Chief of Army Staff Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai has ruled out negotiations with the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), arguing that the government’s strategy is to first smoke them out of hiding.
Gen. Buratai spoke in Abuja yesterday at the “state of the nation conference” organised by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA).
Gen. Buratai, who was represented by Major General J. Hamakim, justified the ongoing onslaught against members of the NDA.
The Army chief faulted the criticism of security agencies in the handling of Monday’s protests by members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) in Onitsha, which resulted in some deaths.
“I quite agree that dialogue is very important. But, where it is not too obvious that the adversary is ready to come out and talk, you can also force such a person.
“I think that is what the Nigerian Army is trying to do. Yes, we don’t know the group’s leaders for now. That is the only option. Possibly, we have to bring the people out to know who you can dialogue with,” Gen. Buratai said.
He said the activities of the group were affecting the nation’s oil production, which has plummeted to 1.1 million barrels per day.
On the clash in Onitsha, the army chief said: “Remember that lives were lost; policemen were killed; some were thrown overboard and the military has rules of engagement.
“The question is how peaceful is the peaceful demonstration. How peaceful was the demonstration at that time? If it was that peaceful, how come we lost security agents?
“The rule of engagement is that if you feel threatened, you have the mandate to respond. What we can say is, that was not at all a demonstration that you can say was peaceful.”
Gen. Buratai noted that other security agencies had been “overwhelmed”, a situation he attributed to the constant involvement of the army in most security operations.
He said the Armed Forces, which ordinarily were the last line of defence, are now engaged as the first line of defence because other security agencies have been overstretched.
The Chief of Army Staff said the army is executing three operations – Lafiya Dole (against Boko Haram in the Northeast);Sharandaji (against cattle rustlers) and Pulo Shield (against Niger Delta Avengers).
The Comptroller General of Prisons, Ahmed Ja’afaru argued that the neglect of the prison system accounts for the current “unimaginable” crime situation in the country.
Represented by Ifedi Orakwe, Ja’afaru urged the National Assembly to urgently pass the Prison Reform Bill to allow the prison system contribute effectively to the criminal justice system.
Ja’afaru, who warned against seeing the anti-corruption war as solely that of the President, argued that should the current administration fail in its efforts to curb impunity, the nation “is on a roller-coaster to cataclysim”.
Also speaking at the conference, the Secretary of the Presidential Committee on Anti-corruption, Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye, said anti-corruption agencies have only secured convictions of “small fries” in the past one year.
“If big fish do not go to jail, impunity will continue to rise. We must send big fish to jail. It is important to make this point, because it encourages impunity when a category of people present themselves as if they are above the law.
“So, imposing sanction and enforcement is very important, and that involves the cooperation of everybody, who is a player in the system: including the prosecution, the defence, the Judiciary and the prison authorities,” he said.
Owasanoye, who gave details of government’s anti-corruption efforts, said it was emphasising assets recovery and putting in place measures to prevent leakages.
“In Nigeria’s case, the priority is to return the stolen assets. And this is where the logics are. If you inherit a government that is very broke and your revenue source is going down and yet you have some individuals within the system, who are virtually richer than the state, what are you going to do? You have to go after them and retrieve the money they have stolen. And so, that is the strategy.
“That is, of course, the strategy that the government is pursuing. It is not just by taking stock of the looters, but also by blocking leakages and haemorrhage in the system, which hitherto allowed outflow of public funds,” he said.
Some of such measures, he said, include the introduction of Treasury Single Account (TSA), eliminating ghost workers, avoiding double or over budgeting, reducing cost of governance, reducing the size of government without sacking workers and eliminating budget padding, among others.
Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Adeniyi Akintola faulted the trial of military personnel named in corruption cases in the regular court.
NBA President Augustine Alegeh (SAN) said the event was not meant to criticise the government, but to afford stakeholders the opportunity to assess its activities within the last one year and suggest ways of improvement.
Speaker of the House of Representatives Yakubu Dogara assured of the National Assembly’s readiness to support the Federal Government’s anti-corruption efforts.
Represented by a member of the House of Reps, Linda Ikpeazu, Dogara assured that his arm of the National Assembly will ensure speedy passage of the Prison Reform Bill.
Also at the event were Chief Judge of Kogi State, Nasiru Ajana, former Attorney General of Ekiti State Olawale Fapohunda and Dauda Usman, who represented the Director General of the Department of State Services (DSS).