…Vows to come out in full force against insurgents
…Says negotiating with bandits suggests weakness
…Insists govt’ll not be blackmailed
…Reveals meeting with Sheikh Gumi
…Niger State govt orders closure of schools
…Bandits demand N200m to free 19 people abducted in Niger
…Bandits kill 7 in Kaduna villages, burn property, rustle cattle
…Banditry taking too much toll on us, traditional rulers tell Buhari
By Johnbosco Agbakwuru & Ibrahim Hassan
THE Federal Government yesterday ruled out engaging mercenaries to assist Nigeria in the fight against insurgency, which has continued for more than a decade.
It also vowed to come out in full force to fight insurgency in the country, saying it could no longer tolerate blackmail in any guise.
Government’s declaration came on the heels of repeated calls by governors of the North-East states, led by Borno State governor, Professor Babagana Zulum, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and other stakeholders that mercenaries be engaged to help defeat Boko Haram.
This came on a day Niger State Government shut all public secondary schools in the state for two weeks, following incessant attacks by bandits.
This is even as bandits who abducted 19 persons at Kutunku village in Wushishi Local Government Area of Niger State Monday, demanded N200 million ransom Wednesday night to free their captives
Bandits also went wild in Kaduna, killing seven persons, injuring several others, destroying properties and rustling cattle in Igabi, Giwa and Chikun Local Government Areas.
Addressing journalists at the weekly presidential media briefing at the Council Chamber of State House, Abuja, yesterday, National Security Adviser, Major-General Babagana Monguno, retd, who said the current service chiefs will deploy all necessary force to deal with terrorists and bandits operating in the country, also said dialogue with them suggests weakness and incapacity on the part of government.
No engaging mercenaries
He said: “The President’s view and directive is that we will not engage mercenaries. When this administration came in, it’s true, we had these mercenaries helping out in the North-East. But the directive of the Commander-in-Chief is that we do not engage mercenaries when we have our own people to deal with this problem.
“This is basically a presidential directive. And there are so many issues when you come to the issue of mercenaries. It has to do with the issue of national pride also. I know you’d say can pride be more of a concern than our security? I do understand that.
“But what we are looking at here is that we have the resources, it’s just misapplication or under-utilisation that has affected our ability to deal with these people.”
The NSA said the government will not succumb to blackmail and the use of criminals by proxies to harass innocent citizens.
“While government is not averse to talking with these entities, it also has to fully apply its weight. You can’t (negotiate) with people who are unreliable and who will continue to hurt society. We will apply the full weight of government to deal with these criminals.
“These are not people looking for anything that is genuine or legitimate, they’re just out to take calculated measures to inflict pain and violence on innocent people. We must deal with them the way they need to be dealt with. We will fully assert the government’s will.
“We are also focusing on the associated dimensions of banditry and terrorism: Illegal drugs, the flow of small arms and light weapons, and illegal mining in places like Zamfara. These are some of the scenarios fueling the violence and we are already tackling them decisively.
“Government wants to use military assets to eliminate them but if along the line, they come out, good. It paints the picture of weakness, incapacity,’’ he added.
The NSA also disclosed that between March and December 2020, the military successfully took out 2,403 insurgents in the North East.
We are waiting for Gumi — NSA
On why the government was silent on Ahmad Gumi, an Islamic cleric, who had been calling on government to grant insurgents amnesty, Monguno said he met and interacted with him briefly in Kaduna at the zonal town hall meeting with service chiefs but noted that he was still waiting for the cleric to come forth as he promised to help.
He said: “Sheikh Gumi is doing what he’s doing because he believes in what he’s doing. He’s a Nigerian and under the constitution, he can talk to anybody. He can deal with anybody.
“I met with him when I went with the service chiefs to Kaduna, and we spoke generally during the meeting and he resolved to help government. We are waiting for him. That’s all I can say.”
He also said the recent changes made by President Buhari to the security architecture “gives us a ray of hope that things will be adjusted, so that whatever we do regarding securing Nigeria will be in conformity with the aspirations of the people.’’
On external support, the NSA said: “There’s a Regional Intelligence Fusion Unit, comprising US, UK, France, working with us and our neighbours. They’ve been supporting us with intelligence. For us, what’s most important is acting on the intelligence—that’s why we’re investing in equipment and assets.”
‘New direction is to come out with full force’
On the new service chiefs, Monguno said: “The new direction of government is to come out with full force. Government will not allow itself to be blackmailed by any group or individual who thinks he can hide under the surface and use proxies to deal a fatal blow on innocent people.
“I want to assure you categorically and unequivocally that government is going to apply full weight to deal with these criminals until such a time that they vacate the shores of this country.
“In dealing with this issue, government realizes the need for tangential, auxiliary organizations to key into both the issue of drugs coming in and smuggling of arms and light weapons.
“As a result of what I said about delivering maximum force — the weight of our security organizations does that obviate the need for us to use soft approach? We are ready to dialogue with these people but for us, it’s not a priority.
“We can’t be singing the same song everyday and these people are unreliable. They are ignoble, they are ready to undermine whatever agreement we have had, so, because of that, if the opportunity avails itself, of course, we will talk with responsible people from the side of those people.
“I don’t even know how to categorize them because it’s not as if they are looking for something you can point a finger at, it’s not some kind of nationalistic situation, something you can actually identify and relate to.
“These are just a murderous group of individuals who are hooked up on drugs and I don’t know why anybody wants to negotiate with these people.
“The people who have been negotiating with them in the first place, don’t you think they should actually, if there is that sincerity of purpose, talk with the right people in government? So, for negotiations, it is there, we would see what happens if it happens.”
Niger State govt orders closure of schools
Similarly, following the unabated abduction of people across the state, the Niger State government has ordered the closure of all public secondary schools in the state for two weeks, with effect from today, Friday March 12, 2021.
Commissioner of Education, Hajiya Hannatu Jibrin Salihu, in a statement signed by the Information Officer, Jibrin Usman Kodo, yesterday, said the decision was taken to give relevant security agencies the time and opportunity to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment of all public secondary schools in the state.
The statement read: “The exercise, when completed, will provide an all-inclusive mechanism and strategies that will restore and guarantee sustainable security and safety of students, school infrastructure, education managers and teachers in the state.
“Government had earlier held a meeting with the leadership of the Association of the Proprietors of Private Schools, NAPPS, Association of Model Islamic Schools, AMIS, Executive Chairman, Niger State Universal Basic Education Board, NSUBEB,Heads of Education Agencies, Directors of the Ministry and other stakeholders of the education sector in the state on the issue.
“Government is committed and will leave no stone unturned and ensure that all schools become safe environments for effective teaching and learning for all categories of students and teachers across the state.
“Government calls on all parents and other stakeholders to see security as the responsibility of everybody and join hands to confront the insecurity in Nigeria in general and Niger state in particular.’’
The state government had earlier shut 22 schools (11 day schools and 11 boarding schools) in the wake of the kidnap of 42 persons from Government Science College, Kagara, out of which 27 were students of the School.
The schools are located in Rafi, Mariga, Munya and Shiroro Local Government Areas where bandits had been operating unabated for the past months.
The government directive was, however, silent on public primary schools and private primary and secondary schools.
19 abducted persons: Bandits demand N200m
Also, bandits have demanded N200 million as ransom to free the 19 persons abducted from Kutunku village in Wushishi LGA of Niger State.
The Village Head, Ibrahim Yusuf, said the bandits made the demand via a phone call on Wednesday night
The bandits invaded the village at around 1am on Monday and kidnapped 19 residents, including six women.
They were said to have operated for at least two hours and trekked back to the bush where they parked their motorcycles.
The village head said: “They called us and asked for money. They are holding 19 people and they are telling us we should bring N200 million.
“We don’t know what to do because we are all in confusion in the village now, including our wives and children; we don’t know what to do. Even if we sell our houses, we cannot get that kind of money.”
Bandits kill 7 in Kaduna villages , burn property, rustle cattle
Also, security agencies in Kaduna State have reported that seven people were killed by bandits who invaded Igabi, Giwa and Chikun Local Government Areas, while several persons were injured.
The bandits were also said to have destroyed properties and rustled cattle of the victims.
The state Commissioner of Internal Security and Home Affairs, Samuel Aruwan, who also confirmed this yesterday, said in the first incident, the bandits stormed Gangi village in Igabi Local Government Area, shooting sporadically in what seemed to be a cattle rustling operation.
He said in the process, four residents were killed, while two others who sustained gunshot injuries were receiving treatment in the hospital.
The commissioner said the bandits also razed three houses belonging to Mohammad Jibril, Salisu Ya’u and Idris Muhammad, as well as a pick-up van belonging to one Umaru Saleh.
According to him, 20 heads of cattle belonging to two residents of the village were rustled and herded away by the bandits.
In another incident, Aruwan said the bandits attacked Marke village in Giwa Local Government Area and killed one Rabiu Haruna.
“Similarly, at Kuriga in Chikun Local Government Area, bandits killed two people along the Buruku road linking with Birnin Gwari Local Government Area. The victims were identified as Ibrahim Yahu Birnin Gwari and Haruna Usman. Another victim, Mansur Dada, sustained injuries and is receiving treatment in hospital.
“Governor Nasir El-Rufai noted the reports with sadness, and sent his condolences to the families of those killed, while praying for the repose of their souls. He also wished the injured citizens a quick recovery,” the commissioner said.
Banditry taking heavy toll on us, traditional rulers tell Buhari
Meanwhile, the National Council of Traditional Rulers yesterday told President Muhammadu Buhari that the activities of bandits were taking too much toll on their people.
A delegation of the council made up of representatives from the six geo-political zones of the country met with the President and requested him to do more to restore normalcy.
Speaking to State House correspondents after the meeting, leader of the delegation and Etsu Nupe, His Royal Highness Yahaya Abubakar, revealed that the bandits make use of sophisticated weapons, compared to the ones borne by security forces.
He, therefore, stressed the need to equip the military to be able to match the bandits fire for fire.
The royal father said the monarchs also requested government to provide them a role in the effort to resolve the insecurity in the country.
The Etsu Nupe said the President has reassured that beyond what the administration was already doing, it will equip the military and expressed the commitment to deal ruthlessly with the criminals.
Asked to comment on the allegation that some traditional rulers connive with foreign elements to carry out criminal activities, he said the allegation could not be far from the truth but noted that mechanism was being put in place to checkmate such persons.
The traditional rulers were led to the briefing by the National Security Adviser, NSA, Major General Babagana Monguno, retd.