• Planned terror attacks thwarted, Falae’s kidnapper killed • Presidency beefs up security at the Villa
• Troops in North-east groan over unpaid allowances • Army blames delay on TSA, BVN, poor network
Tobi Soniyi and Senator Iroegbu in Abuja and Michael Olugbode in Maiduguri with agency report
The United Nation’s Special Envoy to Libya, Mr. Martin Kobler, has warned of the growing strength of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group in the North African country, adding that the fragmentation and power vacuum in Libya is allowing the Jihadist group to spread to the south and could team up with Boko Haram.
The warning by the UN envoy coincided with the revelation by the Department of State Services (DSS) that it has arrested a recruiter for ISIS in Kano and busted a cell affiliated to the group in Daura, Katsina State.
According to the BBC, Kobler said that the current power vacuum in Libya was creating a risk that ISIS fighters there could join up with militants elsewhere on the African continent.
He said: “Fragmentation is creating a political vacuum and a military vacuum” which is allowing ISIS to spread.
“Particularly worrisome (is) the expansion of zones of influence to the south.
“And if they are going further to the south they could team up with terrorist organisations in Niger and Chad, Boko Haram and the like. And that’s why it’s really important to get a government of national unity in place as soon as possible,” Kobler said.
His warning came just as the DSS reeled out a litany of arrests of criminal and extremist elements nationwide, chief of which was the apprehension of a recruiter for ISIS.
A statement yesterday by an official of DSS, Mr. Tony Opuiyo, said: “In line with the service’s statutory mandate to decisively and continuously provide actionable intelligence, as well as act to degrade persons and groups that threaten internal security in the country, the service initiated a series of tactical operations, involving raids and enforcement actions against identified criminal and extremist kingpins and syndicates across the country.”
The operations, it said, significantly degraded the key extremist groups and kidnapping gangs, terrorising innocent citizens in Nigeria, particularly in the South-west, North-west and Middle Belt.
DSS went on to reveal that on January 17, 2016, one Abdussalam Enesi Yunusa, a recruiter for the Islamic State was arrested in Kano.
“His arrest was sequel to available intelligence which indicated his terrorist antecedents and covert drive to indoctrinate and recruit susceptible youths in the country.
“Prior to his arrest, Yunusa had completed arrangements to embark on a journey to join an ISIS terrorist training camp in Libya with other Nigerians whom he recruited for the Islamic State.
“These recruits included the trio of one Muhammed Rabi’u, Yahaya Momoh Jimoh and Zainab Sunday (female),” DSS said.
It went on to reveal that Yunusa is a 400 level undergraduate student of the Federal University of Technology, Minna, Niger State, where he is studying for a degree in Information and Media Technology.
DSS added: “He was subsequently radicalised and became a member of an extremist cell, comprising one Ibrahim (fnu) and Abubakar Ligali, whom he revealed are currently undergoing terrorist training in Libya.
“He listed one Aminu (fnu) and Ibrahim Jihadi (a Nigeriene), as other ISIS agents operating in Nigeria and the West African sub-region.
“The cell was being funded by one Abu-sa’ad Al Sudani, a media expert with the extremist group using Western Union money transfers to fund the terrorist’s cell agenda.”
DSS went further to reveal that on January 17, 2016, in Daura, another budding extremist cell affiliated to ISIS was intercepted by the service.
“One Ibrahim Mohammed Daura, Zaharadeen Salisu and five other elements of the proscribed extremist group, Ansaru, were arrested by the service.
“This group was discovered in an active stage, as its members were already coordinating themselves for attacks in Katsina and Kano States.
“In the same vein, on January 22, 2016, one Obansa Salami, Ejide Tijani, aka Abu Uwaise II, Mohammed Rabiu, aka Ubida II, Zainab Mohammed and Abdulqadir Salisu Ahmad were arrested in Kano by this service, while migrating to Libya with their immediate families including infants in a bid to join ISIS.
“This group was apprehended after painstaking monitoring of its network and plans.
“On January 29, 2016, the service arrested Mohammed Aliyu Ndako in Kwara State. Ndako is a 17-year-old undergraduate student of a tertiary institution in the state.
“He was arrested sequel to credible intelligence on his plans with one Abdulkadir Salisu Ahmad, aka Daddy Tall, another student in Kano State, to carry out coordinated lone-wolf attacks on selected populated targets in Nigeria, preferably worship centres or recreation venues.
“The suspect had hitherto been communicating with foreign extremist elements, while sourcing online terrorist training and support,” it said.
Within the window of these tactical operations, between the month of December 2015 and February 2016, the DSS added that it bust the network of syndicated kidnap gangs spanning different regions in the country, especially in Kebbi, Zamfara, Niger, Nasarawa, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Oyo and Osun States.
“Foremost in this line, was the arrest of a gang of five kidnappers – Abubakar Hassan, Usman Musa, Usman Adamu and Idrisa Babangida Ahmadu at Ife junction, Osun State on February 3, 2016.
“On February 5, 2016, the fifth member of the gang, Saidu Isyaku was arrested at Ojo area, Oyo State. From these kidnappers, six AK47 rifles, five magazines and about one thousand rounds of ammunition were recovered.
“This gang has been active in the South-west axis of the country and was in advanced stages of kidnapping high value targets for huge ransoms, before they were intercepted,” it said.
DSS stated that another breakthrough in the fight against kidnapping was the killing of Abubakar Mohammed, aka Buba, and an unidentified member of his group on February 8, 2016 close to Jebba Medical Centre, Jebba, Kwara State by security operatives as they tried to escape during a shootout with security operatives.
Mohammed, it alleged, was a notorious kidnapping kingpin known for his brutality and various acts of lawlessness.
“It is disheartening that this criminal and his men had terrorised, to no end, residents of the South-west zone. He was also linked to the kidnap of the elder statesman, Chief Olu Falae, in Ondo State,” it revealed.
In the wake of deliberate vandalism of oil pipelines by criminal elements in the South-south region, the DSS said it also arrested one Nengi Samuel Ikiba, aka Kockman Abula, a notorious pipeline vandal on January 27, 2016, in Bayelsa State.
It said Ikiba confessed to vandalising several pipelines in the state, including the 24-inch Agoda/Brass oil pipeline at Idema community in Ogbia Local Government Area of Bayelsa State.
The modest success of the service in its support to the federal government to achieve its desired economic objectives and stability may also be noted, the statement said.
To this effect, the DSS arrested a group of fraudsters who had concluded plans to hack the Government Integrated Financial Management Information System (GIFMIS) domiciled in the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation in order to steal N4.5 billion from the Treasury Single Account (TSA).
“The gang was led by one Sunny Okoh, a hacker who worked in collaboration with the trio of Uwem Udo Ekpo, a chief programme analyst in the OAGF, Maxwell Ekene, a retired security operative, and Dozie Egwu, based in Malaysia and who is now at large.
“The suspected fraudsters intended to use a software they had sourced and codes released to them by Ekpo to hack into government accounts in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and defraud the government of this huge sum.
“It is instructive to note that a credibility problem would have arisen over the TSA policy if these hackers had succeeded in their plan and thus lent credence to the critics of the policy that it ought not to have been introduced and implemented.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the suspects have been handed over to the EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) for further investigations and prosecution.
“It is pertinent to state that these successes were recorded as a result of proactive and credible intelligence offered by members of the public, sister security agencies and other stakeholders.
“This service wishes to state that it will continue to deploy every means necessary within its statutory mandate and ambit of the law to ensure the security and safety of all law abiding residents and citizens wherever they reside.
“It is also germane to urge all and sundry to be extra vigilant, as well as report any suspicious persons/groups or activities to the relevant security agencies, for the sustenance of relative peace in the country,” it stated.
In a related development, the presidency has put in place strict measures to forestall terror attacks on the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The Chief Security Officer (CSO) to the president, Mr. B. Abubakar, in a circular dated January 26, 2016 directed all tinted cars and other vehicles to be thoroughly searched.
The circular titled, “Use of tinted cars around the Presidential Villa, Abuja” stated: “It has been observed that some staff of the Presidential Villa driving tinted cars, especially security personnel are in the habit of refusing to wind down their windscreen (sic) for security checks before driving into the villa.
“It is most worrisome that some of them used the excuse of either driving official cars or driving VIPs to justify their acts.
“This act, which is not in tandem with standard security drills and procedures, poses a serious threat to the safety and security of the Villa.
“It is important to note that the insistence of security operatives at the pilot gates to properly screen vehicles coming into the villa whether tinted or not tinted, official or unofficial is not out of place.
“Therefore, there is need for all to subject themselves and their vehicles to security checks as the case may be, so as to prevent unscrupulous elements from exploring the situation to launch attacks on the Villa.
“More so, that most of the major attacks by terrorists groups on high profile targets around the world are being carried out using hijacked vehicles or vehicles with tinted glasses.”
Meanwhile, troops fighting Boko Haram terrorists in the North-east are dispirited over the non-payment of their allowances for months, and have called on the federal government to constitute a probe panel to investigate the issue.
Some soldiers, who spoke to THISDAY anonymously, said the morale of troops was low and might be responsible for the recent lapses in security that led to the string of attacks by the insurgents in the last few days.
One of the soldiers, a corporal, lamented that many of his colleagues and officers had not received allowances for the past four months.
He said it was unfair that their allowances, which they had grown to depend on, have been withheld and they are now just a little better than “roadside beggars”.
The soldier, who had to be assisted with a token of N1,000 by THISDAY, said he cannot even buy airtime for his phone to call members of his family in the southern part of the country.
The soldier, while adding that he did not even have N50 to buy drinking water, said: “If you cannot buy a sachet of pure water and cannot call your family, how can you be motivated to fight the insurgents?”
The soldier, who alleged that from the look of things there is a planned effort from the top hierarchy of the military to continue with the war, claimed that “there is sabotage by our ogas (bosses) in this ongoing war”.
“There were times when we were pushing the insurgents back, and we will be asked to retreat, only for the insurgents who had once fled, but are now emboldened to pursue us,” he said.
Another soldier, a sergeant, said: “Someone needs to tell President Muhammadu Buhari and Defence Minister Mansur Muhammad Dan-Ali that we are not motivated here so that our situation can be quickly addressed.”
He added: “With what we are facing, how do you expect this war against these bastards to be won. We should not be expected to give our best while fighting the insurgents with empty stomachs.”
Another soldier further disclosed that he was posted to Maiduguri from Kontagora, Niger State under the belief that he was only going to spend a month in Borno State as a member of a special force.
“But here I am, I have spent more than a year in Borno State, and my family is still in Kontagora – they take my salary and I planned to depend on my allowance which has not been forthcoming, so things are becoming unbearable for us,” he disclosed.
He said it is hard to give what you don’t have. “If you are not happy, how can you be motivated to make Nigerians happy?” he asked.
Another sergeant complained that he lost his mother last month in his hometown in the South-west and since then, his siblings have been calling me about the burial arrangements.
“But I don’t have money to even travel home or contribute to the burial, how do I do this without money? My colleagues cannot even borrow me money, because we are in this mess together,” he said.
The revelations by the soldiers who all spoke on the condition of anonymity reinforced concerns that the war against the insurgency is encountering hiccups, most likely because of dwindling revenue.
Last week, the service chiefs met with the Senate leadership, following which the Senate released a statement, stating that during the closed-door meeting with the top military hierarchy, they cried out over the absence of modern and sophisticated weapons to fight Boko Haram.
During the meeting, which took place a few days after the attack on Dalori in Borno State that left 65 dead, the service chiefs led by the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Abayomi Olonishakin, were said to have briefed the senators on the challenges confronting the military, particularly the poor state of their equipment which they said required serious upgrading and restocking.
The statement from the Senate further revealed that the service chiefs complained that the N29 billion appropriated for security in the 2015 supplementary budget had not been released to them almost two months after it was hurriedly approved by the National Assembly.
Although the statement by the Senate was immediately denied by the military, it found itself on the back foot a few days later when the senator representing Borno Central in the National Assembly and a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Baba Kaka Garbai, revealed that Boko Haram still occupied half of Borno.
He disclosure was again strenuously denied by the military, Borno Governor, Alhaji Kashim Shettima, and Senate Leader Mohammed Ndume.
In the same vein, President Muhammadu Buahri and his Minister of Information and Culture, Mr. Lai Mohammed, have maintained that the terror sect has been “technically defeated”.
However, in its reaction to the claim by troops in the North-east that they had not been paid their allowances for four months, the Nigerian military blamed the delay on the federal government and Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) policies.
Media Coordinator of the Operation Lafiya Dole Theatre Command in Maiduguri, Air Commodore Dele Alonge, told THISDAY yesterday that the Treasury Single Account (TSA) and Bank Verification Number (BVN) enforced by the federal government and central bank last year were responsible for some of the delays.
In addition, Alonge attributed some of the delays to poor network in the Northeastern part of the country, making it impossible for the soldiers to get the payment alerts on their mobile phones.
Alonge’s statement on poor network quality and payment alerts was rather curious, as these should not be deterrents to the transfer of funds to soldiers’ accounts deployed in any part of the country, given that such transfers are most likely to take place in Abuja where the Defence and Army Headquarters are located, and is hardly susceptible to poor network quality.
Accordingly, if payments or transfers are made, a signal could be sent to soldiers in the frontline informing them that their allowances have been paid without them needing to wait for transaction alerts.
Alonge said: “We have been going on and on about this and I think the Theatre Command does not handle the issue of allowances. These are done at the various services.
“There are so many reasons responsible for the delay in the payment of such allowances. One is that when the TSA was introduced there was a general delay in the payment of salaries and allowances including those of the military.
“I am not saying that the military should be exempted, but we all know that there was a delay.
“The second reason is that when the BVN was introduced a lot of these soldiers and some officers did not have valid bank accounts and could not open them before the deadline.
“However, with the effort of the Minister of Defence, there was an extension of the deadline for them.
“The third reason is that the network is bad in this part of the North-east. Except for MTN which you are even lucky to get me on, the network is generally poor such that most soldiers don’t even have reception on their phone, let alone receiving alerts.”
He added, however, that this did not mean that the authorities are sleeping over it. “No responsible government will say they can’t do anything about the soldiers, especially those in the war zone.
“In essence, something is being done about this. Mind you that the Theatre Commander does not even have anything to do with these payment or delays because if there is such a thing, they will also be affected.
“Let me also clarify that some of these delays are peculiar cases, which the government is trying to resolve,” he stated.
In the same vein, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt-Gen. Tukur Buratai, while addressing a battalion on Sunday at the Recce barracks in Badagry, Lagos, which was being deployed in the North-east, promised to address the issue of the allowance.
“We have received complaints about the non-payment of your allowances which maybe due to some technical hitches with respect to your bank accounts and phone numbers. Due checks are being carried out and we will rectify that quickly,” Buratai assured the battalion.
But in the army’s reaction to the non-payment of allowances and low morale among the troops, its spokesman, Brig-Gen. Rabe Abubakar, said: “These are just mere insinuations by our detractors who want to cause disaffection among our forces.
“It cannot happen as Nigerian soldiers are disciplined and committed to their course. The morale of our troops has always been high and the issue of allowances would be a thing of the past as soon as the administrative procedures are taken care of.
“There is no amount of money you will pay to soldiers that is commensurate with what they are sacrificing. They are doing what they are doing for our country because they are professionally trained to protect our nation.
“So the issue of welfare is the priority of any force and we are happy as we are getting that as and when due. For professional soldiers like ours, training is the best form of welfare and the successes recorded were because of the high morale.”