How Security Operatives Imperfect The War Against Boko Haram
It was funny to many Nigerians when President Goodluck Jonathan on-one-occasion said that the members of an Islamic sect known as Jamaatu Ahlil Sunna Lidawati wal Jihad but basically called Boko Haram which translates to Book is Sin, had infiltrated his government, not excluding the security agencies.
The ceaseless killing and destruction of property in the northern part of Nigeria by the sect only took the centre stage of national discourse and became a nightmare of a sort to Nigerians before a proposed amnesty to the unlawful was announced by the Federal Government (FG).
A former Governor of Abia State was quoted in March as saying that government security agents could be the brain behind the craze of the bombings that were always ascribed to be masterminded by the sect, due to the reality of unintelligence that was associated with the group's members.
Government apparatuses did not take the comment of the ex-governor with a smidgen of the salt. They said that it was miserable that such a comment was coming from a highly placed person in the society. They also said that it was appalling that the ex-governor could make such statement that was able, according to them, of downplaying the efforts of the security operatives in the fight against the terrorists.
What these persons in the vilification exercise of the ex-governor did not realise was that the sect's insurrection did not start this year. Some records traced when the insurgents began to cause mayhem in the country to 1999. It was the year Nigeria returned to civil rule and power shifted from the Hausa/Fulani military rulers who were changing the leadership of the country within themselves, but through coup.
Security operatives were always wielding guns in the streets in their quest to fight these hydra-headed fiends. Many security units were created out of the existing security agencies. The Anti-Terrorism Squad, a security outfit especially trained to mind the bomb activities of the dreaded terrorists was one of the newly created security outfits yet, the activities of the terrorists seemed not to abate.
The newly created security agencies were not at their best; about 50 insurgents carried out an attack in Bauchi prison on 7 September 2010. Parts of the prison were set on fire and five persons were killed. Among those that escaped from the prison were 721 prisoners, which included 150 members of the Islamist group, who were principally in anticipation of trial for sectarian aggression in the country in 2009. The authorities later reported that unspecified number of prisoners returned to the prison and others were re-arrested to complete their short sentences.
Angered by the killings and destructions followed the governor of the state proclamation on 8 September 2010 that the members of Boko Haram would be forcefully hounded out of the state if they did not leave the state peacefully. Hopes were given to tighten security across the troubled region.
There was a belief that the insurgents started to attack the northern part of the country than ever after the 2011 presidential election was announced and a southerner (Jonathan) was declared winner. The Nigerian state matched the group with action, but in its attempts to flush the terrorists out of the system, did not yield the expected result in the hands of the security operatives.
One of the failed efforts of the security operatives in curbing the menace was the narrowly escape of Abubakar Shekau understood to be the Boko Haram's leader, who had fled Nigeria some months back. He succeeded the late Mohammed Yusuf as leader of the sect who died in 2009.
But how Shekau escaped arrest in Kano when a joint security team stormed an apartment in the Naibawa Darnamawa area of the city, where he had for long been hiding, did not meet the eyes. This was coming after sometime in mid December 2011, a shared team of the State Security Service, the Nigerian Army, and the Police hurricaned the apartment after the SSS had placed it under 24 hour supervision for a handful of days.
What Nigerians were told was that Shekau was almost taken-into-custody when effusive armed members of the sect commenced a ferocious attack on the security team, scything down three police officers on the spot. Nigerians were also told that while the swap of fire between the security team and the rebels lasted, a Golf car with registration number, AE 913 TBW, went-fast into the compound. In a short time, Shekau and his family members were sprinted into the car and transported off. And many Nigerians wondered where the security operatives who engaged the indefinable terrorists in the alleged exchange of fire were and the Golf moved out with Shekau.
And as soon as the car sped off, said a report, the sect members who engaged the security team, pulled back and fled in different directions; one sect member was killed in the process, two ran-away with bullet injuries, while one Suleiman Gambo (alias Babangida) was arrested. The Golf car that was used in shipping Shekau away was said to have been later recovered from Gambo's apartment in Sokoto. By Monday, 05 March 2012, the news of Shekau escaping arrest was everywhere. His wife was arrested and two top politicians were probed over the sect's funding. A former governor's relation (not the Abia's) was also said came under inspection. All boiled down to one or the other connection they had with Boko Haram.
An account said: On December 23, the team traced the Boko Haram leader to a house at Mando area of Kaduna, and to another apartment at Badarawa area of the city. The house at Badarawa was put under surveillance by the SSS before the joint security team stormed it in full force on December 26. However, the team found no one in the apartment as Shekau was believed to have left the house two days earlier, suggesting that he got intelligence he was being trailed.
When the arrest was carried out by a team of security personnel, Boko Haram attacked hospitals and schools in that regard. Reports of Sunday, 24 March 2013, said that 127 prisoners escaped in a Nigerian jail attack. This occurred when gunmen attacked their jailhouse in Adamawa State. As of the time the report was made known, a prison chief said the prisons authorities had not made any re-arrest.
An Adamawa State prison chief confirmed to newsmen that only one prisoner was shot, and that was in the leg. A deputy comptroller in charge of the Ganye prison was shot dead by the gunmen in the attack. The gunmen also killed 25 people in chain of attacks on different locations of that day in Ganye. The tools the gunmen were said to have used in any attack were bombs, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, and other dangerous munitions. They did not spare prison, police station and bank in their operations, including their mastery in mowing down human beings, which had left about 4, 500 people dead since 2009.
There was always panic in the areas where the sect had attained the status of celebrity, especially in the North-East. Benue was one of the states. The state did not know peace on Saturday January 5, 2013, when another Boko Haram agent known as Ali Jalingo escaped arrest in Gboko South of the state from a combined team of soldiers and men of the State Security Service with bullet wounds.
Like many dismayed Nigerians about the news, a former Lagos State Police Commissioner expressed shock over the escape of Ali Jalingo. He described it as shameful, and advised that the officer in-charge for intelligence gathering should be held legally-responsible for their powerlessness to bring the wrongdoer to book. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) recommended that the police commissioner to whom the escape was linked and other persons connected with Boko Haram's activities be arrested and prosecuted. The association also described the development as shameful and that it was an authentication of the fear that some officials of the security agencies might have conciliated over the Boko Haram insurgency.
Hear the ex-cop's chief: “In one breath we were told the kingpin was arrested while on the other hand we also heard the suspect escaped.”
A former Commissioner of Police, Mr. Zakari Biu, was dismissed when a suspected Boko Haram member, Kabir Sokoto, escaped from his custody at Abaji, a satellite town in the Federal Capital Territory. Sokoto was the alleged mastermind of the Christmas Day bombing of Saint Theresa Catholic Church, Madalla, Niger State. Arrested at the Borno State Governor's Lodge, Abuja, Sokoto was said escaped while being taken for a search of his apartment 24 hours later.
Many Nigerians bewailed that disciplinary action be meted out to the joint team of security officials who allowed Jalingo to escape. What the security operatives succeeded in doing, according to investigation, was to demolish a residential apartment contended to be harbouring the suspect. This was after soldiers numbering about 10 in number kept vigil in the area. They also arrested a girl staying with him, a Gboko's friend and landlord. Not even the house-to-house search in the wee hours of the day conducted by the operatives, who were armed to the teeth, saved the situation before Ali was later arrested through a hint believed that was afforded by his brothers known as Hassan and Husseini. Seemingly, Ali accepted having links with the sect but denied membership of the sect.
Before Ali was re-arrested, it was counter excuse and blame by security operatives on the other. A Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) said: "It was not the police in Benue that carried out the operation. The incident happened in Gboko, Benue State, but it was the military and the state security service in Abuja that carried it out. And so we (Benue police command) cannot give the details of the incident and I cannot tell you anything more than that."
This was also how a suspected Boko Haram member, who was linked as the bomber of the Main Mosque, Hausa Quarters in Sapele, Sapele Local Government Area of Delta State, which incident the security agents purportedly tried to underplay died on December 10, 2011, and no tangible result, was given as to what killed the once dreaded terrorist. All that was told by the security operatives was that the detained Boko Haram agent gave up the ghost a few days ago following the failure of the medical team at the University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH) to save his life after weeks of medical attention.
It was in the hearsay that Boko Haram henchmen lived in affluence, anywhere they were spotted in any area. They were not without suicide vehicles charged with bomb; and bulky number of GSM recharge/sim cards, face masks, vital bank documents and suicide bombers' note. The escape of arrest by Boko Haram members upon the heavily armed combined team of the security operatives was full of suspicion of having organised connections with the powers that felt they were. That notion came to glare with the arrest of one of the sect's suspected leaders, Hassan Pagi Bukar, right in the house of a 2003-2007 member of the House of Representatives, at Gwarimpa area of the Federal Capital territory, FCT, Abuja.
But all that was heard later of the incident was that the member of the House of Representatives was briefly arrested and interrogated and was released on condition that he should be visiting the security agency that effected the arrest on appointment. It was learnt that interrogation of Bukar disclosed that he (Bukar) was briefly a member of the sect and his duty was to clutch to robbery activities by divesting members of the public of their cars, of which he implicated the former Rep, as one of the buyers of some of the stolen cars.
While some persons purportedly connected to the business of Boko Haram were let loose or they loosed themselves, on Tuesday 16 August 2012 a Brigadier-General, a former Commander, 33 Artillery Brigade, Bauchi, was arraigned before a Special Court Martial over the escape from the brigade's detention facilities of two detainees suspected to be members of the Boko Haram sect who were arrested over an assault in Bauchi late 2010. Inaugurating a six-member panel in Jos, the GOC, 3 Armoured Division, a Major-General said that the Brigadier-General was indicted for complicity by a military investigations report.
That showed it was not out of place when a source said that a security consultant claimed that Boko Haram was sponsored by wealthy Nigerians. This consultant who was a guest on a Channels Television's morning programme, Sunrise Daily, was speaking against the background of the events in Borno State, where the military Joint Task Force (JTF) announced the arrest of one Shuaib Mohammed Bama in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, and described him as: “A high profile Boko Haram Commander who has been on the list of wanted terrorists operating between Bama and Maiduguri.”
The SSS linked the arrested Boko Haram Commander to Damboa Road, GRA Maiduguri, in what was described as “a serving senator's house” representing Borno Central Senatorial district. The senator accepted that the suspect was his nephew but however denied that the Boko Haram member was arrested in his house. He held that the suspect was arrested in a house belonging to a former governor of the state. Ostensibly a Speaker of Kogi House of Assembly was dragged to court by two lawmakers under him in relation to Boko Haram matter.
The escape of Boko Haram members from the security operatives' custody nearly became a culture. On November Friday 9, 2012 the news of a commander of the sect known as Sani Mohammed escape from police custody in Abuja had filtered into the air on Thursday 8, where he was kept with other terror suspects. He was regarded as a notorious terrorist, who was arrested with Kabir Sokoto in January, 2012. The Force Headquarters nonetheless rebuffed the claim, and said that no terror suspect escaped. But according to reports, security sources substantiated that Mohammed made-off from custody.
Worried by these escapes, the presidency called for probe over the escape of Boko Haram members from the security operatives' custody. By Saturday, 21 January 2012 it was all over the media that a National Security Adviser (NSA), (now late), had set up a high-capacity committee to investigate the then Inspector General of Police (IGP).
The committee was believed followed-up a response to the query issued to the IGP over the escape of Kabir Umar Sokoto from police custody. It was in-that-case the Minister of Police Affairs, who revealed this to State House correspondents in Abuja on Friday. Those involved in the committee were not revealed, but according to sources, it encompassed senior military officers and personnel from the Ministry of Police Affairs, and had about one week to place in its report.
The embattled IGP was given 24 hours to re-arrest the suspect, who escaped while he was being shepherded by police on a rummage-around mission in his residence. There was widely expectation that the IGP would be sacked, but the minister indicated differently. He apparently believed that the panel should be given a chance to complete its obligation first.
The Minister of Police Affairs stated: Like I did say the other time, I have given some directives. The Inspector General of Police has responded. A committee has been set up above the police which takes into cognizance experts in various aspects to come together and conduct another investigation. So, that is being assembled and they have been set up to work. I think this is how far we have gone... I have to tell Nigerians that, because an investigation panel has been set up, they (Nigerians) should be patient and allow them do their job very briefly. A time line has been given to them and at the end of that, something will come out. So, we should not preempt.
While the suspected Boko Haram members escaped from the security operatives, the police resorted to arrest a traditional ruler of a satelite town in Abuja, the Ona of Abuja, over the escape of Kabir Sokoto. The monarch was arrested alongside his son and it was believed that Kabir Sokoto escaped in his palace, having allegedly ordered the investigating team to bring the suspect to his palace before commencing on any search. It was complicity of stories!
The Federal Government believed that many of the escaped Boko Haram members left the country for Mali. Shekau, who was having N50 million ransom hanging on his head from the Federal Government, was the most sought. By December, a total sum of N290 million ransom was approved for anyone who could assist in locating Shekau and 18 other leaders of Boko Haram. The Federal Government therefore approved the deployment of 1,200 soldiers to Mali, seemingly because of the need to arrest the wounded dishonorable Boko Haram leader.
Before the officers of Nigerian Army were airlifted to Mali following the escalation of the Malian crisis, one statement credited to the Chief of Army Staff who addressed them was, “to be extra vigilant as there are indications that some terrorists had sneaked into the country with the aim of causing havoc”.
It was further learnt that Shekau could not have escaped from the country to Mali if not for the lapses in security, especially around the vast Nigerian border. It was also learnt that the Customs and Immigration authorities could have gotten the wind of his escape if not for the porous routes in the border.
In the security operatives' marred efforts to fight Boko Haram it was said that the fugitive Shekau was wounded and caught in Mali and he later escaped. Following this occurrence the Nigeria's intelligence unit was said to have traced Shekau to Algeria, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad etcetera, but to no avail of spotting the hideout of the terrorist, and the security operatives were back.
Odimegwu Onwumere, Poet/Author, writes from Rivers State. Tel: +2348032552855 (OR) +2348057778358. Email: [email protected]