BY KINGSLEY OMONOBI, with agency reports
ABUJA — Following the upsurge in Boko Haram insurgency in the North-Eastern part of the country, Nigeria has entered into agreement with France, Cameroon, and three of her other neighbours in a bid to contain the menace of the terrorists.
This is to increase the level of coordination and exchange of intelligence as well as hold regular meetings of experts with a view to containing the menace.
This is just as 85 high schools in Borno State are being shut inefinitely amidst fears of massive attacks by Boko Haram terrorists.
According to an online news portal, The Premium Times, Nigeria’s other neighbours who also agreed to ensure effective policing of common borders to avoid the infiltration of terrorists and other criminals as well as the repatriation of suspects in conformity with existing protocols are the Republic of Benin, Chad and Niger.
These are some of the recommendations made by the Directors-General of External Intelligence Services of the six countries, who met in Abuja, March 5.
According to the report, the one-day meeting with the theme “Challenges of combating Boko Haram in the sub-region” was facilitated and declared open by the National Security Adviser, NSA, Sambo Dasuki and attended by the Nigerian Chief of Defence Staff, Service Chiefs, Inspector General of Police, Heads of Security and Paramilitary Organisations, representatives of Heads of the External Intelligence Services, Director-General of the Department of State Service, and representatives of the Commander of the 7th Division of the Nigerian Army and the French Intelligence Service.
The meeting was held behind closed doors at the conference room of the Nigeria’s Defence Intelligence
The recent meeting of the Directors-General of External Intelligence Services is believed to be a boost to activities of the multi-national task force comprising troops from Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad.
The meeting also recommended that the doctrine proposed by President Goodluck Jonathan that “an act of terror against one nation is an act of terror against all,” be adopted by Heads of State of participating states and that “the reaction of member-states to acts of terror be spontaneous, concerted, broad-based and integrated.”
It further recommended the effective implementation of existing regional and Confidential Agreements on Small Arms Light Weapons; the sensitisation of the local communities in border areas on the need to assist military and security agencies with timely information necessary for their operations; and the discouragement of payment of ransom in all ramifications.
It noted that due to the sensitive nature of defence matters, and to allow for members with the appropriate competences to participate, a meeting involving competent law enforcement officers to include Heads of the Armed Forces, Police, Immigration, Customs and Gendarmes of the five countries be convened before the end of March to discuss the conduct of simultaneous security operations along the borders.
That meeting, where modalities for a joint military offensive are being worked out, is ongoing in Yaounde, the Cameroonian capital.
The Abuja meeting also decided to recommend to heads of state of member states to consider the formation of a Joint Multinational Task Force and other related operational issues to combat the menace.
What they agreed on
The forum, which broke into thematic groups based on the issues raised in the presentations, also agreed as follows:
-Acknowledged and appreciated existing cooperation between intelligence and security services of participating countries;
-Recognized that Boko Haram has metamorphosed into a regional phenomenon with strong continental and global reach;
-Noted that activities of the Boko Haram constitute the most potent security threat to Nigeria and her neighbours with the goal of an Islamic State in Nigeria and eventually in neighbouring countries;
-Noted Boko Haram’s propensity to instigate ethno-religious conflicts, erode the confidence of people in Government and create a condition of chaos with the use of sophisticated weapons, including Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAMs), Rocket Launchers and Man Portable Air Defence System (MANPADS).
-Accepted that Boko Haram has established operational relations with international jihadist groups such as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Al-Shabab, Ansar-e-Dine and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO);
-Noted the increasing correlation between terrorism and arms, drugs and human trafficking, smuggling, violent crime and the militarization of the civilian population of member countries;
-Expressed concern that terrorism has continued to thrive in the sub-region due to the proliferation of arms, the explosion of Information and Communication technology (ICT), expansion of terrorist networks, easy availability of recruits and existence of safe havens.
85 Borno schools shut
Meanwhile, 85 high schools in Borno State are being closed down indefinitely amid fears of massive attacks by Boko Haram terrorists. The closure will affect 120,000 students, according to government officials and teachers of the affected schools.
Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State, in an interview on the BBC Hausa language service said the schools “are to remain closed until the security situation in the state improves.”
The closure is coming as the Federal Government, yesterday, inaugurated a new counter terrorism strategy to defeat Boko Haram
On Monday, students started leaving the University of Maiduguri, saying they feared another attack. At least one student was reported killed by a stray bullet in Friday’s attack on the barracks, which is divided from the campus by a riverbed that extremists use to infiltrate the city.
One school principal, who spoke on condition of anonymity said yesterday that “we have all agreed to close by this Friday and see what happens next.”
The principal of another school, Malam Ayuba said the state government hopes to keep open a handful of schools in Maiduguri, where it would be possible for students from other areas to write regional and national examinations scheduled for June.
Muhammed Karage, principal of the Federal Government College Maiduguri, said about 150 students already have been relocated to his school from Federal Government College Buni Yadi, the school that was burned down in the February 25 attack by the terrorists.
He said that students and staff from other federal colleges were being relocated to Katsina and Kaduna states. Also, the head of a private secondary school said private schools were considering holding exams this week, at mid-term, and then closing down.
It will have far-reaching effect —NHRC
Speaking on the closure, Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, Professor Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, said the school closures could have far-reaching consequences, including ending the education of some students in a region where few ever have the opportunity to get to high school.
Odinkalu, in a telephone interview with The Associated Press, said: “The average secondary school enrolment is slightly under five per cent (in northeast Nigeria), so I think it’s easy to understand that you cannot overestimate what the consequences of this could be, given the parlous state of education in the region and the fact that, clearly, whoever is orchestrating this is focused on targeting schools, educational institutions. The government should consider setting up well-protected camps where children can continue their education.”
According to him, such an “extreme measure” could be justified because “the entire area is a war theater.”
FG inaugurates new counter terrorism strategy
In a related development, the Federal Government, yesterday, inaugurated a new counter terrorism strategy under the acronym ‘Nigeria’s Soft Approach to Countering Terrorism’.
Under the new approach, the Counter Terrorism Centre in the office of the National Security Adviser, in conjunction with international partners, practitioners in security and experienced academics, has developed a strategy that defines roles and responsibilities of ministries, departments and agencies as well as the civil society have to play in the fight against violent extremism.
Making the disclosure in Abuja, National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd) said: “The new strategy seeks to prevent attacks before they happen by preventing our people from becoming terrorists in the first place.”
The NSA emphasized that the soft approach to countering terrorism has resulted in the development of a Countering Extremism Programme (CVE) involving three tiers of government and all other sectors in the nation.
He said: “The first stream involves de-radicalization of convicted terrorists, suspects awaiting trial and those who might be released through court orders or such other government decisions arising from ongoing engagement and dialogue with repentant suspects.
“The second stream which is society approach to the counter terrorism thinking and through which the war on terrorism can be won is by mobilizing our family, cultural, religious and national values. Through fear and violence, extremist groups are bent on changing the way we see and relate with each other and the only way to defeat this is to remain united and confront the threat as one nation under God.”
Regarding the third stream, Dasuki said: “We are building our capacity to communicate our national values better and institutionalizing the capability through strategic communication for the military and law enforcement, and public diplomacy for our civilian institutions.”
Principles to be employed
Towards achieving the communication approach to counter terrorism, he said, some principles will be employed to counter extremist ideology.
These principles, he said, are:
“Terrorism in Un-Islamic” because the terrorist twist and pervert the true meaning and spirit of religious text to win support for their evil cause.
“Counter terrorism is not against Muslims” because the fight against terrorism in Nigeria has been misconstrued by Muslims as a fight against them.
“Encourage and Empower Muslims to speak out against terror” because the ideology of terrorism will be defeated through mainstream Muslims in Nigeria.
“Muslim/Christian relations” should be encouraged through interfaith awareness because the terrorists are desperate to ignite a religious war between Nigerian Christians and Muslims in order to actualize a war scenario that would aid their operations.
“Counter terrorism fight is apolitical” as government would build inter party collaboration to tackle the scourge.”
In his address, Attorney General of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke disclosed that the nation now has laws in place for the prosecution of suspects for terrorism noting that this can be done within six months as against five to eight years.
“We are also working to ensure that those arrested for terror offences are charged to court within 48 hours”, he said.
Turkish Airlines allegedly ships arms to Nigeria
Turkish Airlines allegedly shipped weapons to unknown groups in Nigeria, which has been ravaged by violence between the army and Boko Haram militants, a new incriminating phone call revealed on Tuesday.
The leaked conversation is the latest blow to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been hit by a corruption probe ensnaring his key allies and a widening phone-tapping scandal.
In a tape posted on YouTube, Mehmet Karatas, an assistant executive of the airline, allegedly tells Mustafa Varank, an advisor to Erdogan, that he feels guilty over 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.
The leaked call has the potential to harm the airline’s image — which is 49 percent state-owned and is in an aggressive push to become a global player.
It is the latest in a series of recordings implicating Erdogan and his aides in corruption and other abuses of power ahead of crucial local polls on March 30.
The Turkish strongman has dismissed most of the tapes as “vile” fakes put together by rivals.
Markets, schools shut in Benue
Meantime, schools and markets were shut down last Monday in Makurdi, Benue state capital following unconfirmed reports that some Fulani herdsmen had perfected plans to bomb Makurdi and its environs.
The situation had caused panic and forced various political and civil society organisations to announce that schools, churches and markets should be closed.
However, the commissioner of police, Mr Adams Audu debunked the allegation and said the command had not permitted any group to carry out any protest.
He said the news that herdsmen have planned to bomb Makurdi and other areas was untrue.
A statement signed by the police spokesman, Daniel Ezeala stated that the command have beefed up security and urged the people to carry on with their normal businesses.
Several schools including Kingdom Heritage Model School, located at Wurukum and Kids Authority Nursery School GRA and Redeemers Nursery School all in Makurdi were locked.
The Makurdi Modern Market and Wurukum Market were also shut.
Some men and women gathered at strategic points discussing the situation. Security operatives mounted critical areas of the town, just as artisans and roadside vendors could not open for business.
Banks and churches resumed late for operation too.