• Says briefing is routine
Tobi Soniyi in Abuja
The Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali, has said that the federal government has acquired modern equipment to enhance the combat effectiveness of the armed forces in the fight against Boko Haram.
The minister disclosed this at the State House in Abuja on Wednesday at the opening of a security briefing to afford the service chiefs and the minister the opportunity to update Acting President Yemi Osinbajo on the security situation in the country.
He said the new equipment would enable the armed forces to sustain the tempo of the counter insurgency in the North-east.
He listed some of the new equipment as mine-resistance ambush patrol vehicles, 20mm mortars and ammunition, and patrol boats.
He said the patrol boats had been ordered by the Nigerian Navy for outpost at Lake Chad Basin while a contract for helicopters from Russia for the Nigerian Air Force had been awarded and approval for four more Mi 35M aircraft were being awaited.
Also, 20 more unmanned aerial vehicles, better known as drones, from the United Arab Emirates, he said, had been procured by the Nigerian Air Force to support the operations in the North-east.
He conveyed the appreciation of the armed forces to the administration for funding the conduct of military operations.
He said: “This has no doubt impacted positively on the capacity of our armed forces and troops in fighting the Boko Haram terrorists in the North-east and other security threats across the country.
“On behalf of the armed forces and other security agencies, we pledge our total commitment and loyalty to the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria.”
Dan-Ali said the ongoing operations in the North-east had recorded tremendous success, leading to the restoration of normalcy in most parts of the affected areas.
He explained that the current strategy involves the simultaneous conduct of consolidation and stabilisation cases so as to enable civil authorities take the lead role as quickly as possible.
“Our troops, in conjunction with the vigilante groups, successfully conducted clearance operations in villages and Boko Haram camps which led to the recovery of weapons and communications equipment as well as apprehension of many suspects.
“This is being supported by continuous aerial surveillance by the Nigerian Air Force so as to ensure that terrorists do not regroup,” he added.
He also said that several high profile Boko Haram commanders had been arrested and over 20,000 persons, mostly women and children, held hostage by the terrorists were rescued.
The minister further confirmed that a number of the terrorists had surrendered to Nigerian troops, adding: “Currently, the rehabilitation and de-radicalisation process for this category of Boko Haram terrorists and other rescued persons are ongoing.”
He said the armed forces are providing medical support and basic amenities such as food, clothing and water to most internally displaced persons’ (IDP) camps in the North-east.
He also announced that several inter and intra roads and bridges that were impassable due to the security risks had been reopened and damaged ones reconstructed to enhance the movement of people and goods in the region.
“The Nigerian Army Small Arms Competition will be conducted by 7 Division at Sambisa Forest to consolidate the gains achieved so far and further sharpen the skills of our troops,” he added.
He also commended the present administration for showing tremendous concern for the welfare of troops particularly in the North-east through the prompt payment of salaries and allowances, as well as improvement in medical services.
He said government has continued to intensify international collaboration to defeat Boko Haram.
“Last week, we had a meeting with Ministers of Defence from the Lake Chad Basin Commission and Benin member countries, hosted by Nigeria. The countries include Niger, Cameroun, Chad and Nigeria.
“A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the Multinational Joint Task Force(MJTF) of the Lake Chad Basin Commission to fight Boko Haram terrorists was signed during the meeting.
“This was aimed at supporting the operations of the MJTF operation Gama Aiki II, nicknamed Rawan kada in the North-east,” the minister revealed.
With regard to the situation in the southern part of Kaduna State, the minister said peace talks were ongoing to address the clashes between herdsmen and farmers in the communities.
According to him, some religious leaders led by a former Head of State, Gen. Abdusalami Abubakar, recently visited Southern Kaduna to mediate between the herdsmen and farmers.
“As part of efforts to curtail this menace, Nigerian Army is in the process of constructing a permanent barracks in Kafanchan. Also, the Nigerian Army is expected to conduct exercise in Harbin kunama II in Southern Kaduna, Falgore Forest in Kano and the forest in Bauchi to flush out the criminal elements.
“The activities of cattle rustlers and bandits generally in the entire North-west have been significantly reduced. Efforts and peace talks to put an end to these cattle rustling and banditry in communities in Zamfara and Katsina States have successfully resulted in the handover of various weapons to troops in the states.
“Bandits from an area in Zamfara State handed over 234 dane guns, 94 locally made pistols, 25 locally made revolvers, 17 locally made multi-mural pistols, 10 locally made double barrel guns, 11 AK47 rifles, and five machine guns, in addition to the ones collected in Katsina recently,” he added.
Also, dousing speculations over his meeting with the service chiefs and the defence minister on Wednesday, Osinbajo said there was no reason for the public to read any meaning to the security briefing on Aednesday.
He also said that even though the Boko Haram insurgents might have been substantially decimated by the military, the government was still vigilant in order to forestall surprise suicide attacks from the sect.
Answering questions from State House correspondents after the meeting with the service chiefs, Osinbajo said the briefing was instituted by President Muhammadu Buhari and he would still have to brief the president on the outcome of the meeting.
According to him, the briefing was a demonstration of the administration’s commitment to end the various security challenges in the country.
When asked if the security briefing was not an indication that the president may not return anytime soon, he replied: “No, no, no! Almost every month, these briefings are held. It is routine and it is the president who put in place this whole idea of regular briefings.
“It is even more important that we do so because of some of the issues arising, like the cases of kidnappings and I wanted the Inspector General of Police to inform us fully on that.
“The president is a process person and certainly I am going to speak with him on developments here. So it is not an indication of anything. It is only an indication that we are committed to the security of the nation.”
He said the primary duty of government was to provide safety to its citizens, adding: “That is why we have to be briefed regularly.”
He stated that the troops were doing extraordinarily well in the North-east, adding also that the situation in Southern Kaduna had been contained.
“The peace building process is also going on very well,” he said.
Asked to put a time frame to when Boko Haram attacks would end, based on the briefings he had received, the acting president said: “As you know, Boko Haram, as a military force, has been degraded, they are not holding territory at the moment.
“Our armed forces have been able to dislodge them from practically all territories they were holding in the past. What is happening now are just the odd attacks by suicide bombers.
“By the nature of asymmetric warfare, we are not able to say it has ended now but I think that militarily they have been contained, there is no question at all that Boko Haram as a fighting force has been degraded.
“But we are still vigilant because of their capacity to do damage with suicide bombers. I am very satisfied with what the military has done so far.
“And the briefing has shown graphically that they are really on top of their game and that they are doing excellently well in the North-east.”
Lending further insight into what transpired at the meeting, the defence minister said: “We have thrashed most of the security issues that concern the country at the meeting including Southern Kaduna, the North-east and other parts of the country.”
Dan-Ali was of the view that the country “is very safe and I believe with the concept of the security agencies, all the security challenges have been surmounted”.
Those present at the security meeting held inside the Presidential Villa, Abuja, were the National Security Adviser, Maj.-Gen. Babagana Monguno (rtd); Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Gabriel Olonisakin; Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai; Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Abubakar Sadiq; Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibas Ibok; Director-General of the Department of State Services, Lawal Daura; and Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris.