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We solicit collective efforts of Nigerians in fight against insurgency, banditry – Service Chiefs

The nation’s Service Chiefs last Wednesday held the second edition of Open Ears Press Dialogue (Independence Day Edition), where they addressed various issues bordering on the insecurity in the country and the efforts of the military in the fight. The Service Chiefs also solicited the cooperation of all Nigerians in the fight against insurgency, banditry and other forms of insecurity in the country. General Lucky Irabor, chief of defence staff, specifically urged the media to lend a helping hand in the fight, by crosschecking information at their disposal. Present at the briefing were also Lt.Gen. Farouk Yahaya, chief of Army Staff; Rear Admiral Abraham Adaji, chief of training and operations, who represented Vice Admiral Awwal Zubairu Gambo, chief of Naval Staff; Air Vice Marshal James Gwani, chief of training and operations headquarters, Nigerian Air Force, representing Air Marshal Isiaka Oladayo Amao, chief of Air Staff. ZEBULON AGOMUO attended the session: Excerpts:

The establishment of Naval base in Kano, is it to meet any operational requirement or just to deliver constituency project since the Chief of Naval Staff is from the state?

Let me use this opportunity to clarify that what the Navy established in Kano is a logistics college. Granted the establishment of this logistics college has thrown up a lot of reaction, it has also afforded us that opportunity to shed some light on our establishments across the nation, and some of the programmes that we have as far as developing capacity and providing support to civil authority in Nigeria is concerned. For clarity, the Nigerian Navy has a finance and logistics college that is located in Owerrinta, somewhere between Aba and Owerri. This college is responsible for our training of both personnel in the area of logistics and finance, but due to growth and development imperatives, it was considered that the college should be separated, and the logistics college is now moved to Kano.

So, what we are establishing in Kano is the logistics college, and the finance college remains in Owerrinta. Before now, Owerrinta was not the only landlocked location with Naval establishment; we also had the Provost and Regulatory School in Makurdi where we had trained our personnel in the area of Naval Provost duties. But, I will also have to clarify that it is not only these bases that mark our presence in the North. The Nigerian Navy is heavily involved in the anti-insurgency, anti-terrorism, and also the internal security operations across the North. In the North East, where we have the joint taskforce- Operation Hadin Kai, the Navy has over one hundred and seventy (170) personnel that are fighting alongside the Army and the Air Force to combat the threat that we face.

Equally in the North West, where we have the joint taskforce, Operation Hadarin Daji the Navy has over 250 personnel that are fighting to counter banditry, and all the other issues of insecurity there. In the North Central, we also have about a hundred men working alongside our colleagues to combat banditry, kidnapping and all the issues relating to insecurity. Operation Safe Corridor, the outreach responsible for the management of surrendered terrorists and bandits that is working along other government agencies. The Navy is represented there. We have about 15 personnel working there.

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We also have our presence in Operation Safe Haven; the operations going on on the Plateau and Southern Kaduna to combat issues relating to herders and farmers’ clashes in the areas. So, it is not just Kano that we are present in the North. Long before Kano, for about 10 years we had been in the North East and since the operation started in the North West, we have been there. We have been there in the North Central; on the Plateau and all the areas where we have security challenges. Beyond defending the territorial integrity of Nigeria, the Armed forces of Nigeria have the responsibility to offer support to the civil authority to maintain law and order, and this secondary role, the Armed Forces have been doing everything to develop the capacity; but of course, law and order is a governance issue, and we are working closely not just with the government, but with other security agencies and the civil society to deliver the much-desired security in the country. Let me also add that the logistics college that was stabled in Kano was established alongside two other Naval bases that will be performing fully Maritime Operations. At the Oguta Lake, the Nigerian Navy is establishing a forward operating base because of increasing activities of IPOB and ESN as well as sabotage of our oil and gas facilities. And they are working alongside agencies in the area to combat their threats. Also, in Lagos, in Lekki axis, the Nigerian Navy is also establishing a base.
Lekki is a stretch that holds a lot of investments critical to the economic wellbeing of Nigeria. The Petrol that is consumed in Nigeria lands in the Lagos Offshore, and it is from there that it is transported to other towns and distributed for consumption across the length and breadth of Nigeria. Significantly, the Dangote Refinery is coming on stream; it is not just a refinery, it is coming with a fertilizer plant. Of course, there are several developments worth hundreds of billions of dollars across that corridor that require protection. So, the Navy is also establishing a base to attend to this.

The question also alleged that the base was established in Kano just for Chief of Naval Staff to do something for his state; but I must say that that assumption is false. It is just a coincidence that the Chief of Naval Staff is from that state. But I would like to educate our friends that nation building is part of the responsibility of the roles of the Nigerian Navy Serving in the Navy are Nigerians from the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory; and so, if there is anything that we can do to engender a sense of belonging; not just by these men that have volunteered to serve their country, but others that are still there that can contribute to enhancing security, the Nigerian Navy will not shy away from doing that but of course, the Naval establishment in Kano was purely for administrative and operational reasons. It is to give vent for the proper development of the two colleges – one responsible for finance, which is being retained at Owerrinta; and the other responsible for logistics which has now been moved to Kano. That base will also offer support to the Naval operations that are already on-going in the North. The operations in the North West currently are being supported by locations farther down South, from Lokoja; from Abuja and sometimes from Lagos. They have been providing a lot of support, but, of course, there was need for a base where some logistics and some materials required for sustainment of operations could be stored. The operations in the North West and other areas in the North Central and North East would greatly be enhanced.

What is the state of the investigation in the accidental airstrike some time ago in Yobe State?

The only thing I can say now is that the investigation is on-going. It is a very pains-taking process. We are in constant communication with the Yobe State government; and the moment the investigations are concluded, Nigerians will be told the outcome.

May we know to what use the military has put the six Super Tucanos that were brought into the country recently. It was said at that time that their arrival would mean a game changer in the fight against banditry and insurgency; what is happening?

The thinking that when the Super Tucanos come, that would mean the end of everything is a misunderstanding of airpower and its role, particularly in the kind of operations that we are conducting. Yes, the Super Tucanos have brought in a lot of bite to the fight and I can tell you for a fact, that as we speak now, the airplanes are operating in the North East. Just the other day, I had a meeting with the commander out there and the Vendors who supplied us the airplanes to review the operations of the aircraft and I can tell you for a fact that there is a very positive response as to the effectiveness of the airplanes in the theatre of operations. But I also want to clarify something here that airpower alone cannot win this war. The collective efforts, the military, civil society organisations and all other stakeholders are needed in this fight. While the Super Tucanos are going to play a very prominent role, let us not sit back to say, Oh, Super Tucanos alone are going to win this war. It is going to be a collective effort.

There is the need for the military to always tell the media the truth about what is going on to avoid misinformation and insinuations. There have been instances of denial of crashed military airplanes and all that. Yet, after much efforts to cover up; the truth is later established; why is it so?

You recall that the first news item that came out was that an Airforce aircraft flew from Yola to Kaduna and crashed; and we came out to tell Nigerians that we didn’t have any airplane coming in from Yola to Kaduna to crash; of course, we knew, we have lost an airplane in Zamfara, and the Combat search and rescue had already been launched; we knew the pilot was alive and the bandits were searching for him. So, it would have been improper to come out to say, no, this is where the airplane landed; we would have put the life of that pilot and those who were conducting the combat search and rescue in danger. So, we had to delay for safety and that the people who were conducting the search and rescue were not compromised; and eventually, you know, we got the pilot out. So, we didn’t have any desire to deceive anybody. It was not our intention to refuse to release to refuse information, but operational conditions that border on the safety of the pilot and those who were conducting the rescue were more pre-eminent, and that informed how we reacted in that particular situation.

On the question concerning another aircraft that was brought down in the North East; I can tell you that the combat search and rescue is still on-going. It will also interest you that we are working with a lot of our foreign partners; we have had series of meetings in the Airforce headquarters; seeking the support of not only our immediate neighbours, but also our strategic partners in trying to locate where that aircraft went down. The process is on-going and when that airplane is found, we can come out and tell Nigerians, this is what really happened.

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