Kingsley Nwezeh in Abuja
A report that Turkey is supplying sophisticated weapons to Nigeria’s terror group, Boko Haram, is receiving attention at very high strategic level of the federal government, the Defence Headquarters told THISDAY yesterday.
Egyptian Television, Ten.tv, cited by CBN News Channel, had recently reported that Turkey was a major supplier of arms to Boko Haram even as Turkish Airlines had also been accused in the past of shipping arms to Nigeria.
Saying the reported supply of arms to Boko Haram by Turkey was a serious national security issue, Defence Headquarters spokesman, Brigadier-General Onyema Nwachukwu, said the matter was receiving attention at a strategic level.
He said though the veracity of the report could not be ascertained immediately, it was nevertheless receiving attention.
“The veracity of the claims in the video cannot be ascertained immediately. However, it is a serious national security issue and I believe it is receiving the required attention at the national strategic level,” he said.
On reports that 500 surrendered Boko Haram fighters, who recently graduated from a de-radicalisation programme organised by the military authorities in Gombe State, would be absorbed in the military, Nwachukwu said the narrative was unfounded.
“I can assure you that this narrative is mere insinuation as no de-radicalised ex-Boko Haram fighter has been recruited into the Armed Forces of Nigeria and there is no such plan,” he said, explaining: “The de-radicalised ex-fighters are usually handed over to the government for reintegration into the society after successful completion of their de-radicalisation, rehabilitation and reintegration programme.”
In a tape posted on YouTube, an Assistant Executive of the Turkish airline, Mehmet Karatas, allegedly told Mustafa Varank, an adviser to the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, that he felt guilty over the national flag carrier’s arms shipment to Nigeria.
“I do not know whether these (weapons) will kill Muslims or Christians. I feel sinful,” Karatas was allegedly heard saying.
Erdogan later dismissed the tapes as “vile.”
It would be recalled that in May 2017, the Nigerian government told AFP it had intercepted an illegal arms shipment originating from Turkey and containing 440 pump action rifles seized at the Port in Lagos, five months after a similar seizure, when customs officers had stopped a truck carrying 661 illegal pump action rifles after they had been cleared at the port.
“Following intelligence reports, our operatives on inspected a 40-foot container at the Tin Can port in Apapa, Lagos, and found 440 pieces of assorted pump action rifles and other accessories of the guns,” said Nigeria Customs Service spokesman, Mr. Joseph Attah, adding that the consignment was covered with plaster of Paris to avoid detection.
Attah then said an investigation was under way to determine the intended recipient of the illegal shipment and that one suspect had been arrested.
Ten.tv’s host Nasha’t al-Deyhi reported a leak confirming an intercepted phone a few years ago that confirmed the arms deals.
“Today’s leak confirms without a doubt that Erdogan (President of Turkey), his state, his government, and his party are transferring weapons from Turkey to – this is a shock, to where you may ask – to Nigeria; and to whom? – to the Boko Haram organisation,” he said.
Speaking during the interview on CBN’s Newswatch, Raymond Ibrahim, a Shillman Fellow in Journalism at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an expert on the Middle East and Islam, said he’s not surprised by the Ten.tv report.
“The tape was made in 2014 or 15 and it was reported widely in certain areas, in the US and the west not so much and not much came out of it,” Ibrahim said.
“The reason I think is that (Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan didn’t have his fingers so much in Islamist politics outside of his own nation.
“But now that we’ve seen Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ISIS Islamic state caliph that was killed recently, and he was found just three miles from the Turkish border, which is, in fact, the last bastion of jihadi-so-called ‘freedom fighters’ attacking the Syrian government,” he told CBN News.
“It has brought it up again, he (Erdogan) is supporting ISIS,” Ibrahim noted.
“Now we’re remembering and that was I think the point of the Egyptian show, we’re bringing back to see that there’s some continuity here. He’s involved with some of the worst Islamic terror groups.
“If you remember, Boko Haram, whose name loosely means ‘western education is forbidden’, (Haram) was basically doing what ISIS was doing and is notorious for – years before ISIS was doing it”, he said.
He alleged: “One of the things international observers have been noticing, especially increasingly, is that their armaments, their weapons are very sophisticated.
“It’s even spilled into the Fulani tribesmen in Nigeria and other parts of Africa. For example, in Burkina Faso, also in western Africa, the attacks on Christians have become horrific in just the last few months.”
It would be recalled that operatives of the Tin-Can Island Command of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), had, in 2017, intercepted a syndicate that smuggled over 1,000 weapons into Nigeria.
Another container loaded with guns from Turkey was also apprehended.
The Customs, in a statement then, said the guns were found in a 20-foot container marked No. CMAU189817/8.
Comptroller-General of Customs, Col. Hammed Ali (rtd), had said the terminal operator quarantined the flagged container for stricter analysis.
“It was transferred to the enforcement unit, where 100% examination revealed 470 pump action rifles as against elbow plumbing plastics on its bill of lading,” it said.
“Importer of this deadly cargo is Great James Oil and Gas Ltd, while the vessel is MV Arkas Africa owned by Hull Blyth. This discovery brings to a total of 2,671 rifles seized within the last eight months of this year,” he said.
Ali had maintained that “since this container belongs to the same importer of the 1,100 rifles, the ongoing investigation will be reinvigorated to fish out all those directly or remotely connected with these dangerous importers”.
The report noted that it was the fourth time in a year that illegal arms shipments from Turkey were seized by customs officers in Nigeria. Nigeria Customs Service, had stated 2,671 rifles had been imported from Turkey since January 2017.