Director of Defence Information, Major General John Enenche, in this interview, speaks on the military campaign against Boko Haram, the surrender of some top members of the terrorist group and the authorities monitoring of the social media for security information which has been interpreted in many quarters, especially in the camp of those critical of the Buhari administration, as an attempt to clamp down on the opposition under the guise of curbing hate speeches.“
This new statement by some Boko Haram leaders saying they are tired of waging a war against the Federal Government, how is the military taking it?We are actually following up because it is not unexpected based on the actions we had put in place in the past – the re-invigoration of the war on terror and what we have been able to do based on the directive given by the President and Commander-in-Chief. We started with the clearing of the areas, which is expected to dovetail into dominating the areas and we are now seeing the results. Once the lines of supply and communications to the terror group are cut off, there would be pressure on them and, from Sectors 1, 2 and 3, you will agree with me that even their epicentre in Sambisa Forest has been cleared. But the information we are getting now is yet to be converted into intelligence. We are not taking the statement at surface level because it might be a decoy. It is 60% closer to the truth that they are fatigued.
The next step will be to encourage them to come out, using the Operation Safe Corridor, and surrender. After that – as we did in the case of the 96 that we have rehabilitated – we talk to them through the various channels to give the confidence that when they come out openly to surrender, they will be treated using the Geneva Convention. Furthermore, we would need them to hand over their equipment or we search for and recover them and destroy them to be sure the equipment does not fall into other hands.
Some people are wondering if it should be taken that amnesty has been granted to them?
It’s not amnesty. Amnesty is a different thing from Operation Safe Corridor. The latter refers to a procedure that once an armed combatant surrenders, you treat him as such. Amnesty is not a military thing; it is a political affair.
What does that mean?
The military profession obeys the law of armed conflict, the Geneva Convention, and it is something that is not really normal: Somebody that was your enemy, that shot at you, that killed your friends and colleagues, will now come out and say ‘I have surrendered’ and the law says you must show him love – let me use that word. So, there’s nothing you can do about it because it is geared towards peace because two wrongs don’t make a right, so it is not amnesty. Mind you, it is about all conflicts – there are conflicts that are not armed but there are some that are armed. It is the one that has to do with armed conflict and once he says he is no longer fighting, you give him all the courtesies that go with the Geneva Convention.
What about the cost in human lives and money?
Yes, some people will be concerned that how come people who have cost the nation so much in funds and human lives would just enjoy that. But that is the law and we obey it. That is the price that is always paid for war, for armed conflicts. That is why it is better not to go into a conflict.
For instance, the so-called Intelligence Commander, who claimed to have led the raid to abduct the Chibok girls, is now an amputee. He went into the operation as a full-bodied person but due to the war he’s now an amputee.
What is the disincentive for any other group from taking up arms against the Nigerian state and costing the nation so much?
It’s a collective effort and that is what the government is doing now. Several committees have come up with possible solutions that would serve as disincentive for people to take up arms against the Nigerian state and I believe that is a job for the Federal Government to keep the jobless out of the streets and monitor the religious leaders on the way they preach. These people (terrorists) give the excuse of being deceived by fundamentalists’ preaching.
Is there any intelligence about the location of the remaining Chibok girls?
What about the location or intelligence on the whereabouts of Shekau? We understand that the military were given certain orders to fish him out?
Well, if you are talking about a certain Shekau, there have been so many Shekaus, and I believe that there will be more Shekaus because Shekau is a synonym and has also become a big name now, like we used to have Bruce Lee in those days or James Bond. So, to talk about a definite intelligence or the location of a Shekau now, I don’t think that is necessary but what we are committed to is that anywhere there is any Shekau, we will always knock him off. Once we got intelligence about somebody somewhere in Sambisa Forest, and the Air Force went and neutralised the whole place and, after the Battle Impact Assessment, I won’t be surprised to hear that another Shekau is somewhere else. But like I said earlier, the death of Shekau can only be confirmed through DNA. Osama Bin Laden was killed and this was confirmed using his DNA.
So, I don’t want this issue to be a source of concern to people any longer.
Are you saying, categorically, that Shekau has been neutralised and those we have now are like, in your words, Bruce Lee?
I don’t expect you to put words in my mouth that I said categorically that a Shekau or the Shekau, the one you know very well, has been neutralised. All I have told you is that there have been several Shekaus and that, on several instances, we have knocked out Shekaus and we will continue to knock out any Shekau that comes out.
A member of the House of Representatives from Madagali in Borno State claimed that the people there are still not safe and that the military was not giving Mr. President the right information?
My response to that comment, with due respect, is that the military cannot report the way every other person will report. The media has it way of reporting just as the honourable member has his way of reporting, and the people of that area also have their way of reporting. The military reporting is not sensational; it is real, factual and exact. There is a format for it. It is progressive, the way we see things as progressive cannot be the way others will see things. How was Madagali before? How is Madagali now? People go to farm and they’re attacked now. That is a spill over when the epicentre of terror was neutralised and we have been explaining that to the general public.“And please, never can the Chief of Defence Staff lead other Service Chiefs to go and present a different picture to the Commander-in-Chief. It can never happen, first and foremost, going by the training of the military, second by the oath of allegiance and third, if the CDS does that, he cannot get what he wants. In any operation, there are needs and wants. The needs we already have – the basic weapons and tools. But the wants are the incidentals. If you don’t tell your Commander-in-Chief the truth about the situation, how does he give you the wants? So it is not possible that the military does not give the President the right information. These are people (terrorists) who have been removed from their comfort zone and who are now spilling all over and fatigued because of hunger and the like. The truth is that some of them are surrendering and we are vetting them to be sure of their intention.“We have a multi-agency training centre in Gombe, where they will be trained and re-integrated after the 16-week course and the scheme is working.
Some people say you want to go after people making hate speeches as part of the war on terror
That is not correct. That is a total lie. It was right in this place that I was interviewed and I said we are monitoring the media and social media to help us in our planning and you agree with me that, two days later, a fake Twitter handle came up to say what you are saying which is wrong. In the military, we don’t arrest anybody for that; we cannot and we don’t have the powers; so it is a perversion of information – misinformation. I don’t think I should respond to what is not true.
Okay, what is surveillance?
Surveillance is looking out for, observing, so that we can be proactive. When you get an order to move into a flash point, you don’t just move; you must have a plan in place ahead of the movement. You identify certain things as pointers to the troubled area. What I said was, in response to a question about what we were doing about the hate speeches going on in case we need to combat it, was that we are monitoring the media to be able to sieve information that is anti-government, anti-security and prepare for it appropriately. When the CDS came out of the meeting with the President and told the world about the issues they discussed, he did not mention anything like that (hate speeches). It is false assertion against the military and against my humble self that we will arrest or checkmate people. There is nothing like that.
Social media is an open platform where people communicate and anybody can join and you can get information. Nobody is banned from social media. If we don’t get information about flashpoint you will blame us for not doing our job.
You once said, “In the military, we are now taking on more seriously than ever before, we have our strategic media centre that monitors the social media to be able to sieve out and react to all the ones that will be anti-government, anti-military and anti-security”.
And you added, “We will tackle them appropriately and with appropriate responses”
Yes! What are the responses?
People are concerned when you say anti-government and when you add that we will tackle them with appropriate responses“The responses simply mean surveillance and then to be pro-active in preparation and making our plans in case of trouble; that we need to back up the police and other security agencies. That is in plain language.“
But when you say anti-government, people in opposition have a role to play because the opposition would feel that you want to clamp down…
(Cuts in) We don’t have the power to clamp down. No. One thing leads to the other.“Causes of unrest, I studied them very well at the National Defence College, NDC, studied them very well at the Command and Staff College; one of the causes of unrest in any nation is what you just mentioned…“
Criticisms targeting government?
Anti-government slogans lead to one group rising against another. It happens. It does not just happen overnight and people will start fighting one another and then they will call the police in and, if the police are overwhelmed, they call the military. Causes of unrest are about 20 if not more.
So, you are going to be monitoring it?’
Yes, so that you are pro-active, so that you are prepared because if you don’t prepare, there are five principles of ‘P’: Prior, Planned, Proper, Preparation, Prevent all performance, it’s an acronym used in the military. I need to say this because some people are already saying I am talking too much but I need to clear it to you – it’s part of our training. So, if we study causes of unrest, what do we do? That was what I said in addition to anti-security.
Has the military not been doing that before now?
What I said about Shekau, have I not been saying it before? You need to repeat it over and over when the question is asked.
So, the military is not going to monitor hate speeches?
Did I mention hate speech? Take it blanket: We have Strategic Media Centre. Our Strategic Media Centre monitors the media, simple. It’s like that all over the world and we do so because it helps in gathering information that we transfer into intelligence to help us prepare for whatever directive will be given.
Yes, that is what you should do. But your comment came shortly after then Acting President said, very soon, “we will be treating hate speech as terrorism” and you also heard from the minister of interior that “we will be looking into new laws to curb hate speech”. Then we heard the military say “we are now monitoring social media”. Was the military drawing from the political leadership?
Let me tell you without the fear of anybody, we do what is called threat analysis. Why was I trained for 31years – 34 years plus my cadet days? Why were we trained? We were trained to do threat analysis, anything that will threaten the security of this country and every day we do the threat analysis. Any person can interpret it to mean that it is a follow up to the speech of then Acting President and then minister of interior. Where do we get instruction from? Where do we get information from? One thing leads to the other. On the whole, it is about analysing the threat; that is what they have trained us to do.
Are you reassuring the opposition and any Nigerian who feels threatened that freedom of speech, freedom to criticise government is not going to be trampled upon?
I am reassuring them. The moment the fake Twitter handle came on we responded.“
But some Nigerians say they feel very uncomfortable and unsafe with the government threat and intimidation, “it is becoming too much, so we can’t even speak again?
It is not about clamping down on any Nigerian and I want to restate that it was misinformation to the general public by mischief makes and I was understood by some journalists out of context because of what you got from other sources. So have the assurance that the military will not go into doing what it is not used to doing and what it has never been directed to do by the authorities. That is not the aim. The aim is what I explained: It is about analysing the threat that can come up. It is not against any individual and of course the military does not have the power to arrest in that line.
*This interview was first aired on Channels TV