By Iyobosa Uwugiaren in Abuja
The federal government has dismissed as unfounded the allegations that troops fighting against insurgency in the North-east were underpaid and subjected to hunger.
Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Tuesday said the claims were found to be untrue, following the conclusion of investigation ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari to establish the veracity of claims that troops were fighting Boko Haram in deplorable conditions.
He also said that Boko Haram, which started like local issue had taken international dimension, stating however that the terrorist group had been ‘’decapitated.’’
‘’Today, Boko Haram is being funded by ISIS and other terrorist groups. But the federal government has decapitated Boko Haram. There was a time when Abuja was not safe. But it is no longer the same.
‘’There was a time many local governments were under the control of Boko Haram. That has changed; we are sure we have curtained the deadly activities of Boko Haram.
‘’There was a time banks, schools, telecommunications were closed — in 2015. But it is no longer the same’’, the minister added.
On the welfare of the troops, the federal government’s spokesman said it was laughable to say that the troops were being paid N500 a day, as reported by an online newspaper.
Mohammed said in view of the grave security implication of the allegations contained in the publication, President Muhammadu Buhari ordered an investigation to determine its veracity.
“Gentlemen, the investigation has since been concluded and, in line with the transparent stance of this Administration, I have invited you here today to share with you the outcome. The summary of the findings is that there is no case of hunger, starvation or begging among the troops fighting in the North-East, and in particular in the Armed Forces Special Forces Battalion that was referenced in the publication.
”There is also no irregular/short payment of allowances, while claims of poor equipment, inadequate kitting and accommodation are found to be ill conceived and unfounded,” he said.
Mohammed said contrary to the publication, the troops in question, deployed at Brig.-Gen. Maimalari Secondary School along Gubio Road, were being fed centrally three times a day, and were kitted immediately after their training before they were deployed in the theatre.
According to him, “How then can soldiers who are fed centrally be starving or begging for food? Concerning the payment of allowances, the monthly allowances of troops of the AFSF Battalion are being paid directly into their various accounts from the Defence Headquarters, hence they cannot be shortchanged.”
On the allegation of poor equipment and inadequate kitting, the minister said it was found that the inflow of logistics into the theatre in the past six months showed an enormous quantity of materiel was distributed to troops in the theatre.
The minister further explained, “If anything, the publication in question exhibited poor understanding of what obtains in the theatre of military operations.
‘’By their training, soldiers in theatres of war are usually in trenches, tents or other makeshift structures. Fighting insurgency is not a walk in the park and the gallant men and women in uniform who are engaged in counter-insurgency operation in the North East are not on a luxurious expedition. The battlefront is no playground,” he said.
Alhaji Mohammed warned that engaging in fake publication about the troops was not only a great disservice to the nation, but a terrible downplay of the kind of sacrifices being made by the gallant troops in fighting insurgency.
He said such fake reports amount to collaborating with fifth columnists and enemies of the nation to weaken the fighting spirit of our forces, and represent a clear and present danger to the nation’s security.
While restating the administration’s belief in the freedom of the press, the minister appealed to the media to always commit to the highest standards of journalism by double checking with the government before publishing any information from the theatre of operation in the North East.