Within seven days, the Nigerian military has defended its image and reputation against damning reports by Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and The Economist, two respected foreign news outlets.
In separate statements by Edward Gabkwet, Director, Nigerian Air Force Public Relations and Information, and Onyema Nwachukwu, Director, Army Public Relations, on October 18 and 23 respectively, the military rejected claims it was underperforming and employing non-conventional tactics.
Gabkwet, while reacting to WSJ’s claim that the Air Force, in a bid to protect President Muhamadu Buhari’s air travel, paid “nearly $50,000 (N20 million) in crisp Nigerian bank notes” to bandits in exchange for an anti-aircraft gun seized from the Nigerian Army, said the report was orchestrated by elements that see the force as a threat to their criminal activities.
“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,” he said.
“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 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 NAF to pay bandits or any criminal elements that it has continued to attack and decimate in Katsina State, other parts of the northwest, as well as other theatres of operation in the country.
“Indeed, as recent as 12 October 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.”
The report he was reacting to was titled “Nigeria’s Gangs Raised Millions by Kidnapping Children. Now the Government Can’t Stop Them.”
An excerpt from the report read: “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.
“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.”
Similarly, Nwachukwu reacted to The Economist’s story titled “Insurgency, secessionism and banditry threaten Nigeria.”
The story, published on Saturday, highlighted the security challenges that continue to plague the country and how the military has struggled to contain it.
Nwachukwu accused the newspaper of attempting “to denigrate an army that had restored democracies, brought peace to troubled lands and stabilised the sub-region through dint of hard work, commitment to duty, discipline and professionalism.”
Like Gabkwet, Nwachukwu linked the platform directly with mischief makers in the country.
He accused the platform of allowing itself to be used for a “hatchet job” and failing in its effort of finding out the truth about the Nigerian army, saying, “What the magazine and its sources did not know was that (the) said army had successfully stopped the Islamic States West African Province (ISWAP).”
“It was the same army that had weathered the storm of terrorism and insurgency in the northeastern part of the country and parts of the Lake Chad region,” he said, pointing out that the offending article contained “some unimaginable slurs targeted at the Nigerian military and the Nigerian Army in particular.
“Even as the real intention of the otherwise respected Economist magazine in publishing such toxic concoctions weaved up as report on Nigerian Government’s response to the multi-faceted security challenges assailing the country is yet to be unravelled, the source of the article was very clear.”
Meanwhile, attacks by bandits and other terror groups have continued unabated in the country. On Thursday, a nine-coach standard gauge train heading to Abuja, the nation’s capital, from Kaduna, nearly derailed after stepping on explosives planted by suspected terrorists.
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