Boko Haram sponsors vs Nigeria: UAE revelation, US reluctance
By Wale Odunsi
Nigeria’s independence clocked 61 years on October 1, 2021. Sadly, the country has been battling with the Boko Haram insurgency for one-quarter of six decades. Three weeks before the latest anniversary, something phenomenal that got everybody talking happened: an early gift from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
The Emirates won the hearts of millions of Nigerians with the revelation of Boko Haram sponsors. Many are disappointed that the United States of America (USA) remains indecisive on this important matter. I salute the UAE for stepping up and showing leadership while others dilly-dally. Their action was not only unprecedented, it will remain indelible. The UAE deserves more accolades.
The Emirates could have deflected but took the path of courage and honour. They are pained by what is going on in Nigeria and fulfilled what their conscience dictated. It should ring loud in our ears and stick to our heads that the UAE cried more than the bereaved, exposing some of the evildoers in Nigeria while the leaders who begged for votes remain silent.
Is it not amazing that security, anti-corruption and anti-narcotics agencies arrest, parade and prosecute sex workers, rapists, drug peddlers, petty thieves, rogues in public and private sectors, armed robbers, kidnappers, internet fraudsters a.k.a. ‘Yahoo boys’, but find it somewhat difficult to mete out the same treatment to terrorists’ godfathers? What is going on might actually be deeper than what we thought.
In case America does not perfectly decipher, we are pressurizing them to unseal the identities of Boko Haram funders due to the insistence of the Buhari administration that there is no need for unmasking. The presidency made its position known through spokespersons, Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu. Likewise the Attorney General and Justice Minister, Abubakar Malami. Let it be on record that Nigeria is concealing the names of terror financiers.
Messrs Adesina and Garba strongly defended the non-disclosure, just like in the case of Twitter ban. He who pays the piper truly dictates the tune. These are senior colleagues we admired for their definite stance on issues and leadership failure before they were appointed into the ruling government. I have no doubt in my mind that the aides would hold a different view if they were not in power; they would have joined the clamour for divulgence.
Boko Haram was founded by Mohammed Yusuf in Maiduguri, the Borno capital in 2002. He successfully radicalised thousands of youths, preached hostility toward secular education and promoted jihad. His sermons spread like wildfire as adherents stored different recordings on their phones like playlists. Federal and state authorities became agitated. “Who is this young man that has attained authority, status and influence within a short period of time?”.
In July 2009, Yusuf reportedly died in the custody of the police after the military-led Joint Task Force (JTF) handed him over. Around the time, soldiers and policemen raided communities, picked out suspected Boko Haram members and executed them on the streets! These events infuriated staunch followers of Yusuf who took up arms and manufactured Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). They bombed security facilities and killed many security personnel in retaliation. I vividly recall the photos and gory videos. Since then, the fundamentalist group has been on a rampage, exporting its fury to neighbouring countries.
Cameroon, Chad and Niger have their own tales of Boko Haram ruthlessness. The insurgency actually led to the strengthening of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), headquartered in N’Djamena. Although the force had been in existence since the 1990s, its mandate was expanded in April 2012 to encompass counter-terrorism operations to suppress Boko Haram and Ansaru. The sects swelled in size and strength in the early 2010s, infiltrating the BAY States – Borno, Adamawa and Yobe.
In September 2011, former President Olusegun Obasanjo sought to broker ceasefire after he was contacted by a group of pacifists including activist and former Kaduna Senator, Shehu Sani. After conferring with ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, ‘Obj’, as fondly called, flew to Borno secretly. Within hours, the media got the scoop that the erstwhile military Head of State travelled to the State to meet Yusuf’s family. Not many were taken aback. Obasanjo is largely a fearless man, a reason some believes he possesses ‘traditional powers’.
Arbitration is one of his talents and to date, the African Union (AU), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and West countries routinely engage the Prime Minister of Owu. At Yusuf’s household, Obasanjo, who spoke in Hausa, appealed to the relations to allow him mediate between and the government. Yusuf’s brother-in-law, Babakura Fugu, whose father was also slain in 2009, said it was the first time a high-profile figure would meet them.
Fugu was frank at the parley, hinting that 30 to 40 percent of Boko Haram fighters were in Cameroon, Chad and Niger. He presented a list of demands to Obasanjo. Although the requests were never made public, they reportedly included the reconstruction of demolished properties, the trial of government agents for extra-judicial killings, compensation for affected families and the release of incarcerated members.
Before the meeting, Obasanjo was in Jos, the Plateau capital, for peace talks with Christian and Muslim leaders over the ethno-religious conflict that claimed – and still claim – several lives. I know about and witnessed some of the atrocities that occurred. I was in the State as a member of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Batch C 2010. It was scary. Anytime violence erupted, Christians were usually at risk on Northerners-dominated Bauchi Road, while the safety of Muslims could not be guaranteed on Southerners-dominated Bauchi Ring Road. My apartment was in between.
I remember how the NYSC repeatedly appeal that we always stay safe and avoid interstate trips except when necessary. Once clashes start, the thought of death and my body transported to my parents, Pastor and Mrs Odunsi (both passed on in 2019) in our village in Igbesa, Ogun State, filled me with dread. I never traveled during service year. I was security conscious too and often stayed indoors in my abode inside the University of Jos (UNIJOS) Senior Staff Quarters. Luckily, my Place of Primary Assignment (PPA) provided accommodation.
The crisis caused the cancellation of my set’s Passing Out Parade (POP) as the State and corps management feared for our safety. Grateful that I and hundreds of colleagues completed service unscathed. Not only did I serve my fatherland, I received NYSC State Honours Award for humanitarian efforts that touched orphanages and schools, and a Letter of Commendation by the Plateau Government for the facelift of a reformatory in Jos. The State is blessed with great people, food and weather. This is why the recrruing incidences of massacre makes my skin prickle.
I mentioned Obasanjo’s trip to Borno and Plateau because ten years after his endeavours and those of the government, religious, traditional leaders and other stakeholders, Nigeria is still wrestling with the Boko Haram warfare and Plateau catastrophe. Even President Muhammadu Buhari, who identified the cause(s) of Plateau problems during a televised debate before the 2011 general elections and proffered solutions, seems confused. It is now less than two years to the end of his second term in office.
According to a June 2021 report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), by the end of 2020, the conflict in North-East Nigeria had resulted “in nearly 350,000 deaths, with 314,000 of those from indirect causes”. About 1.8 million students are out of school. Similarly, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) declared approximately 2.5 million Nigerian refugees/internally displaced persons (IDPs). There are 780,000 such persons in Cameroon, Chad and Niger.
Despite these pitiful statistics, America’s bureaucratic foot-dragging has continued. In September 2021, the UAE publised the names of six Nigerians apprehended for funding Boko Haram – Abdurrahaman Ado Musa, Salihu Yusuf Adamu, Bashir Ali Yusuf, Muhammed Ibrahim Isa, Ibrahim Ali Alhassan and Surajo Abubakar Muhammad. The announcement followed their indictment and prosecution in 2020 by the National Security Bureau (NSB) years after their April 2017 arrest.
I covered the story and it raises one’s spirit that the UAE listed the devilish men among 53 individuals and entities (allegedly) playing a role in inducing agony and taking lives they cannot give. Court documents showed how the convicted Nigerians, between 2015 and 2016, wired $782,000 to Boko Haram in violation of Article 29, Clause 3 of UAE’s Federal Anti-Terrorism Law No 7 of 2017. The transactions were facilitated by two fellow countrymen the NSB named ‘Alhaji Sa’idu’ and ‘Alhaji Ashiru’, described as ‘a government official’.
The government and most people in America honour God. In fact, “In God we trust” is the country’s official motto. Does the US government think God is happy with them for shielding the identity of terror financiers in Nigeria? Is America at ease with how pregnant women, nursing mothers, the young and elderly are grisly decimated by terrorists? Are the number of deaths, total permanent disability, and homes, livelihoods, communities destroyed not enough? Galatians, chapter 6 verse 2 urges those who can, to carry the burden of others. Hebrews chapter 13 verse 16 advises the sharing of what you have.
The people of Nigeria want the details of the information America has on this satanic insurgency and the masterminds. Rather than name and shame, the US is delaying even as lives are wasted night and day. In late August, the US government, for the umpteenth time, assured it would identify sponsors of terrorism in Africa’s most populous State. Ambassador Mary Beth Leonard said talks are ongoing.
“That is something we are very eager to partner Nigeria on. I have had at least three conversations in the last two months on this subject”, the envoy told reporters. For how long are we going to hear and endure promises from the nation widely regarded as the most powerful on earth? Why is the US failing to prove the title by refusing to de-classify intel on the bastards fuelling the murder of hundreds of thousands of civilians? What are they afraid of? Thank God for UAE.
In early August, the State Department, supervised by Secretary Antony Blinken, added the names of five terrorist leaders in Africa to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs). Abubakar Shekau and Musab Al-Barnawi (both reportedly dead) are/were veterans on the register. The latter was Yusuf’s son and leader of the ISIS-affiliated Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP). Al-Barnawi was only 15 years old when his father and mentor died.
My argument: There is not much difference between militants and those who bankroll their activities; every single one should be brought to light. In March 2020, the State Department, led by Secretary Mike Pompeo, placed a $15million bounty on Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro for alleged drug trafficking to the US. Maduro, the head of a country, was named! The US government must devote such energy to Boko Haram sponsors and stop making it look as if it cares less since Americans in Nigeria are rarely targeted.
Also during Ambassador Leonard’s chat with the press, she assuaged the fear that Nigeria might end up like Afghanistan: “I hear people making the analogy with Afghanistan a lot, it does not match up. When you listen to what President Biden said on how troops went to Afghanistan in the first place, it was because they were in a horrible tragedy, over 3,000 Americans were killed. That is a different construct.” My response: The 350,000 Nigerians dead had blood running in their veins too!
In mid-August, two weeks before the ‘assurance’, the Taliban chased out the Aghan government after a spirited 20-year battle with Aghan and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces. In an interview with CNN after the overrun, a commander Muhammed Afri Mustafa noted that even with the helicopters, weapons and tanks deployed against the Islamist movement, “the Mujahideen resisted very well”.
“It is our belief that one day, Mujahideen will have victory. Islamic law will come not just to Afghanistan but all over the world. We are not in a hurry, we believe it will come. Jihad will not end until the last day”, Mustafa sworn. Ambassador Leonard is aware that Boko Haram’s primary objective is the establishment of an Islamic State; the secondary objective is the wider imposition of Islamic rule beyond Nigeria. Simple maths: Taliban’s vow plus Boko Haram’s adjunct ambition may be equal to Nigeria takeover if not effectively and timely checked.
The US should never again tell us to stay calm; we never want to hear comments like “What happened in Afghanistan cannot happen in Nigeria”. Bandits/terrorists shot down military planes; bandits/terrorists assassinated Major General Hassan Ahmed; bandits/terrorists killed officers during an invasion of the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA); bandits/terrorists have attacked schools, communities, military and paramilitary bases, UN and aid agencies’ buildings/facilities. They are not relenting yet.
Matthew T. Page, an Associate Fellow at Chatham House told me that though he is not knowledgeable enough to explain why the US has not taken the same measures as the UAE, the US military and intelligence assistance to Nigeria is a challenging proposition for several reasons.
“First, the Nigerian military has been a difficult and unpredictable partner over the years, even at the best of times. It is inherently suspicious of outside help and unwilling to acknowledge its shortcomings.
“Second, it routinely commits gross human rights violations which – under US law – preclude it from receiving many types of training and assistance. The military is unwilling to recognize that it has an appalling human rights record and to take meaningful steps to correct it moving forward and hold its personnel accountable for past abuses.
“Third, intelligence sharing has been challenging because the military has not always used shared information in a timely or responsible way. My understanding is, however, that intelligence sharing is the bedrock of US-Nigeria counterterrorism cooperation and continues to take place as needed.
“It is my view that the notion that Nigeria needs more hardware to “crush” Boko Haram is flawed. Nigeria faces a complex range of security threats that include (but are not limited to) insurgency in the northeast. Military force is just one tool in the government’s toolbox: it needs to use a variety of others to get the job done.”
The former US intelligence expert on Nigeria said international training and assistance can be helpful, but real security sector reform, professionalization, reinvestment and recapitalization, a crackdown on rampant security sector corruption, and respect for civil liberties and human rights are all part of the equation.
“Branding every troublemaker as a “terrorist” and “enemy of the state” will not deescalate the cycles of violence and insecurity that are destabilizing Nigeria at the moment. Until Nigeria’s national, state, and local leaders begin addressing the causes of conflict – and stop, in many cases, making them worse – any effort to “crush” Boko Haram and other deadly threats will have limited impact”, Page added.
Notwithstanding my grouse, I commend the US for development assistance to Nigeria, interventions on the COVID-19 pandemic and the largest African defense deal (approx. $500million) covering the 12 A-29 Super Tucano, extra weapons, spare parts and contract logistics aid. Nigerian Air Force (NAF) pilots and maintainers were trained with the US Air Force 81st Fighter Squadron at Moody Air Force Base (AFB) in Georgia.
The US Army Corps of Engineers is also providing $36million in infrastructure support to the A-29s’ home – Kainji Air Base: earth-covered magazines and aircraft sunshades; flight annex wing building for simulator training; ammunition depot and small arms storage; perimeter and security fencing; airfield hot cargo pad, lights and apron; parking, hangar and entry control point enhancements.
Additionally, Navy officers completed a drill conducted by US Coast Guard officers. The capacity builder will strengthen maritime law enforcement competence in Nigerian waters, particularly in the Gulf of Guinea. The trainees were tutored in techniques on the threat of piracy and oil infrastructure insecurity; perseverance during operations; scenarios and tactics in the use of force; evidence processing and arrest procedures; countering illegal fishing, trafficking of weapons, narcotics and people.
The USS Hershel “Woody” Williams too was in Lagos for an at-sea training exercise with Nigerian offshore patrol vessels. Again, the Navy Special Boat Service (SBS) and the US Army Special Forces completed a five-week Joint Combined Exchange Training (J-CET). It is good to know that Nigeria and America engage in military exercises – African Lion, Flintlock and Obangame Express.
In conclusion, two adages are germane: ‘You don’t go to bed when there is fire on the roof’; ‘Only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches’. Nigerians are sick and tired of this terrorism madness. I am adding my voice and urging America to blow the whistle on Boko Haram sponsors. The US should act without further procrastination. The time is now, we await. To serving and fallen personnel of the Nigerian Armed Forces, I Salute and Thank You for your service.
Wale Odunsi tweets from @WaleOdunsi; email: [email protected]
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