The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has described a newspaper report that it paid N20 million to some bandits in exchange for an anti-aircraft gun earlier seized from troops as false.
The airforce said the report by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) was part of a campaign to further the cause of insecurity in Nigeria by elements who see it (NAF) as a threat following a series of successful exploits in operations against criminal gangs.
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) had published a report on Sunday, stating that NAF brokered the deal to secure a 12.7 calibre anti-aircraft gun as President Muhammadu Buhari was planning a trip to Katsina, his home state.
The media outlet said the money was delivered to the bandits in Rugu Forest by an officer who leaked details of the operation under anonymity.
It stated that a young intelligence officer sent to retrieve the anti-aircraft missile paid nearly $50,000 in crisp Nigerian banknotes, not for a person, but to retrieve a weapon that directly threatened the president.
It also said 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.
WSJ also said that a confidential report presented to Buhari in July, stated that “criminal factions appear to be better equipped with larger capacity advanced weapons than national security agencies,” and that the herdsmen had reorganised operations mostly into banditry and kidnapping for ransom therefore escalating the rise in cases.
But a statement on Sunday by NAF spokesperson, Edward Gabkwet, said there was no iota of truth in the report, describing it as a “spurious allegation” designed to cast aspersions on the good image of the Force.
“The NAF wishes to categorically state that there is absolutely no iota of truth in the spurious allegation that was undoubtedly designed to cast aspersions on the good image of the Service. The said report is totally false. It should therefore be taken as fake news and disregarded.
“Indeed, we ordinarily would not have responded to such baseless and utterly illogical allegation but for the need to set the record straight as well as reaffirm the NAF’s unflinching commitment to decisively dealing with the armed bandits and all other criminal elements in the country in partnership with other services of the Armed Forces and other security Agencies,” the statement said.
Gabkwet said there was no point paying bandits because, they had suffered defeat at the hands of the Airforce.
He said: “For the avoidance of doubt, it must be stated that there is no basis for the NAF to pay bandits or any criminal elements that it has continued to attack and decimate in Katsina State, other parts of the North West as well as other Theatres of Operation in the Country.
“Indeed, as recent as 12 October 2021, NAF aircraft conducted 5 missions in the Jibia general area and engaged targets with rockets and cannons at Bala Wuta bandits’ locations in Kadaoji. Similar successes were recorded at Fakai Dutsin Anfare, an area in Jibia LGA known for its high incidences of bandits’ activities.
“The false reportage, therefore, begs the question as to why the NAF would negotiate for a weapon allegedly seized and still carry out air interdiction missions on the same bandits and their strongholds. The NAF is of the view that, this latest false report could be a part of a campaign to further the cause of insecurity in Nigeria by elements who see the NAF as a threat following a series of successful exploits in operations against criminal gangs.”
He asked the general public to disregard the allegations, urging them to cooperate with the service in the fight against banditry.