We didn’t pay N20m to bandits in exchange for anti-aircraft gun - NAF

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Anti-aircraft gun operated by a military officer

The Nigerian Air Force, NAF, has rubbished report that it paid N20 million to armed bandits operating in Jibia Local Government, Katsina in exchange for an anti-aircraft gun allegedly seized.

The Wall Street Journal had  reported on Sunday that masked men emerged from the forest on motorbikes, surrounding a young intelligence officer clutching a cash-filled bag.

It said the ransom, nearly $50,000 in crisp Nigerian bank notes, wasn’t for a person, but to retrieve a weapon that directly threatened the country’s president.

The journal reports that a 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.

But NAF, in a statement on Sunday by its spokesman, Air Commodore, Edward Gabkwet, said the report was completely false and untrue.

He said the attention of the Nigerian Air Force had been drawn to news reports circulating on some media platforms alleging that the NAF, through one of its personnel, paid the sum of N20 Million to armed bandits operating in Jibia Local Government Area of Katsina State in exchange for an anti-aircraft gun allegedly seized.

”The report went on to state that the reason behind the payment was to retrieve the anti-aircraft gun which, it alleged, the NAF feared could be used against aircraft operating within Katsina State.

”The NAF wishes to categorically state that there is absolutely no iota of truth in the spurious allegation that was undoubtedly designed to cast aspersions on the good image of the Service.

“The said report is totally false. It should therefore be taken as fake news and disregarded. Indeed, we ordinarily would not have responded to such baseless and utterly illogical allegation but for the need to set the record straight as well as reaffirm the NAF’s unflinching commitment to decisively dealing with the armed bandits and all other criminal elements *in the Country in partnership with other services of the Armed Forces and other security Agencies,” Gabkwet said.

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He said for the avoidance of doubt, it must be stated that there is no basis for the NAF to pay bandits or any criminal elements that it has continued to attack and decimate in Katsina State, other parts of the North-West as well as other Theatres of Operation in the Country.

Gabkwet said as recent as October 12, 2021 , NAF aircraft conducted 5 missions in the Jibia general area and engaged targets with rockets and cannons at Bala Wuta bandits’ locations in Kadaoji.

He said similar successes were recorded at Fakai Dutsin Anfare, an area in Jibia LGA known for its high incidences of bandits’ activities.

”The false reportage therefore, begs the question as to why the NAF would negotiate for a weapon allegedly seized and still carry out air interdiction missions on the same bandits and their strongholds.

“The NAF is of the view that, this latest false report could be a part of a campaign to further the cause of insecurity in Nigeria by elements who see the NAF as a threat following series of successful exploits in operations against criminal gangs,” he said.

Gabkwet appealed to members of the media, both local and international, as well as social media, to be circumspect in their reportage and endeavour to always verify their facts before going public.

He enjoined the public to disregard the falsehood emanating from some sections of the social and mainstream media.

“The NAF also uses this opportunity to call on citizens to continue to cooperate with security agencies as efforts are ongoing to rid the entire Nation of criminals and their activities,” he added.