Guest Columnist By Musa Ilallah
By Musa Ilallah
Daily Trust newspaper’s Monday April 19th 2021 edition newspaper exclusive news item tagged “Terrorism Financing: Dozens Arrested In Nationwide Crackdown, made very startling Revelations on President Buhari’s onslaught on terrorism which predates his administration and has been a thorn in the flesh of the country.
The report reveals that ‘dozens of persons have been arrested by security agents in an ongoing nationwide crackdown on suspected financiers and collaborators of Boko Haram and other. criminal groups in Nigeria.
This is coming five months after Daily Trust exclusively reported the jailing of six Nigerians in the United Arab Emirates over allegations of terrorism financing.
It is on record that the ongoing inter-agency operation is being led by a top intelligence officer, with an army general leading a task team comprising military personnel and staff from intelligence services coordinated by Defence Intelligence Agency, DIA in collaboration with the Department of State Services, DSS, Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, NFIU and the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN.
Takeaways from the operation include billions of naira traced and blocked to businesses belonging to persons of interest in banks in series of “post no debit” letters sent out to banks by the CBN and NFIU. Also included is that the apex bank had lately obtained court orders directing the freezing of dozens of accounts flagged for suspicious transactions.
As part of government’s effort to restore confidence and boost the morale of Nigerians, government officials in the words of Daily Trust have expressed hope that the ongoing operation would be a “game-changer” in the lingering fight against Boko Haram insurgents and other criminal gangs.
However, some analysts have expressed the view that the method may not fully provide the needed elixir as terrorists and bandits operate largely outside the formal financial system.
A security source familiar with the operation had confided in the newspaper’s reporter that the operation started last year with massive gathering and analysis of financial intelligence and drawing uplink analysis leading to initial marking of some 60 businesses and individuals with an initial list of 957 suspects comprising bureau de change operators, gold miners and sellers and other businessmen.
Already, Daily Trust had reported that about 400 persons have been arrested in series of arrests in Kano, Borno, Abuja, Lagos, Sokoto, Adamawa, Kaduna and Zamfara state in connection to financing of terrorism in the country.
In Kano, a major focus of the operation, traders at the foreign exchange open market in Wapa, Fagge Local Government, were picked up in March this year. Prominent among the BDC operators arrested in Kano included four BDC operators related to two persons jailed in Dubai last year on similar charges of financing terrorism.
Those arrested are being kept in military and DSS facilities in Abuja and other places, even as their families and lawyers decry the continued detention of the suspects without trial or informing them of their offences, Daily Trust further reported.
“Because this is economic warfare against the insurgents and other militant groups, the President in approving the operation directed that the NFIU take the lead as the country’s financial intelligence powerhouse.”
It is not in doubt that the operation has recorded immense successes with the arrest of key persons with direct and indirect links to bandits and insurgents.
Investigations have so far revealed that about 19 BDCs owned by persons with “direct connection with Boko Haram” were uncovered, while over N300 billion was found to have been pumped into the funding of terrorism in the country. A source disclosed that from one person in Borno State and another in Zaria, Kaduna State, over N50 billion were traced in funding to the armed group while a number of those arrested have divulged vital information including operational details of bandits and Boko Haram insurgents.
It is very sad to note that not all the affected businessmen arrested were members of the criminal gangs but many of them were involved in it as a purely business enterprise thus putting the lives of innocent Nigerians at great danger.
According to reports some 20 soldiers and officers and some civilian collaborators are also under arrest for their involvement in aiding terrorism in Borno state and other places.
In addition to the initial arrest, CBN has upped the ante in tracking suspicious transactions and malpractices leading to mass closure of bank accounts identified as undertaking suspicious transactions.
Last week, the bank announced the freezing of 193 corporate and individual bank accounts over allegations of suspicious forex transactions. This is in addition to 138 accounts frozen in February.
Recent reports about the involment of security agents have said that Seven security operatives have been arrested by the Zamfara Police Command for allegedly supplying arms, ammunition, and military kits to bandits in the state.
An anti-money laundering specialist, Umar Yakubu was quoted by Daily Trust as saying that the ongoing operation may be applying the wrong medicine for the disease of terrorism financing. According to him, finances for outlawed groups like Boko Haram do not usually come in through the banking system, making it difficult to trace through the use of banks’ Suspicious Transaction Reports system, STRs.
He noted that cracking financial transactions of criminals like insurgents and their collaborators is through informal tracking which require life time intelligence on people’s lifestyle to identify persons getting rich overnight.
It is also on record that security experts have advised that the security agencies should place more emphasis on the country’s borders describing them as porous and easy passage for money and other logistics.
Also reacting to the massive clampdown on financiers and collaborators of terrorism in the country, the Buhari Media Organisation, BMO in a statement signed by its Chairman, Niyi Akinsiju and Secretary, Cassidy Madueke expressed support to the ongoing nationwide crackdown describing the action as long overdue.
In the words of BMO, “going after the drivers, go-betweens and collaborators of terrorism is a significant step in accomplishing President Buhari’s New Year pledge to decisively tackle the scourge of insecurity bedevilling the country”, adding “no suspect should be spared, no matter their position in society”.
“The investigation leading to the arrests is a significant breakthrough in the war against terrorism. Money is the oxygen of terrorism, and once the sources are cut off, we expect the dwindling capacity of the terrorists.
“We are encouraged at the intelligence vigour applied by the security agencies in unravelling the unpatriotic Nigerians that are not only funding terrorism but making it an economic enterprise. It is a reflection of the fact that the Buhari’s government had been busy engaging terrorism at its roots, in addition to the various successes being recorded in the kinetic assaults on the terrorists.” BMO added.
In commending the nation’s security agencies and collaborating institutions in the investigations leading to the arrests thus confirming that the nation’s security sector is highly competent and alive to its responsibilities.
Well meaning Nigerians across our various divides have appaulded security agents for the latest blow dealt to bandits, terrorists and other criminals.
It will therefore not be out of place to use this unique opportunity to call on Nigerians to complement the efforts of the nation’s security agencies by providing operational intelligence to help remove the veils on those sustaining the war against the peace and well-being of Nigerians.
ILALLAH wrote in from Emeka Anyaoku Street, Abuja.