A report by the Wall Street Journal on Saturday has revealed that the Nigerian Government paid the sum of N20 million to a bandit leader to buy-back a 12.7 calibre antiaircraft gun, his group seized from a military camp.
This was contained in a confidential internal report presented to the president in July, stating that “Criminal factions appear to be better equipped with larger-capacity advanced weaponry than national security agencies,” adding that herdsmen have reorganised operations mostly into banditry and kidnapping for ransom which fuels the rise in cases.
The WSJ stated that the young intelligence officer sent to retrieve the antiaircraft missile paid nearly $50,000 in crisp Nigerian banknotes, not for a person, but to retrieve a weapon that directly threatened Nigeria’s president.
The report cited that the 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.”
“Over tea, the militant leader agreed to part with the truck-mounted 12.7 calibre antiaircraft gun in exchange for the ransom: ‘His men had plenty more ammunition,’” he said.
“ ‘I don’t need the army’s weapons,’ he said, according to the officer, whose account was corroborated by another senior Nigerian official involved in the previously undisclosed mission,” the WSJ reported.
“The mission to buy back the antiaircraft 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.
“It was given to the young intelligence officer tapped to exchange it for the antiaircraft gun the bandits had seized in an area where Mr Buhari frequently flew to visit his hometown of Daura,” they added.
The report also stated that the young officer flew to the town of Jibia on the border with Niger, where a dozen armed men emerged from the forest to meet him. They escorted him on motorbikes into a thick forest for hours, arriving at the home of their leader, a wiry man in his 30s, who collected the sack.
They also revealed that during the process of disassembling the antiaircraft gun and attempting to strap it to a wobbling motorbike, their leader aired a series of grievances against the state, stating that vigilantes had kidnapped his father, young men could no longer earn a livelihood rearing cattle, and airstrikes were killing civilians in his camps, stating that the Nigerian airforce has been bombing civilians and killing children.
The air force officer told WSJ that the bandit made “it look so simple” and “made it feel casual,” as they strapped the antiaircraft gun across two motorbikes and began to wheel it out of the camp.