…NAF denies making any payments
In a desperate deal that was brokered as President Muhammadu Buhari was planning a trip to Katsina State, the Nigerian Air Force, (NAF), allegedly coordinated ransom payments to armed bandits in exchange for an anti-aircraft gun seized from the Nigerian Army, the Wall Street Journal has reported.
According to the Journal, “N20 million was delivered to the bandits in Rugu Forest by a NAF official, who leaked details of the operation under anonymity because the military realised that it would be too risky to leave the weapon in the hands of violent criminals operating in an area the presidential jet would fly over.
“The rugged, lawless jungle that covers parts of Kaduna, Zamfara and the president’s home State of Katsina, has served as a vast haven for bandits terrorising Nigeria’s northwestern communities. A large portion of kidnapping plots emanates or terminates in or around the forest, security agencies have previously warned.
“The mission to buy back the antiaircraft gun began with a handoff from a high-ranking air force intelligence officer in the capital Abuja: a black zip-up bag he said was full of 20 million Nigerian naira,” the paper reported, after stating that such military hardware in the hands of bandits “posed a threat to President Muhammadu Buhari, who had been planning to fly to his hometown about 80 miles away”.
The gun truck with 12.7 caliber anti-aircraft fire was reportedly disassembled and transported back to the military on motorbikes after the deal was concluded.
The Journal did not specify when the deal was brokered or the presidential trip that was planned.
However, in a swift reaction yesterday, the NAF denied making any payment to bandits in exchange for an allegedly seized anti-aircraft weapon through one of its personnel, for the fear of being used against aircraft operating within the Katsina State axis.
This was contained in an issued statement made available to Defence correspondents in Abuja by the NAF’s Director of Public Relations and Information, Air Commodore Edward Gabkwet.
The NAF described the allegation as false and mischievous, targeted to weaken the gallant troops fighting insurgency in the troubled zone.
While insisting that the report was totally false, the NAF spokesperson declared that there was absolutely no iota of truth in the allegation that was undoubtedly designed to cast aspersion on the good image of the troops and the service.
The NAF called on citizens to continue to cooperate with security agencies as efforts were ongoing to rid the entire Nation of criminals and their activities and that, as a professional and disciplined force, it would not in any way be discouraged from carrying out its mandate to rid the entire North-West Nigeria of banditry and other forms of criminality.