Major General Ishola Williams may not be a household name in Nigeria today in the mould of some music and sports stars. But, the retired Army officer and war veteran is well reckoned among those who seek better life and living for all Nigerians who interestingly include the music and sports stars. He is at home where good governance and patriotism are the subjects of discussion and his interventions are always as robust as they are forward-looking. It isn’t for nothing that he was chairman of Transparency International (Nigeria).
Very few Nigerians would remember Gen Williams as the military iconoclast who made news in 1993 after resigning his commission from the Army upon considering that the emergence of late Gen Sani Abacha as head of state in the wake of the unresolved June 12 presidential election crisis was unpatriotic, immoral and untenable.
Nearly 28 years after his epochal exit from the Army, and now enjoying retirement, he has not gone into silence as far as national issues are concerned. In view of the Army’s involvement in the fight against bandits and other criminals in parts of the country, Gen Williams has found reason to express his opinion aimed at finding an enduring solution.
Despite terrified Nigerians having surrendered to the Army for rescue from the rampaging bandits, Williams contended last week that the Army has merely been overreaching itself while taking on a brief that is beneath its statutory duty. Not a few people, especially victims of the bandits who survived heinuous experiences to tell their stories, would get interested in Williams’ call, if not expressing surprise.
But the old soldier was adamant. Hear him: “It is not the job of the military to run after criminals. The military was created to run after insurgents. It is wrong to be using the military in cases of banditry.”
He was far from finished. Hear him again: “Sending the military after bandits would make the military lose focus. The military should focus on insurgency and leave the military police (MOPOL) to do their job.”
Last December, as Nigerians called on the Army to take over the chase of bandits in particularly the north west and north central, Gen Williams described the call as misplaced. He also accused the army generals of appropriating the war against bandits while barring junior officers and other ranks from performing their duties. But, not many took his accusation seriously. Certainly not the generals. But, the more the banditry persisted – sometimes in more ridiculous and embarrassing manner.
He offered analysis of the situation in the way only a core professional would. Hear him yet again: “There is need to separate the paramilitary police from the police service and it should be independent of the Inspector-General of Police but report only to the Minister of Interior. The paramilitary arm of the Nigeria Police Force would take over operations of major crisis where conventional police units cannot cope.”
Whether the IGP is even empowered to quell the bandits remains to be seen. To say nothing of whether the Police Force itself has enough personnel and equipment to fight against banditry if they are to be called upon in the prevailing circumstances.
But the fact that the military has yet to quell the banditry effectively, despite resources at its disposal as well as the gargantuan hope invested in it by the victims, lends credence to Gen Williams’ proposition. It is just as well as the Nigerian authorities cannot continue to follow only one track, that is, unleashing only soldiers on the bandits and still expect a different result.
To put matters beyond doubts, Gen Williams proffers democratic solution to the confusion that has led to loss of lives and property, in addition to embarrassing Nigeria across the world.
“President Muhammadu Buhari can sort this issue as quickly as possible. He can draft a bill and pass it to the National Assembly and then lobby the bill’s passage. It is as simple as that,” he said.
There have been reports of successes recorded by the military in the fight against banditry. But such reports have only ended up being eclipsed by yet another attack by the bandits.
As if to insist that only the military can end banditry in the country, the Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Leo Irabor, has assured the nation that a reinvigorated war against bandits is underway, with potential for a massive positive result. Curiously, however, Irabor expressly stated that the Army “will work in concert with all other security agencies”, suggesting that Williams’ assertion that the Army has no business getting involved in fighting bandits and other criminals is sacrosanct.