Earlier this week, this paper broke a story that presents an important window into one of the greatest mysteries of Boko Haram: its financing. The piece, which was rightly chosen as last Monday’s front story, drew on court documents to reveal how a court in the United Arab Emirates found six Nigerians guilty of financing terrorism by transferring the total sum of $782,000.00 to Boko Haram in 17 different transactions between 2015 and 2016 and sentenced them to from ten-year to life imprisonment.
If properly followed, this lead could be a useful pointer towards Boko Haram’s sources of finance, tracking its opaque methods of funds transfer and identifying its financiers, all of which are fundamental to stifling the group’s freedom of action.
Of all the muddy aspects of Boko Haram, how it sources money to procure materials and sustain thousands of its fighters and members in the bush has, at best, remained cloudy. Even in those areas of the group’s revenue streams on which we have some accurate information, many pieces of the puzzle remain unsolved.
For instance, there are credible reports that the group was paid millions in foreign currency for the release of such abductees as the Chibok girls and the University of Maiduguri lecturers who were captured in 2017 on an oil exploration mission on behalf of the NNPC. But very little is known about how the group spent these sums.
How did they get the money out of the bush; how did they change it to local currency; what did they buy with the money, where, through whom and how? These are just a few of the questions still begging for answers. Similarly, there is evidence, including from primary documents from the groups, that al-Qaida has given Boko Haram some financial support. But we don’t know how these funds were sent to Nigeria.
These are critical questions to which the Nigerian government and its foreign partners intend to find answers because understanding the group’s funding infrastructure within and outside Nigeria and targeting it are vital to defeating it. Unless and until this group’s sources of funds and supplies are effectively stopped, it cannot be defeated. Firmly blocking these routes will suffocate the brutal group and ultimately force its fighters out of the bush.
The evidence and judgment of the UAE court can very well be a piece of that is Boko Haram’s financing. The court documents show that the convicts were coordinating with two group agents based in Nigeria including a “Nigerian government official”, and they vaguely identify an Arab man who flew from Turkey to hand over United States dollars in cash to the offenders.
The convicts then transferred the equivalent to the Boko Haram agents in Nigeria. Who are the two Nigerians conspiring with the convicts, especially the “government official”? Are there others in Nigeria or abroad with whom these individuals are coordinating? Who is the “Arab man” coming from Turkey? From whom did he receive the money: al-Qaida, ISIS, some Nigerians in the diaspora or other persons associated with Boko Haram? There could be pieces of evidence in the case file that address these critical questions.
But there is another reason why the federal government must dig into this issue. Relatives of the convicts have told this paper and other media outlets that their relatives were simply “framed up”. They said the convicts were arrested in the course of their normal business as bureau de change operators and were tortured by UAE security operates to confess to committing offences they knew nothing about.
They further claimed that they’re not accorded fair hearing and that there were no witnesses called at the trial. Is that why the UAE has not responded to the Nigerian government’s request for information on the case?
Allegations of serious crimes as spying and terrorism can sometimes be overzealously treated in many countries, and full justice is not always done. For instance, it’s clear from the statements of the Nigerian government that the UAE didn’t liaise with Nigeria in investigating this matter. How did the UAE arrive at the conclusion that the transferees, who are based in Nigeria, are members of Boko Haram and the transferred funds were meant for Boko Haram?
However, the Attorney General’s blame of the UAE for lack of information does not sound quite right. In August 2017, President Buhari held a ceremony at the presential villa to celebrate the signing of nine different bilateral agreements with the UAE. One of the treaties was on “The Judicial Agreements on Extradition, Transfer of Sentenced Persons, Mutual Legal Assistance on Criminal Matters and Mutual Legal Assistance on Criminal and Commercial Matters”. That agreement was signed by no other person than the Attorney General along with his UAE counterpart, Sultan Bin Saeed Albadi.
In this case, how does the Attorney General explain the lack of response? This, to put it nicely, is perplexing. As though to add to the confusion, the chairperson of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, claimed on Twitter that the federal government has been aware of this case since 2015. This means that both the President and the Attorney General were aware of this case as they signed the treaties. Why didn’t they raise the issue? If they did, what was UAE’s response?
It appears to me that, as is usual with this administration, the federal government didn’t treat this case with the seriousness and urgency it deserves. If the convicts were truly sending funds to Boko Haram, our security and intelligence agencies should have moved speedily to clamp down on their co-conspirators at home to stop them from further funding the group through other contacts at the UAE or elsewhere and to punish them. If the convicts were unfairly treated, as their families claim, our diplomats should have moved swiftly to ensure that these Nigerians aren’t unjustly punished. But this government clearly has other priorities than fighting Boko Haram or protecting the interests of Nigerians. Neither scenario is good for public confidence in the Buhari administration and for our international image. Most importantly, this foot-dragging could constitute a serious danger to national security. If it hasn’t already.