Nigeria: Massacre of Nigerian Soldiers Tinubu and the Urgency of Prosecuting Terror Financiers

Federal High Court Headquarters, Abuja
11 September 2023

President Bola Tinubu will be indulging in a grand delusion of routing these non-state actors if he adopts the previous Buhari regime's double standards.

In a maniacal display of their capacity for evil against Nigeria, terrorists ambushed and killed soldiers in Niger State last month. And adding insult to injury, they shot down a military helicopter on a rescue operation. About 36 officers lost their lives in the double tragedy. This is not the first time Nigerian soldiers would perish in this sort of circumstance. The saga is heart-wrenching and should be an eye opener to the new administration on the challenges ahead.

The victims were on a special military assignment in Kundu, Rafi Local Government Area of the state to neutralise a band of bandits but they were waylaid, perhaps due to the activities of fifth columnists in the military. Fourteen soldiers and seven injured others, were casualties in the first incident. A military helicopter that had evacuated the dead and the wounded was then brought down, with a terror kingpin, Abdullahi Abubakar, alias Dogo Gide, claiming responsibility for this in a viral video. This cretinous felon has boasted of being the overlord of the zone's underworld. He and his allies should be routed immediately to defang their burgeoning criminal networks.

Facing superior fire power with increased aerial assaults in the North-East from the military, Boko Haram jihadists and their affiliates in ISWAP, gradually and steadily, have re-established a stronghold in Niger State, lured by its heavily under-policed and huge land mass - the largest in Nigeria. The state's contiguity with Zamfara, Kaduna, Katsina and Sokoto states in the North-West, which also provide fertile furrows for bandits to dig in and operate, makes it a haven for insurgents in North-Central region. From the state, they marauded locations in Abuja, killing seven soldiers of the elite Brigade of Guards on patrol in July 2022, in the process. The terrorists that stormed Kuje prison, amidst the presence of 65 security personnel, and successfully released 60 Boko Haram members and 800 other inmates, had Niger State as their groove.

President Bola Tinubu will be indulging in a grand delusion of routing these non-state actors if he adopts the previous Buhari regime's double standards. This provided oxygen to the terrorists to sustain their nefarious activities. At every turn, former President Buhari sought help from the US, European Union and other countries. Countless military support came in tow, in terms of the procurement of military equipment, especially the hitherto forbidden sales of 12 Super Tucano fighter jets by the US; intelligence sharing; the training of military personnel; and mutual legal assistance. Intelligence from the United Arab Emirate (UAE) and the US led Nigeria to identify 400 terror financiers in April 2021. It was a breakthrough.

The then Minister of Information gleefully talked of how the anti-fraud unit had uncovered 123 companies and 33 Bureau de Change linked to terrorists. The erstwhile Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, spoke of the Federal Government's identification of high profile Nigerian suspects who were supporting the evil crusade. A media statement from his office said, government would soon "resuscitate and reinvigorate the existing special terrorism prosecution courts" in the country for the purpose of bringing those found culpable to book.

Curiously, this never happened until Buhari's tenure expired on the 29th of May. While the regime dithered over the issue, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Femi Falana, excoriated the then AGF: "The suspects have been shielded from prosecution and exculpated by the Chief Law Officer of the Federation, in spite of the overwhelming evidence already assembled against them by the team of investigators." No serious country in the throes of terrorism does this.

On the contrary, in far away UAE, Abubakar Ado Musa, Salihu Yusuf Adamu, Bashir Ali Yusuf, Mohammed Ibrahim Isa, Ibrahim Ali Alhasan and Surajo Abubakar Muhammad were arrested promptly, put on trial and convicted. The UAE and US found these agents of terror guilty of establishing Boko Haram cells in the UAE to raise funds and provide material assistance to their confederates in Nigeria. In one fell swoop, they had transferred $782,000 from Dubai to Nigeria. While Salihu Adamu received a life sentence, Surajo and others were slammed with 10-year jail terms each.

Now, under a new political dispensation, the whole mess should be properly cleaned up and contained. The president should debrief all the appropriate government agencies, especially the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), for prosecution to be initiated against the identified suspects. If some were released from arrests by the last regime, as it is being alleged, then the law should take its course against those found to be complicit. Double-standards in fighting terrorism - for which Nigeria has spent billions of dollars in procuring military equipment; lost more than 100,000 civilian and military lives; and with about two million citizens scattered across Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps since 2010 - is treasonable.

Plainly, the fight against terrorism cannot be won with recurrent pleas for global support, a favourite pastime of the Buhari government, which Tinubu echoed a fortnight ago, when he received the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations Office on Counter-Terrorism, Vladimir Voronkov, in audience in Abuja, while the state itself undermines the war by shielding conflict entrepreneurs from prosecution. This hypocrisy and paradox put Nigerian soldiers to the sword and weakens the military that are already weary in this endless warfare.

The failure to effectively deal with the phenomenon of fifth columnists in the military is another immolation affecting our counter-insurgency campaign. It must be squarely dealt with too. A former Chief of Defence Staff, the late Alex Bade, first confirmed the scourge in 2015, as leaked sensitive information and operational plans to terrorists triggered a series of surprised attacks, in which many generals met their untimely deaths. The recent carnages of soldiers in Niger State were preceded by the 18 July downing of a Nigerian Airforce jet along the Kaduna-Katsina border; the ambush in Marti, a town in Borno, in which seven soldiers were killed, in May 2021; and the killing of at least 30 soldiers on a miners' rescue mission in Shiroro, Niger State in July 2020.

As Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka once warned former President Buhari that security was still a "frontline responsibility," it is even more so for Tinubu, with the economy absolutely in shambles and hunger prowling in most families. Having noted that terrorism is an effective danger to democracy, development, growth and prosperity, when the UN envoy visited, President Tinubu should avoid the absurdity of fighting terrorism with Buhari's kind of deception, while embroiled in a seemingly Sisyphean task of pulling the messy economy he inherited out of the woods, at the same time.

Cutting the sources of funding to terrorists kills their lifeline. By doing so, the influx of arms into the country is addressed too. This is a touchstone approach deployed globally in such a conflict. The political and military authorities, therefore, should wean themselves off Buhari's legacies, reset the security architecture, and learn from other jurisdictions that have faced even more herculean insurgencies and triumphed over them.

It is worth repeating that no nation wins the war against terrorism of the magnitude savaging Nigeria with a single, centralised policing system. It is not for nothing that the US has 18,000 police forces; Germany, 22; and the UK, 43 regular outfits. In other words, decentralising policing will reduce Nigeria's territories that are under the control of non-state actors and inject a new life into the strategy that will protect lives and properties.

The country, under Tinubu's leadership, must be leery of soldiers doing the work of policing and at the same time being involved in an asymmetrical warfare they are not trained for. An Anti-Terrorism Taskforce, which Buhari promised, but failed to establish, should be set up now. That's what countries with hands-on approaches to fighting terrorism do. In the US, its Navy SEAL tracked and killed Osama bin Laden in 2011; the Israeli Sayeret MATKAL and M15 of UK, which are deployed for anti-terror engagements, are different from the regular forces.

At PREMIUM TIMES, we believe that Nigeria has had enough of putting its military personnel in harm's way. The time to reclaim our security landscape seized by Boko Haram, ISWAP, bandits and kidnappers is now!

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