July 25, (THEWILL) – Baba Mohammed speaks like most well-read people from northern Nigerian. Once you meet them, you know them at a glance: A confident mien, almost always in their traditional flowing gown and a matching cap with a depression to the right or left and the direct gaze of someone who knows his onions.
Up close, like for instance in this interview THEWILL had with him late Wednesday afternoon on July 14, 2021 in the cozy and cat-quiet ambience in the sitting room of Hajia Fatima Mohammed Goni of PMB’s campaign fame and grassroots politician, we were drawn in by Mohammed’s articulation as he explained his plans and mission.
He is stocky, a little more than five feet in socks with the confidence of a professor in any institution of higher learning anywhere in Nigeria. If he wanted, he would have found a place as a teacher in any institution of choice in the country. For one, he has an intimidating array of degrees, in accounting from the University of Jos, Financial Management from Stanford School of Business, Business Administration from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.
He has had high profile spells in government, in private and public concerns, certificate of corporate governance from NSE, Special Assistant at BPE, SA still for Nasir-el Rufai, served on the board of Afribank, Nigerian Security and Minting Corporation, in the same capacity at Mobile Telecommunications, NICON, Aladja Steel Complex, Sheraton Hotels, Transcorp, Acting Director, Ministry of Mines and Steel. His international resume include working as a member of the Canadian/ Nigerian Bilateral Relations.
What more could such an individual want, having run the gamut of upscale jobs and positions for more than three decades as a public servant?
It is not that Mohammed is angling for any more of those private or government agencies. No! Still, there is one he holds dear to heart and his mission is to make it work with legal backing from the government.
By his own admission, the certified accountant is passionate about two things at the moment: insecurity and unemployment in the country.
True, no one can deny that the security situation is getting progressively worse. It has become something of a routine – bandits attacking Nigerians everywhere from north to south like they are going to the community market for purchases; herdsmen striking fear into the hearts of local farmers anywhere from the Middle Belt to the South west and up north; kidnappings of school children and their senior citizens.
It has never been so bad, some analyst contend, since Nigeria became an independent country almost sixty-one years ago. So, what can be done to check these marauders roaming free all over the country?
That is the question Mohammed hopes to provide an answer to. And what is his answer? To start up something close to a paramilitary force that will assist other agencies in checking the excesses of the bandits, killer herdsmen or kidnappers.
Mohammed’s plan is simple enough: form a National Strike Force – NATFORCE, for short – that will complement the existing security agencies to put an end or reduce drastically the menace of the bandits.
NATFORCE is something close to unorganised militias of America where private citizens bear arms to compliment the National Guard and some such regular armed forces.
“National Task Force,” he began by telling THEWILL, “is basically out to solve two major problems in Nigeria. One: to help tackle the insecurity in Nigeria and two, unemployment. I am passionate about those two problems.”
To be sure, NATFORCE has been in existence for some years now. It was headed by Chief Emmanuel Osita Okereke. He recently passed on and was succeeded by Mohammed only last January.
“I just resumed as DG of NATFORCE in January and when I came in I said let’s put some necessary administrative structures in place,” The current DG continued. “The first thing I felt we needed to do was to have the legality which was what informed my decision to go to the National Assembly.”
He insists the NASS has had one, two, three readings of the Bill proposing that NATFORCE be given legal – government backing. The man was simply elated when he confided in this newspaper that, so far, progress has been made in that direction. “It is gratifying to note at the moment that they were able to pass the first and the second reading and a third reading. Now, the legality is about to be approved and thereafter Mr. President will assent to it.”
If by any means, PMB gives the bill a nod, then Mohammed would have had his wish, mission fulfilled. Still, there seems to be hurdles along the way. The most recent reared its head early last month when the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno proclaimed that no such thing as NATFORCE exists. In fact, he declared flatly that they should cease operations wherever they are. In other words, NATFORCE is not a recognised security apparatus as far as the Nigerian government is concerned.
As the DG of NATFORCE, the NSA’s outright proscription should be cause for concern to Mohammed. All through, he remained unruffled, as inscrutable as a diplomat at the negotiating table. For one, he says, and quite rightly so, the NSA didn’t communicate with him in any form the ban placed on NATFORCE. But he did admit there are “some people parading themselves as NATFORCE members, carrying out some nefarious activities. When I came in as DG, the activities were banned and I also banned the activities of those who called themselves Special Squad.”
“We felt the activities were not in tune with the aspirations and objectives of NATFORCE,” Mohammed went on.” Unfortunately, “they continued. What did I do as DG of NATFORCE? I wrote to the Inspector General of Police to complain about the continued activities of the group. I also requested that if you are providing leadership for an organization like this, it is only nice and proper for you to have a data base: how many people do you have, how many are they? But for you to be able to hold all the staff, you need to carry out a verification exercise. So, I directed all the commands to carry out verification exercise in all the thirty-six states and the FCT.”
According to him, there are directors providing leadership in all the states. And what about the current staff strength? “That’s what I am going into. The Special Squad were staying at Nyanya, Karou, Karimu with vehicles. I did not inherit any vehicle from anyone. They were using three or four Hilux to carry out their activities. Neither did I inherit headquarters from them. Nothing! An organization like that needs to put up structures in place. Number one, we had to go to the NA to have a legal backing. Two, we need to have a place we can call our own office, which we have done, 13, Lord Lugard Crescent, Abuja. Three, we needed to come up with organizational structure for you to know who is reporting to who, from the national to the zones, from the zones to the states and within the state to the senatorial and from the senatorial to local governments and to the communities because it is a community-based organization.”
In his words, NATFORCE is also an initiative of ECOWAS “because all member countries have virtually keyed in apart from Nigeria. So, it’s actually doubly justified. First, Nigeria needs it. Two, the ECOWAS initiative also require that Nigeria will be able to come out with a commission to ensure we are able to combat the importation of arms, ammunitions and light weapons into the country. In doing so, you need intelligence for you to be able to cooperate and collate information from other sister countries to give you information as to what is coming into the country. And at what time so that you can even prevent them from coming in rather than waiting for them to come in before you combat them.”
To him, verification of potential members “is important because if you say you are from Abia state, which village are you from? If you are verified, it will be easy to track you, especially if you commit any offence. We should be able to identify and say, yes, this is one of us because we have your particulars in our system.”
But isn’t NATFORCE likely to usurp the role of already established agencies like Nigeria Customs Service? Not in any way, he replied. “We have so many agencies charged with the responsibility of securing our borders. Yes, they have been doing their best, yes, they have done so much. But the question is there are still so many gaps to be filled. NATFORCE is to complement these agencies. NATFORCE is out to fill those gaps, identified gaps, the security architecture of this country so that we can go to bed and sleep like babies. What we are doing is the right thing to do for the country. As far as we are concerned, we educate those that need to be educated and as Nigerians they are already seeing it themselves. The security agencies have been putting in their efforts. But the question is: are there gaps? If the answer is yes, then NATFORCE needs to come.”