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EDITORIAL: Government’s worrisome hide and seek game with terrorism sponsors


hen in a no-holds-barred interview on Channels Television’s breakfast programme, Sunrise Daily, a former naval officer, Commodore Kunle Olawunmi (rtd.), alleged that terrorists had named governors, senators and officials in the Presidency, as their sponsors during interrogation; it confirmed the fear of most Nigerians, especially because the revelation came from such a knowledgeable source.

Olawunmi also claimed that the Department of State Security, DSS, has information on terrorism sponsors but can’t act without President Muhammadu Buhari’s permission.

According to him, Boko Haram terrorists mentioned names of current governors, senators and Aso Rock officials as sponsors during questioning by the military authorities and accused President Muhammadu Buhari’s government of failing to exhibit the necessary political capacity to go after the high-profile politicians for reasons best known to it.

Olawunmi’s claim just as Nigerians were trying to grasp the implications of a daring attack by bandits on Nigeria’s security citadel, the Nigerian Defence Academy, NDA, where two military officers were killed and another kidnapped.

One had expected the government to follow up the lead from Olawunmi, and probably get intelligence from the retired officer but it chose to hound the professor of Global Security Studies, into hiding by declaring him wanted.

Similarly, authorities of the United Arab Emirates, UAE, in Dubai recently released a list of sponsors of terrorism. Six Nigerians and entities, including their affiliates were tried and convicted for sponsoring terrorism. Again, Nigerians expected the government to follow up and reveal the names of the sponsors in the country, only for presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, to bamboozle the people with what could be likened to tales by moonlight.

According to Adesina: “Naming and shaming won’t be the motive. Rather, bringing malefactors to justice would be it. Nigeria is not interested in naming and shaming anybody. Rather, it wants to bring them to justice,” he said.

Nigerians, who contrary to Adesina’s claim, are actually interested in naming the suspects, were shocked because what he said in essence was that government would rather fight the fire than obliterating its cause. Like former Senate President, David Mark, and a host of other prominent Nigerians said, there is unanimity of opinion that terrorism would die a natural death once its sponsors are caged brought to book. Strangely, the Nigerian government does not think so.

Also, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, had last month, said the Nigerian Government had arrested some Bureau De Change operators, who were facilitating the transfer of money to Boko Haram terrorists.

“Convictions have been achieved of Nigerians who are transferring money to Boko Haram terrorists and this also happens domestically. I tell you that by the time we finish this investigation, the shocking details will surprise many Nigerians,” Garba had reportedly said.

Perhaps, the shock Shehu Garba promised Nigerians came but cloaked in controversy, when the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, on May 4 told journalists at the Presidential Villa that the Federal Government had begun profiling prominent Nigerians suspected of financing terrorism in the country for prosecution.

Malami had said that consequent upon the profiling of some Nigerians recently convicted on terrorism financing in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), investigations “gave rise to wider and far-reaching investigations in Nigeria and I’m happy to report that arising from the wider coverage investigation that has been conducted in Nigeria, a number of people, both institutional and otherwise, were found to be culpable.”

However, speaking during an interview with journalists in New York as part of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Malami said it was premature to disclose the identities of those allegedly sponsoring terrorism in Nigeria. It is baffling why the AGF is singing a different tune when it came to naming those implicated.

As if backing Adesina’s stance, Malami revealed that a secret trial of alleged terrorism sponsors was ongoing. However, he added that the government would not name and shame suspected financiers of terrorism without first trying and convicting them so as not to preempt investigation.

In a statement by Umar Gwandu, the AGF said: “Naming and shaming of suspects is not embarked upon as a policy by the Federal Government out of sheer respect for the constitutional rights of Nigerians relating to presumption of innocence,” the statement reads.

“It is a product of constitutionalism and the law. It is rooted in the law and the names of the suspects will accordingly be made public at the point of judicial arraignment… Naming and shaming in the Nigerian context must be rooted in constitutionalism. We must strike a balance between constitutional presumption of innocence and evidential proof of reasonable ground for suspicion in making disclosures associated with terrorism funding and financing.”

It is quite interesting to know that in a country where suspects are not only named and shamed but paraded in public and shown on live television on a daily basis, the government has suddenly become amenable to the respect of people’s fundamental human rights. Indeed, one begins to wonder when the Federal Government became born again and now realised that what it had been doing to people all along was unconstitutional because sponsors of terrorism are involved. Obviously, there must be something the government is not telling the people.

Yes, the government deserves commendation for identifying the alleged sponsors. But keeping their names secret breeds suspicion and doubt. Nobody understands why this is being treated like a special case, which it should not be. At the inception of this administration, the government in a world press conference named some members of the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, as looters of the economy. Some of those named had cases pending in court and have since proved their innocence. If it did not matter to the government to identify those ‘corrupt’ Nigerians when it came to power, it is a mystery why it can no longer do so. This is an irony for the same government that even names Internet fraudsters, declares people wanted, sends the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC to break into hotels or homes in pursuit of suspects and even trying Yoruba Nation agitator, Sunday Igboho and Mazi Nnamdi Kanu of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, of terrorism.

Even a sitting senator, Ali Ndume was widely suspected to be a Boko Haram sponsor but he proved his innocence and has remained unrelenting in calling for decisive actions against the terrorists ever since. Ndume, who is representing Borno South Senatorial District in the National Assembly, has called on the Federal Government to expose all the over 400 Bureau De Change operators recently arrested for allegedly funding the activities of Boko Haram insurgency in the country.

Also, Ex-Gov Ali Modu Sheriff, who was accused of founding and sponsoring the deadly Boko Haram sect by a government-appointed negotiator, Stephen Davis, an Australian, indicated his preparedness to face justice if found guilty.

So, who are these suspects that the government is so concerned about hiding their identities? Why can’t they be unmasked, even while having their day in court; why is the government shielding or secretly trying them?

We must stop making ourselves the laughing stock of the world. It does Nigeria’s image no good that Malami could make such an outrageous claim in faraway New York during such an August gathering. Government had unmasked suspects before; naming people it alleged looted the economy and even sponsors of the #Endsars protests. This hide and seek game by the government over a much more weightier matter is baffling and creates the impression that the suspects may be coming from a particular section of the country, especially judging from the Dubai list.

The biggest threat to Nigeria’s survival today is insecurity. Government’s basic role is to secure life and property. Naming complicit Nigerians is one way of addressing it. These terrorists and their sponsors have done incalculable harm to the country; maim and kill, kidnap for ransom, among other several atrocious deeds. How do our soldiers in the warfront get encouraged those wasting their lives are seemingly protected by the government? Is there something the government knows that Nigerians don’t know?

The perception is that a lot of government officials are sympathisers of terrorism. It is up to the government to free itself from this negative badge. That is exactly why the call of the Middle Belt Forum, MBF, on government to name the sponsors of terrorism is very cogent. The MBF had in communiqué released after a two-day National Executive Committee, NEC, meeting in Akwanga, Nasarawa State, challenged the Federal Government to listen to the yearnings of Nigerians by unmasking the sponsors of terrorism, especially the 400 Bureau de Change, BDC, operators, as identified by the UAE authorities, and free itself of collusion. The Forum also expressed concern over the UN report that the Federal Government had allegedly engaged in secret negotiations with Boko Haram terrorists and offering them monetary rewards.

Many prominent Nigerians are making similar demands, that government to unmask the people behind the reign of terror, no matter how lowly or highly placed they may be. Members of the ruling party, APC in the Diaspora are in agreement with the people on unmasking and bringing the sponsors of terrorism in Nigeria and bringing them to book.

The United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Leonard, had in a meeting with journalists in Abuja on May 30, 2021, disclosed her country’s readiness to partner with Nigeria to unmask those behind terrorism in the country. Though she refused to give details, she had added that Nigeria and the US had held talks on the subject but it seems nothing came of it and going by the government’s body language, it might have been insincere with the talks, leading to its apparent dead-end.

The suspicion that Boko Haram sympathisers are inside the corridors of power did not start today. Even former President Goodluck Jonathan had once lamented openly that there were Boko Haram elements in his government. No names were, however, named apart from rumours.

The development coming from UAE and the highly applauded confession of the AGF that some highly placed individuals are being profiled or being prosecuted for financing terrorism, is the strongest pointer to who these people are but the government’s refusal to name them is worrisome. The untenable way government has treated killer herdsmen with seeming kid gloves, and willingness to seize people’s ancestral lands and hand them over to the herdsmen among whom are foreign Fulani, as well as other inconsiderate acts makes it difficult to know on whose side the government is; to protect the people or the reputation of the alleged sponsors.

Government ought not to have wasted the opportunity offered by the arrest and conviction of those suspects in the UAE. It should have lapped on it to unveil those behind the mask of terrorism sponsorship in Nigeria. However, it seems it has apparently bungled that opportunity by failing to pursue the lead despite terrorist activities that have claimed thousands of lives, displacement of several others and wanton destruction of property. Many Nigerians are even doubtful of the alleged secret trial. Government may have lost its believability, as the feeling is that there may be no ongoing trial anywhere.

Nobody knows what the government is hiding or why but one clear fact though is that the people’s patience is running out and we believe that the terrorists and their sponsors in and outside the corridors of power must be unmasked. They have done much harm, wasted so much blood and must not be allowed to continue their reign of terror unrestrained. The seeming feet-dragging by the Federal Government is unacceptable. Such apathy is a terrorist act of its own if the suspects are being programmed for a soft landing or to finally get away with their heinous crime against the state and people. Nigerians would have none of that because the law is for everybody and accords no special status to anybody irrespective of tribe, tongue or faith.