Borno as Theatre of Death for Soldiers 

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Chiemelie Ezeobi writes that the latest attack on  157 Task Force Battalion of the Nigerian Army in Metele, Borno State, that left scores of soldiers dead and others still missing, has seemingly turned the North-east to a theatre of the dead despite repeated assurances from the military that the Boko Haram sect has been depleted 

Despite repeated claims by the Armed Forces that the Boko Haram Terrorist (BHT) sect has been depleted and highly degraded, the recent actions of the  terrorists certainly suggests otherwise. Week in and out, stories abound of the sect wrecking havoc on the Nigerian forces, sometimes even over running their bases and killing the soldiers.

It was no different on Sunday, November 18, when the sect again attacked the 157 Task Force Battalion of the Nigerian Army in Metele, Guzamala Local Government Area of Borno State. But this time around, this attack was one of the deadliest by Boko Haram (BH) on the military forces.

It is no gainsaying that Northern Borno is the stronghold of  BH, from Metele to Abadam, Malamfatori, Baga, Gajiganna, Magumeri, Monguno and even beyond reaching to the borders of Lake Chad and Niger Republic, but the recent attacks have heightened fears about the repeated assurances by the military that Nigeria is indeed winning the war against insurgency and extremisms.

It is pertinent to state that the recent attack on Metele was not the first of its kind as the taskforce had previously been attacked on October 8 this year, which saw the death of 18 soldiers and six officers. Also, 120 personnel were declared missing  after the attack. The military in turn said they succeeded in killing 76  terrorists during the attack.

Timeline of Attacks

As much as could be gathered, there had been series of attacks targeted at soldiers to dampen their morale. On Thursday  May 31, Nigerian Army authorities on Thursday said five soldiers died along the Pridang-Bita Road in Borno State after their vehicle stepped on Improvised Explosive Devices believed to have been laid by Boko Haram terrorists.

On Monday, June 18, 2018, Boko Haram fighters killed nine soldiers and wounded two others in northeast Nigeria, according to military sources. The troops from the 242 battalion Nigerian Army stationed at Gajiram came under attack on Monday afternoon. Gajiram is some 80 kilometres north of Maiduguri, the Borno state capital.

On Sunday, July 1, 2018, 10 soldiers were killed and four missing after an attack on a military formation in South-east Niger, near the border with Nigeria.

On August 8, 2018, at least 17 Nigerian soldiers were killed in a fresh Boko Haram attack on a military base in Garunda village in Borno State.

On September 1, 2018, no less than 30 Nigerian soldiers were killed in a gun battle with Boko Haram fighters who overran a military base at Zari village in Borno state, according to military sources.

On Wednesday, October 10, 2018, at least seven Nigerian soldiers were killed, and 16 were wounded in a Boko Haram jihadist attack on a military base near the Niger border.

On Monday, November 5, 2018, more  than 10 soldiers were reported missing following an attack on a military base in Kukawa, Borno state.

The incident happened Monday evening when trucks loaded with gunmen believed to be Boko Haram insurgents moved into Kukawa, attacking a market and dislodging the troops.

On Wednesday, November 14, 2018, Boko Haram fighters believed to be from the IS-affiliated Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) attacked the base in the town of Kareto, 150 kilometres (about 90 miles) north of the state capital Maiduguri.

Fresh Attack 

In this recent attack that occurred two Sundays ago, precisely on Sunday, November 18, the terrorists had over run the 157 Task Force Battalion of the Nigerian Army in Metele, Borno, and killed scores. Although no official figure has been put on casualty rate, it was alleged that about 118 soldiers died in the attack, while others are still missing.

The soldiers who were casualties in this recent attack were said to have been the reinforcement that were sent to the battalion after the October 8 attack that saw the depletion of forces.

Meanwhile, the Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA), a faction of the Boko Haram insurgent group, reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack

According to Reuters, the group said its attacks in the past week left 118 persons dead.

Quoting a military source, Reuters had reported that, “the insurgents took us unawares. The base was burned with arms and we lost about 100 soldiers. It is a huge loss. We all flew because we didn’t know where the bullets were coming from. They killed some of us who went to evacuate the bodies of the killed soldiers. We left our amoured tanks and weapons. They were all there. The village is still under their control”.

The latest attack on the 157 task force occurred barely three weeks after a similar attack took place at a military base in Kukawa, Borno.

Another attack occurred in Zari, also in Borno, in September.

Viral Video

In a heartbreaking and gut wrenching 2.20 minutes video that has since gone viral on social media, the terrorists were seen shooting at everything and everyone at sight with their superior firing weapons. The video which had some Arabic music playing at the background, saw the roughly dressed men walking boldly towards their targets (the soldiers).

The terrorists armed with their rocket launchers and RPG-7 were seen walking bravely towards the makeshifts of the military. Although the military tried to repel them, it proved abortive as the rocket launchers put paid to their plans to protect themselves.

Soon, their firing power gave way as their vehicles and makeshifts were blasted away. Speaking in Arabic, the terrorists were dishing out instructions as they kicked the already dead soldiers and even turned them to face the cameras. The video also showed the pile of dead soldiers who were all dumped together in a ditch.

Nigerians React

Expectedly, when Reuters broke the news, the first reaction was disbelief but with the continued silence of the military and the federal government, the reaction soon turned to rage and anguish at the reckless loss of lives of the soldiers. The rage was further fueled by the viral video, which showed the terrorists having an upper hand in the battle field.

One Israel Ebije said: “This video reveals the horror of fighting terror. The propaganda clip also shows that tale around depleted Boko Haram is disgusting, sadistic, hypothetical. Silence over the deaths of gallant but badly equipped soldiers shameful.”

Somto Onuchukwu also said: “In this video you will see this is a clear case of overpowering our soldiers with superior weapons. What did Buhari do with the loans he took to purchase weapons?  Why send our men to die like chickens in the hands of untrained ragtag militia?

#HonorOurFallenTroops”

Emmy Clinton who blamed corruption for the loss continuously suffered by the Nigerian forces added, “ordinary Boko Haram are more equipped than Nigerian Army! Why if not for corruption!”

Babasola Kuti noted that, “100 human lives needlessly wasted fighting the same Boko Haram Buhari and APC told us they had defeated. Government cannot be run on propaganda. Not at the expense of our troops. Yet, not even a word of sympathy to the bereaved families.

#HonorOurFallenTroops.”

Seun Adedeji however, would rather Nigerians keep supporting the armed forces instead of castigating them. He said: “We should keep supporting our military instead of retweeting this boko haram propaganda video. Playing dirty politics with military casualties won’t help all of us. Get behind the military and let’s support them to finish the evil terrorists.”

Corroborating, Lukmon Owolabi said: “There is no gainsaying the fact that BH has been degraded, from holding 14 local govts to making sporadic attacks..but we cannot rest on our oars regardless of limitations, ignore Amnesty Into and do what is necessary to clear the vestiges remaining.”

Also lending his voice to the clamour, presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, called on President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government to tell Nigerians the kind of support the military is receiving in the fight against terrorism which led to the recent killings.

While commiserating with the families of the slain soldiers, Atiku in a video posted on his Twitter handle,  said an investigation into the killing of the soldiers was necessary to identify what went wrong in the clash between the military and the insurgents.

His said: “Fellow compatriots, I take this moment to convey my deepest sympathies and heartfelt condolences to the families of our dear citizens and soldiers who lost their lives in recent Boko Haram attacks. Such incidences make me worried about how Boko Haram has managed to overrun our military base when the terror group should have been completely degraded.

“I call for an investigation to find out what went wrong. In this circumstance, we would like to know if our military is receiving the right kind of support to do the work on terror. It is my considered view that our military needs all the support and partnerships from our people and government in order to successfully prosecute the war on terror.”

Soldiers React

Also circulating on the social media is another video, this time around, made by Nigerian soldiers at the theatre of operation. In the blurry video, the soldiers were heard lamenting the obsolete weapons they were given to fight Boko Haram with. They also accused their bosses of corruption. According to them, instead of using the billions of naira dished out for weapons to buy classified and modern equipment, their bosses would rather squander the money and send them with out-of-date weapons to be slaughtered in the battle field by Boko Haram.

These allegations are rather worrisome given that the Defence Headquarters had recently revealed that it had taken delivery of new military equipment.

In the over five minutes video, the soldiers demanded for better funding and welfare, as well as better equipment. They further alleged that some of the equipment were so obsolete that it’s practically useless against the firing power of the terrorists. Citing the mine resistant ambush protection (MPRAP) vehicles, they said the RPG carried by the terrorists often penetrates it, which shouldn’t be so.

Admitting that they signed up to protect the territorial integrity of the nation, the soldiers however noted that they didn’t sign up to die like chickens. In some instances, they alleged that their colleagues were burnt to death inside the vehicles that were supposed to protect them. Asides being overpowered by the sect, they also alleged that in most cases, after the terrorists have dealt with them, they make away with the little weapon assigned to them at their bases.

Still in the video,  soldiers who said they were deployed on October 8, after the initial attack against the soldiers, revealed that their weaponry inventory has drastically reduced after it was sect either destroyed or made away with it. One of such destroyed equipment was the T72 and T12 war tanks.

Calling on the federal government to directly come to their aid instead of through their commanders, the soldiers revealed that even the war tanks that were destroyed were already obsolete, adding that they are forced to allow it cool after firing two rounds, which tactically is a wrong move, given that by the time the tank picks up, they have been surrounded and overpowered.

Policy Review for ‘Repentant Terrorists’

Again, Atiku in a statement personally signed by him urged the federal government to review its policy of releasing so called repentant terrorists. He said for the federal government to think that it could de-radicalise these individuals in so short a time is wishful thinking, noting that many people, including himself were of the opinion that the upsurge in terror activities are coming after the release of such detainees

He also posited that the increasing deaths of the country’s servicemen at the hand of terrorists and criminals, especially in the Northeast and Middle Belt, was a clear sign that the troops need to be better funded and better equipped. He therefore called for increased funding for the military, adding that increased funding would ensure that the military is well equipped and their morale boosted enough to contain and defeat insecurity in Nigeria.

Atiku said that while it is true that funds are scarce, “this is an emergency and if we do not take care of an emergency, it becomes a crisis which can lead to a total breakdown of law and order – anarchy in essence. It is unacceptable that terrorists and criminals are frequently better equipped than members of our armed forces. It is the duty of the political elite to put aside any political differences and take a united stand to put an end to this.

“Apart from funding, I advise the federal government to review its policy of releasing so called ‘repentant’ terrorists. To think that the government can de-radicalise these individuals in so short a time is wishful thinking. Many people, myself included, think that the upsurge in terror activities coming after the release of such detainees, is not coincidental”.

Atiku also urged the National Assembly to take action to appropriate funds for the military on a fast-track basis, stressing that these are desperate times for Nigeria and desperate times call for dedication to duty of all concerned.

“I am tired of issuing condolences for unnecessary deaths. I prefer to make a difference and prevent unnecessary deaths amongst the gallant men and women of our armed forces and the civilian population they took an oath to protect,” he said.

Suspended Plenary

Also, the national mourning extended to the Nigerian Senate as they on Thursday last week adjourned its plenary in honour of the 44 soldiers who lost their lives. The decision to suspend the plenary session was taken after the Thursday proceedings.

The motion to suspend the plenary was moved by Senate President Bukola Saraki and seconded by the Minority Leader. The plenary was adjourned till Tuesday, November 27, 2018. Speaking on the loss Saraki said: “We must pay our respects to these brave men that have sacrificed and paid the ultimate price for our own safety and peace in our country”.

The lawmakers who also observed a one-minute silence for those who lost their lives in the attack, also agreed that the Senate Committee on Army would pay a condolence visit to the families of the deceased soldiers and the Chief of Army Staff.

Deployment to Chad 

In the face of the gaping silence that emanated from the presidency and the military, the first move that signaled that they were at least working was President Muhammadu Buhari sending the Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali,  for an emergency meeting with Chadian President Idris Deby.

According to NAN, Garba Shehu, presidential spokesman, confirmed the development, but said: “I am unaware of his mission there.’’

Dan-Ali had on Thursday briefed Buhari on the security situation across the country, especially on the Nigeria-Chad border.

Dan-Ali was also expected to meet with his Chadian counterpart to identify what led to the recent increase in Boko Haram terrorism in the area.

Overdue Reaction from Army, Presidency

In the wake of widespread condemnation  that greeted the gaping silence from the presidency and the army, they finally reacted almost a week after the incident.

In a long overdue reaction from the presidency, President Muhammadu Buhari, while expressing shock over the killing of military personnel, also assured the citizenry that immediate measures were being taken to ensure that the gaps that gave room to the fatalities were blocked once and for all.

In his reaction, contained in a statement signed by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mr. Garba Shehu, the president said his administration remains ever committed to the security of military personnel and other citizens.

He said: “No responsible Commander-in-Chief would rest on his oars or fold his hands to allow terrorists to endanger the lives of its military personnel and other citizens. Our loyal forces have proved their strength over the terrorists and we are ready to give them all the needed support in terms of equipment and manpower to succeed in ending the renewed threat. In the coming days, I am engaging the military and intelligence chiefs in extensive discussions on the next steps we shall be taking.

The army also reacted but were silent  about the casualty rate. Their statement read thus: “The attention of the NA has been drawn to several social media, print, electronic and online publications about the recent attack on 157 Task Force Battalion at Metele. Whilst it is true that there was an attack on the location on 18 November 2018, it has however, become necessary to correct several misinformation being circulated with regards to this unfortunate event.

“It is important for the public to note that the NA has laid down procedures for reporting incidents that involve its personnel who fall casualty in action. Out of respect for the families of our gallant troops, the next of kins (NOKs) are first notified before any form of public information so as to avoid exacerbating the grief family members would bear, were they to discover such from unofficial sources.

“Furthermore, it suffices to observe that several social media, print and online publications have been brandishing false casualty figures as well as circulating various footages of old and inaccurate BHT propaganda videos and alluding same to be the attack on 157 Task Force Battalion. Whilst it is understandable how such misinformation can spread in this era of social media frenzy, the spurious circulation of some of these videos only contribute to further propagate the propaganda intent of the terrorists; to misinform the populace and portray themselves as what they are not. So far, the situation is that the location is under control as reinforcing units have been able to repel the terrorists and stabilize the situation.

Also, in a reaction from a Facebook page, which bears the name of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, and is supposedly operated either for or by him, he said what the military needs is support and not misunderstanding. The post read thus;  “It’s bad enough to have casualties in both peace and war. It’s even very bad to have casualties in war, though inevitable.

“What is required is citizens’ understanding and support. Soldiers do not cause war. War is called politics by other means. The soldier is an instrument of the state. A symbol of national power and sovereignty.  Understand the profession of soldiering. The soldier serves with all of his. The soldier gives all of his.”

Indictment for Service Chiefs? 

This incessant attacks again throws a poser whether it’s an indictment on the capacity of the service chiefs. As mulled all over, the attacks being carried out of recent was against the assurances by the military chiefs that the sect has been degraded.

According to former Chairman,  National Human Rights Commission, Chidi Odinkalu, a country and its leaders must find the will to care about its men and women in uniform, especially those on frontlines.

Also, former Minister of Aviation, Osita Chidoka, said: “Politics will not make me share photos or mock the govt about the death of soldiers by evil terrorists. Unlike APC in 2014, I support President Buhari in his effort to secure Nigeria. Boko Haram is evil. Don’t tag me in posts showing their wickedness against US. It is US versus Them.

“It is high time the president effect changes in the leadership of the military. The soldiers cannot die in vain. Time to rejig the military high command and continue the war with new impetus, tactics and agile strategy. Mr. President act now in line with your oath of office.”

According to SBM Intelligence, a group that provides analysis of the Nigerian socio-political and economic situation, “the latest reshuffle in @HQNigerianArmy’s hierarchy which has seen a fifth commander at the helm of what is arguably #Nigeria’s primary security threat in a little over 24 months hints at a substantial breakdown in the leadership effort in addressing the #BokoHaram crisis.

Additionally, there have been rumblings of discontent from the frontlines. Troops have complained about a lack of supplies and logistical difficulties in addition to an already onerous operational environment.

But there remains considerable institutional debilities hampering the counterinsurgency effort, chief among them, resolving the logistical paralysis that starves troops at the front and lifting their morale”.

Burning Questions 

While the military and of course, the federal government rally round to put to a stop the incessant deaths of our soldiers, some pertinent and burning questions begs for answers.

Questions like- why would the soldiers continually protest the dearth of modern equipment if truly they were given? Why the constant clamour for improved welfare for the troops? Why must the response of the military to the clamour for improved welfare be courtmartial? Why must tales of corruption continually trail funds released to fight insurgency? What happened to the release of N360 billion approved by the president in April,  2018, from the excess crude account (ECA) for the purchase of military equipment to fight Boko Haram insurgency? What kind of equipment were acquired and where are they now?

Given the recent fury of the sect against the military, should we expect  new tactical manouevers from the military? Should the soldiers expect better welfare to boost their already dwindling morale? What tough stance should we expect in the coming days from the military? While all these questions needs to be answered, Nigerians need workable solutions and visible implementations to end this theatre of death of our gallant soldiers and officers.