Asari Dokubo’s ‘men’, another Wagner group?

LEADER of the Niger Delta Volunteer Force (NDVF) Asari Dokubo recently declared that his ‘men’ are in charge of security on the Abuja-Kaduna road but the Nigerian military has said the former militant leader lied.

Director, Defence Information (DDI), Tukur Gusau, a brigadier general, told The ICIR on Friday, June 30, that troops of the Nigerian Army are the ones maintaining security on the road, and not Dokubo’s men.

At the peak of insecurity on the Abuja-Kaduna road, motorists and passengers were routinely killed or abducted on a daily basis, as bandits and terrorists had a field day. The situation forced travellers to abandon the road, opting to commute on the Abuja-Kaduna train.

But the rail route turned out to be unsafe. On March 28, 2022, terrorists attacked the Abuja-Kaduna train carrying hundreds of passengers, reportedly killing nine and kidnapping several others. The incident, which forced the shutdown of the rail track, exacerbated insecurity on the Abuja-Kaduna route, as road became the only option for individuals travelling on that axis.

The attack on the Abuja-Kaduna train was the peak of insecurity on the Abuja-Kaduna axis.<br />Image: ICIR archives.
The attack on the Abuja-Kaduna train was the peak of insecurity on the Abuja-Kaduna axis.
Image: ICIR archives.

The security situation on the road has stabilised in recent times, with a sharp drop in cases of abduction, robbery and killings on the route.

It was taken for granted that the military and other security agencies were responsible for the improved security on the road. But Nigerians were stunned when Dokubo declared on June 16 that his men were behind the relative calm on the Abuja-Kaduna road.

Dokubo made the claim after meeting President Bola Tinubu in the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

Speaking with journalists after a closed-door meeting with the President, Dokubo faulted the performance of the military in the ongoing campaign against insecurity across the country.

The ex-militant leader went ahead to reveal a shocker – that his ‘private army’ was contracted by the Nigerian government to maintain security on the Abuja-Kaduna road, as well as in different parts of the country.

Dokubo’s words

He said: “There is a full-scale war going on and the blackmail of the Nigerian state by the Nigerian military is shameful. They said they do not have enough armament and people listen to this false narrative. They are lying. They are liars. I repeat they are liars because I am a participant.

“I am a participant in this war. I fight on the side of the government of the Nigerian state in Plateau, Niger, Anambra, Imo, Abia and Rivers. And in Abuja today, you are travelling to Kaduna on this road. It is not the army that makes it possible for you to travel to Abuja or travel to Kaduna, and vice versa. It is my men, employed by the government of the Nigerian state, stationed in Niger.

“Today, you travel to Baga, you go to Shiroro, you go to Wase. We have lost so many men and in all these engagements, we don’t even have one per cent of the armament deployed by the Nigerian military. One per cent and we have had resounding success.

“So, this blackmail must end. They (Nigerian Army) have enough resources to fight. Instead of fighting, they are busy stealing. They are busy making the government spend unnecessarily.”

Dokubo also accused the military authorities of involvement in oil bunkering in the Niger Delta.

Following Dokubo’s bombshell, the military denied involvement in oil theft. But the bigger issue – Dokubo’s men maintaining security on the Abuja-Kaduna road – was not addressed.

Another Wagner group?

Dokubo’s claims were disturbing, especially against the backdrop of recent activities of the Wagner Group in Russia, and reports of the private army’s involvement in wars and conflicts in different parts of the world. Apart from Russia, where it originated from, the group is known to be active in conflicts in Ukraine, Syria, Sudan, Central African Republic, Madagascar, Libya, Venezuela, Mozambique and Mali, among others.

Members of the Wagner Group
Image credit: Jagran English.

The Wagner group, a private army made up of mercenaries led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, was first identified in 2014, when it started backing pro-Russian separatist forces in eastern Ukraine. It is thought to have helped Russia annex Crimea in the same year. Last week, the group marched on Moscow with an estimated 5,000 fighters, but stopped 200km short of the capital. The development, regarded as an attempted coup or a rebellion, suggested the capacity of a private army to overrun sovereign territories and topple governments.

At last, Military reacts to Dokubo’s claims on Abuja-Kaduna road 

With the Nigerian military authorities silent on Dokubo’s claims, The ICIR reached out to the Defence Headquarters for clarification. The ICIR wanted to know if, truly, Dokubo’s men are in charge of security on the Abuja-Kaduna road, and whether the Nigerian government contracted the former militant leader’s private army to secure parts of the country.

The ICIR also wanted to know details of the security contract between the Federal Government and Dokubo’s army, if there is any.

Dokubo told lies – Military spokesperson

In a telephone interview on Friday, June 30, defence spokesperson Gusau explained that the military deliberately refused to join issues with Dokubo over his claims concerning the Abuja-Kaduna road.

Asked to respond to Dokubo’s claims, Gusau said, “Is it not the comments he made two weeks ago? We deliberately refused to join issues with him. There is no need to join issues with him.”

When The ICIR insisted on a categorical response to the ex-militant leader’s assertion that his men are in charge of security on the Abuja-Kaduna road, and in some other parts of the country, the defence spokesperson said Nigerians know better.

But he stressed that Dokubo’s claims are false.

According to Gusau, the Nigerian Army is maintaining security on the axis with Operation Whirl Stroke and Operation Deep Punch.

“I said we will not join issues with him because Nigerians know better. Nigerians that ply that road everyday, who are they seeing (manning security checkpoints), is it not military forces? So we don’t intend to join issues with him.

“He has made his own statements, we will allow Nigerians to judge whether he is right or wrong. But definitely people are seeing our troops on that road.”

Further asked whether the Federal Government contracted Dokubo to secure the Abuja-Kaduna road and some other troubled areas in the country, Gusau said, “You should ask him where he got the contract. I don’t know where he got the contract. You should ask him.”

“But all we know is that it is the Armed Forces that are in charge of the security of that road. We have Operation Whirl Stroke and Operation Deep Punch on that road. There are certain things we don’t even need to bother ourselves responding because Nigerians know better. We did not intend to waste our time responding to issues on which Nigerians know better.”

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