…Nigerians demand probe of defence budget, accountability
By OBINNA EZUGWU
Tony, (not real identity), had spent nine years fighting Boko Haram in Nigeria’s North Eastern State of Borno before relief came his way few days ago. As his tour of duty came to an end, at least for now, he was back in Lagos and with only sad stories of what the battle against the terrorist group has become – effectively a field of deceit, death and destruction.
“It’s a tale of woes,” Tony told BusinessHallmark. “The soldiers are poorly paid, scarcely fed, and poorly equipped. Boko Haram is increasingly gaining the upper hand.”
The attack on military formations in Metele fortnight ago that led to the death of at least 118 soldiers and over 150 missing, according unofficial sources, has brought the terror group’s campaign of bloodshed back to mainstream discourse. It was a sad reminder that contrary to claims by the President Muhammadu Buhari led federal government of ‘technically’ defeating Boko Haram, the terror group is alive and well, and if anything is becoming more energised.
“It’s almost an unwinnable war,” Tony says. “Boko Haram is waxing strong and parades the kind of weapons the army doesn’t have. In this latest attack, the surviving soldiers confessed to me that they had never seen the type of guns the group used in all their lives in the military. The guns can shoot for 30 minutes non-stop.”
The audacity of the terror group is growing by the day. Soldiers who went to retrieve those killed in Metele faced another onslaught from the group, forcing them to beat a hasty retreat.
Reports say they had informed military officials prior to launching the Metele attack and were still able to carry it out successfully. And as if to further embarrass the military, it gave another warning on Monday that it would stage fresh attack on a military base at Jiddari-Polo, Maiduguri.
The group had given the warning after attacking farmers on Monday in the area, hacking four to death. One of the survivors of the attack, Mala Umara, told AFP that they came in large numbers.
They came in large numbers and killed four and left the other man seriously injured, the 75-year-old farmer said, adding that while sparing him, the insurgents instructed him to tell the Nigerian Army to prepare for another attack.
“They asked me to deliver a message to the soldiers that they should be prepared for an attack soon, he told AFP.
Yet, on Tuesday, the jihadists killed three soldiers in an attack on a military base in Cross-Kauwa village in Borno, near Lake Chad, military sources told AFP on Wednesday.
We lost three soldiers in the fight, said a military officer who asked not to be named. The soldiers fought the terrorists but were overpowered and had to withdraw from the base, he added.
In a statement by its spokesperson, Brigadier General Sani Usman, last week, the army disclosed that terror group has started using drones and foreign fighters.
“We have noticed daring moves by the terrorists, increased use of drones against our defensive positions and infusion of foreign fighters in their ranks. These potent threats require us to continually review our operations,” he said, while assuring that the force is prepared to tackle the challenge. It has thus far failed to do so.
All this led to an emergency meeting conveyed by President Buhari with the Lake Chad Basin countries on Thursday to find lasting ways of dealing with this new upsurge. The development led to relocation of the Chief of Army Staff conference from Uyo in Akwa Ibom state to Maiduguri, Borno state which Buhari attended and delivered a marching order to the military.
The North East is gradually becoming uninhabitable. And the consequence, according to Hon. Sani Mohammed, member of Federal House of Reps whose team went on an oversight function in the zone early last month, will be long lasting and may spread to other parts.
“The northern part of the country has failed in so much part of it,” Sani told his colleagues on the floor of the House few weeks ago. “And my fear is that this grave situation will have contagious effect on other parts of the country. There is no doubt about it.
“On Thursday when we went to Maiduguri, Boko Haram insurgents launched an attack on an IDP camp called Dalori 2, which is just opposite the University of Maiduguri. They burnt down a substantial part of that camp, killed eight people and abducted women and ran into the bush unchallenged.
“We went to Bama, the second most important town in Borno State, which is also the exit point to three countries, Chad, Niger and neighbouring Cameroon. There are not 200 people in Bama today.
“The talk of safety being restored, the talk of stabilisation being restored in parts of the North East is a lie, it’s a ruse. Before you can be escorted to any part of the North East, you need almost a platoon of soldiers. And even the solders themselves in spite of all the encouragement we give them, the fact of the matter is that they no longer have confidence.”
“On Saturday, we travelled to Gashua in Yobe State, on our way back, we arrived Damaturu at exactly 7’O clock, but we could not move to Maiduguri which is just a distance of one hour.”
“Part of our assignment would have been to travel to Chibok; Chibok is a no go area. Three days earlier, they attacked a village next to where the Chief of Army staff comes from, killed people, raided the village and ran into the bush.
“The fact is that these insurgents are still in control of certain territories, like Abadam Local Government, Ngala Local Government, Kala/Balge Local Government – all these are being administered by the insurgents.”
Many Nigerians are perhaps yet to appreciate the enormity of the security threat Boko Haram poses, and what it possibly portend for the country’s future. In part because of the political undertone the conflict has continued to assume.
The terror group was one key factor in the defeat of former president Goodluck Jonathan. His inability to bring an end to the bloodshed portrayed him as weak and even clueless. It was a narrative that the then opposition party, the APC latched on, promising to do things differently when elected into office.
President Buhari, then candidate of the party had promised to lead the battle from the frontline and to bring an end to it in only a matter of months.
It’s been three and a half years since Buhari took power. Boko Haram is still wreaking havoc and somehow, there appears to be a deliberate attempt to give the impression that things are a lot better than it used to be under the Jonathan government, and that Buhari has delivered on his promise.
This need has become more expedient in view of the general election that comes up in three months. Boko Haram could yet be a factor. Indeed, some argue that the current government deserves to be shown the exit door, if only for not being able to bring an end to the situation.
“As a former military general and head of state, we expected Buhari to do better,” said Comrade Adeniyi Alimi Suleiman, Chairman, Centre for Human Rights and Social Justice. “But he has demonstrated total lack of capacity in handling Boko Haram, including the Chief of Army Staff, General Buratai, who is from there. I wonder why he has not been removed.”
Suleiman argued that Jonathan was voted out because he could not bring an end to Boko Haram, and since Buhari has not only failed to do so, but also overlooked herdsmen, he should be voted out, too.
“Jonathan was voted out because he couldn’t tackle Boko Haram. Buhari has also failed to do so; he deserves to be removed too. In fact, during Jonathan’s time it was only Boko Haram, but now herdsmen have joined. Buhari doesn’t deserve to be reelected.
“But the problem is that most Nigerians are not able to see things objectively. There is always the religious and ethnic lens through which people make assessments. Otherwise, Buhari won’t stand any chance.”
The Buhari government and the army have tried to downplay the group’s activities. When he visited the injured soldiers in Borno on Wednesday, the president – who has lately attracted criticisms for releasing those he tagged ‘rehabilitated’ Boko Haram members – drew comparisons between his administration and the one it replaced, and said he has done better.
“We have to remind ourselves where we were and where we are now and what happened in-between. People of Borno know what we did in the last three years. The situation would have been worse,” he said. Buratai made the same argument, noting that internal security had greatly improved from what it was in 2015 when Buhari assumed office.
On Thursday, the army refuted earlier reports of casualty figures in Metele incident, saying it lost 39 soldiers while 53 were injured. And that it “successfully” repelled the attacks with “several members of the terrorist group killed.”
But sources say the figure is higher. A soldier who survived the attack told Reuters that about 100 soldiers were killed. Indeed not many people were impressed with what they saw as a ‘face saving narrative.’ The army’s figures instructively came on the heels of a video released by soldiers on the front lines who lamented the poor state of their weapons which according to them, were procured during the Shehu Shagari era in the late 70s and early 80s.
“They are using us to make money,” the distraught soldiers lamented in the video while showing tanks and other military hardware destroyed by the terrorists. “They say we are zombies.”
The soldiers alleged that the military authorities are using them to make money, confirming earlier revelations that the war has become a racket for generals and community leaders.
“They gave us equipments bought during the Shagari government, that’s what we are using and it is outdated. The Nigerian Army is using us for business. We lost 200 soldiers. There are only 150 of us left, and they want to waste us.”
When the president visited the Shehu of Borno, Abubakar Elkanemi, on Thursday, he did not mince words.
It is unfortunate that despite all efforts put in place to restore peace in our land and the north-east, we the people of Borno state are still under Boko Haram siege,” he told the president. Nobody can dare move out of Maiduguri by 10 kilometres without being confronted, attacked by Boko Haram.
Quite a number of farmers are being killed and kidnapped on a daily basis around Molai General Area, which is just 10 kilometres away from the metropolis, along Maiduguri -Damboa -Biu road. Most of the surrounding villages and communities in Konduga, Damboa, Mafa and other local government areas have been razed down in the last two weeks.
Many have continued to wonder how, despite humongous amounts of money being spent on military hardware, troops on ground are still complaining bitterly about lack of equipments and are being overrun by the terrorists. Demand for probe of military spendings is growing.
In a letter to the president in the aftermath of the Metele fortnight ago, anti corruption group, SERAP demanded probe of military spendings since 1999, noting that it believed the inability of the Nigerian troops to respond adequately to attacks by insurgents was tied to inadequate arms.
“SERAP is concerned that several billions of naira allocated to the military to defend the country have neither contributed to improving the ability of Nigerian soldiers to fight Boko Haram and other armed groups nor provided the much-needed security especially for Nigerians in the North-East of the country,” the letter signed by the group’s Senior Legal Adviser, Bamisope Adeyanju, read in part.
“The national assembly should have impeached Buhari. He deserves impeachment. They used $1billion Ecology Funds, which is equivalent to N350billion to buy weapons, but the same army says there is no weapon to fight Boko Haram,” Suleiman said. “There should be probe of these monies.”
Not less damning is the revelation by the founder of the Specialised Tasks, Training, Equipment and Protection (STTEP), Eeben Barlow, who were recruited by the past government but Buhari stopped from fighting Boko Haram.
STTEP, a South African private military contractor, was hired by President Jonathan at the peak of the insurgency in 2014 to assist the military in bringing an end to it. Barlow said in a post on Facebook last week that their proposal was antagonised and politicised by Buhari and his team even before they assumed office.
“The initial 3-phase campaign strategy (known as Operation Anvil) to degrade and destroy BH in Borno State was rejected by his advisors, ” Barlow wrote, noting that the company was willing to stay back in the North East, but Buhari made it known that their presence would not be tolerated under his watch.
He said prior to their withdrawal in March 2015, they issued “numerous intelligence warnings” to the president but all to no avail.
“They have wasted a lot of soldiers and these are people that have wives and children. And you have to wonder, if Boko Haram can easily launch attacks on the military, killing over 100 in one attack, what is the fate of the civilians?” Suleiman queried.
“This overnment has proven to be one of lies. The Minister of Information, Lai Muhammed, said that they have defeated Boko Haram technically, but if so, why are they now killing the military?”
“The country has degenerated to the lowest level,” regretted Mr. John-Bede Anthonio, former MD, Lagos Property and Development Company. “Boko Haram is a minor issue compared with what is to come. The entire fabric has been destroyed by quota system.”
“It’s a cause for worry,” said Dr. Greg Ezeah, former head, Department of Mass Communication, University of Nigeria. ‘Every Nigerian is worried about what is going on, especially the killing of the soldiers.
“They used say that they have defeated Boko Haram. But how can a defeated Boko Haram kill over 100 soldiers at a go. The security situation is worsening. And you wonder if APC goes back, what their next level will look like.”