The Nigerian air force has denied paying bandits N20 million in exchange for an anti-aircraft gun.
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) had reported that the anti-aircraft gun was stolen by the bandits after a clash with a military unit in Rugu Forest in Katsina state.
According to WSJ, the gun posed a threat to President Muhammadu Buhari who was flying “to his hometown about 80 miles away”.
An officer with the air force was said to have taken the money to the bandits’ camp.
“The ransom, nearly $50,000 in crisp Nigerian bank notes, wasn’t for a person, but to retrieve a weapon that directly threatened the country’s president,” the newspaper reports.
“A kidnapping gang encamped in Nigeria’s Rugu forest had seized an antiaircraft gun in a clash with a military unit. That posed a threat to President Muhammadu Buhari, who had been planning to fly to his hometown about 80 miles away, and the government needed to buy it back.
“An hour later, the officer, who declined to be identified, was clasping hands with a leader of a diffuse network of criminals whose campaign of kidnapping civilians — including hundreds of schoolchildren — has raised millions of dollars to build an arsenal of heavy weaponry they are using to wrest control of swaths of the north, including the president’s home state.
“Over tea, the militant leader agreed to part with the truck-mounted 12.7 calibre anti-aircraft gun in exchange for the ransom.”
The officer reportedly flew to the town of Jibia on the border with Niger, where a dozen armed men emerged from the forest to meet him.
He was said to have been escorted on motorbikes into thickening forest for hours, arriving at the home of their leader, a man in his 30s, who collected the bag.
The paper says Nigerian government officials have been paying bandits to return stolen weapons and kidnapped personnel.
AIR FORCE REACTS
Reacting to the report, the air force said it is an “utterly illogical allegation” and claimed that it could be part of a “campaign to further the cause” insecurity in Nigeria.
Edward Gabkwet, spokesperson of the air force, in a statement, said there is no basis to pay bandits or any criminal elements.
According to him, “The NAF wishes to categorically state that there is absolutely no iota of truth in the spurious allegation that was undoubtedly designed to cast aspersions on the good image of the Service,” the statement reads.
“The said report is totally false. It should therefore be taken as fake news and disregarded. Indeed, we ordinarily would not have responded to such baseless and utterly illogical allegation but for the need to set the record straight as well as reaffirm the NAF’s unflinching commitment to decisively 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.
“For the avoidance of doubt, it must be stated that there is no basis for the NAF to pay bandits or any criminal elements that it has continued to attack and decimate in Katsina State, other parts of the North-West as well as other Theatres of Operation in the Country.
“Indeed, as recent as October 12, 2021, NAF aircraft conducted 5 missions in the Jibia general area and engaged targets with rockets and cannons at Bala Wuta bandits’ locations in Kadaoji.
“Similar successes were recorded at Fakai Dutsin Anfare, an area in Jibia LGA known for its high incidences of bandits’ activities. The false reportage therefore, begs the question as to why the NAF would negotiate for a weapon allegedly seized and still carry out air interdiction missions on the same bandits and their strongholds.
“The NAF is of the view that, this latest false report could be a part of a campaign to further the cause of insecurity in Nigeria by elements who see the NAF as a threat following series of successful exploits in operations against criminal gangs.
“Perhaps, this provides an avenue for the NAF to yet again appeal to members of the media, both local and international, as well as social media, to be circumspect in their reportage and endeavour to always verify their facts before going public. The public is enjoined to disregard the falsehood emanating from some sections of the social and mainstream media.
“The NAF also uses this opportunity to call on citizens to continue to cooperate with security agencies as efforts are ongoing to rid the entire Nation of criminals and their activities.
“On our part, the NAF, as a professional and disciplined force, will not in any way be discouraged from carrying out its mandate to rid the entire North-West Nigeria of banditry and other forms of criminality. We remain resolute in performing our function and will continue to work in synergy with other sister Services and security agencies to rid the Country of all criminal elements”, he stated.