Following reports of a long convoy of Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s loyalists moving into Niger Republic, the Nigeria Army has assured Nigerians that there is no cause for alarm over security in the country.
In the past three days, over 200 army trucks carrying loyalists of the ousted Libyan leader fled Libya and were reportedly escorted into Niamey, capital of Niger Republic.
With Nigeria sharing kilometres of porous borders with Niger Republic, there has been growing fears among Nigerians that insurgents from Niger may stream into the country and worsen a bad security situation.
But, speaking with LEADERSHIP on Tuesday, the Director, Army Public Relations, Brig.-Gen. Raphael Isa, said the army is aware of the situation and would handle it adequately.
He said, “The Nigeria Army is very much alert to the development and does not think that the convoy will just march into Nigeria from Niger Republic.
“Also, there is a multi-national force stationed at the Niger/Nigeria borders that will handle any security situation there.”
With the Islamic militants group, Boko Haram, claiming responsibilities for attacks on security operatives and bombings in the northern part on Nigeria, many Nigerians are afraid that the arms and ammunition from Gaddafi’s loyalists may slip through the nation’s borders with Niger and fell into the hands of Boko Haram members.
In a related development, the United States government yesterday urged the Niger Republic to apprehend and detain loyalists of Gaddafi’s who were rumoured to have crossed into the country in a convoy from Libya.
Niger officials had informed the US ambassador that the convoy carried “a dozen or more” senior members of Gaddafi’s government, but gave no indication that Gaddafi himself was among them, the State Department spokesperson, Victoria Nuland, said in a statement.
She said, “We have strongly urged the Nigerien officials to detain those members of the regime who may be subject to prosecution, to ensure that they confiscate any weapons that are found and to ensure that any state property of the government of Libya, money, jewels, etc., also be impounded so that it can be returned to the Libyan people”.
She added that the US had also urged Niger to work with Libya’s ruling interim council to ensure that its interests were served in bringing the convoy’s passengers to justice.
“All of them would be subject to the United Nations travel ban which is why we’re working closely with the government of Niger,” Nuland said, adding that the two governments had had “a very good conversation about what needs to happen to them.”
“Our understanding is that they are going to take appropriate measures so that they can take the steps that are necessary and to work in the future with the interim council on what is to be done with both the people and the property,” she said.
The US had suspended all non-humanitarian assistance to Niger in 2009 after former president Mamadou Tandja changed the constitution to extend his rule, but resumed aid programmes this year after Tandja was ousted by the military and replaced through elections.
Niger officials had claimed that Gaddafi’s personal security chief, Mansour Dhao, crossed into Niger on Sunday while a US national security official said Washington believed the convoy also carried several other prominent Libyan passengers.
A second US official said that one of the convoys was of a “configuration” which suggested it was carrying high-ranking figures from Gaddafi’s government.
But the official said he had no information about Gaddafi himself travelling in the convoy or fleeing Libya just as Nuland said Niger had given no indication that any Gaddafi family members were among the passengers.
The US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said Gaddafi was “on the run” but that he had no precise information about his location.
“I wish I knew,” Panetta said.
The Pentagon had previously said that it had no reason to believe Gaddafi had left Libya. When asked whether that assessment had changed, Panetta replied that, “I don’t have any information as to his location.”