Nigerian Air Force coordinated ransom payments to armed bandits in exchange for an anti-aircraft gun seized from the Nigerian Army, The Wall Street Journal said, in a desperate deal that was brokered as President Muhammadu Buhari was planning a trip to Katsina.
The U.S. outlet said N20 million was delivered to the bandits in Rugu Forest by a Nigerian Air Force official, who leaked details of the operation under anonymity, because the military realised that it would be too risky to leave the weapon in the hands of violent criminals operating in an area the presidential jet would fly over.
The rugged, lawless jungle that covers parts of Kaduna, Zamfara and the president’s home state of Katsina has served as a vast haven for bandits terrorising Nigeria’s northwestern communities. A large portion of kidnapping plots emanates or terminates in or around the forest, security agencies have previously warned.
“The mission to buy back the antiaircraft gun began with a handoff from a high-ranking air force intelligence officer in the capital Abuja: a black zip-up bag he said was full of 20 million Nigerian naira,” the paper reported, after stating that such military hardware in the hands of bandits “posed a threat to President Muhammadu Buhari, who had been planning to fly to his hometown about 80 miles away.”
The gun truck with 12.7 caliber anti-aircraft fire was reportedly disassembled and transported back to the military on motorbikes after the deal was concluded.
The Journal did not specify when the deal was brokered or the presidential trip that was planned. The president has been in his hometown at least twice this year that his office disclosed to the public. The first trip was in late January and another in July.