Train attack: Govs’ mercenary plan faulted, military searches for missing passengers

The plan by the Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai and other North-West governors to hire foreign mercenaries to help fight the insurgency in the region has been described as unconstitutional.

Following the Monday night attack, where terrorists bombed a Kaduna-bound train with nearly 400 passengers and rail workers onboard, El-Rufai said he and his colleagues in the North-West would not mind hiring foreign mercenaries if the Federal Government failed to secure the country.

He spoke on Friday to State House correspondents after he visited the President, Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), at the Presidential Villa.

According to him, Monday night’s attack on the Abuja-Kaduna train, which left eight passengers dead, 21 still uncounted for and several others injured, could have been avoided if the Federal Government had heeded his earlier warnings.

Speaking in Hausa after the meeting, El-Rufai said, “Why is it that up till now, the security has not gone to kill them? Where are our soldiers? Why have they not done it? That is why I have come to see Mr President.

“And also I have said that if these actions are not taken, it becomes a must for us as governors to take measures to protect our citizens, even if it means we will import mercenaries from outside the country to do it. If our soldiers fail, I swear to God, we will do that. This issue has reached an alarming state.”

However, some Senior Advocates of Nigeria had warned against such a move describing it as unconstitutional.

A human rights lawyer and senior advocate, Mr Femi Falana, said Buhari remained the commander-in-chief and that only he could approve the deployment of mercenaries.

Falana, in a message he sent to Sunday PUNCH, argued that any move by El-Rufai or any of the governors to hire foreign mercenaries would be unconstitutional

He said, “By virtue of Section 130 of the constitution, the President is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.  Governors are not competent to hire mercenaries to secure any part of Nigeria.  Frankly speaking, Nigerian soldiers are ready to wage counter-insurgency operations but they are ill-equipped and ill-motivated.”

Falana said Nigeria had one of the best military capabilities in the world but alleged that resources meant for them were being stolen by a few unpatriotic officers and members of the ruling class.

He added, “The constitution provides for the creation of the Nigeria Police Council made of the President as the Chair, the Inspector-General of Police, Chair of the Police Service Commission and the 36 state governors.

“Apart from physical security,  the federating units are not addressing the crisis of social insecurity.  90 million citizens have been forced into the cocoon of poverty. About 15 million out of school children are roaming the streets, ready to be recruited by criminal gangs. These are the challenges of insecurity to be addressed.  This is not a job for mercenaries.”

Another senior advocate, Mr Ahmed Raji, faulted El-Rufai’s threat. According to Raji, hiring external hands to fight terrorists was not just unconstitutional, but would dampen the image of the Nigerian military in the global space.

He warned El-Rufai to tread with caution as this might open doors to bigger problems and “signal the end of a united Nigeria.”

Raji added, “I don’t think states can bring in mercenaries.  I can see the frustration of the affected states but allowing states to bring in mercenaries may open doors to bigger problems that may signal the end of a united Nigeria. Any state can then contrive a crisis and bring in mercenaries to different parts of Nigeria which may compromise our security system and unity.

“The Federal Government has a duty to maintain internal security and where necessary it should involve external aid including mercenaries. It should only be a last resort because inviting mercenaries does not reflect well on the image of our security officials and their morale. I tend to see the alert by the Kaduna Governor as an empathic wake-up call to the Federal Government.  The governor knows better.”

Also reacting, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), said hiring mercenaries was like stirring the hornet’s nest.

He warned El-Rufai and the other governors to rescind their plans as they had no powers to do so.

“No state government under our constitutional democracy and legal regime can unilaterally act to invite mercenaries to Nigeria. It is ‘ultra vires’ their powers. Their only resort is a collaborative rapprochement with the Federal government. However, they can tackle their state security matters within the permissible limits of our constitutional organogram.

“The engagement of external mercenaries is akin to the deployment of the military to repel and contain external aggression. It has to do with the command and operational use of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, whether in peace times, war, or under a state of emergency. All of these are solely and wholly vested in the President, with some moderate effect by the National Assembly according to Sections 217, 218, 219 and 305 of the 1999 Constitution.”

Human rights lawyer, Mr Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa (SAN), also faulted the plan to hire foreign mercenaries, adding that governors had no such constitutional powers.

Adegboruwa called for restructuring so that states could play a pivotal role in security issues in the country. He stressed that Governor El-Rufai was “shedding crocodile tears” since his party gave false impressions that they would restructure the country.

He also criticised the governor for lambasting the Goodluck Jonathan government when the administration proposed employing mercenaries to tackle the menace. He urged Governor El-Rufai to revisit and help implement the resolutions of the Committee on Restructuring led by him.

“Under our law, no governor has statutory powers to dabble into powers concerning security. Members of the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria have exclusive power to defend the national integrity of Nigeria and also to wage war against insurrection, so there is no provision in our laws to bring in mercenaries,” the senior advocate added.

Also speaking with Sunday PUNCH, Mr Yusuf Ali (SAN) said that irrespective of the situation on the ground, the North-West governors must act according to the law of the land.

He said, “Governors don’t have the primary authority to control nor set up private armed forces. Hire mercenaries to work with whom? When the country hires one, they work with their Armed Forces. You have to go by the rule of law, no matter the state of insecurity otherwise it would lead to a state of anarchy.”

Ex-generals kick against mercenaries

Some ex-generals also told Sunday PUNCH that the plan to bring in foreign mercenaries could only lead to disaster.

Major General Henry Ayoola (retd.), who was the Plateau State Commander, Special Task Force before his retirement in 2015, said it was impossible for the states in the region to hire mercenaries as this would be at variance with the provisions of the constitution.

He said, “Who has empowered them to do so? If they don’t have power over security,  they can’t hire mercenaries too.”

Also in a chat with Sunday PUNCH, Brig General Sani Usman (retd), said the local approach should be tried this time round rather than hiring mercenaries.

He added that there was a need to improve policing in the country.

Usman said, “There is supposed to be a comprehensive approach to the issue which means there are other components of Nigerian society to do all our work. And unless we are united in the fight against terrorists, we will just be working at cross purposes.

“If we look at the Kaduna incident, what’s the military’s responsibility? But it is common knowledge that the military rose to the occasion and did the best they could. They stopped the attack and rescued some of the victims. At the end of the day, what will mercenaries do?”

A serving general also faulted the plan to bring in mercenaries, adding that it could dampen the morale of the troops.

He said the military had already deployed 80 per cent of its personnel to do jobs meant for the civilian police.

“The Chief of Defence Staff has said more than 80 per cent of defence staff are involved in internal security which is not our core responsibility. What else do you want us to do? Soldiers of fortune or mercenaries do not die in battle because they have no stake, they are businessmen, and they are contractors. I have my family here; I’ve got a stake, the Nigerian soldiers have a stake. They (mercenaries) cannot die for you,” he added.

Also reacting, a former Chief of Training, Operations and Plans of the Nigerian Army, Major General Ishola Williams (retd.), said El-Rufai must be joking.

According to him, the governor has no such powers to deploy foreign fighters to tackle insurgency in the region.

Willams said, “This must be some kind of a joke because he does not have any of such constitutional power to make that happen. The governor will have to get the president’s permission and the president may even need to talk to the National Assembly before doing that.”

In what he described as a shameful situation, Williams said, “For a state governor who once spoke ill of former President (Goodluck) Jonathan concerning such a matter to want to make such a move, it is funny.

“They went to report about the incompetence of the senior commanding officers. It was a bad report about the Nigerian army that was on the Internet. All the presidency has to do is to give the security agencies all they need (to fight the insurgents).”

For General David Jemibewon, a retired Major General who served as military governor of the now-defunct Western State from August 1975 to March 1976, it was clear that El-Rufai had no constitutional powers to import mercenaries to join the fight against terrorists.

“I don’t think El Rufai has the constitutional power to do that but I think the Federal Government is responsible for the security of Nigeria and Nigerians. It is very possible that provision can be made in the constitution to decentralise power such that it can be delegated to a group of people or an institution but in our system, security is the responsibility of the Federal Government.

“There’s no army anywhere in the world that is established majorly to fight terrorism. I don’t think it’s right to think that the Nigerian army is not equal to the task. Security is actually more than what most Nigerians think it is.

“The suggestion of bringing foreign mercenaries to come and fight a war for us is totally wrong. It is like the situation of a family man not standing up to the responsibility of defending his family when there is trouble. People can assist though but not run away from the responsibility.’’

Efforts to get the reactions of the Director of Defence Information, Major General Jimmy Apkor, and the Director, Defence Media Operations, Major General Benard Onyeuko, on the matter were unsuccessful.

Presidency source blames El-Rufai

Attempts to get a response from the Presidency to El-Rufai’s claim proved abortive as the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, asked Sunday PUNCH to seek comment from the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed.

“I am the spokesman for the President of Nigeria. I will advise that you speak to the Minister of Information who is spokesman of the Federal Government. Thank you,” Shehu said.

Attempts to get a response from Mohammed proved abortive as he did not take his calls on Saturday.

Nonetheless, a Presidency official, who wished to remain anonymous, blamed the North-West governors for the rising insecurity in their states.

The official, who wished to remain anonymous because he was not authorised to speak to journalists on the issue, said El-Rufai as well as Zamfara State Governor, Bello Matawalle; and Governor Aminu Masari of Katsina State introduced amnesty programmes for bandits and violent herdsmen without carrying the Federal Government along.

He said the governors provided funds to bandits on the condition that they laid down their arms when it ought to have been thorough like the Operation Safe Corridor which involves several federal agencies, the military and even United Nations organisations.

The official said, “Just last week, Governor Masari openly said he was deceived into giving bandits amnesty after they had sworn by the Quran. These governors continued their so-called amnesty programme despite stern warnings from the Office of the National Security Adviser and other government agencies.

“Now, it has gone out of control and they want to bring in mercenaries. Will the mercenaries cross into other states in the South? Kaduna State is even worse than the others because the governor failed to manage the diversity of the state.

“This is a state with a substantial Christian population and you are running a Muslim-Muslim government there which has isolated the Christians. These ones are now refusing to even cooperate with him. He was warned in 2019 because of the volatility of Kaduna State but he ignored all our advice.”

Northern elders fault El-Rufai

Also speaking on the matter, the Spokesperson for the Northern Elders’ Forum, Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, said that although the security situation in the North was serious and frustrating, the governors could not bring foreign troops to join the fight.

He advised governors to sit with the Federal Government and seek out a more holistic approach on how to solve the issues.

Speaking to Sunday PUNCH in a telephone interview, Baba-Ahmed stated, “The situation in the North is serious enough and demanding enough when you hear this kind of talk. I don’t know how authentic it is. I do know that governors cannot bring in foreign troops into the country. I would rather believe that it is talk like this that should alarm the nation and suggest to President Buhari and the government that it is time to look at this situation more holistically.

“We cannot, as a nation, continue to live under the mercy of these people. Also, clearly, the tactics and strategies of the Federal Government are not working. Something is wrong and we need to find solutions to them. I wouldn’t take issue with whatever has been said by Governor El-Rufai. I do know the law. I know the constitution. I know what it takes to bring in foreign troops. What I am taking from all this is that it is time to revisit everything we are doing in security. We should do that quickly.”

He also stressed that from the records in the last seven years, the Buhari regime had failed to secure the country and this had made Nigerians not just frustrated but angry.

El-Rufai should resign – CNG, SOKAPU

Meanwhile, the spokesperson for the Coalition of Northern Groups, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, said on Saturday that no governor had the power to employ foreign mercenaries.

The CNG rather advised northern governors facing insecurity in their states like El-Rufai to resign.

“First step should have been for El-Rufai and the governors who have openly admitted they have failed, to resign and allow an alternative replacement that may listen to the people when they speak. It is not for them to complicate the situation by lying about mercenaries.

“Even if they had discussed it, we assure you that the governors are lying about it. They are not sincere about bringing about the end to this security situation and attendant people’s sufferings,” Suleiman said.

He argued that the governor had no power to hire foreign mercenaries, adding that El-Rufai was only showing concern now because the latest bomb attack affected mostly the elite.

In the same vein, the President of the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union, Jonathan Asake, in an interview with one of our correspondents, said from his experience with El-Rufai, that he was not one to be trusted.

Asake added, “When it concerns Governor Nasir El-Rufai, from our experience with him, and the way we have been flip-flopping, reversing himself up and down, if the man says ‘good morning’, I have to come out and check where the position of the sun is before I agree it is morning.

“It is the same El-Rufai that said, sometime in 2016, that he had traced these terrorists to their own countries in West Africa to pay them ransom to stop terrorising the people of the region. He is the same person that turned around and started saying they should not be paid the ransom but should be bombed.

“During the tenure of former President Goodluck Jonathan, El-Rufai told us that he would follow the carrot and stick approach to handle the issue, that while negotiations were ongoing, the military efforts should be explored.”

CAN asks Buhari to caution Kaduna gov

In a related development, the Christian Association of Nigeria in Kaduna State on Saturday, called Buhari to caution El-Rufai over his threat of hiring foreign mercenaries to combat terrorism in the state.

Such a statement, CAN argued, could further heighten the presence of bandits across the country ahead of the 2023 general elections.

According to the Chairman of CAN in the state, Rev. Joseph Hayab, if any other Nigerian had suggested such an idea, by now such a fellow would have been under arrest or accused of undermining security agencies or the Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces.

In a statement titled, ‘What mercenaries is Governor El-Rufai Inviting?,’ the CAN leader urged the Federal Government to caution the governor before his excesses would lead Nigeria into a bigger problem ahead of the 2023 general elections.

The statement read in part, “While CAN agrees that terrorists have had a field day, CAN reckons that if any other Nigerian had made or suggested such an idea in public space, such would have been accused or arrested by the government for undermining the security agencies and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.

“Accordingly, CAN doubts if any section of the Nigerian Constitution allows any officeholder, apart from the C-in-C, to invite a foreign combatant into the country.

“Moreover, it was a similar strategy that El-Rufai employed years back when he claimed to have compensated some herdsmen, which led to the escalation of the security situation, particularly in Kaduna state.’’

IG deploys drones on Abuja/Kaduna highway

Meanwhile, in a bid to forestall further attacks by suspected terrorists, the Inspector-General of Police, Usman Baba, on Saturday, deployed heavily armed operatives, including unarmed aerial vehicles known as drones to protect commuters and communities on the Kaduna-Abuja highway.

According to a statement by the acting Force Public Relations Officer, CSP Muyiwa Adejobi, the IG also patrolled the 163km stretch of the road and supervised the operational deployment of the personnel drawn from the Police Mobile Force, Counter-Terrorism Unit, Special Forces, Intelligence Response Team, the Special Tactical Squad as well as the air wing operatives in charge of the UAVs.

IED kills three soldiers as NAF bombs terrorists

An improvised explosive device planted by terrorists has killed at least three soldiers along Kaduna-Abuja.

This is as the airstrikes by the Nigerian Air Force killed 50 terrorists in Zamfara and 33 in Kaduna states, according to sources.

According to sources, the troops’ vehicle on Saturday hit the device on their way to an operation in the area.

Theatre Commander of Operation Hadin Kai in Maiduguri, Borno, Major General Chris Musa, had said terrorists had carried out no fewer than 81 attacks using IEDs between January and March 2022.

With this attack, the terrorists had used IEDs on the military 82 times this year, he said.

The source said, “The troops were heading for an operation along the Kaduna-Abuja road when they stepped on an IED planted by the terrorists. Three died on the spot while others were injured. This happened on Saturday morning.”

Efforts to get the reaction of the Director, Defence Media Operations, Major General Benard Onyeuko, were not successful as he didn’t answer calls to his lines and failed to respond to a text message.

Meanwhile, there were simultaneous airstrikes from the Nigerian Air Force fighter jets in Sangeko Forest in Zamfara, New Kusawa in Kaduna and Tumbuns in Borno State,

A military source said, “Overnight Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance was first conducted between March 30 and 31, 2022, at Kusasu.”

The ISR, however, revealed that four troops on motorcycles who departed the location to a slightly bushy area southwards of Kusasu counted about 33 terrorists’ bodies, while others dispersed in various directions.’’

The NAF Spokesperson, Air Commodore Edward Gabkwet, confirmed the air operations.



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