Source: Sunday Tribune
AS the Boko Haram insurgency continues unabated, the Sahel Joint Military Command, comprising militaries of Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, has reportedly invited Nigeria to join it for a combined counter-terrorism efforts in the Sahel and Northern Nigeria.
This is just as arrested suspected members of the sect have pledged to cooperate with security agencies, provided they are given protection.
Sunday Tribune was told that Nigerian officials were approached over the issue during the recently-concluded Somali conference which was attended by President Goodluck Jonathan and presidents and heads of governments from the Sahel nations, Central Africa and North Africa.
Intelligence officials had earlier confirmed that al-Shabaab in Somalia, al-Qaeda in the Maghreb and Boko Haram in Nigeria are coordinating insurgencies in direct association with the mainstream al-Qaeda movement, a development that prompted recent Nigeria’s interest in happenings in the Sahel region.
Findings from the headquarters of the command in Southern Algeria indicated that Nigerian membership is seen as crucial to defeating both al-Qaeda in the Maghreb and Boko Haram as the Sahel nations regard Nigeria as a rear base of Islamists on the continent.
It was, however, not clear whether the contact with the Nigerian delegation at the London conference includes a direct official invitation to join the military command, even though the Nigerian Chief of Defence Staff, Oluseyi Petinrin, recently confirmed the association between al-Qaeda in the Maghreb and Boko Haram in Nigeria.
While Nigerian officials are not talking about the development, the country recently took major steps to collaborate with the Sahel nations through the opening of defence units in Mali and Niger and through the attendance of Nigeria at the recently concluded meeting of foreign ministers of the Sahel nations.
Foreign ministers of Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Algeria and Nigeria at the January meeting had vowed to assist one another in the fight against Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Nigerian terrorist organisation, Boko Haram.
“There is a proven connection between AQIM and Boko Haram,” Malian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga, said at the Nouakchott ministerial meeting of the four Sahel countries and guest, Nigeria.
Along with jointly facing the “great challenge posed by AQIM in the Sahel and Boko Haram in Nigeria”, Mauritanian Foreign Minister, Hamadi Ould Hamadi, said the four core countries also intended to “continue the dialogue to eradicate organized crime, trafficking in weapons and explosives and abductions of Westerners.”
Sunday Tribune, however, learnt that Nigeria’s attendance at the meeting was only exploratory with the Nigerian government yet to take strategic decisions on how to engage with the Sahel nations regarded as the supply route of the Boko Haram insurgents.
Sahel states of Algeria, Mauritania, Mali and Niger had in 2011 agreed to form a 75,000-man counter-terror security force to police the Sahel-Saharan region.
The Algiers-based Joint Military Staff Committee of the Sahel Region (CEMOC) co-ordinates the new military force, and makes the Sahara a stable region in terms of field work and military co-operation,” Malian Foreign Minister, Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga, was quoted as saying at the approving meeting.
The counter–terrorism force is reported to have two components, namely the military command and the intelligence coordinating center with the European Union (EU) while the United States provides technical support.
Meanwhile, leaders of Boko Haram who are in security agencies’ net were said to have demanded what is called Witness Protection Service (WPS) from the security agencies to enable them to fully cooperate with investigators.
Sources close to the administration confirmed that the security agencies have been inundated with requests by the kingpins for full protection, especially the WPS, which would enable them cooperate fully with the government.
It was learnt that the agencies involved have also communicated the same to the top echelons of the administration to enable the government come to a conclusion on the idea.
Sources said that following the arrest of the leaders of Boko Haram, including the spokesman, Abu Quaqa and the acclaimed number two man, Kabiru Sokoto, the kingpins feared for their lives as well as that of the members of their family.
Sources said that the kingpins were very hostile to investigators in the first few days they spent in detention but that as the reality of the situation dawned on them, they started opening up.
It was learnt that one after the other, the leaders were requesting a protection service that would make them adapt well to current realities.
Sources said that the Boko Haram kingpins were demanding protection in view of the existing oath of secrecy they entered into while operating within the sect.
“We have been made to understand that those in custody are asking for a protection service that would enable them to cooperate with investigators. They were said to be afraid initially due to the oath of secrecy they entered into, so they proved a bit difficult. They are afraid that members of their family can be wiped out if the sect members feel betrayed.
“There is no doubt that many of the members are living in fear of the leader, Mallam Abubakar Shekau, whom they described as very violent,” a source stated.
It was also gathered that some of the agencies involved have uncovered some tightly held secrets of the sect, including some operational details.
Though sources refused to name the operational details, it was gathered that the key lieutenants of Shekau and other operational details are now known.
Earlier in the week, the arrested spokesman, Abu Quaqa, was said to have told operatives of the State Security Service (SSS) that some of the cars used by leaders of the sect were stolen vehicles while expensive cars were used to beat the police at check points.
Quaqa was quoted as saying, “We snatch those vehicles at gun point. We use the less exotic ones for suicide bombings and just load vehicles with bombs, drive them near our target, park and get out of it and leave them to explode thereafter.
“The leader, Shekau, takes the exotic ones and he is always saying that he would arrange for them to be sold and the proceeds put into the Jihad. This is never done, anyway. Most of those vehicles end up with him and the Kanuri members of our sect. They use them; pose in them to deceive security agents at check points. The distribution of these stolen vehicles on ‘man-know-man’, ‘man-know-tribesman’ became another source of anger and acrimony, but you have to bear it or you die. Once you are in, you are in. If you attempt to leave, you are seen as a traitor who must die.”
By Olawale Rasheed and Taiwo Adisa