The United States yesterday shared very crucial intelligence with the Nigerian government, alerting that Al-Qaeda terrorists were gradually infiltrating the country through the North West zone.
Specifically, the US Africa Command (US AFRICOM) warned that the Al-Qaeda terrorist group and ISIS were exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to progressively take over the West African Region after losing ground in Syria, Iraq and the Middle East.
Commander of the US Special Operations Command, Africa, General Dagvin Anderson, who stated this during a digital press briefing, noted that the terror group was already deploying several strategies to silently re-establish themselves in the region and expand further in the entire continent without drawing attention.
Of late, there had been a surge in attacks in North West states, including Zamfara, Kaduna and Katsina, prompting President Muhammadu Buhari to acknowledge in a rare interview last Friday that the scale of insecurity in the zone and its neighbouring North East zone were becoming “very, very disturbing”.
During the media briefing, Anderson noted that America will continue to partner with Nigeria in sharing intelligence.
The Commander said, “We have engaged with Nigeria and continue to engage with them in intelligence sharing and in understanding what these violent extremists are doing. And that has been absolutely critical to their engagements up in Borno state and into an emerging area of northwest Nigeria that we’re seeing al-Qaida starting to make some inroads in.
“So, this intelligence sharing is absolutely vital and we stay fully engaged with the government of Nigeria to provide them an understanding of what these terrorists are doing, what Boko Haram is doing, what ISIS-West Africa is doing, and how ISIS and al-Qaida are looking to expand further south into the littoral areas.”
He hinted that the Al-Qaida sect has already expanded in Mali, and have moved into northern Burkina Faso, where they attacked infrastructure, took out local governance and security forces, and are now controlling the local economy and exerting their control over the population.
“And we’re seeing them continue to move further south in Burkina Faso towards those littoral nations in the Gulf of Guinea, and also further west towards Senegal and West Africa. So that’s concerning to us as we watch them continue to move throughout the region”, the Commander said.
He also described as very concerning that some local terrorist groups that had local grievances now are being galvanized into a larger ideology and a larger movement.
He noted that al-Shabaab, another affiliate of al-Qaida, was already driving that instability in Somalia to destabilise the region and the horn of Africa.
He also disclosed that the extremist group was exploiting the fastest-growing humanitarian crisis is in the Sahel to gain deeper roots in the region and in the West with the west with Islamic State-West Africa and Grand Sahara.
Anderson said the jihadists were already moving down the east coast of Africa, adding that they have already established affiliates or leverage local grievances and consolidated those into their larger movement in DRC and Central African Republic and down towards Mozambique, as well as in Somalia.
Anderson stated: “So as we see both Islamic State and al-Qaida take their overall methodology, their ideas, we see them leverage local grievances and spread their ideology, which is concerning; it should be concerning not only to the United States but to the international community.
“They are looking to Africa to try to find a means to re-establish themselves. And we can’t forget that al-Qaida has African roots and has a lot of African connection as well. That’s very concerning to us because it’s a deliberate strategy, and part of that strategy is to be quiet about how they act, how they expand. They’re not looking to advertise a lot of what they’re doing.”
The Commander said Africa needs to be conscious of their plot and understand how to counter it, adding that violent extremism is limiting huge potentials in Africa.
He continued: “We have seen the violent extremist organizations, these terrorists, take advantage of these conditions over the last five years especially. Al-Qaida has had a very deliberate campaign to exploit these seams and grievances and to expand their reach, especially into the west.
“We’ve seen that they’ve taken advantage of this also by closing schools, so they – they take away the future. They eliminate that future by shutting down these schools: over 9,000 schools across Africa shut down; 3,000 in Mali and Burkina Faso.
“That is very concerning to us because what does that mean for future development, for future opportunities for people that live in these regions? And what does it mean as these violent extremist organizations then replace those schools with their ideology and their teachings, which we believe is antithetical to a free and open society and prosperity?
He further stated that the solution to the problem is not only military but an all-encompassing approach.
Meanwhile, the presidential task force on COVID-19 announced yesterday that Nigeria will receive the 250 ventilators promised the country by United States President, Donald Trump today.
We Won’t Allow Banditry Escalate To Boko Haram – Masari
Meanwhile, Katsina State governor, Aminu Masari, has said serious efforts were on to bring to an end cases of banditry in the North West.
Masari who spoke to State House correspondents after meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at the presidential villa said they won’t allow banditry to escalate to the level of Boko Haram in the North West.
Assuring citizens that government was determined to contain the situation, Masasri said, “Currently the military are in Katsina for their annual super camp so over 2000 of them are gathered in Katsina in order to really send a signal to the bandits that the military is ready and willing and they have the capacity to deal with the situation.
“The hope is that the military, including the police and other security agencies, have been given marching orders by the president to control the situation by all means and it is a task that must be done because we cannot allow the situation in the North-West to develop to a worrisome stage like it is in the North-East.”
He also said people living in the rural communities will testify that actions were on-going and the displaced persons were being well taken care of.
Masari stressed that although the rainy season has set in and can pose a challenge to the fight against bandits, government was determined to conquer them.
He continued: “You know, the North Western and North Central parts of the country where these bandits are a vast forest area and unfriendly terrain. So, now during the rainy season, moving with heavy military equipment can be very challenging because the soil is soft and the rains are heavy but it is doable.
“No situation is impossible, especially to a willing and determined mind, so I do believe that we can conquer these bandits and stop them from hibernating into something else”.
Presidency Denies Absorbing Repentant Sect Members Into Military
The presidency yesterday spurned what it described as false reports that the Buhari administration was absorbing repentant Boko Haram terrorists into the military.
Presidential spokesman, Mallam Garba Shehu in a statement said it was important for the public to know that nobody has ever been absorbed into the military from the de-radicalized Boko Haram sect and that there is no such plan for their absorption.
He said it became necessary to clarify at this time that “groups with hitherto proven bona fides, some religious leaders and a few in the legislature have joined the supply chain of fake news”.
According to him, none of the 601 former Boko Haram members who voluntarily laid down their arms, and recently graduated from the federal government’s de-radicalization and rehabilitation programme is going into the military.
He explained that this was the fourth such graduation of repentant Boko Haram fighters and not one of such graduates has been absorbed into the military.
He said, “The public needs to be reassured that the de-radicalization, rehabilitation and reintegration of violent extremists of the Buhari administration code named “Operation Safe Corridor,” follows an established example from countries with similar experiences, and is supported academically and materially by the European Union and the United Nations.
“The lead agency for the implementation of the programme in Gombe is the International Organization for Migration, a leading inter-government organization which is represented in Nigeria.
“It is also important to note that this programme does not have a place for hard boiled, ideologically hardened terrorists. It only admits, after careful scrutiny, repentant fighters that were captured and forced to bear arms in the first instance, and there are many who have been drafted by force.
PTF Meets PMB, To Announce Next Phase Of Eased Lockdown, May Lift Night Curfew
Meanwhile, the presidential task force on COVID-19 yesterday submitted its report on the second phase of eased restrictions to President Muhammadu Buhari.
Consequently, the PTF will today announce the third phase of the eased restrictions which may involve lifting of the night curfew and reopening of more businesses.
Speaking to State House correspondents after a meeting with the president, chairman of the PTF and secretary to the government of the federation, Boss Mustapha, said the president expressed delight with the work of the PTF.
He said, “The president was quite happy with the content of the report by the PTF and with the work the PTF is doing. All the members are committed and have exhibited the highest form of professionalism in dealing with the affairs.
“Basically, the report is capsulation of how we have come from where we started and we have looked at the last one month. We have realized that there has been a global increase in terms of infections. We looked at the global statistics. By the 4th of July, the number of infections globally was about 10 million but within a period of one month, from the 4th of July to 4th of August, there was an increase of almost eight million and the figure went up to 18 plus million.
“Similarly in Africa, by the 4th of July, we had about 300,000 infections but by 4 of August, it rose to over 800,000. Similarly in Nigeria, by the 4th of July, we had about 28,000 infections but by yesterday, we had about 44,000.
“So all over the world the figures have increased. What message does that convey to us as a people and as a nation? That we are not out of the woods. The pandemic is on, the virus is ravaging and you know cumulatively, with the increase in the numbers there are increase in fatalities”.
Noting that it would be premature to disclose the report submitted to the president, Mustapha said, “But I can give you a little bit of an insight as to where we are going. And that is informed by already three thematic areas. One has to deal with movement, two has to deal with labour and industries and three has to do with communities activities.
“We have opened up inter-state travel. You can as well guess where we are going next. But that is left for the requisition we receive. But I can assure you with the support of the media and the message we have been driving for the last three months, from the polling we have done, virtually, every Nigerian is aware of COVID-19.
NAF Airlifts Medical Materials To 13 ECOWAS Countries
The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has commenced airlifting of thousands of medical materials and other consumables procured by the West African Health Organization (WAHO) for distribution to 14 member nations of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Nigeria inclusive, to curtail the spread of COVID-19.
The airlift of the medical supplies is said to be in fulfillment of the promise made by President Muhammadu Buhari, who is the ECOWAS COVID-19 Response Coordination “Champion”, that Nigeria would provide logistics support to ensure the items are distributed to all countries in the Sub-Region.
The director of Public Relations and Information, Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, in a statement listed the 13 other ECOWAS countries to include Cote D’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, The Gambia, Senegal, Togo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Cape Verde, Niger Republic, Burkina Faso, Mali and the Republic of Benin.
The medical materials, which would be airlifted in 3 phases include laboratory diagnostic kits, Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), intensive care equipment and miscellaneous medical accessories such as coveralls, masks, face shields, goggles, reagents, viral transport medium, ventilators and oxygen concentrators, amongst others.
Flagging off the airlift of the medical materials at the 307 Executive Airlift Group (307 EAG), Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, on 4 August 2020, the chairman, presidential task force (PTF) on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, who was represented by the minister of State for Health, Dr Olorunnimbe Mamora, stated that President Buhari had risen to the occasion as a true Champion who has demonstrated good leadership, solidarity, friendship and good neighbourliness to the sub-region.
He noted that the NAF had remained the backbone of the logistics operations of the PTF’s response in tackling the COVID-19 Pandemic in the country.
He commended the pilots and entire crew of the 2 NAF C-130H aircraft that would be handling the airlift/distribution exercise for their dedication and professionalism.
In his remarks, while receiving the consignments for airlift, the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, who was represented by the Chief of Training and Operations, Air Vice Marshal (AVM) James Gwani, noted that in line with the NAF’s responsibility of providing aid to civil authorities, the Service considered the airlifting of the items a great privilege and worthy contribution to a noble cause.
NCDC Discharges 11, 194 Patients In One Day
Meanwhile, in a dramatic turn of events, Nigeria yesterday recorded 11, 194 discharged cases of COVID-19 in one day.
Lagos State recorded about 600 per cent increased in number of discharged cases from 2,160 cases on August 2nd to 13,106 on August 3rd.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) twitted that the cumulative discharged cases for August 3 included 10,946 recovered patients in Lagos State whom were being managed at home.
NCDC director general, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, said, “Recently, we provided guidance to states, to report cases that have recovered but were managed at home. These cases have recovered but were not managed in/discharged from an isolation centre.”
Ihekweazu, who disclosed this via his twitter handle, added that “Lagos has done so and this may apply to more states in next few weeks.”
FG Exploring Every Option For Vaccine – Osinbajo
The federal government is exploring every possible option in the development and distribution of a vaccine against the COVID-19 disease, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said yesterday.
He said the health and safety of Nigerian citizens remain the priority of the Buhari administration in that matter.
Osinbajo spoke during a virtual meeting with representatives of the BNT162 COVID-19 vaccine candidate on the progress of the vaccine development around the world, including Africa.
He said the interaction between the federal government and the promoters of the vaccine candidate “is an important conversation and it is important for us that we are prioritized-as the largest country in Africa-in the distribution of the best COVID-19 vaccine when it’s eventually ready.
“Our priority is the health of the Nigerian citizens. We continue to engage and intend to look at every possible option -from all manufacturers- of a good vaccine. We want to do the very best for our people in this regard.”
During the meeting the vice president asked several questions about the COVID-19 vaccine candidate including how quickly Nigeria can get the vaccine once it’s safely ready.
Responding, the Pfizer country manager and Representative in Africa, who spoke for the promoters, Mr Subair Olayinka disclosed that “Nigeria will be priority,” for the vaccine supply to Africa.