Governor Caleb Mutfwang of Plateau State has expressed concern that individuals working against the country’s interests, known as fifth columnists, have infiltrated security agencies. He highlighted this issue during an interview on Trust TV’s Daybreak Show, addressing the response of security forces to recent violent attacks in Plateau and other areas.
Plateau State recently faced coordinated attacks in Bokkos and Barkin Ladi, resulting in over 150 casualties. Governor Mutfwang raised questions about the effectiveness of security measures, particularly the military’s Operation Safe Haven, given the extent of the attacks.
Notably, the governor pointed out that despite distress calls from affected communities, the attackers were able to carry out the assaults for hours before security agencies arrived. This revelation has sparked public outrage over the security situation.
Governor Mutfwang had earlier stated that the military received 36 distress calls during the sporadic attacks on Plateau villages between December 23 and 24, 2023.
“I was made to understand by the GOC that on Saturday (the eve of the attacks) alone, they had distress calls from 36 points almost simultaneously.
“That will tell you that that is a logistic issue right there…,” the governor stated.
‘Many loopholes in security architecture’
Responding to a question during his interview with Trust TV on where the problem lies, the governor said the work of these fifth columnists within the security agencies makes it difficult for prompt response by the security agencies.
He said, in many instances, several lives of security personnel have been lost after being ambushed due to information leaked by the fifth columnists.
He said, “…Let me also say this; fifth columnists have infiltrated the security agencies. This is a fact we must confront as a nation.
There are many people who should not be there; they are agents of these criminals, and sometimes they even compromise their colleagues. And that is why you have a lot of ambushes sometimes when these security agencies are going on operations.”
The governor added that President Bola Tinubu must give a very firm directive to the security agencies that in the ongoing recruitment processes, diligence must be taken.
“Diligence must be observed to ensure that wrong elements are not recruited into the armed forces and the security agencies. But there must also be a mechanism to be able to fish out these bad eggs within the security services.
“It is only when we do that, that there will be professionalism and discipline, and also some bit of empathy to the victims of these attacks,” he said. He said while the government continues to conscientise and mobilise the communities to be able to defend themselves, the overzealousness of some security officers on the ground makes the process difficult and renders the government’s efforts to be counter-productive.
Governor Mutfwang said communities in Plateau were being advised to be vigilant.
“I will continue to ensure that the communities are sufficiently conscientious to look out for one another. And so, that also gives the security agencies the opportunity to come in as their response time will be greatly reduced.
“There are areas where we can improve, certainly, but beyond that, we are also trying to ensure that the communities themselves are sufficiently conscientised and mobilised to be able to defend themselves, because the security forces can only come in and go, the people still remain in their localities, and they form borders at the last line of defence.
“We must be able to balance. We cannot just leave people to possess guns without control and accountability. And so, my own is that even if we are armed in communities, there must be a registration process.
“You should be able to boost the morale of those who stand up to defend their communities and not arrest them. We have had a few excesses, which we have reported to the authorities.
“We have witnessed a lot of overzealousness by some of the security agencies’ operatives on the ground, who instead of cooperating with locals, when they find them sometimes with ordinary machetes, they confiscate them and we have engaged their commanders to say no, this is not right,” he said.
The governor also said he is an advocate of state police and balanced gun control.
“I am a firm believer in state police. Sincerely, I have heard so many arguments about it: the tendency of governors to misuse their powers, and so on and so forth.
We cannot continue to live in fear and refuse to face realities. Globally, security is a local issue. And unless we can bring it down to the level of the communities, we may not achieve much success,” he said.
Governor Caleb also admitted that since governors are human beings, the tendency to misuse or abuse of power cannot be ruled out.
He said examples of countries like the United States of America can be used to counter this fear, arguing that where there is noticeable evidence of abuse of state police by any governor, the federal police, as is the case in the USA, can be called in to restore order.
“So, I think for effectiveness, we cannot run away from the issue of state police. We must look at it critically; all the talks about community policing by the Nigeria Police Force. I do not think it is effective, because the time span for dissemination of information and decision making is very critical. When you have a situation where there is an attack in the community and the police will (only) be able to mobilise to counter it at three, four hours away.
“It doesn’t make sense. So, we must be able to bring them closer to the theatre of conflict,” he said.
While debunking the reports that the Plateau State government was operating a militia in the form of Operation Rambo, the governor said his take on community defending themselves informed the government’s effort to conscientise and mobilise the communities to be able to stand up against attackers in their own controlled way before the security agencies are able to mobilise to the areas.
When contacted yesterday, the spokesman for the Nigerian Army, Onyema Nwachukwu explained that he would not be able to respond accordingly until the statements made by the governor were properly studied.
Nwachukwu, a Major-General, added that the army, and of course the entire military are professional and regimented organisations that cannot hurriedly respond to issues.
He said the comments needed to be examined after which he would get in touch with appropriate authorities before responding accordingly, if there is a need to do so.
“Let me first see the statement. The army is a professional organisation. I’m not speaking for myself but for the army. I will have to first study the governor’s comment after which we will respond accordingly, if there is a need for it,” he said.
In the same vein, the Director, Defence Information, Tukur Gusau, a Brigadier-General, also said he would like to see the clip or the statement before giving any response.
“I’m just hearing this from you. I will like to see the video clip or the statement, so that I will know how to reply,” the senior military officer told one of our correspondents in a telephone interview.
Daily Trust recalled that a few days after the incidents on the Plateau, some locals protested and called for total withdrawal of the military from the crises-prone areas, saying they preferred to have the police and other security operatives.
But the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Taoreed Lagbaja, during a visit to the state, denied the allegation that troops of the Nigerian Army deployed to Plateau State were biased in their operations.
Lagbaja said it was incorrect to accuse the Nigerian Army personnel, who he said have been tirelessly working to restore peace in the state, of being biased in their operations, adding that the organisation is impartial in its operations.
The army chief emphasised that the Nigerian Army is composed of individuals from diverse tribes and religions. Hence, it should not be regarded as personal property that can be manipulated by any single individual.
He stated this while responding to allegations by some members of the communities regarding impartiality in army operations, during a visit to NTV, one of the affected communities in Barkin Ladi Local Government Area of the state.