The Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ayodele Oke, on Wednesday said Nigeria would be fully liberated from terrorist control before elections begin on March 28.
Speaking in Washington DC, Mr. Oke declared that “no territory of Nigeria will be under the suzerainty of Boko Haram” by the time Nigerians go to the polls.
Mr. Oke made the declaration at a special briefing on security in Nigeria hosted by the Washington DC-based Atlantic Council.
Addressing a roomful of reporters and stakeholders, Mr. Oke and the Director of Defence Intelligence, Rear-Admiral Gabriel Okoi, stated that since renewed offensive against Boko Haram began in February, 10 of 14 local government areas controlled by the terrorist group have been re-captured by allied forces of Nigerian and Chadian troops.
In separate presentations, the two leaders of Nigeria’s intelligence sector drummed the same message of Nigeria hard pressing the terrorists at a much faster pace since the national electoral agency announced a six-week delay of general elections on February 7.
Mr. Okoi said the remaining four local government areas are in the immediate vicinity of Sambisa Forest and that even in that harsh terrain, the allied forces are gaining grounds and will overcome the terrorists on time for elections to hold there.
Admitting to well-publicized setbacks in some of the recaptured places, Mr. Okoi said recent IED attacks in those areas are the work of terrorist “sleeper cells”.
Speaking in the same vein, Mr. Oke added, “I can’t tell you that there will not be explosions in Maiduguri tomorrow, but life and property will be secured for the election.”
Responding to skepticism about complete cessation of the six-year insurgency in the two-week period before elections, the intelligence chiefs attributed early failures to influential external actors who did not grant Nigerian military’s requests for support.
Mr. Okoi blamed Nigeria’s inability to stop the terror group on the initial reluctance of Chad Basin countries to commit to regional operation against Boko Haram.
Recounting unverified anecdotes, Mr. Okoi explained that Cameroon stalled Nigeria’s early warnings about the terror group until Boko Haram attacked communities inside the country thus vindicating Nigeria’s position.
Adding to Mr. Okoi’s stress on Boko Haam’s regional reach, Mr. Oke also recounted unverified “evidence that Tuareg militias from northern Mali” are joining their ranks and arms trafficked from southern Libya are getting into their hands.
Mr. Okoi extolled the role of regional collaborators in recent progress against the terror group, especially the bilateral agreement with Chad signed earlier this year, which allowed neighboring troops to enter Nigerian territory to hunt the terrorists.
In direct reference to the role of the United States, Mr. Okoi said America’s reluctance to share intelligence with the Nigerian military in real-time has hampered response to the insurgency and, refusal to sell military equipment to Nigeria has undermined the approved training programme for one battalion of the Nigerian Army. Nigerian government called off specialized military training of 600 Nigerian soldiers by US army personnel in December.
Mr. Okoi brushed aside arguments that Nigeria does not meet the conditions for purchase of lethal equipment from the US as enunciated in the Arms Export Control Act aka Leahy amendment.
“You want to train us but we cannot buy equipment from you, so how do we do it,” he queried, adding that the “US is doing its best but its best is not good enough”.