In a bid to douse fears over growing terror attacks, the latest being the dawn raid on military facilities in Maiduguri on Monday, coupled with the assertion by the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague that the northeastern section of the country is at war, the federal government has dismissed the notion.
Instead, the federal government has described the incessant onslaught by Islamist insurgents as attacks on the country by terrorists.
The Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC in a report on Preliminary Examination Activities 2013 released last week, declared that the conflict between Boko Haram insurgents and the security forces in northeastern Nigeria was a civil war.
But the Minister of Information and supervising Minister of Defence, Mr. Labaran Maku, debunked this yesterday in Abuja at a press briefing on the activities lined up for the 2014 Armed Forces Remembrance Day celebrations in honour of fallen heroes.
His statement was made just as his counterpart in the Aviation Ministry Ms. Stella Oduah, allayed concerns over air travel in the country following the attack on the Nigerian Air Force base (NAF) in Maiduguri, which led to the temporary suspension of commercial flights on Monday.
The NAF base in the city is located close to the Maiduguri International Airport.
Also, the Borno State Government yesterday reviewed the 24-hour curfew imposed on the state capital, while phone services which had been disconnected since May this year were restored.
Maku, during his briefing, said terror in Nigeria could not work in different parameters from what obtains in other countries, adding, “What is presently happening in northeastern Nigeria cannot be defined has civil war.”
According to him, the attack carried out by Boko Haram on the military base in Maiduguri showed that Nigeria is facing a stubborn enemy that is committed to destabilising the country.
He said: “We are facing an attack on our country by terrorists. It is amazing that a terror attack on our nation is described as a civil war, while when the terrorists attacked the United States on September 9, 2001, it wasn't a civil war but an attack on a peaceful nation.
“Terrorism and insurgency is not a civil war, if it is a civil war, which part of the country is fighting the other… But in this war, it is a war of terrorists against all Nigerians. These terrorists have attacked Christians, Muslims, they have attacked foreigners who passed through Nigeria.
“In my opinion, it is a group of terrorists with an international network that is deploying the network to attack innocent people across different countries.
“When they attacked a mall in Nairobi (Kenya), everybody there became a casualty. We are fighting a group of terrorists whose objective is clearly to instil terror.
“They have attacked traditional rulers including the Emir of Kano, Shehu of Borno. If it is a civil war, it will be between them and an identified foe. But people that are being attacked more are the Muslims and majority of people where they live. So these are terrorists.”
The minister noted that terrorism all over the world is a guerilla war, stressing that the attack on military bases in Maiduguri was painful but a wake-up call that the government needs to do more in terms of protecting the lives and properties of the people.
He said the whole nation is behind the armed forces in dealing with the insurgents, and disclosed that Nigeria is cooperating with other neighbouring countries to end the insurgency.
“Government is yet to come to terms with seeking military assistance from other countries in ending the insurgency,” he said.
Speaking on the Armed Forces Remembrance Day celebrations, Maku said President Goodluck Jonathan would launch the emblem and appeal fund on Tuesday, December 10, which is aimed at identifying with surviving veterans and making donations with financial and material support to the families of the fallen heroes.
The minister stated that the payment of pensions and gratuities to retired military personnel is now prompt, adding that Jonathan had directed the Ministry of Defence to implement the increment in pensions of military personnel.
In a related development, the Minister of Aviation has assured air travellers across the nation’s airports of their safety, adding that government is doing everything to ward off airport security threats.
She said the government had put in place proactive measures through the deployment of hi-tech security facilities and equipment at the airports.
She made the disclosure Monday night at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja, while reacting to the destruction of five aircraft by the Boko Haram sect in Maiduguri earlier that day.
Oduah, who was returning from an inspection tour of the Jigawa State International Airport in Dutse, the state capital, expressed satisfaction with the ongoing work at the airport, adding that the airport would soon be ready for inauguration.
Oduah also confirmed that besides the deployment of security equipment at the airports, government is constantly reviewing its precautionary mechanism and capacity that have made the airports safer.
She said: “The action that we have taken in Maiduguri is a precautionary one because we don’t have all the details yet, because at times such as this, you have to take precautionary action so that you don’t get into a situation where you start reacting.
“But so far the airport is very safe, as the combined task force is in total control in that area.”
On insecurity challenges in some parts of the country, Oduah added: “We are very much on top, we have done quite a lot and we are still doing a lot in that regard.
Speaking on the take-off of the national carrier, she said government had no intention of designating Aero Contractors the national carrier, pointing out that government would provide the enabling environment that would bring to bear the national carrier for all Nigerians to be part owners.
She said the national carrier, which would be designated Nigerian Eagle, would soon commence operations.
The minister commended the Jigawa State Governor, Sule Lamido for his effort in the construction of the airport through a public private partnership (PPP) arrangement.
However, the Borno State Government yesterday reviewed the 24-hour curfew in Maiduguri, the state capital city. The curfew will now last from 7 pm to 6 am.
Indications also emerged that mobile phone services were also restored in the troubled state. Phone services were disconnected since May when a state of emergency was declared in Borno.
The decision to review the curfew was reached during a closed-door meeting between government officials and security agencies, the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Baba Jidda, said in a statement.
The two directives are believed to be part of the decisions reached to forestall the kind of attack that occurred in Maiduguri on Monday morning.
But as the city recovers from the deadly attacks, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) has said over 300 persons have been internally displaced by Monday's siege.
The northeastern Public Relations Officer of the agency, AbdulKadir Ibrahim, in an e-mail to journalists, said the 300 persons had been given refuge at the 333 Artillery Regiment of the Nigerian Army, which was one of the barracks attacked by the sect on Monday.
Ibrahim said the NEMA team from the regional office had assessed the damage as a result of the attack and had set up a centre for those affected.
He said: “An assessment has been conducted and initial relief materials like beddings, blankets and mosquito nets have been given to the victims in the 333 Artillery barracks where we have 300 internally displaced persons whose homes were affected in the attack.”
He, however, said casualty figures following the attacks could not be given by the agency because the information is classified.
He said: “We do not give casualty figures because of the inherent confusion and nature of the conflict. The military should be in a better position to provide that.”
Meanwhile, the All Progressives Congress (APC) has asked the federal government to undertake an immediate investigation into Monday's deadly attack on the military facilities in Maiduguri.
APC, which condemned the attack by suspected members of Boko Haram, expressed sadness over the enormity of the attack as well as the deaths of innocent civilians.
In a statement issued in Abuja by its interim National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party said such attacks on NAF planes and helicopters at the base in the city were particularly disturbing, considering the hitherto effective use of aerial attacks against Boko Haram.
It called for a probe into how hundreds of attackers could so easily infiltrate military facilities, which are believed to be highly secured.
“The probe must unravel why the security personnel in the city in general and the military installations in particular were apparently caught unawares by the attackers, who were reported by some newspapers to number as many as 500, riding in trucks and motorcycles.
“If military installations in a major city can so easily be overrun by a band of marauders, then no one and no facility is safe. That is why the government and the military must work hand in hand to unravel why such a massive attack on military installations was possible in the first instance,” APC said.
The party called for a renewed strategy to combat the sect, which seems to have the capacity to carry out such a massive attack on a major city, despite the successes which the military said it had achieved in containing the sect since the declaration of a state of emergency in three states last May.