ISWAP threat: Governors want Buhari to suspend troop withdrawal

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The military will pull out from ongoing internal security operations in various parts of the country, beginning from the first quarter of 2020.

The decision was taken during a Security Council meeting presided over by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, on Monday.

Shortly after the meeting, some governors in separate interviews with The PUNCH, appealed to the Federal Government not to withdraw troops from their states.

The governors include Samuel Ortom of Benue State, Darius Ishaku of Taraba State and their counterpart in Zamfara State, Bello Matawalle.

The Federal Government’s decision on troop withdrawal is coming amid fresh threats by the Islamic State West Africa Province, now working in collaboration with Boko Haram.

Only last week, ISWAP circulated a video online where it showed 10 Christians who were beheaded on Christmas Day.

However, the Security Council clarified that the military would first conduct a “threat assessment” to determine the specific areas where the troop withdrawal would cover.

The council decided that in place of the military, the Nigeria Police Force, which has the primary responsibility of providing internal security, will assume  its duties fully in such areas.

The Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete  Ibas, who spoke with State House correspondents on the outcome of the meeting, explained that the withdrawal was to allow the military to focus on its primary duty of defending the nation against external aggression and respond adequately to “emerging threats.”

He recalled that following an upsurge in violent crimes, aside from Boko Haram insurgency, the government had launched several joint military operations to combat the situation.

Ekwe Ibas mentioned banditry, kidnapping, piracy and pipeline vandalism as some of the internal security threats that necessitated the military operations to ensure the safety of lives and property.

He stated, “You will recall that the various operations in the country in the North-East, North-West, North-Central, the South-East as well as the South-West where all members of the Armed Forces are taking part as well as the intelligence agencies, have ensured that we all enjoyed a better holiday period that has just been observed.

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“We also recall that in those areas where the military has been able to achieve the desired objectives, from the first quarter of next year, the civil authorities will be preparing to take back those responsibilities as the military draws back its forces from those areas to enable it to focus its attention on other emerging threats and areas of concern.”

The CNS added that ordinarily, the military had no business with providing internal security, so long as the country was not at war with other countries.

However, he admitted that whenever it became necessary to involve the military, it was only proper that the troops should be pulled out once calm returned to the areas under security threats.

He explained further, “Basically, most of the internal security challenges that we have are supposed to be the responsibility of the civil authorities, the police in particular.

“However,  so long as Nigeria is not engaged in war outside, it means whatever internal crisis that we have the responsibility rests with the police. In the circumstances that the military has to come in to stabilise the situation, it is only proper that once one area has been dominated by the military and the situation has returned to normal, that the Nigeria Police takes over the responsibility. And in this instance, we also have the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps,  which is supposed to support the police in this regard.

“You will recall also that Mr President recently approved the recruitment of about 10,000 Nigerians into the Nigeria Police Force, hoping that once these Nigerians get the appropriate training, they will be in the position to fill the gaps.

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“You are aware that Nigeria is such a big country that we cannot tie down the military even in those areas that the deliverables have been achieved and the objectives achieved.”

When the CNS was asked a specific question on whether the troops involved in counter-insurgency operations in the North-East would also be withdrawn, he replied that the pull-out would be done only after a thorough threat assessment was concluded.

He said, “I think I better make it very clear that an assessment of what the military will do will be based on the situation on the ground. It is not expected that the military will withdraw when it is apparent that there is still some threats in such locations.

“I am sure we are also aware that the nation is procuring equipment for the military. It is expected that before the second quarter of next year, most of the equipment shall be in place. It therefore means that all our hands are put on the ground looking at the technology-backed surveillance that will enable the military to react more efficiently and effectively.

“With that, it is also believed that the Nigeria Police will take the lead in containing security in such areas that must have been assessed to be in the right place to sustain. I don’t believe that a responsible military will want to withdraw when it is apparent that there is still risk that cannot be overcome by the police.”

On the new security threats by the Islamic State West Africa Province, in collaboration with Boko Haram,   Ibas said the military was doing its best to respond accordingly, but noted that the problem had a broader African perspective.

He added, “We have had attacks in the recent past in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and other countries in West Africa. Of course, the genesis of ISWAP is well known for all of us here. While it is painful to lose people and from within, I think the military is doing all within its power to ensure that we overcome the menace and the threats posed by ISWAP.

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“You will also recall that just two weeks back, we had over 27 attacks from Boko Haram and ISWAP in the North-East alone. Our gallant troops out there were able to repel those attacks and even took out some of their commanders. So, it is a thing of concern but the armed forces of Nigeria are doing all in their powers to ensure that together with other regional partners, that the menace of ISWAP is contained.”

The Buhari regime runs at least five joint military operations involving the Army, Air Force, Navy and the Police to combat kidnapping, banditry and cattle rustling largely in the northern part of the country.

Some of the operations include  Operation Puff Adder, Operation Harbin Kunama 3, Exercise Egwu Eke III, Operation Diran Mikiya and  Operation Sharan Daji.

In the southern part of the country, there had also been operations such as Operation Python Dance I &II and Operation Crocodile Smile to respond to security threats posed by Indigenous Peoples of Biafra in the South-East and the resurgence of militancy in the South-South respectively.

Those who attended the meeting were the Chief of Defence Staff, General Gabriel Olonisakin; Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Abubakar Sadique; Chief of Defence Intelligence, AVM Mohammed Usman; the Director-General, Department for State Services, Yusuf Bichi; the National Security Adviser, Major General Babagana Monguno (retd.); the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha; and the Nigerian Army Chief of Policy and Plans; Lt.-Gen. L.O. Adeosun. Adeosun represented the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai.

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