A report by the Wall Street Journal revealed that the Nigerian Government paid the sum of N20 million to a bandit leader to secure a 12.7 calibre antiaircraft gun in exchange for the payment as President Buhari prepared to fly to his hometown.

This was revealed by the WSJ in a report on Saturday. They also added that a confidential internal report presented to the president in July stated that “Criminal factions appear to be better equipped with larger-capacity advanced weaponry than national security agencies,” adding that herdsmen have reorganised operations mostly into banditry and kidnapping for ransom which fuels the rise in cases.

The WSJ stated that the young intelligence officer sent to retrieve the antiaircraft missile paid nearly $50,000 in crisp Nigerian banknotes, not for a person, but to retrieve a weapon that directly threatened Nigeria’s president.

What the WSJ said

The report cited that the kidnapping gang encamped in Nigeria’s Rugu forest had “seized an antiaircraft gun in a clash with a military unit. That posed a threat to President Muhammadu Buhari, who had been planning to fly to his hometown about 80 miles away, and the government needed to buy it back.”

“Over tea, the militant leader agreed to part with the truck-mounted 12.7 calibre antiaircraft gun in exchange for the ransom: ‘His men had plenty more ammunition,’” he said.

“ ‘I don’t need the army’s weapons,’ he said, according to the officer, whose account was corroborated by another senior Nigerian official involved in the previously undisclosed mission,” the WSJ reported.

“The mission to buy back the antiaircraft gun began with a handoff from a high-ranking air force intelligence officer in the capital Abuja: a black zip-up bag he said was full of 20 million Nigerian Naira.

“It was given to the young intelligence officer tapped to exchange it for the antiaircraft gun the bandits had seized in an area where Mr Buhari frequently flew to visit his hometown of Daura,” they added.

The report also stated that the young officer flew to the town of Jibia on the border with Niger, where a dozen armed men emerged from the forest to meet him. They escorted him on motorbikes into a thick forest for hours, arriving at the home of their leader, a wiry man in his 30s, who collected the sack.

They also revealed that during the process of disassembling the antiaircraft gun and attempting to strap it to a wobbling motorbike, their leader aired a series of grievances against the state, stating that vigilantes had kidnapped his father, young men could no longer earn a livelihood rearing cattle, and airstrikes were killing civilians in his camps, stating that the Nigerian airforce has been bombing civilians and killing children.

The air force officer told WSJ that the bandit made “it look so simple” and “made it feel casual,” as they strapped the antiaircraft gun across two motorbikes and began to wheel it out of the camp.

What you should know

Recall Nairametrics reported in February that President Muhammadu Buhari said that the Federal Government will not succumb to blackmail by bandits who target innocent school students in the expectation of huge ransom payments.

“A hostage crisis is a complex situation that requires maximum patience in order to protect the victims from physical harm or even brutal death at the hands of their captors,” he said.

The President said bandits and terrorists should not entertain the illusion that they were more powerful than the government.

“They shouldn’t mistake our restraint for the humanitarian goals of protecting innocent lives as a weakness or a sign of fear or resolution.

“We will not succumb to blackmail by bandits and criminals who target innocent school students in the expectation of huge ransom payments,” he added.

Meanwhile, according to a report by SBM Intelligence, a geopolitical and economic research firm in its 2021 half-year kidnap report, A total number of 2,371 persons were kidnapped and the sum of N10 billion was demanded in ransom in Nigeria in the first half of 2021.