The federal government yesterday warned Amnesty International to stop undermining the Nigerian military as the soldiers are paying the supreme price in defence of the country.
The minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who was reacting to the allegation by Amnesty International that the military burnt some villages and displaced the residents, said its reports were providing succor to the terrorists.
This is even as he noted that the Defence Headquarters (DHQ) had responded appropriately to the accusation.
He added that the military denied razing down villages and detaining locals unlawfully and that it does not employ arson as an operational tactic; and that looting and burning of villages was the style of Boko Haram terrorists.
“I would like to add that in carrying out their duties, Amnesty International should not cast themselves in the league of Boko Haram and ISWAP terrorists.
“They should stop the growing practice of constantly attacking the military and casting them as the bad guys, when all they are doing is putting their lives on the line to fight terrorists who have no respect for the sanctity of life, who wilfully go after women and children, who attack houses of worship without respect or allegiance to any religion. Amnesty International should stop providing succour for terrorists by attributing their atrocities to our troops,’’ he said.
Mohammed averred that Nigerian soldiers, who are defending the country, are guided by extant rules of engagement and operational codes of conduct and they should not be made to look like the aggressors.
“I am aware that the federal government has always taken seriously any allegation of rights violation by soldiers or other security forces. Investigations have been carried out and culprits, if any, punished. And it is a continuous process,’’ he added.
On the calls for President Muhammadu Buhari’s resignation, Alhaji Mohammed said the President will serve out his second term office in line with the mandate freely given to him by Nigerians and will not bow out as being demanded by his critics.
He said that “Nigeria is, no doubt, facing security challenges, but they are being tackled headlong.”
He expressed worry that there have been some red herrings in recent times, including those calling for the resignation of the president or the sack of the security chiefs.
Mohammed said that the Buhari administration had provided and would continue to provide the military and the security agencies with the needed resources and equipment to tackle security challenges.
“We have security challenges and we are tackling them head on. There is no question about that. But the challenges are being aggravated by fake news and disinformation, in particular.
“To those asking Mr President to resign, I wish to say this: Mr President will not resign. He has the overwhelming mandate of Nigerians to preside over the affairs of the country till the expiration of his tenure in May 2023,” he said.
The minister advised the commentators, especially political and religious leaders, to be very careful at this time, not to aggravate the situation with incendiary comments.
Mohammed lamented that such comments “cash in on our religious, ethnic and political fault lines to further divide us.”
He said that it was unfortunate that some leaders, especially religious leaders, had been found wanting and guilty of incendiary and reckless comments, adding that “leaders should be part of solutions to problems, rather than aggravating situations.”
The minister also decried the spike in the dissemination of fake news and the use of disinformation in recent times.
“This is not accidental,’’ he said, adding that fake news, disinformation and hate speech had become the weapons of choice to create tension in the polity and destabilise the country.
Mohammed said that those behind it, who, he described as naysayers, were not about to relent.
‘’For some people, the 2019 elections are not over. They are stuck in the pre-election mode. And they must continue to use these weapons to put Nigeria on edge. Those behind this campaign of fake news and disinformation have also deployed new tactics, top of which is the recycling of old news items and videos.
“A good example is the video of the over 400 young men suspected to be Boko Haram members who were intercepted in Abia State in 2014. About two weeks ago, the video came back into circulation, creating panic in the polity. Their intention is simple: to create tension and panic in the country.
“Other recent instances of fake news are President Muhammadu Buhari will be travelling to the United Kingdom (UK) for 20 days before proceeding to Saudi Arabia and Austria; that the minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, was attacked at the Rigasa Train Station in Kaduna; that the Nigerian Air Force killed 250 Boko Haram insurgents; that the minister of Communications and Digital Economy is planning to unveil some new ‘communication regulations’ aimed at recording all calls, monitoring WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook, among others,’’ Mohammed said.
The minister noted that even private individuals had also been victims of this scourge and reiterated the government’s “resolve to continue to appeal to Nigerians to be circumspect in believing or circulating these fake news, as we did when we launched our national campaign against fake news in 2018.
“We are also pushing ahead with our plan to sanitise the social media, working with stakeholders. By March 2, 2020 we will inaugurate the stakeholders’ committee that will deliberate and recommend the way forward.
“We are also planning a major international conference that will bring together the tech companies, media practitioners, policy makers and others as part of efforts to tackle this growing cankerworm. Last week, I met with representatives of Google and Facebook for the same purpose.
“The situation is dire, and no nation that values its peace, security and stability will allow an irresponsible use of the social media,’’ he said.
On the disruption of international flights to the Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos, the minister said that in recent times, some international flights billed for the airport were diverted to other airports within and outside the country due to adverse weather conditions.
He said that the development had led to a debate on the state of the navigational aids at the airport.
“First, let me apologise to all our citizens and other travellers who have had to endure inconveniences resulting from the diversion of their flights. This is highly regretted.
“I will also like to quickly take us through what caused the problem. In its commitment to passenger safety and security, the federal government has recently taken the decision to upgrade the navigational facilities at some major airports across the country. Consequently, the navigational aids at airports in Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Port Harcourt, Asaba, etc were all marked for an upgrade from Category II Instrument Landing System (CAT II ILS) to top-of-the-class CAT III ILS.
“In the first phase, the CAT III ILS was procured and installed in Lagos and Abuja. In addition, the government procured a calibration aircraft instead of renting one each time for $500,000. Both Abuja and Lagos airports were calibrated. The CAT III ILS is working perfectly here in Abuja,’’ he said.
The minister, however, decried that in an era of social media, the real news is usually sacrificed on the altar of sensationalism and disinformation.
“That’s how I will describe the hysteria, in a section of the media, over the reportage of the $500 million loans being sought from China,’’ he said.
Mohammed said that it was wrong to report that the loan was being sought for the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) alone. Indeed, the loan is for three major projects which are: ‘’To construct a headquarters complex and transmission network for Integrated Television Services (ITS), the federal government-owned signal distributor that is a major component of the country’s Digital Switch Over (DSO).
‘’To build a modern media city in Ikorodu that will have the following facilities: Indoor/outdoor shooting area, animation production facility, digital media training centre, a world class cinema, four-star hotel, an amusement park – amphitheater.
“Others are the acquisition of digital movie production equipment for rental as well as a power system. Media City Training Academy, only the second of its type in Africa (the first is in Egypt) that will train Nigerian broadcasters and filmmakers on high-quality media content programmes and make the country a hub for digital movie production in sub-Saharan Africa
“There are also the digitisation of all NTA stations headquarters, 12 zonal stations, 36 state capital NTA stations, 76 community stations, upgrade, purchase and installation of relevant digital TV broadcasting equipment compatible with DSO products and accessories that are necessary for the production and broadcast of digital programme contents, in addition to the provision of power system and manpower training,” Mohammed explained.
Senate Pushes For Deradicalisation Commission For Insurgents
Meanwhile, the Senate has commenced the process for the establishment of an agency for the rehabilitation, deradicalisation and integration of repentant insurgents in Nigeria.
The process which will give legal backing for the de-radicalisation of insurgents in the country, is also seeking to establish a commission that will be responsible for that purpose.
This followed a bill sponsored by the former governor of Yobe State, Senator Ibrahim Geidam (Yobe East) which was read for the first time on the floor of the Red Chamber yesterday.
LEADERSHIP Friday recalls that the Nigerian military has a rehabilitation centre for repentant Boko Haram terrorists in Gombe State. The centre has trained and rehabilitated over 1,400 insurgents since its inception in 2016.
The bill, “National Agency for the Education, Rehabilitation, De-radicalisation and Integration of Repentant Insurgents in Nigeria (etc) Bill, 2020 (SB. S40), has passed the first reading.
Among others, it seeks for recreational sports and fine arts programmes for the repentant insurgents and maintaining open lines of communication, for the agency to gain a greater understanding of both the immediate needs for combating Boko Hararn as well as tool for counter-radicalisation in the future.
Geidam said that “vocational rehabilitation gives the detainees opportunities to learn carpentry, clay shaping, pottery and the like. In addition, they will make use of art through drawings, guided by professional art therapists, and rehabilitation.”
The lawmaker further said that the bill seeks the “provision of avenue for rehabilitating, deradicalising, educating and reintegrating the defectors, repentant and detained members of the insurgent group (Boko Haram) to make them useful members of the society.
It will also “provide avenue for reconciliation and promote national security. Provide an-open-door and encouragement for other members of the group who are still engaged in the insurgency to abandon the group especially in the face of the military pressure and gives the government an opportunity to derive insider-information about the insurgence group for greater understanding of the group and its inner workings,” he said.
Other arguments in the bill are that “gaining greater understanding of the insurgents will enable the government to address the immediate concerns of violence and study the needs of deradicalisation efforts to improve the process of deradicalisation and help disintegrate the violent and poisonous ideology that the group spreads as the programme will enable some convicted or suspected terrorists to express remorse over their actions, repent and recant their violent ideology and re-enter mainstream politics, religion and society.”
The Borno State government had recently said about 1,400 repentant Boko Haram terrorists have been released by the military and reintegrated into the society.
Also, the Defence Headquarters had said that it had rehabilitated and is releasing former Boko Haram fighters as a shift from the use of arms and weapons to a soft approach to the war against insurgency in the Northeast.
The acting Defence spokesman, Brig-Gen Onyema Nwachukwu, had recently disclosed that, “In 2016, the federal government initiated “Operation Safe Corridor” (OSC) to deradicalise repentant members of Boko Haram.
“It is not anything that is done haphazardly. The target audience is not those captured in combat. No
“Those captured in combat are processed for prosecution, but the ones that have not been ideologically indoctrinated because they were conscripted; they were abducted are the ones being rehabilitated. They call them low-risk combatants. Those ones do not buy into Boko Haram agenda; they were forced into it. These repentant members have been assisting the military, by providing intelligence on Boko Haram’s activities,” Nwachukwu had said.
NAF Destroys ISWAP Hideout, Kills Fighters In Borno
Relatedly, the Air Task Force (ATF) of “Operation Lafiya Dole” has destroyed an Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) hideout and neutralised some of its fighters at Bukar Meram on the fringes of the Lake Chad in the northern part of Borno State.
According to NAF director of Public Relations and Information, Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, the feat was achieved on 19th February, 2020, in air strikes conducted as part of the ongoing “Operation Rattle Snake 3.”
He said that the strike was executed after intelligence reports indicated an increase in activities in the settlement with the observation of more terrorist fighters operating in the area.
“Accordingly, the ATF scrambled its attack aircraft to engage designated locations within the settlement, scoring multiple hits, leading to the neutralisation of some terrorists as well as the destruction of some structures housing the ISWAP elements.”
The statement restated that the operation “Rattle Snake 3”, which commenced on 4th February, 2020, is aimed at targeting selected locations within the Northeast zone in order to shape the battle space for the effective conduct of further ground and air operations.