President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday met with members of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) Security Council and others over the security challenges in the country.
The meeting ended with calls for a joint strategy to bring various conflicts to an end within time limits.
It also agreed that field commanders should take measures to protect civilian communities, as a confidence-building mechanism between the military and those communities.
According to a statement by the President’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, it is hoped that when the trust that has been lost between both parties is re-established, there will be improved cooperation in intelligence-gathering and sharing.
The meeting also agreed that poverty and youth unemployment are at the root of the security challenges in the country, and need to be addressed with greater vigour by all tiers of government.
It also focused on Nigeria’s security policies and approaches in tackling the internal security challenges with a charge that intelligence-gathering and sharing must be optimised for the nation to secure itself.
Security, Intelligence Chiefs Queried
President Buhari presided over the three-hour meeting attended by the Vice-President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, as well as the heads of defence, security, and intelligence agencies.
Members of the Security Committee of the NGF, represented by a governor from each of the six geo-political zones, joined the meeting virtually.
In his remarks, the President used the opportunity to dismiss the assumptions that the terrorists in the North East had far more weapons and money than the government.
He stressed that what was left of them were “mere scavengers desperate for food, raiding shops and markets, and killing innocent persons in the process.”
President Buhari was also worried that in spite of the fact that borders with neighbouring countries had been shut, bandits and terrorists continued to have access to small weapons.
“These terrorists are in the localities. How is it that they are not short of small arms?” he was quoted as querying the security and intelligence chiefs.
The President stated, “We have said enough on the need for them to rejig their operations. I am glad that there are better synergy and cooperation which are very important.
“I have directed the service chiefs to meet among themselves in-between the National Security Council meetings. The services have resources; yes, they need more, and mobility, and are doing their best, but there is a need for better gathering and interpretation of intelligence. Our intelligence-gathering must be improved.”
He also informed the governors of the imminent shipment of military weapons and aircraft from Jordan, China, and the United States.
Bailout For Security
President Buhari, however, called for patience on the part of the people, saying it was important that trained fighters and pilots who must first receive appropriate training man the new weapons and aircraft.
He commended the level of support from neighbouring countries in the war against terrorism in the troubled North East.
“They are cooperating with us. On Boko Haram, we are making progress with Benin, Niger, Chad, and Cameroon,” he said while restating that intelligence-gathering must improve to be able to track small arms in the Northwest, North Central and Northeast States.
The President was also satisfied with the level of naval activity in the Gulf of Guinea, using newly-acquired equipment.
But he demanded that hard-to-reach areas of Lake Chad, where Boko Haram terrorists have found new havens, as well as the forests now inhabited by bandits, must be accessed and rid of nefarious elements.
“The Chief of Defence Staff has spoken about their study of the forests and their potential danger to security.
“We must make sure we follow the bandits and terrorists, but there must not be deforestation in view of the climate situation,” President Buhari said.
In their submissions anchored by the NGF Chairman, Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, and Governor Babagana Zulum of Borno State, the governors highlighted the problems of poverty, unemployment, trust deficit between the military and civilian populations, and the inflow of small arms into the country.
They also noted the problem of coordination among military and security chiefs and played up their own security roles which included the $1 billion they allowed the President to withdraw from the Excess Crude Account for weapons procurement two years ago.
The governors, therefore, urged the President to consider a “bailout” for security for the states in view of the enormity of the resources they now expend in support of the military and the police.