Nigeria’s security personnel have on many occasions been the victims of a dysfunctional system. With an unfriendly environment, poor work conditions, humiliating welfare regime, insufficient training and out-dated weaponry as well as the lack of personal pride in national service, being a member of one of Nigeria’s security forces has become unsalutary. Nonetheless, the nation’s security agents discharge the arduous task of keeping the society safe from all manner of crimes. Lately, Nigeria’s security forces have been under siege. The spate of violent attacks on the uniformed men has exposed them as ‘endangered species’. Counting from a recent report of missing soldiers in the North-east to the reported attacks on naval officers, and sometimes mindless onslaughts on the air force personnel – including the almost daily killings of policemen – it is apparent Nigeria’s security forces have become easy preys of criminal and subterfuge predators. In a nation that part of it is already riddled with a violent insurgency and farmers-herders, crisis persistent onslaughts on its security agencies can spell doom. The President Muhammadu Buhari administration must as a matter of necessity and urgency provide what is needed to safeguard the security forces and thus allow Nigerians to go to bed not with one eye closed, writes Olawale Olaleye
In November of 2015, about 105 soldiers belonging to the 157 Battalion, including their commanding officer, were reported missing after an attack by Boko Haram insurgents at Gudunbali, Borno State. Reports had it that the terrorists also captured a T-72 tank as well as several artillery weapons from the unit, including eight vehicles, a truck loaded with 60,000 rounds of AA ammunition and three artillery pieces. The T-72 tank was later recovered after a prolonged fight with the insurgents. But gunner and tank commander were however injured in the process.
When an online news portal, which broke the news, contacted then spokesperson for the Nigerian Army, Sani Usman, a colonel, he, in turn, directed enquiries on the matter to officials of 7 Division, Maiduguri.
However, the spokesperson for 7 Division, Tukur Gusau, declined to also comment on the matter, because according to him, the commander of the division would hold a press conference on the issue and that it was not proper for him to pre-empt his commanding officer.
A year later, another set of soldiers were reportedly dislodged from their base in Gashigar, also in Borno State by Boko Haram terrorists. The attack also left many of the Army personnel missing. Some of the soldiers reportedly drowned in River Yobe and at least, 83 troops went missing including K. Yusuf, a lieutenant colonel, who led the operation.
The troops were on deployment in Gashigar, which sits on the northernmost edge of Borno State, as part of the ‘Operation Gama Aiki’ aimed at displacing insurgents hibernating around the Nigerian border with Niger and Chad. The operation was launched in June 2016.
They were said to be manning the Forward Operation Base, when Boko Haram terrorist pushed towards them with superior firepower. But after the initial resistance, the troops finally abandoned their base and scampered to safety. At dawn the next day, the leadership of the Nigerian Army was informed that Boko Haram had attacked the troops, which forced them to jump into River Yobe after the sect opened fire and left an unknown number of them fatally wounded. Twenty-two of the fleeing soldiers were reportedly rescued by the Nigerien troops and transported to a hospital in Diffa, southern Niger, for treatment, the Army also learnt at the time.
Unfortunately, for many days running, then Army’s spokesman, Sani Usman, maintained that the report about missing soldiers was false. But on the same day that he spoke, the Theatre Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole in the North-east, Major General Lucky Irabor, had claimed that only 39 soldiers were missing, although the army also opened a secret inquiry into the attack after some brigade commanders raised questions about the conduct of the soldiers.
The commanders, for instance, said it was difficult to explain how utility trucks were used to dispossess soldiers of their armoured vehicles especially, when the soldiers said they were alerted in their various positions. Senior military officials, therefore, found it curious that some of the soldiers were rescued by their Nigerien counterparts with their bullets still largely unspent.
Five weeks after denial, the Nigerian Army officially declared one officer and 45 soldiers missing in a major Boko Haram attack. The army authority immediately informed the families of the 46 personnel of the fate of their loved ones and requested that their next of kin forward bank details for onward remittance of accrued payments.
The declaration and notification, reports stated, were contained in a notice sent by M. Jimoh, Commander of the Nigerian Army 145 Task Force Battalion in Damasak, Borno State. He sent the signal to the 145 Battalion base in Ohafia, Abia State, and copied the Army 7 Division Headquarters in Maiduguri and 82 Division Garrison in Enugu.
Also copied were 5 Battalion in Kano; 20 Battalion in Serti, Taraba State; 103 Battalion in Enugu and 119 Battalion in Malam Fatori, Borno State. In receipt of the signal were 143 Infantry Battalion for Special Forces in Borno State; 144 Battalion in Asa, Abia State; and 146 Battalion in Calabar, Cross River. Each of the battalions copied in the signal had soldiers that were part of the missing 83. Jimoh went on to announce the replacement of Yusuf, who was the commander, 145 Task Force Battalion, and among the missing soldiers.
About two weeks ago, no fewer than 23 Nigerian soldiers were yet to be accounted for after Boko Haram insurgents reportedly ambushed a military convoy at Boboshe village in Bama Local Government Area (LGA) of Borno State. According to the breakdown, five officers, 18 soldiers and eight trucks were missing after the attack, which occurred that weekend.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) learnt that the military, acting on intelligence, had mobilised troops in a convoy of 11 trucks to clear the insurgents from the deserted village. But the attacking insurgents were believed to have been those that escaped the ongoing offensive by the military to flush out the Boko Haram terrorists in the fringes of Sambisa Forest and the Lake Chad region.
A reliable military source said the insurgents in their hundreds ambushed the troops, and in the process, many of them were missing. He disclosed that only three of the 11 trucks deployed in the area returned to base in Maiduguri, the state capital, after suffering huge loss in the battle with the insurgents.
“There was a quick response by the army when they received reports that hundreds of the insurgents gathered at Boboshe on Maiduguri-Konduga-Bama road. The gallant soldiers were ambushed by the insurgents, only three of the 11 trucks returned to the base. It is not clear what happened but it was assumed the soldiers were missing, following the ambush,” he added.
Although some days later, unconfirmed reports announced the discovery of about 10 bodies, suspected to be those of the missing soldiers, the army has however insisted that the reports about missing soldiers were not correct. The remains had since been buried.
In a statement issued by the Director of Army Public Relations, Brig Gen Texas Chukwu on the Force Twitter handle, it claimed that “The report is not only untrue but misleading as the said report is blown out of proportion.”
He said there was indeed “an attempted attack on troops at Kwakwa and Chingori communities in Bama area of Borno State by suspected Boko Haram Terrorists as a result of difficult terrain, where our vehicles bogged down.”
For this, he said “the terrorists also attempted to cart away troops operational vehicles, but were successfully repelled by our gallant troops with the support of the Nigerian Air Force. About 22 members of Boko Haram terrorists were neutralised while several others escaped with gunshot wounds.
“Efforts are being intensified by the troops to get the fleeing members of the Boko Haram terrorists. Unfortunately, one officer and a soldier sustained injuries and are currently receiving medical attention at the military medical facility.”
Perhaps, it is the military tradition to not always accept situations like this especially, when it supposedly impugns on its capacity as well as tends to reduce its stature. Such a position does not, however, change the fact that lives were involved in the attacks especially those in which many people were reportedly missing.
ARE 600 SOLDIERS REALLY MISSING?
In this midst of the swirling apprehension, there is yet a bizarre report that trended for many days over alleged missing of no fewer than 600 soldiers. Although it sounds preposterous, it is however not impossible that 600 soldiers could be missing given the recent experience. If they have been missing in ‘trickles’, they can as well be taken in their bunch.
Unfortunately, rather than address the menace that confronts it as a body and prevent further decent into the abyss, the Nigerian Army prefers to launder its image and put up front, because it understands the import of any report that authoritatively confirms that about 600 of its men were missing from any attacks whatsoever.
This particular situation was said to have stemmed from a second major assault, which happened within two days by Boko Haram jihadists, who overran a military base in Yobe State on July 14, thus leaving about 600 Nigerian troops missing. The attack, typically, was said to have caught the troops napping and at the oddest of hours as everyone scampered to unknown safety.
Whilst this is hard to believe, it does not change the fact that the Nigerian troops are constantly under attacks in a government led by a retired military officer, more so a general, except of course, the president would rather blame was shifted to politicians as he is wont to do in other cases of clear failure or outright ineptitude.
DISDAIN FOR THE POLICE
Whilst attacks on soldiers were often by the ‘enemies’ given the nature of their assignments, those that often come the way of the police are both from friends and foes. The average citizen does not like the guts of the policeman and therefore, the tendency to attack them at the slightest provocation is high – from civil to violent attacks. The slogan, ‘Police is Your Friend’, has never sat well with the citizen.
Truth be told, whilst the police often indulge in excesses under the guise of keeping the streets safe, incidences of unprofessionalism that are daily recorded are staggering hence the people too are more often than not intolerant of the sight of the police, a disposition the police too distastefully react to.
Yet, none of these justifies the recent attacks on these men, which has forced the police to record some personnel losses in matters of days. On July 2, 2018, some bandits, who were obviously on a rampage, killed seven police officers, who were on stop-and-search duties in Galadimawa Roundabout in Abuja, the nation’s capital.
Some 24 hours earlier to that attack, gunmen other than those mentioned above had also murdered two officers at a checkpoint in Abaji, Abuja, taking away their weapons. Also, about two weeks ago, four officers said to be attached to the Sabongida-Ora Division were reportedly killed in cold-blood at a road intersection between Oke-Ora and Avbiosi, Owan Local Government Area of Edo State. Their corpses were set ablaze in their patrol vehicle.
Last Tuesday, the Kaduna Police headquarters was alarmed after two of its men were shot dead in a gun battle at Tabani village, along Brinin Gwari-Funtua road. The policemen were reportedly ambushed and killed by unidentified gunmen while on routine patrol at Tabani village.
NAVY, AIR FORCE HEAVE PARTIAL RELIEF
Although reports of attacks on the navy and the air force have been very minimal, they are not, however, completely free or immune from the fast-spreading menace.
In June of 2015, armed men suspected to be pirates reportedly shot and killed a naval officer, at Ogbokiri along Akassa River in Brass Local Government Area of Bayelsa State. The attack on the naval security post, said to have occurred at noon, was at a landing jetty under the jurisdiction of the Forward Operating Base (FORMOSO) of the navy in Brass and carried out by three pirates, who opened fire on the naval crew during a routine check.
A not-so-lucky officer of the Nigerian Air Force, also in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, was killed in May 2018, by unknown gunmen, who attacked the force’s helipad. The attack which happened in the early hours of Sunday, May 13, 2018, was carried out by a group of unknown gunmen in Igbodene, Yenagoa.
In June 2012, two air force men were reportedly killed by gunmen suspected to be Boko Haram members. The air force personnel were driving in a car on Zaria Road, Kano early afternoon before they were attacked. A driver and an orderly of a senior air force officer were confirmed by an Air Force commander in Kano as the victims of the attack.
Two men riding on a motorbike reportedly appear beside the air force men close to the flyover and shot at the service car, before reportedly fleeing through a farmland in the area. The airmen were on their way to Kaduna to pick up a senior officer.
IS NIGERIA A NEW ISIS PROVINCE?
In the midst of these, however, is the fear that the current wave of attacks might be linked to ISIS, one of the world deadliest terrorist organisations, which the United States government recently warned the federal government about, that it might be sneaking some of its hardened fighters into the country.
This is however plausible, because when the mode of operation of the local terrorists is reviewed, it shows a level of sophistication that tends to support the interrogation currently being woven around the possibility of ISIS infiltration. But could it be, really, that the country is not a new ISIS province?
Even if by the most insignificant chances, there is a link between the increasing attacks on the nation’s security forces and ISIS, it means the authority must do a holistic review and analysis of the entire security formation, with a view to re-enforcing and strengthening it.
The ISIS connection is fast becoming a common theory amongst stakeholders especially security experts, whose major concern is that not a lot is being done to tame the challenge, which could fester with time.
Such mindless attacks are scary for anyone, because of what they point to – collapsing security architecture. If security personnel could be targets of cheap attacks, what then becomes of the ordinary citizen or visitors? It is a growing situation that is not acceptable and which must be addressed with all the seriousness it deserves.
It is therefore not unexpected that this had raised concerns amongst the teeming populace as the enemies continue to break through their first, second, third and last line of defence (Police, Navy, Air Force and Army) as the case in any sane society. And given their training that is not readily available to an ordinary citizen, these agents of the state are not supposed to be taken down so cheaply by an otherwise ‘untrained’ bandits.
This is why in developed climes, criminals, who wittingly attack or take down state agents, are hunted down too and brought to book as soon as possible with such speed that sends subliminal messages to others.
There is, therefore, a compelling need for an urgent security overhaul, complemented by up-to-date training and more recent equipment. It is also important to look into the recruitment process in the various security agencies, because experience has shown that a majority of those leading attacks against the security personnel were members of the various forces, who were sacked, retired maliciously or dismissed on many grounds.
For instance, the recent robbery in Offa, Kwara State, which claimed nine police officers, was reportedly led by an angry officer, Michael Adikwu, who felt he was unjustly dismissed after judiciously serving the force. That is worthy of note.
Certainly, there are many sides to this unfortunate trend and the security agencies must rise to the challenge. Indeed, the president, Muhammadu Buhari, must see the wisdom in reviewing the current security architecture and stop pandering to the political imperative of keeping practically ineffective security architecture. What is at stake is far greater than the narrow interest of one man or a few individuals at collective expense. The extension of the tenure of the current service chiefs has not failed to achieve any good.
Importantly, the nation’s security personnel cannot continue to die or be declared missing in the sense that exposes the inadequacies of the entire architecture. That should naturally worry any leader, who is worth his salt and can weigh his options based on the implications that each presents before him.
Above all, the security institutions must start to treat their people better than they currently do. For example, some days ago, the Army allegedly sent a signal saying it would no longer tolerate ‘flimsy excuses’ from its men at the war front. What does it mean by flimsy excuses? So, when officers complain about insufficient man power and poor weaponry, they are flimsy excuses? Such a thought alone by the Army leadership is inhuman. Again, what do you make of this? Recently, there was a Court Marshal, which allegedly stripped a Major-General of his seniority for six months over comments on the social media.
That the Army now restrains its men from their right to freedom of expression, under the guise of measured views on the social media is a major cause for concern as they are said to being closely monitored. What about the review of its ranking? Apart from being taken up from four to five years to get a new rank, such also comes with mandatory 26 years of experience. How on earth does a security institution deliberately close the chances of certain people to rise to certain positions for purely narrow interest and alleged ethnic stream-lining?
Ironically, these are some of the motivations needed for these men to function optimally and go to the war front, knowing that their patriotism is both justifiable and defensible. Attacks on the nation’s security forces are a disturbing development at the juncture in the life of the nation and must be reined in as quickly as possible.