•Says Boko Haram is everywhere, including Lagos
“There is no where you will not find Boko Haram, even in Lagos here, there are Boko Haram. In Kaduna, there are Boko Haram. There are more across the North-east. Many have been arrested here in Lagos. We have been tracking them. We arrest them and take them into custody”
Tobi Soniyi in Lagos and Kingsley Nwezeh in Abuja
The Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, has disclosed that members of Boko Haram having been dislodged from their base in the North-east, are now scattered all over the country.
Speaking at an interview with THISDAY and Arise News Channel, Buratai said the military has defeated insurgency in the North-east, but is now facing the challenge of terrorism.
He revealed that Boko Haram members are everywhere in the country, including Lagos, adding that there are more across the North-east.
The Army chief insisted that even though insurgency had been defeated, terrorism would remain in the country for years.
He said: “We have defeated insurgency, but facing the challenge of terrorism.
“There is no where you will not find Boko Haram – even in Lagos here, there are Boko Hatam. In Kaduna, there are Boko Haram. There are more across the North-east. Many have been arrested here in Lagos. We have been tracking them. We arrest them and take them into custody.
“We must differentiate between insurgency and terrorism. I have tried to tell them at the National Assembly. Someone said three local governments are under Boko Haram. How? These guys are not controlling any territory. They attempted to establish their territory, caliphate in Gwoza but they have not been able to because they were flushed out. That is insurgency. They are not holding any territory.
“Typically, that is the end if insurgency. But what of terrorism? Terrorism will outlive you and me and probably everybody in this house because terrorism, since it started, just like armed robbery, like kidnapping, burglary, cultism, it would continue. These are all smaller parts of terrorism. It is when it goes higher that you have arsons, like it happened in Borno yesterday, murder and so on deliberately, no cause.
“What is happening now is just criminality. Since last year, we have not given them any respite. They are now blocked. They no longer have access to foods; their movements are constrained; they no longer get the fuel they needed easily because we have strangulated them. They are now in depressed state; so, they go out with vengeance to attack commuters to abduct individuals and targeting certain religious persons just for their propaganda. This is also is one of the Boko Haram terrorist’s strategy – propaganda.”
Buratai gave an insight into how Nigeria dealt with the potential threat to its sovereignty and territorial integrity arising from the operations of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF).
The Army chief, who was appointed the first commander of the rejuvenated MNJTF in May 2015, said the MJTF that was in place prior to the emergence of President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015, allowed foreign troops to be stationed in Nigeria to help in the fight against Boko Haram insurgents.
He explained that it took smart thinking on the part of the new leadership to realise that allowing foreign troops to be stationed in Nigeria would be counter-productive.
He explained that his leadership of MNJTF made him conscious of the implications of allowing an intervention force in Nigerian territory as contrary to the initial concept of MNJTF that envisaged that each country remains within their territories, they were to be deployed in Nigeria in the wake of the insurgency.
It would have been a major risk to allow foreign forces to remain in Nigeria’s territory, he added.
He said: “Let me start by making this point very clear. As at 2015 and up till the time the multinational joint task force was established and when the operations of the MNJTF started to contend with the insurgency and the Boko Haram terrorists, at that point, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Nigeria was at stake and this is within the concept of operation of the MNJTF.
He said: “Before we know where we are now we must know where we were before the present situation. Let me start by making this point very clear. As at 2015, up to the time the Multinational Joint Task Force was established and started to contain the Boko Haram insurgency. At that point, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Nigeria was at stake. This is within the background of concept of operation of the Multi National Joint Taskforce.
He explained that the conceptualisation of the MNJTF concept of operation envisaged that a peace-keeping force was to be established and deployed within the Nigerian territories.
“You and I know very well that once an intervention force is put in place, then be rest assured that your territorial integrity, your sovereignty will be infringed upon. That was the idea”, he added.
He said the MNJTF initially had three main sectors- the first sector is in Cameroon, which was to be deployed in far northern Cameroonian province with headquarters at Mora.
“Sector 2 is where the issue of sovereignty came in. Chad was to deploy in the northern part of Nigeria up to section of Gamboru Gala, Maute and some part of Bama and Gwoza. They were to be under the Chadian troops deployed there. Then Sector 3, which is Nigeria, with headquarters at Baga to be stationed at that place in conjunction with Nigerien troops; that is, the troops from Niger Republic. They are to operate there with the mandate to defeat Boko Haram terrorists; to rescue the adopted persons, including the Chibok girls and also to facilitate humanitarian activities and to equally get the restoration of law and order by bringing back the civil administration in those areas.
“That is the key mandate of MNJTF. The point is at what point did this change? I was privileged to command the MNJTF. I have the concept operation in my fingertips. I realised the dangers of having an intervention force deployed in one’s territory. Although the concept provided for the operations of those countries’ armed forces or military within their own territory but that of Nigeria was an exception because the Chadian troops will be on our territory; the Nigerien troops would be on our territory although partially not completely, not until later when they created the fourth sector which had been deferred.
“These are the complexities. If we had allowed the foreign forces to be on our territories, our country will be divided along that line. Clearly, the adversary – the terrorists’ territory would be clearly defined as against our own sovereign territory.
“This is key. When Mr. President came and saw the implication and I have been appointed the Chief of Army Staff, my first priority is to ensure that we don’t allow a full implementation of that concept of operation where the Chadian troops would be on our territory on permanent basis. That was the action I took.
Within the first two months, we were to move – take over Gamboru Gala, and that is the end where we now said the other force from Chad had to find alternative location within their own territory. This is major achievement of Mr. President and Commander-in-Chief where he saved the territorial integrity of this country from falling into the hands of foreign interests, foreign interference – let me use that word and if that decision was not taken, that we were able to recover that aspect and deployed our troops by now, we would probably be negotiating between the terrorists as well as our own government and that is quite dangerous and we would be fighting at so many fronts.
“Nigeria must be grateful to Mr. President and Commander -in- Chief and by extension they should be grateful to the armed forces of Nigeria for keeping our territorial integrity and that is our constitutional responsibility, which would have been able to safeguard and ensure that is in force until today,” Buratai added.
•The interview was also joined by THISDAY columnist and publisher of TheCable, Mr. Simon Kolawole