Buratai to remain in North-east till Boko Haram is defeated.
Northern governors dodging responsibilities towards almajirai.
Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Army, Mohammed Ali Ndume, has lamented how dearth of operational funds is slowing down the war against insurgency in the North-east. Ndume also disclosed that the chief of army staff, Tukur Yusuf Buratai, a Lieutenant General, has vowed to remain in the North-east until the Boko Haram insurgency is defeated. Buratai had relocated to the troubled region in April to join his foot soldiers fighting the Boko Haram insurgents. The COAS’s decision came few days after the President of Chad, Idriss Deby led soldiers to capture Boko Haram’s arms store in Sambisa.
In an interview Sunday night on Channels Television programme, Sunday Politics, Ndume said while the situation in the North-east “is improving” as a result of “new determination” by the armed forces, the resurgence of banditry in the North-west, notably in Sokoto, Zamfara,Katsina as well as Niger and Kaduna States, was such that it has led to exodus of people to neghbouring countries like Niger. “And Niger too, they are trying to contain the bandits, so they try to protect their borders as people run for safety in those areas therefore increasing the number of internally displaced persons or refugees in Cameroon” Ndume stated . According to him, “In Niger now, it’s statistically about 60,000; that is what the United Nations for Refugees is talking about and therefore there is that increase in banditry in that region”.
The COAS was however optimistic the insurgency in the North-east would soon be a thing of the past. According to him, “As you might be aware, the chief of army staff has relocated completely now to Borno State and he has been there for about two months now. In fact right now, the chief of army staff is in Maiduguri supervising and commanding the troops and that changed the game completely and gives us hope. Now we see light at the end of the tunnel despite the pandemic that hampers the success. I believe that if not for the pandemic, a reasonable progress would have been made more than what we have on ground. But with the chief of army staff relocating completely to Borno, and in my discussion with him, he said he’s staying there until he gets this issue of insurgency in the Northeast finished”.
Ndume identified funding, rather than equipment, as a major challenge impeding the fight against insurgency and banditry, which he noted was further compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic that had dealt a big blow on the revenue of the country. According to him, “The Nigerian Armed Forces – the army, air force and navy – have a serious challenge of funding. In the 2019 budget, the performance was abysmal; and I can tell you even in the 2020 budget, compounded by the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, has further challenged our financial capacity. That has also affected the budget performance.
“For now, I think the only thing they’ve been able to keep up to until the first quarter of 2020 which just finished is the personnel and recurrent expenditure. Even that one, we have some challenges. But so far, now, we’ve been talking to the ministry of finance because we discovered that the capital releases to the army and armed forces have not been effected for this 2020 and I think that is because of the financial challenges that we have. But we are in a situation of war”.
He regretted that this situation is affecting the prosecution of the war against insurgency “because the army is just scavenging around for finance to keep their operations going. Honestly, they are facing big financial challenges and you know this is not something that is intentional but because the whole country is affected by the pandemic that affected the price of oil worldwide. And that is the biggest challenge that we have”.
He was however hopeful that with the new equipment deployed by the army and air force, the war would soon come to an end. “Now, the army has new equipment deployed; the Nigerian Air Force is doing the same. In fact recently also, they have deployed some, and trained some special forces in order to beef up the number and the capacity of those on ground. Unfortunately, the armed forces have too many things in their hands; like they have the issue of banditry now in the Northeast resurfacing. The president has given directive for them to do something. There is (sic) the communal clashes that are happening in the North-central, and even the issue of banditry. These things are so many. And you know that the number of soldiers that we have on ground is not very adequate to take care of these but they are doing their best and hopefully, with the increase in capacity in terms of equipment, we hope that this thing will come to an end.
“The Air Force has gotten new helicopters. You are aware that late last year or early this year, I think, the president commissioned about three or four of them and more are coming in and they are still arriving. The Nigerian Army on its part has gotten many of their armoured tanks and heavy duty equipment that they required from China; they have taken delivery of them and they are being deployed to the theatre. And so, there is improvement actually. They are expecting the order placed from the $1 billion that was taken out from the external reserve last year. Some of the equipments ordered have started arriving and they are being deployed.
“But the challenge that they have now is the operational funds. It’s not only having the equipment but you must have the ammunition, you must have other consumables, fueling equipment, supplies so to say. Even with those, they have to get the supplies that would back the equipment in order for them to be effectively operational”.
The senator representing Borno South said because this issue of insurgency had been lingering with politicians representing the people from that region mounting pressure on the Army in particular to do something, which he agreed they are doing, “I think we should commend them and we should encourage them. They are doing well and we hope that this vigour will continue in order to bring the war to an end. And I see it coming to an end with the new determination and the new support from everybody”.
Ndume appealed to civilians to also cooperate with the military by providing them necessary information in order to end the war. The visibly excited senator said “Now the game has changed; the hunter is now being hunted. In those days, even at the beginning of the year, you hear Boko Haram daring the Nigerian Army, going to even their formations to attack them. It is now the reverse; the army is now looking out to chasing Boko Haram. And of course they face resistance and even casualties in the process. But we are hopeful that it would come to an end”.
Ndume was also worried about the serious humanitarian crisis in the restive region which he noted had now also been compounded by the pandemic. “Initially, it was the issue of security challenges that we are facing from the insurgents. But now with the pandemic or COVID-19, the situation has gotten worse. The palliatives are not getting to the people. And even if the palliatives get to the state, it’s normally challenging to move it to the various locations where people are in dire need. So, the humanitarian crisis in Borno particularly, is very serious. The state government is doing all it can. The North-east development Commission, NEMA ; the humanitarian ministry we are hearing are also making efforts to do that. We hope that we will see more of this humanitarian assistance to the North-east, particularly Borno.
On whether the northern governors were handling the almajirai issue well, Ndume’s blunt response was “Not at all”. “Honestly”, he stated, “the way the almajiri issue is being handled, I don’t support it. These are Nigerians protected by the constitution. They have the right; these are innocent people that found themselves coming from a poor background. I think the state governments could have managed the situation better. ..I think this almajiri system on ground the government is supposed to improve on it not to be repatriating people from state to state against their will. Even though the states are saying that they are ready to receive them, but here we are, we’re saying there should be no movement between states and you are packing these innocent almajirs from one point to the other.
“I was thinking that they could use the palliatives to take care of the almajiris. The palliatives that the government is giving out should have been directed to the almajiris, put them in one place, put them through tests, and give them the necessary support they need. But running away from responsibilities doesn’t solve the problem”.