By Uche Amunike
Report by US Media Outlet, the Wall Street Journal, Sunday, has alleged that the Nigerian government paid N20m to bandits to secure a 12.7 caliber anti-aircraft gun that was seized from the Nigerian Army, especially now that President Muhammadu Buhari is planning a trip to his home state, Katsina.
In the report, the Wall Street Journal also said that there was a confidential internal memo presented to the Buhari in July, which stated that, ‘criminal actions appear to be better equipped with larger-capacity advanced weaponry than national security agencies’ and that hurts men have changed their modus operandi to banditry and kidnapping for ransom which brought about the increase in cases.
The Wall Street Journal categorically stated that the young intelligence officer that was sent to retrieve the anti-aircraft missile, paid close to $50,000 dollars in crisp Nigerian banknotes, not for a person, but to retrieve the weapon that directly threatened President Muhammadu Buhari.
The report explained that the kidnapping gang were camped in Nigeria’s Rugu forest and had seized an anti-aircraft gun during a clash with a military unit, which posed a threat for Buhari who had been planning to fly to his hometown, Katsina and that the government needed to buy it back.
He said that the militant leader accepted to give the truck-mounted 12.7 calibre anti-aircraft gun in exchange for the ransom because his men had plenty more ammunition, so he didn’t need the army weapons.
According to the officer whose account tallied with another Nigerian senior official involved in the previously undisclosed mission, the mission to buy back the anti-aircraft gun began with a handoff from a high ranking Air Force intelligence officer in the capital Abuja: a black bag he said that was full of N20m and given to the young intelligence officer tapped in exchange for the anti-aircraft gun that the bandits earlier seized in an area where Buhari usually flew to visit his native home, Daura.
The Wall Street journal reported that leaving such military hardware in the hands of bandits stood as a threat to Buhari since he was planning to travel to his home state.
The Nigerian Air Force, however denied making any such payment to bandits in exchange for weapons, saying that the Wall Street journal had no truth in their reports.
In a statement released by their spokesperson, Air Commodore Edward Gabkwet, he said the news reports about paying N20m was not true.
He explained that the reason behind the payment was to retrieve the anti-aircraft gun which the Nigerian Air Force feared might be used against aircraft operating within Katsina state.
He maintained that report was false and should be considered as fake news saying that the NAF would have ordinarily ignored what he called, the baseless and illogical allegations, but had to speak up in order to set the record straight and reaffirm their unflinching commitment to dealing with the armed bandits and all other criminal elements in the country, in partnership with other services of the armed forces and other security agencies.
The report went on to say that the false report by the Wall Street journal could be a part of the campaign to further the cause of insecurity in the country by elements who consider the Nigerian Air Force a threat because of their series of successful exploit in operations against criminal gangs.
He reiterated that the NAF had no cause to pay bandits because their aircrafts conducted five missions in the Jibia general area and fought targets with rockets and canons at Bala Wuta bandits locations in Kadaoji and other areas known for high incidences of bandits activities.
The false reportage of the Wall Street journal, he said, begged the question why the Nigerian Air Force will negotiate for a weapon allegedly seized and yet carry out air interdiction missions on the same bandits and their strongholds.
Gabkwet called on Nigerians to keep cooperating with security agencies as they strive to read the entire country of criminals and their activities adding that they are not discouraged from carrying out their duties and and resolute in performing their functions in synergy with other sister agencies to salvage Nigeria of all criminal elements.