Boko Haram may have extended its tentacles to neighbouring Niger Republic where some of its leaders have embarked on a recruitment drive, a report by the BBC has indicated.
The report came just as preparations have entered top gear for a meeting of the National Security Council tomorrow in Abuja, which will be presided over by President Goodluck Jonathan, the 36 state governors and service chiefs, among others.
The insurgency in the North-east, being waged by the terrorist group, is expected to top the agenda at tomorrow's meeting.
Last week, the meeting had been rescheduled for today, but was postponed for the second time to take place tomorrow.
Confirming this last night, three governors informed THISDAY that the received notice on Tuesday that the expanded security council meeting had been rescheduled for tomorrow.
However, ahead of the security council meeting, former military Head of State, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari, has rallied the political class behind efforts to frontally tackle the insurgents trying to destroy the country.
The report by the Hausa Service of the BBC yesterday said Boko Haram has the support of some criminal elements in South-eastern part of Niger Republic, al-Shabab in Somalia and the al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) in carrying out its terror activities.
The sect, the BBC said, had infiltrated Niger Republic, where internally displaced persons from Borno and Yobe States have been flocking to since the crisis escalated in recent times.
According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), about 50,000 Nigerians have poured into Niger while fleeing from the insurgents.
The insurgents have been confined to the two states where they have carried out most attacks in recent times.
According to the BBC report, it is only a matter of time before the insurgency begins to thrive in Niger as the sect has intensified its recruitment drive.
Some miscreants in Diffa, a border town with Yobe State, told the BBC that they have been given money by Boko Haram to recruit members for them.
The report said many unemployed youths were being wooed by the promise of lots of cash by the insurgents.
The web of the insurgents' spread is not limited to Niger alone. Of recent, they have been linked to their Somali counterparts, who were said to have given logistics support for the prosecution of the Nyanya blast that claimed more than 70 lives.
The recruitment drive in Niger lends credence to the belief that the operations of the army, which have been backed by air raids on the Sambisa forest and other locations where Boko Haram has its camps, have led to a depletion of the sect's members.
Security sources told THISDAY that the recent upsurge in attacks by the terrorists is a strategy meant to create the impression that the sect has not been weakened.
But in reality, the sect is in desperate need of new recruits to continue its campaign of terror.
But the Minister of Special Duties, Alhaji Kabiru Tanimu Turaki (SAN), told the BBC that the federal government was unaware of the connection between Boko Haram and al-Shabab/AQIM.
“We are not aware of any such connection. But under the prevailing circumstances, it could be possible,” Turaki said.
The minister, who headed a committee that sought to make Boko Haram enter into dialogue with the federal government, added that although no window of opportunity has opened to the government in its bid to engage the insurgents in dialogue, “we are still making efforts”, which he declined to give details of.
Despite the government's effort, the insurgents struck again in Borno State where they killed two chieftains of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state along the Maiduguri-Dikwa Road.
It was gathered from sources that the two politicians, the Kala/Balge Council Chairman of APC, Alhaji Modu Janga, and its Youth Leader, Alhaji Abba, were shot dead near Mafa town at about 11 am on Monday.
They were said to be returning to Gudumbali after attending a political meeting in Maiduguri when the vehicle conveying them was ambushed by the insurgents.
According to an eyewitness and resident of Mafa, Fogu Fannami, the insurgents barricaded the road with wood and tree branches, and on identifying the two APC chieftains, shot them dead on the spot. They subsequently fled towards Dikwa, a border town with Cameroun.
Fannami, in a telephone conversation with journalists yesterday, said: “Three gunmen on motorcycles shot dead two people at close range and fled towards Dikwa.”
He added that the gunmen did not rob the party officials, as their vehicle was abandoned at the scene of the incident.
He said the road was also closed for two hours by soldiers and policemen to prevent further attacks.
On whether other vehicles were ambushed during the attack, he said: “These gunmen could have targeted the APC officials returning to the council area of Kala/Balge, before they were ambushed on that road leading to Gudumbali, the council headquarters.”
The council Chairman of Kala/Balge, Alhaji Alifa Bukar Rann, yesterday in Maiduguri confirmed the incident.
A senior police officer, who asked not to be named, also confirmed the attack.
However, as part of attempts to stem the terror unleashed on the country by Boko Haram, Buhari has called on politicians, irrespective of their party affiliation, to join hands with the federal government to defeat the insurgents.
Buhari, in a fitting tribute to the victims of the bombing of a bus park in Nyanya, a suburb of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) last Monday, and pupils of Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, who were abducted by Boko Haram terrorists last week, said: “Nigeria and Nigerians have suffered enough. Those who now lead the nation and those who would lead her must over look their political differences to find whatever ways we can cooperate to make this a safer, more secure nation for all.”
The former head of state, who is now a leader of the APC, in a statement made available to THISDAY yesterday, decried the Nyanya bomb attack and the abduction of over 200 schoolgirls in Chibok.
He said while he and his party were engaged in a tight competition against the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), they would not play politics with such an issue vital to Nigeria’s survival and wellbeing.
He pledged the commitment of APC and its members to the unity and safety of the country and assured the federal government that they would do nothing to undermine national security nor seek political advantage from the calamity brought upon the nation by the insurgents.
While wishing the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan success in fighting the terror war, he said: “We stand ready to help in any meaningful and productive way to fight this battle against evil. We extend our hand and earnest offer of cooperation in this regard.”
His assurances came against the backdrop of the recent exchange of brickbats between the PDP and APC over the insecurity in the country, with the ruling party accusing the opposition party of egging on terrorists through the conduct and comments of its leaders.
The APC on its part has severally accused the federal government of ineptitude in tackling the terrorists and of embarking on a tepid anti-terror campaign because of its desire to reap political gains out of the insurgency that has ravaged the North-east in particular.
Buhari, in the statement, also expressed confidence that Nigeria would overcome the scourge of insurgency, adding that to do so, the nation needs a wise and decisive strategy.
He said: “Clearly, its (federal government) intelligence gathering needs to be improved upon so that it can break terrorists’ plots before they hatch. Moreover, it needs to enact greater social and economic reforms in the blighted areas of the nation to win the hearts and minds of the people.
“Give the youths a viable alternative and they will not be duped by the lure of extremist dogma. A major initiative with immediate and long-term strategies for mass employment should be introduced right away.”
In paying tribute to victims of the Nyanya bombing and the abducted schoolgirls, Buhari decried the activities of the insurgents, saying: “We cannot allow these merchants of death to make us numb to the tragedy they manufacture.”
On the bombing of the Nyanya bus park, which led to the death of over 70 people, he said: “These people committed no wrong. Their only crime was to be ordinary working class people seeking to eke out a livelihood and tend for themselves and their families. For this, they were killed.
“It was not just 75 people who were taken in this depraved assault. Each of us lost something that day. Yet, despite the loss and suffering, we must not cower in fear, and let the purveyors of death believe they have scored a victory over us.”
Buhari, in also calling for the release of the schoolgirls, said whatever might be the plan of their kidnappers, they should be ready to face the wrath of Nigerians.
“They should release these young girls unharmed. Anything else would be an abominable crime,” he added.
Buhari’s statement was a precursor to the expanded NSC meeting involving the president, service chiefs, the National Security Adviser, head of the Department of State Security, the police and 36 governors of the federation, billed to hold tomorrow.
The meeting is expected to review the security situation in the country, as well as ongoing security measures and operations, with a view to determining the best way forward.
Also to be tabled at the meeting, a presidency source informed THISDAY, will be the issue of the emergency rule imposed on Borno, Adamawa and Yobe States, which is expected to expire next month.
Governors from the northern section of the country have pushed for the end of emergency rule, but the military has counselled against it, warning that the insurgency in the North-east could get worse.