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Insecurity may mar 2023 general elections if … Otoboeze, security expert

A security expert and former DSS agent, Sam Otoboeze, expresses reservation over the success of the 2023 general elections over security threats, he also talked about the Abuja jailbreak, attack on the presidential advance convoy in Katsina, and compromise in the recruitment of security personnel, amongst other issues, in this interview with LINUS ALEKE.

As a security expert, are you concerned about the jailbreak in the Minimum Correctional Centre in Kuje, Abuja where high-profile terrorists in the custody of the state were freed alongside others?

I feel very much concerned but let me start with the last question, what went wrong. What went wrong was a failure of the security architecture around a place that is so sensitive to the entire country. It was not only the failure of intelligence but also a failure of operations and response to situations. It was more disturbing when the news broke that over 300 terrorists attacked the correctional centre. The first question that comes to mind was how 300 terrorists were able to invade the correctional centre and there was no trigger to mobilize for a counter-attack? Where were those on guard duty on that faithful day? Granted that they said that there was no CCTV in and around the facility, but they have people on guard posts. That was such a monumental failure in whatever way we looked at it. I am even compelled not to see it as a failure but as a compromise. For such a massive attack to be carried out, there must have been intelligence around the planned attack. For the terrorists to gain access either on foot or by vehicle or motorbikes, there would have been intelligence around that. So, if there was an intelligence around that which, there must have been, then the next thing will be to activate the response team. So, where was the response team? Does it mean that such a high-level place had no plans concerning emergency response when such an event occurs? I will be disappointed to hear that we don’t have that. This is because if we don’t have that, then, where else do we have it? It is just like attacking the villa and getting away with it. The correctional centre is as important as the villa because the enemies of society are held there for the safety of society. That is why in prison, we can get the good, the bad, and the ugly and because of the sensitivity around that place, it requires maximum protection, maximum alertness, and maximum response. For it not to be there and for such to have happened, I think it leaves a lot more to be desired. Now, what are my concerns? Of course, its direct impact on society, because by the time, a terrorist who had in the past demonstrated capacity to inflict significant injury on society is let lose again, there is the tendency for a worse time to come and watch it, it is going to happen. When something is about to happen, there is always a plan, they look for capable hands, and by the time they do their operational plan because they know that there are hands that if they get them out, their attack will be significant. That could happen in this instance, it was not a coincidental jailbreak, it was something planned. And the plan was not just to free their people to have freedom of movement, or religion and all that, the plan had a bigger plan around it, for a worse attack, we pray that it does not come to be. There is that physical aspect of it that calls for concern, what is going to happen, where it is going to happen? Whether it is going to happen, it is as sure as day and night because the time they did what they did that landed them in jail, terrorism was at its incipient level. Now, terrorism has gotten more widespread, gotten more sophisticated and now they have people with brains and capacity, who have that sophistication but were properly arrested and jailed. Unfortunately, they are now out again, coupled with modern equipment and their capacity. With this calibre of terrorists who heads their operations, you can imagine what they will do. So, there is that concern, what of the consequential impact that is here? When People begin to degenerate their senses, humanity will begin to go down. With the increasing insecurity and uncertainty, people will begin to die before their time. Psychological impact most time appears more devastating than physical impact, death occurs before the actual death happens. Anyone that dies would have died mentally, and when you kill someone mentally if you create a state of fear that individuals begin to feel that anything can happen at any moment, without confidence in one’s self, with the condition that something is going to happen, most times it makes it happen. The consequential impact is not only on Abuja residents but the entire country. Because what had happened, may not just be an attack in Abuja, it may be an attack in some other places but it looks like a preparation for a major showdown. So, a lot of concern for the future and a lot of concern for the present.

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Before the jailbreak, the band of terrorists also ambushed the convoy of the presidential advance convoy in Katsina where some were wounded. How did we get to the point where criminals are becoming this audacious?

We need to understand the psychology of a terrorist. A terrorist wants to make headlines in the newspapers and other media platforms, including social media. So, they are always intentional in their actions because the more devastating their action is, the more newsworthy it becomes. Again, you cannot be a terrorist if you are not a drug addict. But a situation where the security agencies are unable to curtail their excesses becomes more devastating and society degenerates from there. Over the years we have been unable to deal with them, yet we are told daily by the government and military authorities that they have been subdued and conquered. But have they defeated these criminals as they claimed? The answer is no. Each time they claim that they have arrested a terrorist or bandit kingpin, they become more audacious to prove the military wrong or proof that they are perhaps, holding the wrong person. We have seen situations in the past, where the military would announce that they had killed a top Boko Haram commander, only for them to inflict more devastating injury on society a week after. What it then means is that what we are being told by the security agencies is not true. What it also means is that the terrorists can do whatever they want to do anytime and anywhere they want to do it. It is unheard of that the President’s convoy would be attacked, whether advance convoy or not. I am aware that that movement was not in the news. How did the terrorists get intelligence that the advance convoy of Mr. President will pass through that road? How was the ambush planned? Was it a spontaneous attack? Was it the case of someone being at the wrong place at the wrong time? Was it a coincidence of event? The answer is certainly no. This is because, before we attack, we must have access to the capacity of the enemy. We know the weapon the enemy has and then we compare that with what we have. This is to know if we can disable the enemy, judging from the calibre of weapon we have. If we use a knife to fight an enemy that has a gun, it is the easiest way to commit suicide. So, what has happened, shows that nowhere is safe any longer. Without being a prophet of doom, Nigeria is no longer safe. Available information seems to give cause for alarm. Something is certainly wrong with our dear country.

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Some analysts are of the view that the nation’s security architecture has been compromised, do you share this sentiment?

Yes, I will support that opinion, the military and the para-military seem to have been compromised. Compromised in the sense that if they had followed due process and not relied on notes from politicians, there would not have been the need for suspicion. There was something called background vetting, for us to get someone into the army or the police or the DSS, there must have been background vetting but I think these days, politicians just give notes. I don’t know where we are heading, because people are now recruited without proper checks. People are recruited based on the note and that is the best way to compromise. Is it that the Service Chiefs or the Head of Security Agencies compromised during the attack? No. There is no Head of Security Agencies or the Service Chiefs who would want to bring down his organization or taint and destroy his record of service. Nobody points in the direction of his father’s house with his left hand. But the compromise comes from the process of recruitment, compromise comes from the failed system that jettisoned background vetting to notes from politicians. With what is happening in the country, there should have been significant investment with the intelligence agencies, especially the DSS to carry out background vetting of everybody that is to be deployed anywhere. Everybody that is to be recruited into any sensitive place. But these days’ people will go about recruiting, employees by notes. It is now who is sending the candidate, it is no longer if this candidate is qualified for the job or not. So, how the military and the para-military agencies would not be compromised. There is no rule and regulations longer, people are no longer following the rules. By the time you see the advertisement in the papers, they would have concluded the recruitment behind closed doors. So, this is a fallout of compromise. I am not sure how we are going to get out of this, but the para-military agencies are really in a deep mess.

What is your take on the alleged withdrawal of troops by the military before the attack and the conspiracies around it?

That is a rumour, I don’t have the fact and I don’t want to speculate. It will be surprised that there was intelligence that something will be happening and then people instead of fortifying rather pull away from it. I am not sure if that is a lie, but if it is true, then something serious may have happened but I don’t know how to comment further on this. I do wish it is not true.

These security breaches across the federation may threaten the 2023 general elections or prevent free, fair, and transparent elections, don’t you think so?

I certainly agree with you on this. It is a significant threat to the forthcoming elections because people may be intimidated not to go out and vote. People may be too intimidated to go out for a campaign and the campaign grounds also may look like vulnerable and potential targets. Certainly, it will take the grace of God for us to have a free and fair election where insecurity is high. If you ask my opinion, the first thing to deal with before the election is insecurity, to guarantee a peaceful election. But if it is not dealt with, we don’t need a prophet to tell us that the election would significantly be marred by insecurity and the outcome, I will not speculate. But the future is gloomy.

What measures do you think should be put in place to guarantee peaceful and credible elections as well as security of life and property of citizens?

There seems to be a lack of synergy amongst the security agencies. So, the first thing should be to pull the security agencies together and ensure that they are going to work together. There should be synergy, there should not be competition amongst them. It does appear that they are competing for more than collaborating. I will like to look at the operational plan of each agency. I will like to see a situation where all the security agencies including the military will come together to design a one-stop shop operational plan. If you don’t go to the primary one, going to primary three is a risk. So, if we don’t solve our security problems, going into the election would just amount to taking a risk, except something drastic is done.

Each time they claim that they have arrested a terrorist or bandit kingpin, they become more audacious to prove the military wrong or proof that they are perhaps, holding the wrong person

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