By CALEB AYANSINA
…as Jonathan orders more troops to N’East
The surveillance drones which Nigeria bought from Israel years ago that might have been used to hunt for the more than 200 girls held by Islamist rebels, have been left grounded due to poor maintenance, two official sources and the aircraft’s manufacturer said.
“To the best of our knowledge, these systems are not operational,” Tsur Dvir, Marketing Officer for Aeronautics Defense Systems, a firm based south of Tel Aviv that supplied Nigeria with Aerostar unmanned aerial vehicles, said yesterday.
A Nigerian government source and a former military attaché to Nigeria confirmed the information, although they said details were sketchy owing to the secretive nature of Israeli-Nigerian military cooperation.
Failure to maintain equipment is seen as one reason why Nigeria’s military has been unable to quell the militants.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government has formally asked the United Nations Security Council al Qaeda sanctions committee to blacklist the Islamist sect, Boko Haram, after the kidnap of hundreds of schoolgirls, UN diplomats said yesterday.
Israel last week sent intelligence and hostage negotiation officers to Nigeria to work alongside U.S., British and French experts helping the Nigerian authorities in the search, an Israeli official said yesterday.
“These are not operational troops, they are there to advise,” the Israeli official said, speaking on condition of anonymity
Dvir, speaking on the sidelines of a conference organised by Israel Defense magazine, told newsmen that since the drones were purchased several years ago, Nigerian clients had not commissioned Aeronautics to carry out any routine maintenance.
Dvir said: “We did receive an inquiry from them about spare parts, but it never turned into a deal. I wish it had.”
He argued that with their extensive flying range and thermal cameras capable of picking up body heat at night, the Aerostars could have helped scour northern Nigeria for the missing girls.
“They (drones) are probably parked in a yard somewhere.”
Dvir did not say how many Aerostars were bought by Nigeria. Nigeria’s defense spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.
The former attaché said the deal was struck in 2006, with a view to deploying the drones in the oil producing Niger Delta, where militants were attacking crude pipelines and kidnapping oil workers before the amnesty programme. They never flew.
Last December, Nigeria also unveiled a locally-made drone at an Air Force base in Kaduna, although it has not flown since.
A government adviser said the Israeli drones were among many procurements that quickly went obsolete owing to lack of maintenance.
Neither source nor the company knew how many had been bought, but an aerospace industry source said they each would have been worth between $15 million and $17 million.
The U.S. military is already flying manned and unmanned surveillance aircraft over Nigeria to look for the girls.
If there is no objection by the 15-member council committee, which operates by consensus, Boko Haram will be sanctioned at 3 p.m. tomorrow, the council diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“It is difficult to object to such a request by the concerned country,” said one of the council diplomats.
Until recently, Nigeria has been reluctant to seek international assistance in combating Boko Haram. The document submitted by Nigeria to support its blacklisting request references a bomb attack on the United Nations’ Nigeria headquarters on Augus 26, 2011, that killed 24 people, diplomats said.
It also describes a “campaign of violence against Nigerian schools and students” by the group and references other attacks on schools last year, according to diplomats.
PRESIDENT Goodluck Jonathan, yesterday, ordered the deployment of additional troops to the North-East region to strengthen the military force in the fight against insurgency in the region.
The Coordinator of the National Information Centre, Mr. Mike Omeri, who disclosed this in Abuja, while briefing newsmen on the security challenges in some parts of the country, also confirmed bomb explosion that rocked Terminus Market, yesterday afternoon, in Jos, Plateau State capital.
Omeri said: “President Goodluck Jonathan has ordered the deployment of additional troops to reinforce the ongoing military operations in the North-East part of the country.
“This action comes in the wake of the regional alliance to checkmate the activities of Boko Haram in the region and also strengthen the efforts to rescue the missing girls.”
Speaking further on international alliance, Omeri said that structures had been put in place to coordinate the activities of the aligned countries.
“Meanwhile, the structures for the coordination of the activities of the input of aligned countries’ forces in the ongoing search and rescue operation has been setup and awaiting take off any moment from now,” he added.