The Nigerian Air Force has debunked a report that it paid $50,000 (N20 million) to bandits to recover an anti-aircraft gun it lost in battle and to prevent them from shooting down the presidential jet being used by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The Wall Street Journal, a US-based global financial newspaper, had in a report on Saturday said the military lost the weapon after a clash with bandits in Rugu Forest in Katsina State.
The newspaper said the air force realised the potential threat of the gun being in the control of the bandits, especially as it was the period that President Muhammadu Buhari was planning to travel to his hometown, Daura, in Katsina State.
A sum of N20 million was subsequently delivered to the bandits in Jibia, Katsina State, by a Nigerian Air Force officer, who leaked details of the operation under anonymity, the publication claimed.
“The ransom, nearly $50,000 in crisp Nigerian bank notes, wasn’t for a person, but to retrieve a weapon that directly threatened the country’s president.
“A kidnapping gang encamped in Nigeria’s Rugu forest had seized an antiaircraft gun in a clash with a military unit. That posed a threat to President Muhammadu Buhari, who had been planning to fly to his hometown about 80 miles away, and the government needed to buy it back.
“An hour later, the officer, who declined to be identified, was clasping hands with a leader of a diffuse network of criminals whose campaign of kidnapping civilians — including hundreds of schoolchildren — has raised millions of dollars to build an arsenal of heavy weaponry they are using to wrest control of swaths of the north, including the president’s home state.
“The mission to buy back the anti-aircraft 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 WSJ reported.
But reacting, the Nigerian Air Force in a statement on Sunday by the spokesperson, Air Commodore, Edward Gabkwet, said there was no truth to the report.
The military service described the WSJ’s claims as “utterly illogical allegation”.
The statement read: “The attention of the Nigerian Air Force has been drawn to news reports circulating on some media platforms alleging that the NAF, through one of its personnel, paid the sum of N20 Million to armed bandits operating in Jibia Local Government Area of Katsina State in exchange for an anti-aircraft gun allegedly seized.
“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.
“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 October 12, 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 series of successful exploits in operations against criminal gangs.
“Perhaps, this provides an avenue for the NAF to yet again appeal to members of the media, both local and international, as well as social media, to be circumspect in their reportage and endeavour to always verify their facts before going public. The public is enjoined to disregard the falsehood emanating from some sections of the social and mainstream media.
“The NAF also uses this opportunity to call on citizens to continue to cooperate with security agencies as efforts are ongoing to rid the entire Nation of criminals and their activities.
“On our part, the NAF, as a professional and disciplined force, will 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. We remain resolute in performing our function and will continue to work in synergy with other sister Services and security agencies to rid the Country of all criminal elements.”