Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Air Marshal Alex Badeh, has said despite the challenges of intelligence gathering confronting the military in areas of operation in the North-east, “the war on terror is ongoing and the war is certainly winnable.”
Speaking in an interview with THISDAY at the Defence Headquarters (DHQ) in Abuja, the defence chief said information passed on to Boko Haram by people in communities in their area of operations, was a factor militating against the ongoing campaign against terror in the North-eastern part of the country.
He said some of the people in communities where soldiers are deployed see the military as enemies and specifically noted that there were a lot of Boko Haram sympathisers in Borno, a state which has recorded several deadly attacks in recent times.
“The people see us as enemies and we are not. We are there to protect the state,” he said.
“Human intelligence is very difficult in that area; we have caught people, even those that would not strike you as leaking information to the enemy," he added.
Buttressing his point, Badeh said: "When we deploy, because you don’t know where they are, you are deployed at a particular place to defend a town, and then the number of those in that town can be ascertained, then they are passing information. Don’t forget that in Borno state, there are too many sympathisers in the communities.”
Noting that government was however making efforts to win the hearts of the people in those areas, he said efforts made in the past had been frustrated by Boko Haram.
Last year, he pointed out, “Government gave lots of food aid to the three affected states, I remember the army trying to win hearts and minds, went and dug boreholes, gave the people good water, and Boko Haram came and destroyed all the boreholes that we dug.
"So its not going to be a quick fix thing, but gradually as we take over our communities, we give them what they required", he assured .
Speaking on the fate of over 200 female students of Government Secondary School (GSS), Chibok, who were kidnapped almost two months ago, the CDS re-assure: "All cards are on the table" to bring them back safely.
Badeh, who was being cautious in releasing sensitive information about the girls, also assured that based on available information, they (the girls) are presumed safe.
"I don’t want to commit myself to say that they are safe or not, we just know where they are, from information gotten from different sources, its still assumed that the girls are safe.
"I don’t want to commit myself on that, as I said all things are on the table, we are working with our international partners, the people who have offered us help, we discussing and building things up", he added.
The Defence Chief also used the opportunity to clarify on the reason why he made the disclosure of military knowledge about the location of the girls, which some including the United States government had criticised as divulging sensitive information while expressing doubt over validity of such claims.
He explained: "as at the time I made that statement, you know what was happening, the military was being bashed left right and centre, for inaction and of course we have our own resources, some people said I was being too hasty by saying I know where the girls were. But to bring down the temperature that time,you sometimes have to give little information, and that is what I did. We gave out little information, but all the cards are on the table on how to get our girls back". (See full interview on pages 20-24)
In another development, outrage trailed seizure of newspapers by the military yesterday in what has been described as a clampdown on the media. Major newspapers were on Friday and yesterday subjected to military and other security checks that hindered their free movement and distribution. Leadership, the Nation, Vanguard, Leadership and Daily Trust, Punch were among the affected newspapers.
Specifically, the military yesterday intensified ‘screening’ of newspaper distribution vans in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja and other major cities in the country over what it called security threat. The Nigerian Army in continuation of the new security measures, which it started on Friday delayed the distribution and sale of newspapers in many parts of the FCT.
The worst affected was the Media Trust whose distribution drivers were said to have been detained at dawn on Friday, following the interception of their delivery vans, and were not released until late night while two of them, Ibrahim Umar and Ilya Mohammed, were still being detained more than 24 hours later.
A statement issued by the management of Media Trust said armed soldiers in four trucks were stationed at the newspapers’ main distribution centre in Area One.
According to the statement: "The soldiers, who were fully armed, insisted on carrying out the 'order from above' to flip through each of the several thousand copies of Weekly Trust in search of alleged 'security risk material.
"Even when they finished spinning the newspapers without finding any incriminating item the soldiers still prevented our sales personnel from distributing Weekly Trust to thousands of anxious vendors who make a living from newspaper retailing".
"In Kano where the Daily Trust has its second major printing press, thousands of copies of Weekly Trust were barred from leaving the press. This prevented the supply of the newspaper to many states in the North West Nigeria including Sokoto, Jigawa, Kebbi, Katsina and Zamfara.
"Similarly, the copies printed at the Maiduguri press were prevented from being circulated in the North East Nigeria in a bid to starve the readers in Yobe, Adamawa, Taraba, Bauchi and Gombe states".
In Maiduguri, soldiers went round the town confiscating thousands of newspapers and arrested vendors. Soldiers from the 7 Division of the Nigerian Army, Maiduguri stormed the popular Post Office area of the city where vendors assemble newspapers before distribution commences in the morning.
But the presidency defended the military clampdown on newspapers and their vendors, stating that it was a mere routine check to address some intelligence reports, adding that it was not a clampdown on press freedom.
In a swift reaction to the seizure of newspapers of major media houses and harassment of their vendors/distributors, the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) has condemned the action and called on the military authorities to stop the ‘unnecessary’ clampdown.
NPAN, in a statement signed by its President and Chairman of THISDAY, Mr. Nduka Obaigbena, equivocally condemned the military action, stating that it was against the ideals of any democratic society and Nigeria’s constitution.
NPAN, which asked the military authorities to call its soldiers to order, believed that if allowed to continue, the siege will suppress free speech and boost the spread of rumours that are capable of escalating the already tensed situation in the country.
While stating that media takes the issue of security very seriously and at its own volition engaged the security agencies on ways to resolve the protracted security challenges, NPAN vowed to continue in that light. It however added that it was to its bewilderment that the siege on the media prevailed for two days based on mere suspicion and that the body was never consulted.
The statement reads: “Following the harassment of newspaper vendors/distributors and the seizure of large volumes of newspapers by soldiers who initially targeted the following newspapers: Leadership, Daily Trust, The Nation and Punch, but later extended the siege to all major newspapers in the country for the second day today, the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) held an emergency meeting in Abuja on June 7, 2014 with representatives of vendors and distributors and resolved as follows:
“The NPAN unequivocally condemns this attack of free speech by soldiers, in Abuja, Kaduna, Kano, Jos, Maiduguri, Ibadan amongst other cities, claiming to be acting on "orders". This assault on freedom of expression through the stoppage of distribution of newspapers is inconsistent with the values of any democratic society and the Constitution of The Federal Republic of Nigeria. We therefore call upon the military authorities to lift the siege immediately and call the soldiers to order.
“The NPAN notes the statement issued on Thursday, June 6, by the Director, Defence Information, Major General Chris Olukolade, that newspaper distribution channels may have been infiltrated by some persons to transport "materials with grave security implications.
"As citizens and businesses, we take the security of our nation very seriously, and especially condemn the continuing daily destruction of human life by a mindless, cruel and criminal insurgency. We have, at our own instance, engaged various security agencies in the past to find ways of dealing with the security challenges we all face. We shall continue to do so. It is, however, deeply troubling that a siege has been laid to the media for two straight days on a suspicion over which no one consulted the NPAN. We stand ready, able and willing to work with all relevant security agencies to ensure the integrity of the newspapers' distribution process.
“The NPAN wishes to reassure its readers, partners and the public at large, that it will continue to work to promote peace and unity in The Federal Republic of Nigeria, while defending its constitutional role to hold governments at all levels accountable.
“Finally, we do not believe that given the already tense situation in the country the government or any agency acting in its name, will engage in acts that can only stifle free speech and encourage rumours to fester. We, therefore, welcome the assurances to NPAN leadership by senior security officials to end this unnecessary siege.”
Also, Media Rights Agenda (MRA) has condemned the renewed onslaught on the Nigerian Press by the government “with the arrest of newspaper workers, detention of media vehicles, confiscation of thousands of copies of newspapers and other forms of harassment in different parts of the country.”
In the same vein, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar said the clampdown on the media portend danger for the nation’s democracy.
In a press statement issued by his media office in Abuja yesterday, Atiku expressed worry at what he called the “humiliating treatment of media houses and vendors in the course of conducting their legitimate businesses nationwide.”
He reminded that Nigeria is a democracy, and freedom of the press is a non-negotiable component of democratic governments.
According to him, since the military is not above the law in any democratic society, they should not be the law onto themselves and recklessly infringe on the rights of citizens.
But presidential adviser, Mr. Doyin Okupe said the screening and clampdown by the military was to avoid the insurgent taking advantage of crisis situation to wreak further havoc on the country.
The president’s aide said for instance, some trucks conveying cattle and goats were found with some guns like AK 47 Riffle, while the Jos bombers used a truck carrying vegetables for conveying their ammunitions.
Said Okupe: “We cannot ignore security threats and alerts, we are living in dangerous times and it requires extra ordinary measures. It is just a routine check. This administration believes in press freedom, openness, liberalism and holds the media in a very high esteem. President Goodluck Jonathan is the only president that signed the Freedom of Information Bill into the law.
Okupe further stated: “The reported incidence of checks being carried out by the military on major Nigerian roads and cities were not targeted at Newspaper vans because of the contents of the publications as insinuated in the reports. Rather, the military had explained that those routine checks were being carried out following intelligence reports on the possibility of some elements within the society using such vehicles to convey materials with grave security implications across the country.
“While we sympathise with Media Houses which might have suffered one discomfort or the other as a result of these security checks, we assert, for the avoidance of doubt that the President has not and will never give any order capable of hampering the smooth running of any media organisation or harass media practitioners in the lawful performance of their duties”,
The Director of Defence Information (DDI), Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade, while responding to THISDAY enquiries said the military still stand on their earlier statement on Friday.
In the statement, the Defence Headquarters (DHQ) denied that military confiscated critical newspapers Friday morning, clarifying that it only investigated an intelligence tip-off that a newspaper van was used to convey sensitive materials with severe security implications.