The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) is set to deploy its newly acquired Agusta 109 fighter jets and others in the North-Western states currently ravaged by bandits.
According to the exclusive report by The Saturday Punch the jets are expected to complement existing efforts being made to combat the rising killings and kidnappings in the region, it was further learnt.
The power-attack helicopters were unveiled at the 55th anniversary of the Air Force on Monday.
Speaking on Friday, the NAF Director of Public Relations and Information (DOPRI), Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, said more personnel would also be deployed in the region to combat the escalating violence and killings.
He noted that the Air Force would on Saturday open a helipad in the Birnin Gwari area of Kaduna State to serve as an operational base for its fighter aircraft deployed in the region.
The helipad, Daramola said, would be opened by the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, and the Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir el-Rufai.
There have been growing concerns over the spate of killings and kidnappings in the northern region, especially North-Western states like Zamfara, Katsina and Kaduna.
The Acting Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, had while speaking at the quarterly Northern Traditional Rulers’ Council meeting in Kaduna said that owing to banditry and communal violence, 436 deaths were recorded in the North-West between January and April, 2019.
Adamu explained that Zamfara recorded 203 murder incidents while 104 of them were linked with banditry.
According to the police chief, Katsina had 21 murder cases while Sokoto had 19, adding that “it is pertinent to mention that Zamfara has the highest national kidnap rate of 281 victims in what has been directly linked to activities of armed bandits (sic) in the state.”
Daramola confirmed to one of our correspondents on Friday that the Agusta 109 helicopters would be inducted into the North-West theatre in addition to the eight aircraft already deployed in the region.
Daramola said, “The Chief of Air Staff has mentioned that the two Agusta 109 aircraft will be deployed to add value in the operations against bandits in the North-West. We have intensified operations in the general area.
“On April 8, we deployed additional assets in the North-West region, which made it a total of eight aircraft that were deployed there, and these are attack helicopters, Alpha Jets and ISR platforms.
“The newly assembled Agusta 109 helicopter will also be inducted into the operations of the North-West. On Saturday, the Air Force will inaugurate the helipad that was established in the Birnin-Gwari area of Kaduna State near Zamfara to add impetus to the operations being conducted within that general area.
“The personnel have already been deployed. We have another helipad in Gusau and these are the air fields where operations are launched out against bandits in the North-West region.”
When asked if NAF would treat the bandits as terrorists, Daramola said the Air Force might not be able to attack the bandits like terrorists because some of the bandits live among civilians unlike the North-East where the Boko Haram terrorists had solitary hideouts.
He added, “There is a slight difference in the sense that in the North-West you have to avoid collateral damage, especially when these bandits are not in their camps; they stay in places where there are civilians and non-combatants. And that is why we are not using bombs which are what we use in the North-East.
“So the operational environment in the North-West is somewhat different from the North-East, but the criminals are all enemies of the state and they do not want the safety and security of Nigerians because of what they stand to gain, whether ideologically or socio-economically.”
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Army in Abuja on Friday said its current threat assessments indicated the migration of bandits from Zamfara State to Kano, Kaduna, Katsina, Sokoto and Niger states. It said it had expanded its operation, Harbin Kunama 3, to cover these other states.
The Chief of the Army Staff, Lt Gen Tukur Buratai, who stated this at the Army Headquarters, called on residents of the affected states to persevere in the face of inconveniences due to restrictions that might be imposed in the areas.
He, however, stressed that the army would ensure the defeat of the fleeing bandits.
He said, “The Exercise Harbin Kunama 3 was launched on April 1, 2019, in Gusau, Zamfara State. Within the past one month, several bandits and criminal elements have been captured and killed while some camps, hideouts and equipment of the criminals have been destroyed.
“It has, however, been observed that there appears to be a resurgence of their activities in other contiguous states to Zamfara, like Kaduna, Kano and Niger states. It is against this backdrop that Exercise Harbin Kunama 3 is being reorganised and its mandate is to ensure the complete defeat of the fleeing bandits.
Our lives no longer safe – Monarchs
While expressing worry over the spate of insecurity in the country, the Tor Sankera in Benue State, Abu King Shuluwa, has raised the alarm that his life is under threat, while blaming the rise in criminal activities in the northern region on poverty, unemployment and porous borders.
He said, “The irony of this is that both the youths, the people and we, the traditional rulers, are suffering from this. At the last count, seven traditional rulers have so far been killed in my domain just for the fact that they rebuked the wanton killings happening in the area.”
Also, the District Head of Duhu in Madagali Local Government Area of Adamawa State, Mohammed Sanusi, called on the security agencies to live up to expectations.
He said, “Our lives are not secure and we also fear that what happened to the district head in Katsina may also happen to us. It is already happening, because just two months ago, the District Head of Bazza, Alhaji Saidu Bashiru, was asked by kidnappers to give them N5m or they will come for him.
“There is no point seeking special protection while our subjects are not protected. Our subjects must be protected first. Until we deal with the issue of cattle rustling, kidnappings will not reduce.”
Also, the District Head of Bazza, Alhaji Saidu Bashiru, a retired Assistant Controller of Prisons, said he could no longer reside in his area because those arrested in connection with his failed abduction were allegedly working freely.
He said, “Where is the protection in this country? I can no longer live in my domain. Just about two months ago, I was told that two of the men who were found guilty of writing me to pay them N5m or they would abduct me have been set free after being remanded in prison custody. Does releasing them mean letting them come back to kill me or what?”
The Emir of Bungudu, Alhaji Hassan Attahiru, has said that no one is safe with the spate of killings and kidnapping in the country in recent times.
He said, “I am deeply concerned. A few years ago, we never had such crimes here in Zamfara State but within a short time it has become widespread. The frightening thing is that no one is safe, whether you are rich or poor. Many people and households have lost all they have through payment of ransom to these bandits.
“Most of the kidnappers were hitherto herdsmen who have lost their animals through cattle rustling and resorted to robberies and graduated to kidnapping. They have now been joined by restless and jobless youths from the communities and together they have continued to terrorise the people. There is also the issue of hard drugs use.”
Speaking on the recent kidnapping of a traditional ruler in Katsina State, the royal father said, “We are as vulnerable as other members of the community. We are as safe or at risk like other people. We don’t have any special means of protection apart from the usual caution of avoiding some places at certain times.
“We live in the midst of our people. We have always been requesting for additional security cover for the entire community because we ourselves are safe only when they are safe. Additional security has been provided but these are far from what is required in the present circumstances.”
He, however, suggested the need for a holistic approach if the scourge was to be eradicated completely.
Meanwhile, the Ogiyan of Ejigbo in Osun State, Oba Omowonuola Oyesosin, has described the incessant abduction of traditional rulers in the country as a national embarrassment.
Speaking when he received the state Commissioner of Police, Mrs Abiodun Ige, in his palace on Thursday, the monarch said royal fathers were becoming endangered species in the hands of criminals, adding that there was urgent need to build a formidable security network around traditional institutions in the country.
He added, “The menace of incessant abduction of traditional rulers in Nigeria nowadays is very unfortunate and a national embarrassment and it must be absolutely eradicated.”
But, speaking on the directive by the Federal Government that monarchs should initiate community policing and establish local security councils in their domains, the Mai Tangle, Dr Abdu Buba Maisheru, said residents, traditional rulers and security agents have roles to play to make the initiative effective.
Maisheru, who is the Chairman, Northern Christian Traditional Rulers Forum, said, “There is going to be involvement of all. They have asked us to send names from each district so they can be useful to the project of community policing.”
Meanwhile, the village head of Iwukem in Etim Ekpo Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, Chief Linus Ujoekpe, has called for the establishment of more police stations around the nations’ flash points.
He advised that such stations should be manned with trained army and police personnel and equipped with sophisticated weapons.
He added, “Insecurity is a serious issue in Nigeria today and we are all living witnesses to how people are being killed on daily basis. As a solution I will call on President Muhammadu Buhari to take this problem more seriously by constructing more police stations where there are security threats.”