The federal government Thursday expressed reservations over moves to grant the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, United States of America’s visa, fearing it might be deemed to be an endorsement of the main opposition party’s candidate by the US government.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, spoke to senior journalists in Abuja Thursday and said while the federal government realised it was the prerogative of the US government to determine who to allow entry into its territory, he said the Nigerian government did not want a situation that would suggest that one candidate was preferred to the other.
He also spoke about the resurgence of terror and recent military operational losses in the North-east and said in spite of these, the government was winning the fight with Boko Haram in the troubled region.
‘’Our position is that if the former VP already has a US visa, we have no problem about it. What we warn the US government is not to give the impression that it is endorsing one particular candidate over the other. That is what is going to happen, if for instance the former VP is granted a visa, Mohammed said, adding, ‘’We are not unaware; I think it is also in the public domain, that Atiku has engaged the service of some lobbyists in the US to facilitate the issuance of visa for him.’’
He said, ‘’As you all will be aware, for more than 12 years there has been a congressional bi-partisan investigation of corruption against certain individuals which had made it difficult for the former vice president to secure a US visa.
‘’I am sure you will all recall the Jefferson case and what they called the cold $90,000 in the fridge. This is not the making of this administration, it has been ongoing.”
As Mohammed spoke yesterday, restating government’s position that the war against terror was apace despite recent operational setbacks, THISDAY gathered that President Muhammadu Buhari might be reviewing his decision to retain the service chiefs till after the general elections in 2019.
Although the information minister would not comment on this, THISDAY sources close to the presidency said following operational setbacks in the last few weeks at the theatre of war, owing to disconnect among the three services, particularly the Army and the Air Force, the president is doing a tactical review of the military situation and might soon act decisively.
“He might remove the service chiefs shortly,” the reliable source said.
Meanwhile, consistent with his recent moves to arrest the insecurity situation in the region, Buhari yesterday departed Abuja for N’Djamena, Chad, to preside over the Summit of Heads of States and Governments of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC).
But Mohammed insisted yesterday that the federal government is winning the war against Boko Haram.
‘’Our position that the federal government had decimated Boko Haram has not changed; we are winning the war,’’ the minister stated while briefing the senior journalists in Abuja.
The retaining of the service chiefs, in spite of attaining their retirement age, over a year ago, has continued to generate mixed feelings among members of the public.
While an insider explained their retention was for strategic security reasons, some groups, including serving military officers, said the decision had affected professionalism in the military.
However, presidency source told THISDAY in Abuja yesterday that the president is seriously considering firing the service chiefs, suspecting that their lack of proper coordination and distrust among themselves might have compounded the worsening security situation in the North-east, created by the deadly Boko Haram group.
At several meetings with the service chiefs recently, the president was said to have reprimanded them for lack of proper coordination among them in the on-going war against the terrorist group in the North-east, wondering why they have allowed their personal interests and ego to affect their thorough prosecution of the current war against terror, which led to the killing of dozens of troops in Metele, in Borno State recently.
“The president is aware of these challenges created by lack of proper coordination among the service chiefs in prosecuting the war against the insurgency in the North-east.
‘’His recent comments and body language have suggested that he will take drastic measures any moment to ensure that these challenges are solved once and for all.
‘’And if the president believes the retaining of the service chiefs has become a problem in the war against Boko Haram, he will not hesitate to act’’, a senior security personnel in the presidency told THISDAY.
Worried by the deteriorating security challenges in the country, several groups, including the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere; the Ohanaeze Ndi-Igbo; the South-South Leaders Forum and the Coalition of United Political Parties, have called on the president to immediately sack the nation’s service chiefs.
The groups in different statements have raised the alarm over the rise in Boko Haram attacks in the North-east, describing the recent killing of some soldiers in Metele, in Borno State as a national disgrace.
They also cautioned Buhari against what they called politicisation of the military and the police, alleging that Boko Haram is holding on to territories in the region.
But, speaking on security on Thursday in Abuja, Mohammed insisted that despite the recent setbacks brought about by attacks on the military, the Boko Haram insurgents had been largely decimated.
He claimed that when they took over in 2015, Boko Haram was active in 10 states, including the FCT, where they chose where and when to attack.
The Minister added, ‘’I think we need to put the issues in proper context. And I still say that despite the setback that was witnessed last week, our position that we had decimated Boko Haram is still valid. You need to know where we were in 2015 and where we are today in terms of security.
‘’Many of you were in Abuja pre- 2015 and you knew how even unsafe Abuja was. All of us were in Nigeria pre-2015 and we knew that Boko Haram was active in at least 10 states of the federation where they chose where and when to act.
‘’In 2015 when we came in, 20 out of 27 Local Government Areas in Borno State alone were under the occupation of Boko Haram. I am glad that a few of my colleagues followed us to Bama on the 5th of December 2015, and they saw what the situation was.
‘’We were in Maiduguri, Bama, Kauri and Konduga. And I still remember that in the 17-kilometre road between Maiduguri and Bama, there was no single vehicular traffic on the road.’’
He further explained that of the 6,000 plus structures in Bama, none was standing, saying they were all destroyed by Boko Haram.
He said, “Actually, Boko Haram was not just occupying, they were in government in most parts of Borno State and four local governments in Yobe, where they held court, they hoisted their flags, they collected taxes, they deposed emirs and the Judiciary.
‘’Today, not one inch of Nigerian territory is under Boko Haram. They have all been pushed out of Nigerian territory; they now operate from the fringes, from Lake Chad Island (Basin). So, anybody, who is well versed in insurgency, will appreciate that what happened last week was nothing but a setback, and I think it is not to say that the war against insurgency is not going well.’’
The federal government’s spokesman saluted the gallant men and women of the military, who he said, are sacrificing their lives for the nation daily and paying the supreme price for the country to be peaceful, adding that what is important now, are about the steps the government has taken.
According to him, “It gladdens my heart that on Wednesday, President Muhammadu Buhari was in Maiduguri for the occasion of Chief of Army Staff Annual Conference.
‘’He seized the opportunity to express Nigerians’ gratitude and appreciation to the entire military and assured them that the equipment materials, he will make sure they get. He said this is a must win war.
“Today as we speak Mr. President is in Ndjamena as the chairman of the summit of heads of state and government of the Lake Chad Basin. As you are aware, the Multi-National Joint Task Force is made up of Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, with Benin Republic and Central Africa Republic.
“Insurgency is not a local issue, it is a global issue. And I am glad that Mr. President is in Ndjamena trying to rally support for the fight against insurgency. I think this setback does not mean that the war against insurgency is not being won.’’
The Senate abruptly adjourned plenary recently in honour of soldiers killed by the insurgents and ordered its Committees on Army and Defence to investigate the killings as well as probe the welfare of Nigerian troops fighting insurgency.
Mr. Femi Adesina, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, in a statement in Abuja said the meeting of the Heads of States and Governments of the LCBC took place in N’Djamena, Chad thursday.
Also, the President of Benin Republic, a troops-contributing country, was also invited to the meeting.
He said the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), and national operations of the affected countries had appreciably degraded the capacity of Boko Haram terrorists, although the insurgents still retain the capacity to attack isolated targets in desperate search for supplies.
According to Adesina, the one-day meeting reviewed the security situation in the areas affected by Boko Haram insurgency.
He said it would also adopt measures to enhance the capacity of the MNJTF to meet the challenges of securing the areas.
Adesina stated, “The presidents of the LCBC member countries of Chad, Cameroon, Niger, and the Central African Republic were invited to attend the meeting.
“The President of Benin Republic, a troops-contributing country was also invited to attend.
“The MNJTF and the national operations of the affected countries have appreciably degraded the capacity of Boko Haram terrorists, although the insurgents still retain the capacity to attack isolated targets in desperate search for supplies.’’