220 Boko Haram Terrorists Captured, Says Nigerian Army

  • Approval of $1 bn anti-terrorism grant in order, NGF replies Fayose

Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja and Michael Olugbode in Maiduguri

In a feat unequalled since the war against terrorism began about eight years ago, the Nigerian Army, at the weekend, said it captured 167 suspected Boko Haram terrorists in various operations in the North-east over the last fortnight. Deputy Director, Army Public Relations, and Theatre Command Spokesperson, Operation Lafiya Dole, Col. Onyema Nwachukwu, disclosed this in a statement in Maiduguri. He said 53 other insurgents had earlier been captured.

The announcement came as President Muhammadu Buhari’s request for $1 billion grant in aid of efforts to combat the Boko Haram terrorism received a boost from the Nigeria Governors’ Forum. NGF also dissociated itself from the position of Ekiti State Governor Ayodele Fayose, who claimed the grant request was a ploy to garner funds for Buhari’s re-election campaign, which never received the governors’ unanimous support.

In a related development, there were divergent views at the weekend over the fate of repentant terrorists, with some canvassing forgiveness for them while others maintained that they should face the full weight of the law.

Nwachukwu said troops fighting Boko Haram in the North-east under the special military operation code-named Operation Lafiya Dole captured 167 insurgents after raiding their enclaves in the Lake Chad Basin, while 67 women and 173 children, who were identified as family members of the insurgents, were rescued. He said 53 other insurgents had earlier been captured in the northern parts of Borno State.

Nwachukwu said the troops had intensified their offensive to clear remnants of the insurgents in the region, explaining that the operations have yielded result.

The Army spokesman stated, “Troops of Operation Lafiya Dole have intensified offensive on Boko Haram enclaves in the island around Lake Chad. The offensive, which commenced about two weeks ago with coordinated air and artillery bombardments on Boko Haram enclaves, is yielding positive results, as several insurgents have been killed while 167 fleeing insurgents have been captured by the troops.

“Troops also extricated and profiled 67 women and 173 children, who revealed during profiling exercise that they are family members of the insurgents, who fled the troops’ offensive.”

Nwachukwu explained that arrangements were being made to handover the women and children to the authorities at the Internally Displaced Persons camps, after the completion of preliminary investigations.

He said the troops had in the past two months conducted long range fighting patrols and ambushes, disclosing that they have cleared the insurgents’ hideouts at Saada and Juwei villages in the northern fringes of Borno State.

According to Nwachukwu, “During the operations, troops intercepted and arrested 53 fleeing insurgents, who have been profiled and are currently helping with investigations. Fifteen insurgents have also willingly renounced the sect and surrendered, dismissing it as futile struggle.”

He commiserated with families of troops who died in the encounters and suicide bombing attacks by the terrorists, and reiterated the commitments of the military to the defeat of the Boko Haram insurgency and restoration of peace to the North-east.

The army spokesperson called on the people in the region to be vigilant and cooperate with the security agencies by providing information on suspicious persons to help the military in the war against the insurgents.

Meanwhile, as the controversy over the approval received by the federal government from governors to withdraw $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account to aid the fight against Boko Haram rages, NGF has dismissed Fayose’s criticism of the approval and claim that it was not supported by all the governors. The forum said Fayose misrepresented what took place at its meeting, insisting that the governors have given the federal government the green light to withdraw $1 billion from the ECA to fight Boko Haram.

Briefing State House correspondents at the end of the 83rd National Economic Council meeting in Abuja, Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki said the governors had mandated the federal government to take the money from the ECA as their own contribution to the fight against Boko Haram.

The balance in the ECA, as reported to the council by Accountant General of the Federation Ahmed Idris, was $2.317 billion as of December 13, 2017.

Fayose had declared in a widely publicised statement that the $1 billion to be withdrawn from the ECA was a scheme by the APC federal government to fund Buhari’s second term election in 2019. “Since they said they have defeated Boko Haram, what else do they need a whopping sum of $1 billion (over N360 billion) for if not to fund the 2019 election?” the governor had alleged.

But Chairman of NGF and governor of Zamfara State, Alhaji Abdulaziz Yari, said the approval for the $1 billion was a collective decision by the forum, stressing that Fayose’s absence at the meeting where the decision was taken does not exculpate him from the forum’s resolutions.

In a statement by NGF’s Head of Media, Abdulrazaque Bello-Barkindo, the forum accused Fayose of being unfair with his comments, saying, “You can never spend too much on security because the safety of lives and property is the most cardinal among all the principles of governance in any democracy.”

Bello-Barkindo said, “I am saying that the statement was an unfair cut against the forum. When a decision is taken by the forum in one’s absence, once there was a quorum at the meeting, where the decision was taken, it becomes binding on all. I am sure Fayose was not making the statement to undermine the forum. He was just doing his thing.”

NGF justified the $1 billion grant as sign of synergy between the governors and the Presidency in the fight against insurgency, “which ought not to be politicised.”

According to the statement, “This same lack of unity between governors and the presidency had brought about poor governance in the past, throughout the country and now that we are working together, no one should constitute a wedge in the process.”

NGF stated that the issue of drawing from the ECA was very broadly deliberated at the forum’s meeting on the eve of the National Economic Council meeting, where the decision was taken.

Bello-Barkindo added, “If Governor Fayose was there at the meeting, he would have seen the wisdom in the decision. Yes, the administration is claiming to have decimated the insurgents out of Sambisa Forest but they are re-emerging in different flashpoints across the country. They need to be tackled wherever they are and the NGF decided to support the Presidency just as it (The Presidency) had been supporting states with their own problems.

“Governor Fayose is on his own! We have to protect our people and we have to do it with everything we have. Let me reemphasise one more thing, Mr. President is a responsible and honest leader, who does not believe in money politics and he would never divert public resources into it.”

However, Yari has restated that an internal rapprochement is on-going to reinforce the forum’s unity and indivisibility for the delivery of good governance to Nigerians. He said NGF had begun consultations with Fayose on his stance on the ECA deductions to fight insurgency. Yari said the row over the $1 billion ECA money was a minor misunderstanding among governors, which would be addressed. He remained optimistic that a middle ground would be found that would further strengthen the unity of members of the forum.

In the meantime, mixed reactions have greeted the voluntary surrender by some Boko Haram insurgents, as opinions are divided as the whether they should be forgiven or tried. Some, especially religious leaders, have argued that the repentant insurgents should be forgiven and given the opportunity to reintegrate into society. But there are those who feel that the repentant insurgents should still face the law for the total healing of the society. Those were the major suggestions from a dialogue on Peace, Justice and Accountability organised by the Centre for Democracy and Development, Presidential Committee on North East Initiative, and the Borno State Ministry for Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement, with input from MacArthur Foundation.

The dialogue opened on Thursday in Maiduguri with major stakeholders in the Boko Haram-ravaged Borno State sharing their thoughts on how reconciliation and social reengineering could be pursued as the crisis gradually comes to an end.

The Jama’atu Nasril Islam, Christian Association of Nigeria, and some Non-Governmental Organisations believed the victims could forgive and gradually forget over time, because time heals wounds, quoting from their respective scriptures. But Head of Department of Political Science, University of Maiduguri, Professor Ibrahim Umara, disagreed, as he doubted the practicability of forgiving and forgetting the atrocious deeds of the insurgents.

Umara told the forum, “How possible will it be for a person whose nine children were slaughtered right before him and his wife abducted; or the 90-year old at Damboa, whose nine children, the youngest of them having four children, and each of his elder brothers have so many more, were also slaughtered right before him, and he is living right now with the grand children, catering for them in his old age to easily forgive and forget?

“How can kinsmen and an entire community forgive and forget an insurgent, who killed his father right before his mother, who bore him in her womb and experienced the pains of his birth, and after killing the father he takes that mother, calling her his wife on the warped faith that she and his father were not legally married?

“If such victims of insurgency forgive, such forgiveness could practically be temporary, because the moment they see those who committed such atrocities on them now living among them as free citizens ‘pampered’ with occupational skills and start-up capitals, especially while they (the victims) are still wallowing in poverty, the dreadful memories would return to them and they might experience the urge for vengeance.”

Another academic, Professor Hauwa Biu, took a different position, saying forgiveness can gradually herald forgetting.

Participants unanimously agreed that to facilitate abiding forgiveness and forgetting, justice must be seen to have been administered on the insurgents and the perpetrators of crimes during the insurgency.

The representatives of the organisers, Senior Programme Office with CDD, Musa Shalangwa, and Abdulrahman Hamisu of PCNI said the dialogue, which would also take place in Yobe and Adamawa states, was organised following the gradual restoration of peace and security and the return of dispersed victims to their communities.