempting to politicise it. We are looking at it from a nationalistic prism and that is where we have a problem in our country and we need to find solutions to it.
Campaign against insecurity
I am even more convinced because I have not seen any governor or minister who is carrying PDP officials around to attack the other parties or vice-versa. The directive that the Information Management Centre has is that we should mobilise Nigerians irrespective of party persuasions and alliances, irrespective of ideology or other persuasions to support the ongoing campaign against insecurity and to rescue our children.
So, there is a change of tone on the part of government because the ruling party had in the past made innuendoes against General Muhammadu Buhari who has threatened to sue your party for accusing him of being a sponsor of Boko Haram?
That is their politics. Don’t forget that this is the National Media Centre, it is not a PDP media centre, and again, it is between the parties and if you remember, they have been having running battles with threats of making the country governable or ungovernable.
That is their own. For us in the Government of Nigeria, operating the systems and mechanisms of service, we are not playing politics with the lives of our children or the security of Nigerians.
The president has been accused of not showing presence on ground in the area. Why?
The army officers there are there by his directives, the service chiefs have been there on his instructions and they are the ones trained to fight, they are the ones who have the weapons and daily, they give him situation reports, and daily he meets with respective institutions and agencies that are on the campaign.
Understanding the issues
His visit to the place may be important but is immaterial to the prosecution of the campaign because the president cannot be everywhere at the same time. However, the president has not ruled out the possibility of visiting, the president has not said that he would not visit. So, I wonder why people take the position that the president has not visited and will not visit.
If you look at what is happening and match it against what has happened in other parts of the world, I think we are understanding the issues at stake because what is most important is to fight terrorism and to use all agencies of state to get this restive situation calm.
When you talk of other climes, the criticism is that the president is the father of the nation and his children are traumatised and that his visit as commander-in-chief would boost the morale of the troops and all citizens there.
Well, they have their way of reaching out and I want to assure that whatever is necessary to be done between the commander-in-chief and his commanders on the field is being done.
There have been reports of differences between state and federal authorities in the campaign against the insurgents. How true is this?
Borno State is a sub-set of the federation and that is why President Jonathan is concerned and that is why the government of Nigeria has mobilised to that place to assist in securing the lives of citizens there. So, if that be the case, there must be some form of connection but it depends on who is talking and what is being said.
So, how long would Nigerians live under this state of insecurity?
I wouldn’t know and if it is a wish, I wish it would end today, but it has to do with two opposing sides, one wanting to have peace and the other insisting that its own ideology must not only prevail, but must be enforced.
You were quoted as saying that government has not ruled out any option to get the girls. Is negotiation an option?
What is uppermost in the minds of Nigerians and their government is to ensure the safe return of our children. So, every option that is within best practises as it applies to this situation will be adopted to ensure that our children get back home.
Have you made any contact with the girls, have they been sighted anywhere?
At the moment all necessary equipment that Nigeria has have been deployed to that area, scanning of the area is being conducted, and so far, we have not seen the girls in the forest area as claimed.
Jeopardising ongoing operations
But I know that this issue is within the purview of the intelligence agencies, so I may not be too competent to comment on that because we may end up giving out information that may jeopardise ongoing operations in the area.
The administration says it is open to receiving support from other countries. So, what kind of support have you received?
Quite a number of countries have offered to help with surveillance, to help with experience and capacity.
Don’t forget that they are coming here to complement the work being done by officers and men in the armed forces.
You say they are coming. Have they come?
Help has come because some of the countries are already on ground and when I say they are coming we also include those who are on their way, but some have already come like the UK, the US, they have been here.
Despite the gestures from the US administration, different personalities in the US government are faulting the capacity, competence and corruption in the Nigerian government. How do you as an official of the government of Nigeria see this?
Most of them do not have empirical evidence about the views that they canvass in the media. Besides, the US government as at the last time I checked was working with the government of Nigeria in this direction and that is what is important.
The views of the few individuals who have access to the media, the views of the media itself are not reflective of the real situation and the mode of Nigerians because the mode of Nigerians is that anyone who wants to help should mobilise support towards rescuing the children and stamping out terrorism in the land.
So, we want to plead with such people not to divert attention and distract interest, but to remain focused on the goal and the goal remains bringing back those children back home safe and sound and that our life would return to normal once again.
Has the administration reached out to the children of these abducted girls?
Yes. The service chiefs have visited Chibok and reached out to the parents of the abductees.
You are the Director General of the NOA, does your agency have plans towards orientating the minds of Nigerians away from the lure of those things that fester terrorism?
Yes, we had done that even before now. Also, the intensity of citizens’ awareness of their duties and responsibilities is even heightened as a result of this unfortunate incident and people are more aware of their duties and responsibilities to self and state.
We have been in the forefront of canvassing for cohesion and closer interaction among citizens. That is the only way that we can patriotically push insurgents and instability out of our country and this would require at least 80% of the citizens working together and once 80% of Nigerians are thinking alike and working together, I assure you that we would push insurgency and most of these problems out of our country.
We have had campaigns, committee engagements, dialogue to reinforce peace where it exists, and to produce peace where it is not existing and I want to assure you that the work of the agency is bringing results because most of the communities are aware and binding to face the insurgents.
A final word?
Nigerians should not despair or lose hope. Nigerians should move towards one another, this is not the time to distract from the goal and we call on all Nigerians not to politicise terror irrespective of who is in power or who wants to be in power.
Let Nigerians look at the common problem and pull all the resources they have instead of wasting it to canvass against government. Rather, they should use it to canvass for security in their fatherland, they have no other place to go. Whatever is it that they do or say to desecrate the integrity of this country will surely live after them.