- DHQ: Nigeria running out of experienced fighters
Senator Iroegbu in Abuja
The Nigerian military authorities have been forced to keep as well as recycle battle weary and disoriented soldiers in the ongoing counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations against Boko Haram in the North-east, THISDAY findings have revealed.
THISDAY investigation has uncovered how soldiers, who have been battling the terrorists since 2015, have not had time to rest because the military authorities have kept them on the frontline without relieving them.
According to knowledgeable military sources, soldiers in battle fields are supposed to be relieved, at least, every year or at most two years to prevent them from becoming fatigued and battle weary. Many of the soldiers are said to have served on the battle field for three years or more
THISDAY spoke to some officers and men in the operations in the North-east, who complained that they had been kept at the battle field for longer than necessary, complaining that they were fatigued and battle weary.
But the Director of Defence Information (DDI), Brig-Gen. John Agim, explained to THISDAY that experienced fighters are constantly deployed and rotated in and out of the North-east because of the intense involvement of the military in the vast internal security operations in the country.
At the last count, the military is involved in internal security operations in about 34 of the 36 states of the federation.
Agim told THISDAY, “They (soldiers) want to rest, where would you get soldiers to take over from them now?
“We have soldiers that are involved in operations, all over the country. As they are finishing from this operation they are landing in another one. It is therefore, not as if they are keeping some soldiers somewhere.”
Most of the officers and soldiers who spoke on the condition of anonymity, decried alleged lack of care and inability of the top military command to ease their burden of fighting in the battlefield for a long time.
They narrated how their appeal to be given a rest since the war was taking its tolls on them due to fatigue and trauma had fallen on deaf ears.
THISDAY found that that alleged sexual harassment and rising cases of rights violations by officers and soldiers could be traced to war-induced trauma and disorientation.
One of the soldiers said, “We came to the theatre on the 17 October 2015 but they have never rotated since then, especially those of my colleagues in the 156 Task Force Battalion in Allagarno under the 29 Task Force Brigade.”
The source further narrated how some of the units had been abandoned to wallow in battle fatalities while some other units were being given special treatment and rotated as at when due.
In the same vein, some soldiers lamented how the deaths of their colleagues and lack of proper treatment for the injured had left them demoralised.
“What I can tell you is that the Army has not been fair and ready to treat our soldiers who are wounded in battle. In some of the worst case scenario, we are the ones treating our self with our money,” a soldier disclosed.
Buttressing this fact, a soldier narrated to THISDAY how the gunshot wound he sustained in the battle against Boko Haram terrorists was allowed to fester at the 7 Division Army Headquarters, until he was transferred to the Tactical Headquarters at Benishiek, Borno State.
The soldier said, “Up till now I cannot stand well. At a point I had to spend money over my health because Army denied me adequate treatment. All they did was to just drop me at the 7 Division Hospital without proper treatment.â€
Another soldier lamented, “They have kept changing other units but those of us from the Infantry under 3 Division have never been changed. The information I am getting is that they will not rotate us until we will complete three years. Can you imagine that?”
Also speaking to THISDAY on the issue, a concerned officer wondered why fighting troops would be kept in the battlefield for over two years, knowing the dangers of fatigue and trauma.
According to the officer: “Ideally one year should be enough owing to battle stress. But a maximum of 18 to 24 months could suffice for a high intensity operation after which there will be high drop in their effectiveness.
“It’s really unfortunate and a huge failure of leadership
There is no how any professional will keep troops in battle for that long and expect them to have high morale and fighting efficiency. Worse of all is that there are units uncommitted that could be used to rotate them but the leadership refused making g it look like punishment.”
Against this backdrop, the officer accused the military authorities of nepotism and preferential treatment, saying favoured officers and soldiers were posted to the Niger Delta (regarded as a cash-cow) while the not so favoured are allowed to engage in a life or death mission in the North-east with slim hope of being rotated as at when due.
He said, “Do you know that all the units in the Niger Delta could have been used to rotate the troops but not so because these units are now reserved as a settlement for the boys. The former Guards Brigade commander is the GOC Port Harcourt and all the godsons are the commanders in Nigeria Delta.
“I am telling you that Niger Delta has turned to settlement ground and openly at that… This is so unprofessional to have areas for the boys to go and make money. This is unbelievable my brother that to be a CO there, you have to be recommended by politicians or some Ogas to the COAS…..and that is why the units there can never be touched. While those in the North East are under immense battle stress those in Niger delta are making money from oil companies duties and bunkering.”
But these allegations have been dismissed by Agim, who in a chat with THISDAY noted that the fighting soldiers given special treatment and promotion as a result of their efforts.
According to him, those complaining are mostly fair weather military personnel who are averse to battle and only interested in being posted to peacekeeping missions abroad and other easy operations.
The Defence spokesman stressed that all the available officers and soldiers are already engaged in one operation or the other, across the country, implying that those posted to the North-east could not easily be changed or rotated.
He also noted that the fact that the military is currently short of personnel, especially the fighting forces, explaining that newly recruited soldiers were not experienced enough to be deployed in the heat of battle against insurgents and terrorists.
Agim said: “Since 2015 up till now how many times have they gotten promotion. They are not telling you the truth. Those people that have been there for the past three years now have gotten promotion two times. So what is the duration of deployment they are talking about when we are just trying to increase the population of the force? So even when you are eventually redeployed from there, you are going to go for another operation, because there is no part of the country that we don’t have something going on.
“As you are talking about North-east, are we not having operation in the North-central? Are we not having operation in the South-south? I don’t know of any place where soldiers are not in operation. Now particularly in the North-east, those people who are there receive promotion every other year. Soldiers receive those kind of promotion because of the operation that is going on there.”
Agim further stressed that the military involvement in the internal security operations across the country is responsible for seeming lack of frequent rotation rather than the accusations of selective deployment.
He noted that no individual officers and soldiers were being targeted for deployment as they were being drafted in units. He cited the example of the ongoing Operation Last Hold against Boko Haram in the North -east where troops are being drawn from various units and formations.
The DDI also noted that this lack of extra experienced fighters to meet up with the increasing internal security threats is the reason why Nigeria has not been deploying for peacekeeping operations.
To tackle this challenge, he said the armed forces had intensified recruitment drive across the services and would be drafted to relieve others.
He said, “So we don’t have people now and we are rotating and recycling across board. Those of them who were relieved from the North East, were later sent to Niger Delta. So we have people that are just coming in and going out and because of that we have refused to make the normal contribution to the United Nations. Like you used to hear about many battalions being flown outside the country, but now we don’t have such. We have only one battalion that is outside the country.
“The military have been recruiting more now, but if they are recruiting more, are you going to carry the recruits that just come from depot? To do what? They have already established more Brigades and Divisions. They have already done that, so itâ€™s something that will have to be a gradual process to make this kind of impact.”
But reacting, a soldier in the North-east debunked the claim of regular promotion by the military, insisting it was selectively done. The source even claimed that his unit, which was responsible for recapture of most territories are punished for the death of a certain popular officer.
“I want to say there is no promotion like that as it was selectively done. Despite all the locations since 2015 that we captured they could not give us promotion except once. I was promoted to a rank in 2016. Some of my juniors got special promotion in 2018 but they forgot about us,” he said.
However, in a counter response the DDI said any soldier claiming to have been denied promotion may not have been long in the theatre of operations.
Agim, challenged anyone doubting his claim to investigate further, saying, “Then that person has not been in that theatre for that long. Ask him, how long has he been in the theatre, how long has he gotten promotion.
“Ask them, am giving you information now, go back and ask them. Since you have been there, have you not been getting special promotion? Promotion in the military is every four years. But in that place they gave people promotion in 2015 and 2017”.