Four trucks loaded with smoked fish and some animal hides belonging to Boko Haram insurgents have been intercepted and publicly set ablaze by the military in Maiduguri on Friday.
According to the Theater Commander, Operation Lafiya Dole, Olusegun Adeniyi, the four trucks were intercepted on August 16 by officials of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC) while on patrol along highways leading to the Lake Chad area.
Before now, the military and government of Borno State had placed a total ban on all fishing activities around Lake Chad, based on the intelligence that such businesses have been hijacked by the Boko Haram.
According to the military, Boko Haram members now engage in active fishing as a means of revenue generation.
The military imposed strict sanctions on offenders including the burning of the items alongside the vehicles used in the transportation.
Addressing journalists at the outskirt of Maiduguri where the four vehicles, comprising two Toyota Land Cruiser trucks, a pick-up van and a Peugeot 504 salon, were set ablaze, Mr Adeniyi said the exercise was intended to send a strong message to those conniving with Boko Haram.
The major-general said one of the strategies being deployed by the military is to cripple the Boko Haram economy so that the insurgents would not have the oxygen to continue carrying out their “evil attacks on innocent Nigerians.”
“Fishing is one of the major source of income that boosts the Boko Haram economy,” he said.
“Unfortunately, people from liberated areas who have no regards for lives and properties, or regards for the national cause to end this insurgency, and the common criminals who make money from everything, do go to Boko Haram camps, buy this fish, then bring it to sell in our markets.
“So, with that, Boko Haram now has a running economy that is generating funds for their dastardly activities.
“Therefore, the authorities said no, this cannot be allowed to go on.
“Though we have fully recognised the legitimacy of the fishing industry in Nigeria. However, the fishing being done by Boko Haram is to create confusion, continue the insurgency and to sustain their destruction of the Northeast and the country in general.”
Mr Adeniyi, who has been in the northeast theatre of war since 2015, reiterated that the ban on fishing is a standing policy that will be sustained until all Boko Haram activities are satisfactorily degraded.
“You will agree with me that Boko Haram would have by now stopped fishing if not for the people that would go there to buy from them. Even when I was the deputy theatre commander, our efforts were out to arrest illegal commerce in fishing. But all the same, some unscrupulous Nigerians will do everything possible to make money even at the expense of the lives and security of their fellow being.
“But on this day God is with us when our civil defence component of the Theatre intercepted the four vehicles who tried to escape but were effectively outsmarted. They brought them to the army after thorough investigation. The laid down procedure of burning them will be carried out.”
The official called on the members of the Nigerian Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) who “have been partnering with the military” to further advice their members not to take part in the illegal fishing business.
“The NURTW should not allow its members to be carrying fish for Boko Haram,” he said.
“Let us end this insurgency once and for all because Boko Haram without revenue is a finished Boko Haram. I want to say it sternly that it will not be allowed for anybody caught transporting fish for Boko Haram; both the fish and that mode of transportation will be destroyed.”
He said the burning of the four vehicles and the items they carried would have been done in the hinterlands where the vehicles were intercepted.
“But burning the four vehicles here in Maiduguri gives us a good opportunity to clearly tell other law-abiding citizens that if they release their hard-earned vehicles, even camel or donkey or canoe to be used for transporting fish for Boko Haram, you’re already part of the insurgency because you are aiding it and will be treated as an enemy of Nigeria.”
Newsmen witnessed as security personnel and members of the NURTW, including three drivers of the confiscated vehicles, offloaded the fish – some of which were concealed inside animal feeds – into a dug pit where petrol and diesel were used to burn them and the emptied vehicles.
One of the drivers who asked not to be named told newsmen that he regretted his action.
Mr Adeniyi said the drivers would be held in custody and further investigation carried out to ascertain the owners of the destroyed fish and hides and how they were able to establish the link with the Boko Haram fishermen.
There are also allegations that while the military bans the civilians from the fish business, some soldiers have turned themselves into fish merchants who would buy the fish from locals in the fishing communities like Baga and Doro in Kukawa local government, and then transport same to Maiduguri markets
Some fish traders in Maiduguri alleged that most of the fish sold in the markets in the state capital are brought by military officers.
“The fish we sell here sometimes are brought to the market by military officers who would accompany the pickup vans and then use our local dealers to negotiate the sales, collect their money and return to Baga,” said a trader who asked not to be named because their market union had warned that they should not speak on the matter.
The source said the soldiers would either seize or buy the fish from some of the local fishermen at cheap prices and then organise the vehicles to transport the items to the market in Maiduguri, where they sell them at high prices.
The fish dealer also said some traders are allowed to transport fish to the market after bribing soldiers, which adds to the cost of the fish.
“Ordinarily, a king-size carton of smoked fish goes for about N15,000; but when such fish arrive here we buy them at N35,000 or N40,000.
When Mr Adeniyi was confronted with this allegation, he said any soldier caught would be punished.
“We cannot say we don’t have some few unscrupulous elements amongst us,” the major-general said.
“What I expect the media to help us do is to kindly expose that soldier and we will take it up from there. Go ahead and make your findings, get the soldiers service number if possible, publish it and then we will also deal with such soldier in our already laid down military procedure. We are here to end this Boko Haram insurgency and we will not spare anyone found to be working against our mission,” he said.