ecurity expert, Dr. Ona Ekhomu, has described last week’s attack on a UN Humanitarian flight as a dangerous and grave escalation of the insurgency.
He said that the capability and willingness to attack civil aviation which had not previously been displayed was exhibited in the UN helicopter attack and has moved the threat level to the highest level – grave.
Ekhomu, who is the President of Association of Industrial Security and Safety Operators of Nigeria (AISSON), said that apparently the UN humanitarian agencies and the Federal Government did not carry out robust risk assessment of the humanitarian flight.
He said that Boko Haram had since 2016 declared that it was opposed to UN humanitarian work in the North-East, and had proven this through the serial murders of several UN workers like Saifura Khorsa, Hauwa Liman and others.
Ekhomu argued further that it was well-known that Boko Haram has a battery of anti-aircraft (AA) guns, one of which was used in the September 2014 downing of the Nigerian Air Force jet piloted by a young Nigerian hero Mr. Manasseh who was later savagely executed.
He added that the attack on the UN helicopter in Damasak was a ground to air attack, adding that fact that the helicopter survived the attack with bullet holes and flew back 150km to Maiduguri showed that it was apparently an AA gun attack.
“Media reports of a surface-to-air missile (SAM) attack are not supported by the initial evidence and indicators. A SAM attack would have blown the helicopter up. However, I assume that the insurgents probably have that capability already,” he said.
Dr. Ekhomu who is author of the recently released best-selling book titled “Boko Haram: Security Considerations and the Rise of an Insurgency” argued that the threatscape has changed in the aftermath of last Thursday’s attacks; and Boko Haram is now willing and clearly capable to attack civil aviation.
“The threat vector is that Nigerian civil aviation will come under ground to air attacks particularly since high value travellers no longer use patently unsafe roads in the North-East.”
He disagreed with the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon who announced the suspension of humanitarian flights for one week, and advised that the flights should be put on hold until a proper risk assessment is done on the civil aviation in the region. “This is to avert a disaster, and it does not take one week”, he added.
He urged the Federal Government to urgently utilize the risk mapping methodology in his book to properly assess the risks to civil aviation and develop robust mitigation measures to ensure that commercial and humanitarian flights are safe in the North East.
The security expert averred that there was a new urgency for Nigeria’s intelligence agencies to hunt for weapons of mass destruction such as surface to air missiles and AA guns and deny the enemy the capability. He said that Nigerian’s intelligence operatives in foreign capitals should keep their ears to the ground about pernicious weapons that are being proliferated to Nigeria. He said that the Defence Attaché System should become more responsive to the defence needs of Nigeria since “that is its reason for being”.
Aside from the Defence Intelligence Agency, other intelligence agencies of the government should join the hunt for these weapons that threaten civil aviation. The agencies include the Directorate of Military Intelligence, the Directorate of Naval Intelligence, the Directorate of Air Intelligence, the Department of States Services, Nigerian Police Force Intelligence Bureau, Nigerian Customs Service Intelligence, among others.
Ekhomu advised Nigerian Air Force detectives to conduct careful forensic investigation of the attack on the UN helicopter. He urged airforce detectives to properly process the crime scenes in Damasak and Maiduguri and determine the caliber of weapon that fired the shots. He said that the bullets that killed the two civilians should be extracted from their bodies and the caliber determined. He said, “the bullet might tell us something about the gun that fired it and we can learn more about the threat.”
He urged the Federal Government to recognize the new and elevated threat level and take urgent action in addressing this “clear and present danger”.