Olusola Obada, Nigerian Minister of Defence, meets with PM Communications to discuss the role of Nigeria in regional peacekeeping along with its neighbours and the UN, as well as the steps being taken to increase security at home
How would you comment on the risk associated with the region?
In an ideal world, you have risk-free businesses with high returns. Of course, that does not exist. Every business has an element of risk. Businesses with relatively low risk normally offer equally low returns. For higher returns, you need to take prudent risks. No pain, no gain. All the indices are correct and complete for a serious investor to come into Nigeria.
What can you say about the current security situation of the country?
Terrorism is a new, worldwide phenomenon that should be fought in whatever shape or colour. Everyone should fight against this. Otherwise, we leave ourselves open to violence of unimaginable proportions. We cannot afford to do that. We have our families to think of. We have the future generations to think of. Once we can ensure the security of the country, investors will come in droves. We have been ready for that for a long time.
What is being done to ensure security?
In Nigeria, all hands are on deck to address these issues. It starts at the belly of the Sahel. We have multinational Joint Task Forces (JTFs) comprised of Nigeria, Niger and Chad coming out with regular border patrols along that axis. Added to that is area surveillance from Sokoto in the northwest to Borno State in the northeast. We also have JTFs comprised of the military, the police, and the civil defence in all the troubled spots (e.g., Plateau State and the like) to maintain peace and security.
The Nigerian Army ranks fourth in terms of having the best military in global peacekeeping.
Nigeria has been involved in peacekeeping since the 1960s. As such, it has a lot of experience in international peacekeeping. We continue to build on that. Today, under the United Nation’s peacekeeping operations, we are in areas like Sudan (in Darfur), Liberia, Syria and some other parts of the world. Even the UN acknowledges the fact that Nigeria is well-versed and knowledgeable in that area.
Apart from your successful land operations, we understand that you have also rolled out effective programmes to address maritime crime.
The country has implemented highly stringent measures to ensure the safety of our waters, 24/7. For instance, between Nigeria and the Republic of Benin is a JTF implementing ‘Operation Prosperity’ to safeguard our waterways, and protect seaborne trade and commerce. Those who steal from our Economic Zones (EZs) are arrested and handed over to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) where they will be prosecuted.
In the Gulf of Guinea, we have the Nigerian Navy actively patrolling the area.
Last year, the US Navy, in conjunction with the Nigerian Navy and all the other navies of the bordering region had an exercise called ‘Obangame Express’. It was a show of force to curtail maritime crime.
Also last year, our JTF executed ‘Operation Farauta’ to quell illegal oil bunkering and entry into our territorial waters. The goal was to apprehend as many oil thieves as possible. The operation included the use of our NNS Thunder F90 frigate, accompanied by eight or nine other ships. They went into the Niger Delta and arrested 12 vessels (nine of which were released after interrogation). We arrested the crew of three vessels laden with more crude oil than they were supposed to carry. The crew will be prosecuted accordingly.
The success of this venture sends a message to oil thieves. All our security forces and our navy are hard at work on this. Illegal oil bunkering will not be tolerated. Those caught will not leave the country.
How would you evaluate the importance of your national task force in the international arena?
Nigeria continues to be an active contributor to international peace through the UN. The task force adheres to the standard rules of engagement everywhere it goes (as predicated by the existing operations). It does what it has to do when it needs to be done.
How would you describe the President’s position in all this?
The responsibility of the President is the peace and happiness of his people, and the stability of the country he or she governs. Our President, Goodluck Jonathan, is open to dialogue. He is hard at work, looking after the people of Nigeria, and protecting the infrastructure that cost a lot to put up. At the end of the day, the security of the nation is his top priority.
How easy is it for British investors to do business in Nigeria?
As long as British investors follow the right protocol and policies, I do not see any problem, whatsoever.
How attractive is Nigeria as an investment venue?
It is quite attractive. The Minister of Trade and Investment has drawn in a reasonable amount of international investment during its roadshows. British investment, for instance, is set to increase from ₤4 billion to ₤8 billion by 2014.
EU Counter-terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove was quoted saying that he was interested in supporting the Nigerian Army (in particular, the JTF). What is the reality on the ground? How does the EU support you?
They have extended their assistance in the area of training (e.g., specialised training for counter-terrorism) and intelligence. Through the EU, the hand of fellowship has come from various countries (most of whom we have an MoU with), and we thank them for that.
British Prime Minister David Cameron stated that Nigeria is a “dream waiting to happen” in one of his speeches. How is the relationship flourishing between the Cameron administration and the Ministry of Defence?
Not too long ago, I sought to get the President’s approval to go to the UK for the MoU between the British Ministry of Defence and Nigeria. That MoU is ready for signing, and has been vetted by the Attorney General. We should be going to the UK very soon to formalize the agreement, which covers training, intelligence, information sharing, and other areas that I am not at liberty to discuss.
Resolving the issue of Boko Haram is one of the key points of your mandate. What could trigger the end of this insurgency?
We would like to put an end to the violence arising from Boko Haram. We have been working on it, non-stop. We hope that it would stop soon. We are prepared to stay till it is all over. The Armed Forces are ready. They are working very hard. We are not averse to dialogue if the opportunity presents itself. We are prepared to fulfil political expediency. The JTFs are hard at work.
Great nations have gone to war with each other. At the end of the day, they sit together and have tea when it is over. There is peace once again. We are looking for that opportunity, too.
The way the issue in Mali in going (because we believe that some Boko Haram people are training there, as we speak), it is important for Nigeria to make sure that the Mali issue gets resolved as soon as possible. The collective efforts of the ECOWAS countries, along with the French should yield positive results.
One of the key points of the G8’s agenda is national security. What would you like to say about the fight against global terrorism?
The world needs to come together to fight terrorism. Unity is very important. The ECOWAS Protocol on collective security for the West African sub-region, for instance, states that what affects one country, affects all of us. As such, we are all in there for each other. If you touch one of us, you are in trouble. Everybody is going to get on board and fight with you. That is what has happened now with Mali. They called upon ECOWAS to assist them. That is why everyone is going there in droves—not just the ECOWAS members, but countries like Chad (which is coming in with about 2,000 troops).
The best thing is to come together and fight terrorism.
As the largest country in West Africa, how crucial is Nigeria’s role in this initiative?
Nigerian soldiers are well trained, experienced and knowledgeable. Because of all our antecedents (the international peacekeeping operations that we have taken part with), we offer specialised training programmes. As it is, we are in Darfur (Sudan). We train people going to Mali to acclimate themselves to conditions similar to ours. We train soldiers in the northeast and the northwest, trying to replicate the terrain of Northern Mali. We have experienced soldiers who have been to Sudan.
Because of the leadership role that Nigeria plays in the West African sub-region, our Nigerian soldiers are extremely well placed. Take, for instance, the UN’s Africa-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA). You have the Nigerian Major-General Shehu Usman Abdulkadir. It was borne out of his exposure and training. He is a man who speaks about four to five European languages, and can work with many kinds of people.
What should our international readers remember about Nigeria?
There is a deliberate, well-articulated way of changing Nigeria’s image. It is a wise person who does not believe everything that is written about a person, place or country, but instead, seeks to find things out for him or herself. Having a group like you come to Nigeria to learn how things really are is a step towards the right direction. This sort of effort must be sustained. People have to be informed about the realities on the ground.
To abuse the freedom of speech and contort it for some personal purpose is a great disservice to the country being featured, and the publication that it comes from. Half-truths will not do. People have to know the real deal. It should be a continuous thing. We have to work hard on this and sustain it.
How would you assess the existing British-Nigerian relations?
The British government recognises that Nigeria is poised to become one of the top economies in 2020. It has taken steps to move in and develop its existing good relations with the country. It is a good fit. After all, we go way back. We have strong historical ties. We have a very robust relationship in all aspects of governance.
What message would you like to convey to the readers of The Telegraph?
Nigeria has been ready to fly. Everything is in place to make Nigeria one of the best economies by the year 2020.