More facts have emerged on why the Armed Forces have yet to deploy their full arsenal against bandits who have dominated the North-West and parts of the North-Central geopolitical zones.
The PUNCH reliably learnt on Monday that the Armed Forces told the National Assembly, through its committees, that the agreement signed with the Government of the United States was that the A-29 Super Tucano jets procured from the country would be deployed against terrorists and insurgents, and not bandits.
Several sources in the National Assembly, who are in the know of the development, said the complaints by the service chiefs led to the recent demand by the Senate and the House of Representatives that bandits should be designated as terrorists.
The PUNCH had reported that the Federal Government in February 2018 placed an order for 12 A-29 Super Tucano aircraft at a cost of $496m.
The Nigerian Air Force had on July 22, 2021, taken delivery of the first batch of six aircraft from the United States. The second batch of the planes arrived in Nigeria in September.
A total of 64 pilots and maintainers from the Nigerian Air Force were trained to the US standards with the US Air Force’s 81st Fighter Squadron at Moody Air Base in Georgia, United States.
The training also emphasised the Law of Armed Conflict and civilian casualty mitigation, which are fundamental principles of the Nigerian military’s professional education and training.
Speaking to one of our correspondents on the telephone on Monday, a top source in one of the security committees in the National Assembly said the Armed Forces, especially the Nigerian Air Force, had not been able to decimate the bandits due to the conditions attached to deployment of the fighter jets.
The lawmaker said, “Let me tell you the truth. We once asked the Armed Forces why they had not deployed the Tucano in the fight the bandits and one of the service chiefs (name withheld) told us that their hands are tied due to the human rights regulations regarding to the aircraft. He told us that the equipment is meant for the war against terrorists and insurgents and since these are bandits, they cannot be deployed.
Bandits not different from B’Haram, Buhari should implement N’Assembly resolutions – Lawmaker
“He actually told us that once the bandits have been designated as terrorists, they would be wiped out. Don’t forget that the bandits today are not different from Boko Haram, looking at their activities and the gravity of attacks by them. Now that both chambers of the National Assembly have called for the declaration, we urge the President to implement our resolutions.”
Another reliable source in the security committees, who was asked to confirm the information from the first source, said it was true. “We have done what we ought to do, so the ball is no longer in our court,” he stated.
The House of Representatives had on September 30, 2021, asked the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), to designate bandits and their sponsors as terrorists.
The Senate had made the demand the previous day.
Chairman of the House Committee on Defence, Babajimi Benson, who moved a motion of urgent public importance, urged the chamber to back the Senate.
The motion was titled, ‘Declaration of Bandits and their Sponsors as Terrorists.’
Moving the motion, Benson said, “The Senate, on Wednesday, September 29, 2021, adopted a motion asking President Muhammadu Buhari to declare bandits ravaging the northern part of the country terrorists and wage a total war on them. They also asked that the president declare all known leaders of bandits wanted and arrest them wherever they were found for speedy prosecution. Such declaration to be done through a Proscription Order can be done pursuant to Section 2 of the Terrorism Prevention Act, 2011 (As Amended).
“I will like to echo the same sentiment and ask honourable colleagues to join the Senate in urging Mr President to declare bandits and their sponsors as terrorists. This will underline the determination of government to combat the wave of criminality and murders conducted by bandits all over the country.”
He noted that declaring bandits as terrorists could be done through a proscription order.
Benson listed more benefits of declaring the bandits terrorists, noting that such an order will officially bring the activities of bandits and their sponsors within the purview of the Terrorism Prevention Act, while any persons associated with such groups can then be legally prosecuted and sentenced to penalties specified in the Act.
He said, “Declaration of all bandits as terrorist may also encourage other countries to do same and help create a global consensus around dealing with transnational factors that feeds the domestic activities of such proscribed organisations and individuals.”
Chairman of the House Committee on Army, Abdulrazak Namdas, in an interview with one of our correspondents on Monday, stated that the bandits had ticked all the boxes on the indices of terrorism. He, however, denied knowledge of any complaints relating to deployment of the Tucano jets.
Namdas said, “Now that the government has started getting the Tucanos and we have another batch coming, and the morale of the troops at the moment is high; though we had one or two casualties but this is part of a war and there is nowhere in the world that when there is a war, you expect no casualties – it should only be seriously minimised; when you strengthen the security forces and we agree that these bandits are terrorists, then it would give us the opportunity to deal with them, with all the full force.”
Also speaking The PUNCH, Benson said the resolutions by the Senate and the House should have been transmitted to Buhari for consideration and sanction.
He said, “The truth of the matter is that I don’t know if it has been transmitted but I am sure that when the two sides of the National Assembly pass a resolution, it should be given a thorough consideration. And I doubt if the bureaucracy people (National Assembly management) have transmitted it, to reach the attention of Mr President.”
The US had said the A-29 Super Tucano fighter jets would assist Nigeria’s anti-terrorism fight, especially in the north-eastern part of the West African country.
The US Department of Defence leaders had attended the induction ceremony of the Super Tucano jets on August 31.
An inquiry sent to the United States Embassy in Nigeria on whether the Super Tucano should be used only in fighting terrorists had yet to be responded to on Tuesday.
However, in an earlier chat with The PUNCH, acting Public Affairs Counselor, Jeanne Clark, explained that the use of the weapons would be subject to the Leahy vetting, a law which is an American rights law that prohibit the US government from providing military assistance to foreign security force units that violate human rights with impunity.
Clark stated Nigeria is a strategic partner of the US. She added that the US would ensure monitoring to ensure that the weapons are used for their intended purpose.
She said, “We have direct and open communication with the Government of Nigeria regarding our expectation that all security forces be held accountable for protecting civilians and respecting human rights. All Nigerian military personnel trained by the United States are subject to Leahy vetting.
“All potential US defence sales are carefully assessed under the US government’s Conventional Arms Transfer Policy to examine issues, including human rights, regional security, and non-proliferation concerns, to determine whether a sale is in the best foreign policy and national security interests of the United States.
“Review and monitoring are integral components of the process for any US-origin defence articles delivered to any recipient nation. This helps ensure that those articles are used by the intended recipient in the manner intended and consistent with the provisions of the agreement for the foreign military sale.”
When contacted on Tuesday to confirm transmission of the resolution to Buhari, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (House of Reps), Mr Umar el-Yakub, noted that the Clerk to the National Assembly transmits resolutions by the lawmakers directly to the President.
El-Yakub also noted that the liaison officers only convey communications from the President to the National Assembly and are only copied documents transmitted by the parliament on special occasions.
When contacted, the Director of Information, National Assembly’s management, Mr Rawlings Agada, advised The PUNCH correspondent to cross check with him on Wednesday as he did not have any information on the issue yet.
He said, “I don’t have any information yet on what you are asking me but you can crosscheck again tomorrow so that I can make some enquiries for you.”
A Spokesman for the President, Garba Shehu, told The PUNCH to direct inquiries to the Ministry of Defence when he was asked if the refusal of the President to designate bandits as terrorists was preventing the full deployment of the Super Tucano weapons in the North-West.
“Please contact the ministry of defence. They will be the best to answer this. Thank you,” Shehu stated.
In his reaction, the Special Assistant to the Minister of Defence on Media and Publicity, Mohammed Abdulkadri, directed one of our correspondents to the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Lucky Irabor.
Also, calls put across to the Spokesman for the Nigerian Air Force, Air Commodore Edward Gabkwet, didn’t connect while a response to a text message sent to him was being awaited as of the time of filing this report. ,,