The Nigerian Minister of Defense, Mansur Muhammad Dan Ali, gave and exclusive interview with SaharaReporters in Washington, DC in the United States. Mr. Dan Ali addressed some of the most controversial questions related to the military’s conduct during the Zaria massacre in December 2015, the ongoing security situation connected to Biafran agitation, Nigeria’s membership in the Islamic Coalition of states against terrorism, and abuse against civilians by armed forces.
Mr. Dan Ali exclusively told SaharaReporters that the notorious Brigadier General Momoh, who was exposed as working with top Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) politicians to compromise the integrity of the 2014 Ekiti State gubernatorial election, was forced to retire from the military. This development, a widely expected outcome from the report by the Board of Inquiry on the matter, had not been official confirmed until the exclusive interview.
When asked by our SaharaReporters correspondent if he could confirm the BOI’s recommendation to retire the embattled Mr. Momoh, the Minister of Defense said, “why not, I do” confirm this.
He added that his service with the Nigerian military would end “as soon as possible. In fact as I am talking to you maybe he has already applied for it.”
When asked further whether Mr. Momoh had already been retired, Mr. Dan Ali said “Yeah I think so by now, yes.”
The full report from the Board of Inquiry, which investigated Mr. Momoh’s and others’ conduct during election periods, has not been publicly made available at the time of reporting.
Mr. Dan Ali also spoke to SaharaReporters about the conduct of the military during the December 2015 Zaria massacre. The military is accused of killing at least 300 Shiite Muslims during an altercation with the Chief of Army Staff TY Buratai and soldiers. The massacre, which lasted three days, saw the arrest of the leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), Sheikh Zakzaky, who was brutalized and held in secret detention for an extended period of time. Mr. Zakzaky has still not been released from detention.
Mr. Dan Ali told our correspondent that “if I comment [on the Shiite massacre] it is going outside the bound” of the judicial inquiry and that he did not want to influence that process.
The Defense Minister did not feel comfortable disclosing details of the massacre to the public other than to say that the Shiite protesters instigated the use of force and that the violence only “lasted overnight” and that “in the morning the whole thing was cleared.”
When asked to reconfirm if he was confident that the use of force by the military did not extend beyond the initial Saturday, Mr. Dan Ali said “it did not.”
It will be recalled that the timeline Mr. Dan Ali’s timeline of the events does not correspond with other reports and investigations by SaharaReporters. Mr. Dan Ali also did not offer comment on the destruction of several Shiite shrines and religious sites by the military. The Defense Minister said that he was uncomfortable disclosing details of the altercation between Shiite protesters and the military, until the report has been issued, other than to say the military was instigated.
Mr. Dan Ali also addressed concerns the public has on how instances of military cadets being abused during training affects their treatment of civilians. He told our correspondent “as much as possible we are trying to train and retrain our forces. We are trying as much as possible to give leadership by example. President Buhari has made sure that all the needs of our administration.”
The Minister of Defense also told SaharaReporters that leader of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, who has been detained by the government since October 2015, was helping to stabilize the security situation in Biafra. Mr. Dan Ali said that detaining Mr. Kanu was the decision of the court but that “the whole thing [in Biafra] has been stabilized so I think it has assisted in stabilizing the situation.”