By Ebelo Fumpere
Premium Times, an online newspaper, has said that the Nigerian Army lied when it denied a report that its troops were being deployed to The Gambia as part of efforts to force President Yahya Jammeh from staying put in office.
In the report, Nigeria raises troops for Gambia, ready to remove Yahya Jammeh, Premium Times on Thursday said that the Army was sending a battalion of about 800 soldiers drawn from the 19 Battalion, Okitipupa, Ondo State, to The Gambia, possibly as part of a sub regional Economic Community of West Africa, ECOWAS, intervention force.
Jahmeh lost the December 1, 2016 presidential election in his country to Adama Barrow but has challenged the outcome of the poll, threatening not to vacate power and hand over to the winner on January 19 when his tenure expires.
Premium Times’ earlier story also said that the “Army Headquarters has instructed the nominated officers and men, put at over 800, to immediately report at the Nigerian Army School of Infantry, Jaji, for a crash course on counter terrorism and counter insurgency.”
The army immediately denied that it was sending troops to The Gambia. In a statement issued by its director of Public Relations, Sani Usman, a Brigadier general, the Army said the report was false and that it “exists only in the figment of the imagination of the medium.”
“There was no time or place Nigerian Army disclosed such information to the medium. If there is any, we challenge them to name the officer or soldier that gave them such information and when,” Usman stated in the release.
In response to the rebuttal in another report entitled, “Documents counter Nigerian Army denial of planned deployment of troops in Gambia” Premium Times on Friday quoted documents it claimed it obtained to show that Usman’s position was “untrue and misleading.”
Referencing a January 10 memo by the Directorate of Training and Operations, DATOPS, the newspaper said key Army formations were informed of the impending deployment to The Gambia.
It said that “the Director of Peacekeeping Operations, A.A Fayemiwo, a Brigadier General, informed the Army’s 2nd Division, 81st Division, Infantry Corps Centre, Nigerian Army Armoured Corps, 707 Special Forces Brigade and the Operations Monitoring Team of the planned deployment of 19 Battalion in The Gambia.”
Fayemiwo, the newspaper reported, instructed the selected men to report to the army School of infantry in Jaji, Kaduna State as from January 12 “for counter terrorism and counter insurgency training.”
In another memo also written on January 10, the Director of Peace Keeping Operations is also reported to have requested the heads of the affected formations, including Army’s 2nd Division, 81st Division, Infantry Corps Centre, Nigerian Army Armoured Corps, 707 Special Forces Brigade and the Operations Monitoring Team, to forward a list of their nominated soldiers to his office before January 12.
Fayemiwo is also said to have asked the General Officer Commanding, 2 Division, “to prepare to fill the vacuum to be created by the withdrawal of some personnel of 19 Battalion from Operation Delta Safe.”
The Army has not reacted to the latest report by the newspaper.
It will be recalled that the Army has been at loggerheads with the online news website and had threatened to take it to court for what it termed “false, subversive and malicious publications against the person of the Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai and the Nigerian Army.”
In a statement issued by Usman on Wednesday, the army said it had instituted a court case against Premium Times for failing to retract the story and apologize to Buratai.
The Army had earlier written to the newspaper to express its displeasure at three stories published between October and December last year and asked that they be retracted.
However, in its response to the Army’s letter this week, the newspaper asked the Nigerian Army to withdraw its allegations and threats within seven days, in turn threatening its own court action.
In a statement released by Premium Times’ Editor – in – Chief and Chief Operating Officer, Musikilu Mojeed, the newspaper quoted its counsel, Jiti Ogunye, as describing the Army’ s letter as “a threat to the well-being and life of PREMIUM TIMES’ staff.”
“Mr. Ogunye said the “chilling threats” contained in the army’s letter was an affront on the constitutional guarantee of civilian control of the army and the freedom of the press” Mojeed stated in his press statement.
The counsel said that the newspaper would sue the Nigerian Army and the federal government if it did not receive an apology written to the Publisher of Premium Times within seven days. The seven days expires Wednesday next week.