I yawned my way through an episode from Homeland, an American spy thriller TV series, after a hectic day of labyrinth of activities. I find myself drifting into abyss of thoughts, rummaging on issues that occupied my mind in the past few weeks.
The duty operations officer at the command center had woken me up around 6a.m. to inform me that SAT-OBJ, one of the NIG-COMSAT satellites has detected unusual movement heading towards Dapchi. The satellite (SAT-OBJ), coded after President Obasanjo, is being used to gather intelligence in the north east. This was very surprising because as Director of the Joint Anti-Terrorism Task Force, I did not sanction any troop movement around the area. Secondly, the military would have given us a heads up for any mission to be carried out in the region.
I quickly got dressed and drove straight to the office and asked the operations officer on duty to call the other team members to report at the command center. My instincts told me we were on to something big. As I drove to the office, I was also on the phone talking to the SAT-OBJ team to keep on monitoring the movement. We had unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) stationed in Maiduguri and Bauchi Airport and ready to be deployed as soon as I got to the office. My adrenalin was rushing.
“Sir, Tsegumi is operational and ETA priority area is at 0720 hours” said Stella, as I worked into the command room. She was the operations officer on duty.
“Excellent, any object seen within 50-mile radius should be pinned and tracked. What of Gulma (The other drone based in Bauchi)?” I replied as I walked towards the workstation.
“She is being prepped,” Stella replied.
I quickly went to the secure line and dialled the phone. “Bukar get out of bed, that intel you provided seems to be true and SAT-OBJ has noticed activity towards you. You know what to do.” Bukar was our covert agent that we deployed to Dapchi after the girls were kidnapped. He was sent to Dapchi pretending to be a youth corper.
The kidnap of the Dapchi girls was a serious embarrassment to the Government considering the fact that the Government had spent billions of Dollars in fighting the insurgents; so many promises had been made; and election was around the corner. I was based in the Nigerian Embassy Niamey as intelligence liaison chief when I got the call to return to Nigeria. It had always baffled me that after completing the Anti-terrorism exchange program course AT FBI academy in Quantico and topping the class, I was sent away to a lonely desk job in our embassy in Niamey. Anyway, here I was given the task to head the Joint anti-terrorism task force and reporting directly to the president.
The conditions I gave were that one of the satellites owned by Nigcomsat should be under my control as well as some UAVs from the Nigerian Airforce. Two new drones, Gulma and Tsegumi were immediately provided to the taskforce. The Airforce were not happy, but the President had given his marching orders. Meanwhile, we immediately embedded some of our top covert agents in many communities in the north east as some of the pro-active measures we took. Bukar was one of my junior colleagues, very ambitious and daring. We covertly sent him to Dapchi pretending to be youth corper and it was through him that we got intel 24 hours ago that the Dapchi girls will likely be returned. I had contacted the NSA who confirmed to me that his office had been negotiating with the terrorists and they had agreed in principle to return the girls, but he was not going to give me much details. I said okay that’s was fine. I have always been against negotiating with the terrorists and I felt that with the right support as given to us by the President we should be able to contain the terrorists. After speaking to the NSA and without confiding in him my plan, I called my team and we made a contingency plan.
Now back to the matter, some 30 minutes later, our drone was able to reach the target and pin them. We could see about ten trucks and when we zoomed closer we saw faces of the kidnapped girls. I asked Lateeef one of our IT guys to run a facial recognition and he confirmed they were indeed the Dapchi girls. I immediately called Bukar and confirmed to him that we had the girls in sight and they were heading to Dapchi. We provided their ETA.
When the trucks arrived Dapchi there was a lot of pandemonium. People rushed to greet the terrorists as the girls were disembarked from the truck. One of the people that pretended to be a villager was Bukar. Unbeknownst to all, Bukar had in his pockets about four small GPS trackers which he quickly placed on four of the trucks while trying to shake the hands of the terrorists. Bingo we had them! Now all we had to do was to wait and watch. Meanwhile, the Gulma drone from Bauchi was deployed as a backup to relieve Tsegumi.
We also had a backup team of 20 special agents trained by the Israelis who I had activated, and we provided a direct link to our drones and satellite feed.
Activity was high in the command center as we carefully monitored the terrorists routing through the Sambisa forest to their base. This took about two hours. We finally got a break when it was time for prayer and as soon as we zoomed to see the face of the Imam, our facial recognition software alerted us that it was Al Barnawi. We had him. I immediately ordered the Special Forces to prepare to strike and get the terrorists dead or alive. There was no time to waste requesting the Airforce to bomb the camp. There was no room for mistakes. I decided to call the President directly to get his go-ahead. “Are you sure it is the real Barnawi? Don’t come back tomorrow and tell me that it was Abu Barnawa or Banni and not Barnawi. We have too many Shekaus already” The President said in his usual jovial but serious manner.
Just as we watched the special forces commence the onslaught my phone rang. It was Bukar. “Bros have you seen the breaking news? Dapchi girls have been released. Boko Haram were in Dapchi this morning and the people even went out to welcome them. We are finished in this country!”
I was suddenly startled, awake and sweating profusely. I yawned and stretched as the deafening sound of my neighbour’s “I-pass-my-neighbour” generator permeated the environment.
Mr. Bashir contributed this satire from Abuja.