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Nigeria: Who finances Boko Haram? Blame game engulfs Abuja

By Akin Irede
Posted on Monday, 30 August 2021 15:44, updated on Tuesday, 31 August 2021 10:53

Rescue workers are seen at the site of an attack by Boko Haram militants in the northeast city of Maiduguri
Rescue workers are seen at the site of an attack by Boko Haram militants in the northeast city of Maiduguri, Nigeria April 27, 2018. REUTERS/Ola Lanre

A retired commodore’s accusations against the Nigerian government has stirred fresh outrage in the country which has lost over 350,000 people and has more than 2.9 million in refugee camps due to an 11-year war with the terrorist group Boko Haram. Military sources tell The Africa Report that there are those within the army who still sympathise and cooperate with Islamist groups. Blunt questions are being asked about delays in prosecuting 400 charged with financing terrorism.

It was the latest national security shock and a symbol of the state’s impotence when a band of armed men attacked the Nigerian Defence Academy in Kaduna early on 24 August, killing two officers and abducting a third.

Since Islamist insurgents launched their war in north-east Nigeria in 2009, almost 350,000 people have been killed and over two million chased from their homes, according to the UN Development Programme.

Military sources have told The Africa Report that there are those within the army who sympathise and cooperate with the insurgents, sabotaging the campaign to defeat groups such as Islamic State in West Africa Province and Boko Haram.

But the failure to fight terrorists is political not military according to retired Naval Commodore Kunle Olawunmi who has accused top politicians, state officials and military officials of sponsoring terror groups such as Boko Haram.

Commodore Olawunmi, who was also a deputy director at the Defence Headquarters, told Channels Television on 25 August that during an interrogation with Boko Haram suspects, they had mentioned the names of conspirators; some now serving in the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, while others are governors and senators.

“I was in military intelligence at that time. We arrested those people (suspects). And they [the suspects] mentioned names. I can’t come on air and start mentioning names of people that are presently in government … that the boys mentioned. Some of them are governors now. Some of them are in the Senate. Some of them are in Aso Rock.”

When he revealed his findings to the military high command, said Olawunmi, nothing was done because of the status of those mentioned. He added that he had been asked to investigate security at the Defence Academy in 2017 and found major breaches.

In the wake of these accusations, Major General Benjamin Sawyerr, Director of Defence Information in Abuja, said that the Defence Intelligence Agency had invited Olawunmi to an interview to share his information.

Maj Gen Sawyerr did not say whether responding to the invitation was voluntary but rejected as “malicious” a report by Sahara Reporters online media that the DIA had ordered Olawmunmi’s arrest after his television interview.

Previous accusations

This is not the first time that senior government officials are accused of sponsoring Boko Haram.

President Goodluck Jonathan had in 2012 stated that Boko Haram had infiltrated the highest levels of government.

Speaking at a church service to commemorate the Armed Forces Remembrance Day on 8 January 2012, he said there were Boko Haram sympathisers in the government, the National Assembly and even security agencies.

Of the Boko Haram sympathisers, he said “some of them are in the executive arm of government; some of them are in the parliamentary/legislative arm of government, while some of them are even in the judiciary. Some are also in the armed forces, the police and other security agencies.”

The United States Military’s Africa Command said in 2014 that it stopped passing intelligence to Nigerian security because within hours, Boko Haram would know.

But like Olawunmi, Jonathan did not reveal the identities of those collaborating with Boko Haram.

Months later, Jonathan’s National Security Adviser, General Owoye Azazi, would trace the Boko Haram crisis to disgruntled northern politicians in the ruling Peoples Democratic Party who were unhappy with Jonathan’s decision to contest in the 2011 election.

“The issue of violence did not increase in Nigeria until there was a declaration by the current President (Jonathan) that he was going to contest”, said Azazi at a security summit on 27 April 2012.

“PDP got it wrong from the beginning. The party started by saying Mr. A can rule, and Mr. B cannot rule, according to PDP conventions, rules and regulations and not according to the constitution. That created the climate for what is happening or manifesting itself in country. Is it possible that somebody was thinking that only Mr. A could win, and if he did not win, he could cause a problem in the society?”

The statement would cost Azazi his job as Jonathan’s sacked him four weeks later. Months later, Azazi was killed in a helicopter crash along with others including the Governor of Kaduna State, Patrick Yakowa.

Senators and Governors investigated

In the same year the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar, said two senators and a governor were being investigated for their alleged links to Boko Haram.

He identified them as the former Governor of Borno State, Ali Modu Sheriff; Senator Ahmed Zanna and Senator Ali Ndume.

Eventually, Senator Ndume was arraigned before a Federal High Court but the court struck out the case in 2017. He now heads the Senate Committee on Army.

Confirming Jonathan’s allegation that Boko Haram had infilitrated Nigeria’s security officials, a retired general who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, says there were some northern Muslim elements in the military that were sympathetic to Boko Haram.

“Sometime in 2014, I asked a flight lieutenant to bomb a Boko Haram base in Borno State. He refused to do so because they were praying and it was during the month of Ramadan. He was taken off operations but he is still in the system and we still have many of them,” says the general.

The United States Military’s Africa Command said in 2014 that it stopped passing intelligence to Nigerian security because within hours, Boko Haram would know.

General Lucky Irabor, who is now the Chief of Defence Staff, had said while leading Nigeria’s North-East operations against Boko Haram in 2016 that some Nigerian soldiers were selling weapons to Boko Haram but he refused to identify them.

Checks by The Africa Report based on several local media and official reports showed that since the war against insurgency started in 2009, less than 400 terror suspects had been convicted albeit mostly for terror related crimes like spying and harbouring terrorists while none of the real sponsors of terrorism has faced justice.

In the United Arab Emirates in 2020, six Boko Haram sponsors were convicted for funding terrorism through money transfers from Dubai to Nigeria. Two of the convicts were jailed for life while others were sentenced between four to 10 years.

Through the currency exchange office they operated, they wired a total of $782,000 to the terror group in 2019. The UAE security agents reportedly broke up the funding ring through undercover policing and monitoring of financial transactions.

According to UAE court proceedings, one of the facilitators of the transaction, simply identified as ‘Alhaji Sa’idu,’ is allegedly based in Nigeria and is responsible for facilitating the group’s access to funds from its sponsors.”

Another, “Alhaji Ashiru,” is tagged as a “Nigerian government official and senior undercover Boko Haram member” who facilitates the transfer of misappropriated public funds to the group.”

Intelligence officers tell The Africa Report that the UAE had provided the Nigerian government with all the evidence to nail some of the co-conspirators.

In May 2021, Nigeria’s Attorney-General, Abubakar Malami, said 400 currency exchange office operators who were Boko Haram sponsors, had been arrested.

Malami stated that they were arrested during an operation coordinated by the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Department of State Services (DSS), Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

He further revealed that the suspects were arrested northern states except Lagos. He said they were apprehended in Kano, Borno, Abuja, Lagos, Sokoto, Adamawa, Kaduna, and Zamfara during the operation that was sanctioned by President Buhari. The AG promised that they would be prosecuted once the strike by court workers was called off.

Nearly three months after the court strike was called off, however, Malami has failed to provide an update on the prosecution he promised sparking an outrage among civil society organisations.

A human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, who wrote a Freedom of Information request seeking an update on the case, tells The Africa Report that the Attorney-General’s Office had not responded to his Freedom of Information request over a month after he made the request even though Nigerian law says seven days is the limit for Freedom of Information responses.

“There is no update from the AG. He doesn’t want to prosecute the 400 alleged sponsors including the 800 terror suspects,” says Falana.

Malami’s spokesman, Umar Gwandu, neither responded to calls nor a text message when The Africa Report reached out to him for comment. The Attorney-General also did not respond to text messages.

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