By Ohia Israel
Last week, a Perth-based international adviser, Dr. Stephen Davis, who for four months was involved in negotiations on behalf of the federal government with commanders of Boko Haram for the release of over 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by the sect last April, named a former Governor of Borno State, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, and a former Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-General Azubuike Ihejirika, as sponsors of Boko Haram.
The negotiator, Davis, who made two separate interviews to Arise Television, a THISDAY sister company, also disclosed that a man resident in Abuja whose three nephews had been identified as being behind the Nyanya bus station bomb blast that killed 77 people, was one of the financiers of Boko Haram.
Davis, in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on Wednesday had pointedly alleged that one of the primary sources of funding of the terror group was Nigerian politicians, but failed to disclose their identities until his interview with Arise TV.
But in reaction to the allegation, Ihejirika and Sheriff angrily dismissed the allegation, saying they had nothing to benefit from the sponsorship of Boko Haram. However, a former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Nasir el-Rufai, has called for their prosecution and expressed hope that the authorities will take the steps necessary to act on this revelation.
In his interview with Arise TV, Davis said he had been informed by Boko Haram commanders whom he dealt with that there are prominent politicians who have been sources of funding to Boko Haram, adding “First thing to do is to arrest the former Governor Sheriff. Former Governor Sheriff has been funding this for years. He is satisfied that he will be picked up and he has now switched to the ruling party, PDP, in the hope this will give him protection.
“That guy is really a bad guy and he is known to be corrupt and why the EFCC has not picked him up is anybody’s guess. There is a former Chief of Army Staff, who retired in January, rightly sacked by the president, who is another sponsor.
“Then Boko Haram senior commanders said there are three nephews of one man. The three nephews participated in the bombing of the Abuja bus station early this year that killed at least 77 people. These nephews were living with him.
“He has been linked several times to their activities and why that someone, with the interrogation of the nephews who are in the custody of the State Security Service (SSS), doesn’t seem inclined to interrogate these young men to produce concrete evidence against their uncle in whose house they were living during their activities for Boko Haram?”
The Australian negotiator was emphatic that the people he identified are current sponsors of Boko Haram, adding: “Some of them, I had had information from Boko Haram about three years ago; one of them four years ago.
“One sponsor particularly was providing money and also in one case provided six (Toyota) Hilux vehicles used for suicide bombing.”
Davis said the first thing that should happen in Nigeria is to arrest the sponsors, as this would slow down the fighting dramatically and the military may have a chance of fighting Boko Haram.
He recalled that when he was involved in the release of kidnapped oil workers in the Niger Delta region in 2004, “we found repeatedly that candidates for governorship in any of the 36 states often funded gangs and heavily armed them with AK 47, RPGs.
“And after the elections and the candidates won, they abandon these people who are heavily armed. This is happening in the north, it is not uncommon.
“Yes, I have worked with presidents in the past, one Christian president, one Muslim president. But we are horrified by what is going on today. This is being fuelled by politicians, in my view, who certainly want power in the next elections”.
He was of the view that the problem President Goodluck Jonathan was faced with was the fallout if he arrested the politicians.
“If he (Jonathan) now arrests prominent politicians who may want to certainly take power in the next election, the US, UK and France may cry foul, saying you are arresting people to the advantage of your re-election.
“But the threshold for evidence is very high and I think he will have to keep sufficient evidence to make the Western nations happy before this thing is totally out of hand,” he said.
On how he handled negotiations with Boko Haram to secure the release of the Chibok girls, Davis explained: “There had been kidnapping going on since last year. Apart from the 220 Chibok girls, there are over 300 other children that had been kidnapped from villages and towns.
“The problem we found in getting the girls was that they had other Boko Haram cells outside the ones we were dealing with, so that became a problem.
“President Jonathan had made huge progress with peace discussions over the last two years but as it was leading up to the elections, the sponsors of Boko Haram, the politicians really picked up the tempo and all the discussions – sitting down with leaders of Boko Haram for peace – were sabotaged.
“While I was there in the last four months, President Jonathan gave me full logistical support whenever I required it, whenever I requested for it to continue this work.
“We were able to get four of the Chibok girls out but what we found was that if we were also able to get 20 or 30 of the girls, the guys will go and kidnap another 50 to replace them. So we came to the conclusion that freeing Chibok girls was putting them in more callous situation costing the lives of many other people.
“So what we have been doing since then is keeping an eye on the girls who were able to escape, picking them up and bringing them to safe havens.”
Davis further revealed that the effort to get out 60 girls was botched when another group kidnapped them.
“The president gave me a military jet and a military convoy and ambulance from the local hospital. We were waiting for Boko Haram to bring them from the border with Cameroun.
“We had a call the previous morning that there were some girls, about 60 of them, so we set out with a number of ambulances and we travelled for four-and-a-half hours to reach them… However, the police had offered a very large reward for the girls 24 hours before then.
“So someone connected with the kidnapping of Chibok girls, who had good information about them decided to grab the girls so that they will have the reward.
“The Boko Haram commander who was keeping an eye on the whole situation told me the details the next day of all that had occurred,” he said.
Davis warned against the use of force to rescue the girls, stating: “Doing a raid on the villages where the girls are will waste their lives. Getting sponsors out of action will certainly lead Boko Haram adrift for a while.
“But they will regroup because ISIS, Al Qaeda will move in because that will give them the leadership they need. But in that period of time, they will be adrift and there are commanders in Boko Haram who are willing to hand over the girls and will love a peace deal. They would want to demobilise.
“Now, those guys, they have told me clearly that they will not attempt to hand over the girls or hold discussions for peace because the sponsors will get the other guys to kill those who are getting into the peace deal. So without the sponsors, we can’t start a peace deal.”
He said another challenge with dealing with the insurgency stemmed from the fact that Boko Haram camps are on the border, “so they slip back and forth between two countries.
“They go in convoy to attack a town; they stay for an hour or an hour-and-a-half and get out. That is enough time to hit them. However, on their way from town, they may have 40 or 50 girls on board with them and this is not the time to hit them,” he added.
He also questioned the manner of assistance offered by the US, UK and France which had not yielded results.
According to him, “France, UK and the US all agreed in Paris to assist Nigeria, Cameroun and Niger to work on this matter. The US, for example, said they would assist with intelligence.
“Yet, when Boko Haram members leave their camps they travel without interference to a town, they destroy six villages on their way to a particular town, and no one touches them.
“So one wonders if the UK and US are really serious about the matter, and why there has been no collaboration to intercept Boko Haram when they are on their way to these towns.
“For goodness sake, it is arid area, you can see a convey six miles away and these guys travel with 20, 40 or 60 vehicles with armed personnel. There is something going on very wrong in the collaboration that was preached.”
But in reaction to Davis’ allegation, Sheriff said they were baseless. In a text message he sent to Arise TV, he stated: This is absolutely not true. I have absolutely nothing to do with them. Boko Haram existed before I became a governor and they killed my family members and they kidnapped my brothers. This is not true.”
Ihejirika, on the other hand, said that the allegation was diversionary, warning that its timing might be a prelude to an attack or an incident that the authorities and securities should preempt.
“This is meant to divert the attention of anyone – the nation, federal government and the international community – who is serious about stopping Boko Haram. If Boko Haram told Davis I am their sponsor, is it not hard to believe?
“Anyway, the only reason they can say so is because they suffered the most casualties when I was in charge. They know who gave them the most trouble; that is why they have resorted to telling lies to divert attention.
“Remember that when we stepped up our counter-terrorism campaign and they recorded several deaths, they changed tactics to make it appear like the military was involved in human rights abuses, which America and others fell for.
“This is diversionary. Why should this come up at this time? Some diversionary issues come up as a prelude to either an attack or an incident that the authorities and security agencies should look out for before it happens. There is history of this as a tactic, so they should watch out,” he warned.
Stephen Davis, also in an extensive telephone interview with online new website, SaharaReporters last week, also accused an unnamed senior official of the Central Bank of Nigeria as well as a man based in Cairo, Egypt whom he claimed operates as Boko Haram’s bagman. He said both men, in addition to Mr. Sheriff and General Ihejirika, were major players in the funding and continued existence of the deadly Islamist sect.
Dr. Davis told SaharaReporters that he did not want to name the CBN official as this may prejudice investigation by Nigeria’s security services. Both accused men have reacted furiously to Mr. Davis’ allegation, with the former Borno governor threatening to travel to Australia to sue his accuser while Mr. Ihejirika accused former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Nasir El Rufai, of being a “commander” of Boko Haram. Three days ago, Mr. El Rufai had posted transcripts and video of Mr. Davis’ accusations of the former governor and ex-Army chief on social media.
Asked whether Mr. El Rufai and former military ruler, Muhammadu Buhari, had a hand in funding or sponsoring Boko Haram, Dr. Davis said their names have not been mentioned to him by any Boko Haram connections.
Also, asked to explain why Mr. Ihejirika, a non-Muslim who hails from the predominantly Christian south-eastern part of Nigeria, became a Boko Haram “sponsor,” Mr. Davis said, “Boko Haram commanders and some connected with them told me on several occasions Ihejirika was one of their sponsors.”
He also disclosed that Mr. Sheriff always had the best military protection in Nigeria’s violence-plagued northeast, a protection he claimed the ex-governor enjoyed after he left office.
Dr. Davis reiterated that his allegations were informed by discussions he had with several Boko Haram field commanders over a long period of time. Asked if President Goodluck Jonathan was aware of the insurgents’ sponsors and their specific roles, Dr. Davis said he was unsure of the extent of information currently before President Jonathan. He added that Mr. Jonathan had been weakened by lack of military loyalty and a history of security negligence. He gave the example of repeated attempts to bring the growth of Al Qa’eda associated cells to the attention of NSA’s since 2006 only to have them dismiss such reports as baseless. “By the time Goodluck Jonathan became president Boko Haram had become a potent weapon with a command structure embedded in 16 northern states fanned by support from corrupt politicians.”
He further gave the example of Nigeria’s Minister of Defense, Aliyu Gusau, whom he accused of basically leaving Mr. Jonathan to carry his can without taking any responsibility for his work.
Dr. Davis touched on several aspects of Boko Haram activities, showing that he was quite knowledgeable about the sect’s actions. He told SaharaReporters that Boko Haram runs about six major camps in the northeast and neighboring countries, adding that 700 fighters inhabited each camp. In addition there are a range of smaller camps within Borno State, which are often temporary and to which kidnapped girls are taken to be used by the insurgents.
The Australian revealed that earlier this year Boko Haram was a loose coalition of three Islamist militant groups that worked with one another, claiming that, since four months ago, the sects had merged into one single entity, become more cohesive, strategically effective and powerful. “They are now linking with other terrorist group in the region and will soon be very difficult to dismantle. If these political sponsors think they can turn these groups off after the 2015 elections they are going to be surprised to find it is out of their control.”
On why he had chosen to speak out publicly at this time, Dr. Davis stated that, from experience, any terrorist group that has lasted more than eight years after its formation would likely exist for another 20 or more years before it can be dismantled. It thus becomes embedded for a generation and the likelihood of dismantling it was very low. “If we don’t do our utmost now to dismantle Boko Haram then we may not be able to do so for another generation. That is a very gloomy scenario for Nigeria.”
He touched on former National Security Adviser, Owoye Andrew Azazi, whom he described as utterly corrupt. He said Mr. Azazi, who was a retired Army general, was planning to buy into the Hilton Hotel chain in London to the tune of $100 million before he died in a helicopter crash on December 15, 2012.
Dr. Davis painted a portrait of Nigeria’s various intelligence units as operating in silos that refuse to share information that could tame terrorist groups. To illustrate his point, the Australian cited the example of the State Security Services. According to him, months after the SSS won the extradition from the Sudan of Aminu Ogwuche, a suspected terror mastermind who reportedly planned the deadly bombing of an Abuja bus station, the intelligence agency had yet to interrogate Mr. Ogwuche about his links with the three young men he reportedly contracted to carry out the bombing.
Dr. Davis said the young men were three in number and that they lived in the home of a CBN official who also carried out banking transactions for Boko Haram through the CBN. He said two other young collaborators in the Nyanya Motor Park bombing remain on the run.
The Australian hostage negotiator vowed to make more revelations about Boko Haram’s sponsors, adding that he believed the sect could only be dismantled if their sponsors were exposed and prosecuted. In particular, he said he could not see why the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had not already moved on Sheriff for his extensive looting of public funds when he was the Borno State governor, and for leaving the roads in Borno State in a terrible shape that has enabled Boko Haram to ambush Nigeria troops and massacre them mercilessly. He also added that the former governor should face the ultimate trial for financing the recruitment of young men to the Islamist sect.
Dr. Davis dismissed Mr. Sheriff’s threat to travel to Australia to sue him for his statements as grandstanding and seeking to divert attention from the real issue of Mr. Sheriff’s involvement with Boko Haram. He added that he would be pleased to meet the former governor at the airport whenever he developed the courage to come to Australia.
The Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, has called on the federal government to arrest and investigate former Borno State governor Ali Modu Sheriff and former Chief of Army Staff Lt.-Gen Azubuike Ihejirika over their alleged involvement in the activities of Boko Haram sect.
Apparently angered by the recent disclosure by Stephen Davis, an Australian hostage negotiator, who spent some time in Nigeria on the invitation of the Nigerian Government to try to secure the release of the Chibok girls, the forum said the federal government must show its seriousness by bringing the duo on a hot seat.
The northern top forum rose from its Board of Trustees (BoT) meeting chaired by Mallam Adamu M. Fika, expressing disappointment with the lackadaisical attitude of the military in combating this menace that has resulted into the mass killing of innocent souls, destruction of property and displacement of many people.
A statement by the ACF spokesman, Muhammad Ibrahim, reads: “ACF calls upon the Federal Government to urgently institute an investigation into the weighty allegations made by Dr Stephen Davies against the persons named in his interview with the international media in funding and sustaining the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East region. Persons found to have been involved in such crime against the state should be prosecuted to serve as a deterrent to others”.
According to the forum, a situation where insurgents took over some part of the country was grave and worrisome since there appeared to be no counter action from the military.
ACF condemned the seizure of some local government areas in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States and the continuous capturing of more territorial areas of Nigeria by the insurgents.
“ACF urges Nigerians to rise up and unite for good governance and peaceful coexistence irrespective of political, religious and other inclinations.
“ACF and other similar organizations including traditional and religious institutions have on different occasions expressed concern on the security challenges in the North and its devastating effect on the socio-economic and political life of the people.
“The situation has escalated to the seizure of some portions of Nigerian territory by the insurgents without any resistance from our military and other security agencies”, the statement added.
Meanwhile the All Progressives Congress has challenged President Goodluck Jonathan to arrest and hand over former governor of Borno State, Ali Modu Sheriff and former Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Azubuike Ihejerika, to the International Criminal Court.
National Chairman of the APC, John Oyegun, gave the challenge on Tuesday at a media briefing in Abuja.
He spoke on the party’s stand on the recent revelation by a Federal Government appointed negotiator that the duo were among sponsors of the terrorist group.
According to Oyegun, the truth about the seemingly intractable insurrection is finally out and the APC had been vindicated.
He explained that it was now clear that contrary to an orchestrated plot by the ruling party and officials of government, the APC has no hand in the Boko Haram insurgency.
Oyegun said, “The sponsors of Boko Haram are within the PDP and the Presidency. They are known friends of President Jonathan. He knows them and they know him.
“The man who exposed these Boko Haram sponsors is a Jonathan-appointed negotiator. He has no axe to grind, neither does he have any motive to shield the APC or portray the PDP Presidency in bad light. In fact, if he had any sympathy at all, it is for the man who hired him – President Jonathan.
“We have said it all along. Boko Haram was politicised purely for one reason, and one reason only: To be used as a trump card for President Jonathan to win another term.”
The party said in a desperate bid to make this strategy work, the PDP which sees the APC as the only stumbling block to its victory in 2015, has employed the tactic of maligning and labeling it.
Oyegun accused politicians under the platform of the ruling party such as the party’s spokesman, Olisa Metuh, of orchestrating this strategy by calling the APC a Janjaweed and Islamic party.
The APC noted that it was in the process of this dangerous politics, that the Nigerian military, which was globally acclaimed for its impressive showings at various peacekeeping missions around the world, simply suffered collateral damage.
It accused fifth columnists in the military of selling the force out, first by denying it of the necessary fighting tools and then weakening it to such an extent that even the little it had was being taken away daily by insurgents.
The party also noted that when Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State tried to raise the issue of the poorly-equipped troops and their low morale, he was roundly pilloried.
“Now that the cat has been let out of the bag and the real sponsors of Boko Haram have been exposed, we hope President Jonathan will summon the courage to do the right thing: Hand over the identified Boko Haram sponsors to the International Criminal Court for investigation and prosecution,” Oyegun added.
There is no doubt that Boko Haram has committed crimes against humanity in its scorched-earth campaign against unarmed citizens, and the most appropriate body to investigate and try the sect’s sponsors is the ICC.