Rivers government, army bicker over militia training camp

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Troops of 6 Division Nigerian Army (NA) have claimed they “discovered an illegal militia training camp while on a routine surveillance at Nonwa Gbam (NYSC Orientation Camp) in Tai Local Government Area of Rivers State.”

The disclosure was contained in a statement yesterday by Deputy Director Army Public Relations Colonel Aminu Iliyasu, who said investigations had begun with a view to identifying sponsors of the camp and its activities.

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But Rivers State Commissioner for Information and Communications Emma Okah dismissed the claim as biased, “illegal” and “politically motivated.”

He described the camp as belonging to the Rivers State Neighbourhood Safety Corps Agency, “a body created by an act of parliament to assist security agencies in local intelligence gathering.”

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He accused the Federal Government of “working against the security interest” of the state through the “brazen sack of a legitimate exercise of screening applicants for recruitment to assist in the fight against insecurity in Rivers.”

Okah argued that Lagos, Zamfara, Kwara, Kano, Imo, Enugu, Edo State all have security support agencies similar to the Rivers State’s agency. He added: “Before carrying out the screening, the agency had written to the Nigeria Army and other relevant agencies asking for drill and physical training instructors. But the army ignored the request and never advised against it but preferred an ambush.”

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Reacting, Governor Nyesom Wike regretted that the army has abandoned its responsibilities and transformed into a politicised force. “We did not hire boys for political reasons. This has been a transparent process and that is why the personnel are trained at the NYSC Orientation Camp. We involved the police and the DSS, to ensure that the trainees are profiled for the good of the society,” he explained.

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He accused the army of being the agency “causing insecurity mainly to attract more security votes.” According to him, “They collected $1billion from our Excess Crude Account, yet our soldiers were killed. All they are doing is to intimidate people for political reasons.”

But President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday expressed optimism that the killings, alluded to by Wike, would be curtailed. The president who doubles as Chairman of the Summit of Heads of State and Governments of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) maintained that there would be no let down in the fight against Boko Haram.

He told participants during a one-day consultation in Ndjamena aimed at addressing the upsurge of terrorist activities in the region: “We are committed to ensuring that the ideals of restoring peace, stability and viability of the Lake Chad region to its glorious state, for which some of you have paid the ultimate price, is attained.

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“To this end, I have requested that bilateral and multilateral platforms of engagements by member countries affected by the conflict be revamped to ensure collective actions towards stamping out the remnants of the terrorists from the region.”

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This came as the Nigerian Army disclosed casualty figures following recent Boko Haram attacks. Spokesman Brig. Gen. Kukasheka Usman in a statement said: “As at date, 23 personnel were killed in action and 31 personnel were wounded in action and have been evacuated to several medical hospitals within Borno State.”

The attacks happened despite past assurances by the Federal Government that the militant sect has been routed. During a television programme, yesterday, Buhari’s spokesman, Garba Shehu, repeated the claim saying: “Government is absolutely right in determining that Boko Haram has technically, in fact beyond technicality, been degraded, and has actually been defeated.”

But a fresh attack was reported yesterday, which allegedly killed three soldiers. Sources said a military base in Cross-Kauwa village came under enemy fire on Tuesday. A military source was quoted as saying: “The soldiers fought the terrorists but were overpowered and had to withdraw from the base.”

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Also, in a show of force, troops were said to have successfully repelled a Boko Haram attack on Arege in Borno State. The fighters “met their waterloo and suffered heavy casualties yesterday evening November 28, 2018, when they attempted to infiltrate 118 Battalion at Arege in Abadam Local Government Area,” the army said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Senate President Bukola Saraki has urged caution in the way military casualty figures are disclosed. “In commenting on the deaths of our servicemen and women who sacrifice their lives for the security of our nation, we must refrain from using the word ‘only’,” he said in a tweet.

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He added: “It goes without saying that this also applies to all Nigerian lives lost in terrible incidents. We must not trivialise the severity of casualty figures. All of us — politicians, the media and security agencies— have a role to play in emphasising the value of human life. Even if it is one person lost, it is one person too many. Every human life is sacred and infinitely valuable.”

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