President Goodluck Jonathan has expressed strong belief that the leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, will be apprehended by government forces before the commencement of general elections next month.
The president made the disclosure in an interview with Thisday newspaper last Friday.
Responding to a question on what his government is doing about the terrorist leader’s recent threat to disrupt elections, Jonathan said, “God willing we will catch Shekau before the elections”.
Mr. Shekau, whose group has been responsible for the gruesome killing of over 15,000 Nigerians, has become a sort of mystic figure since claims of his death in encounters with security forces has been disproved twice, as he managed to resurface in videos, debunking news of his death.
However, the tune has changed in the last two weeks as security forces, buoyed by the Nigerian government’s procurement of state of the art military hardware, genuine cooperation from regional partners and change in operational strategies, have made significant gains in the war against Boko Haram, reclaiming some areas seized by the militants.
This is just as Shekau’s fighters are beginning to flee from the battlefront as their strongholds, hitherto considered ‘dreaded’, come under heavy bombardment from a reinvigorated Nigerian Air Force, leading to optimism that an end might just be in sight to the insurgency.
President Jonathan in the interview also admitted that the strength of Nigeria’s military was not at par with its position as Africa’s largest economy, adding that his government is determined to look inwards for arms procurement after the country encountered some obstacles in its bid to strengthen and properly equip its armed forces in line with global standards.
“Concerning the military strength being not at par to that of Nigeria’s economic development, there are some countries that don’t have powerful military”, Mr. Jonathan said.
“I don’t think Switzerland has a very powerful military. There are some countries that were even doing away with their military until this issue of terror, and now some of them are reconsidering.
“What happened in Nigeria is that after the civil war we had no reasons to buy sophisticated weapons. Since after the civil war, all what we have been doing is peace keeping, apart from stabilising Liberia and Sierra Leone, where our soldiers really fought war to stabilise those countries.
“Back home, we were at peace with our neighbours. It is now that we are witnessing Boko Haram that we see that fighting them is not what we do with AK 47, and now we have to look for money. I totally agree with you, if Brazil can manufacture commercial helicopter, what stops us from going into manufacturing”.
The president further said that if re-elected, his administration would focus on local technologies for arms production.
“Recently, we wanted to buy tear-gas from a country and they were bragging and saying that Nigeria has human rights abuse issues. I kept wondering what is tear-gas? I vowed that God willing if I return, Nigeria must produce tear-gas”, he said.
“What is the technology of producing tear-gas for God’s sake? What is the technology of producing APCs and armoured tanks? I agree with you that in terms of manufacturing, we must and we have no choice than to get into it as a nation. That is why we are emphasising about local content in production; that you can witness in the automobile industry which has come back”.
Mr. Jonathan also said that more companies would be issued licenses to produce arms, to complement the Kaduna-based Defence Industries Corporation of Nigeria, DICON.
“Just last week a company that bought over the machine tools in Osogbo came to show the bullet proof vest that they produced and I asked them, can’t you produce weapons and they claimed that they can manufacture weapons if they could be patronised and there is a guarantor”, said the president.
“Yes we have our own DICON, but DICON alone cannot produce all our weaponry. We must have more than two, three companies in a big country like Nigeria.
“I told the company that immediately after the elections, if I’ll be here for the next four years, before they start going for weapons, all the tear-gas that we’ll use in Nigeria, will have to be produced in Nigeria”.