THE presidency is keeping sealed lips on a report by the Wall Street Journal that the military paid $50,000 (N20.5 million) to a terrorist group operating in the North-West region of Nigeria.
The report said the money was paid to retrieve an anti-aircraft gun that directly threatened President Muhammadu Buhari’s safety, from the terror group.
The report further said the military lost the anti-aircraft gun during a clash between a military unit and a terror group operating in the region.
The presidency has so far remained silent on the matter despite its security implications.
The ICIR sent text messages to known telephone numbers of both President Muhammadu Buhari’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity Femi Adesina and the Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity Garba Shehu, which marked ‘delivered’ but were not responded to as of the time of filing this report.
The ICIR had asked both presidential aides if the president was aware of the report and if he gave the go-ahead to the military to engage with the terror group to retrieve the alleged weapon from them.
A message also sent to the Spokesperson of the Nigerian Defence Headquarters/ Director Defence Information(DDI) Benjamin Sawyer but it was also not responded to.
But the Nigerian Air Force (NAF), in response to The ICIR request for comment and also in a statement, said the story was not true.
The NAF Spokesperson Edward Gabkwet denied that the force had any engagement with terrorists in Katsina for weapons.
It said the report was ‘totally false.’
The statement read in part. “The NAF wishes to categorically state that there is absolutely no iota of truth in the spurious allegation that was undoubtedly designed to cast aspersions on the good image of the Service. The said report is totally false. It should therefore be taken as fake news and disregarded.”
“Indeed, we ordinarily would not have responded to such baseless and utterly illogical allegation but for the need to set the record straight as well as reaffirm the NAF’s unflinching commitment to decisively dealing with the armed bandits and all other criminal elements in the Country in partnership with other services of the Armed Forces and other Security Agencies.”
The U.S based news outlet had reported that the money was delivered to the terrorist group based in Rugu Forest by an officer of the Nigerian military after the group agreed to part with the truck-mounted 12.7 calibre anti-aircraft in exchange for ransom.
Rugu Forest is a thick forest stretching from Birnin Gwari in Kaduna State, passing through Katsina State, and ending in Zamfara State.
According to the Journal, the government decided to engage with the terror group because it posed a threat to President Muhammadu Buhari, who planned to fly to his hometown about 80 miles away. “The government needed to buy it back.”
“The mission to buy back the antiaircraft gun began with a handoff from a high-ranking air force intelligence officer in the capital Abuja: a black zip-up bag he said was full of 20 million Nigerian naira,” the paper reported, stating that such military hardware in the hands of bandits “posed a threat to President Muhammadu Buhari, who had been planning to fly to his hometown about 80 miles away.”
The report did not specify when the deal was brokered or the presidential trip that was planned.
According to presidential statements announcing his visit, President Buhari has been in his hometown at least twice this year. The first trip was in late January and another in July.
According to the WSJ report, the military officer leaked the military negotiation operation under anonymity with the terror group because the military realised that it would be too risky to leave the weapon in the hands of violent criminals operating in an area the presidential jet would fly over.
Recall that in July of this year, terror groups operating on the border of the northern Zamfara and Kaduna states shot down an Air Force plane.
The Nigerian Air Force had said the pilot had finished a raid against kidnappers when he came under intense fire.
Abayomi Dairo, a Flight Lieutenant, according to NAF, ejected and used survival instincts to avoid capture and find shelter, before rejoining his comrades.
Nigeria, in recent years, has recorded a series of attacks by gunmen suspected to be bandits and terrorists, resulting in the death of several people.
The nationwide insecurity is happening under the watch of President Muhammadu Buhari, who rode to power on the campaign promise to fix the insecurity challenge.
Six years after his inauguration, Buhari is still struggling to fulfil his promise to protect Nigerians and their properties.
A report by The ICIR had revealed that the spate of terrorism in the North-East and North-West has caused a total of 19, 100 deaths, with the former’s share estimated at 12, 32 and the latter, 6, 777, according to the data by Nigeria Security Tracker (NST) of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) retrieved on October 2.
States in the North-East comprise: Borno, Adamawa, Bauchi, Gombe, Taraba and Yobe, while North-West states are: Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara.
These states, especially those in the North-East, have experienced a broad range of humanitarian crises from over a decade-long Boko Haram insurgency. Borno, in particular, has remained the epicentre of terrorism.
Killings, banditry, kidnapping, and other forms of violence have become prevalent in the North-West lately.
The insecurity in the two regions has spread to other parts of the country.