‘Sabotage, obsolete equipment delaying end to Boko Haram’
After over three years in the frontline, in a tour of duty that was supposed to last just six months or thereabouts, some soldiers from one of the three military formations in Calabar Municipal Council, Cross River State summarised their heart-rending experiences. They spoke to ANIETIE AKPAN, the Deputy Bureau Chief, South South.
What were your experiences throughout your stay in Borno State fighting Boko Haram
I Had a horrible experience. Our soldiers there are suffering, but they cannot talk about their experiences because of fear and military discipline.
Unfortunately, our top officers and commanders, including generals are taking advantage of that situation to do what they like and to treat us as if we are animals.
Under normal circumstance, we are supposed to stay in the war front for six months after which another set would take over, but we overstayed.
As a result, the morale of the soldiers is very low, we are not motivated to fight, but we just fight for the country; it is a sacrifice.
How true is this talk about Nigerian Army fighting Boko Haram with obsolete equipment?
Yes it is true that our soldiers are not well-equipped. We use old and obsolete military equipment.
All the weapons that we have, Boko Haram insurgents have them and their own are new and sophisticated. It is only when we capture
them that we get new weapons. Boko Haram is more sophisticated than the Nigerian Army, and almost all the Amoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) that we have are not working. They are just sprayed and kept in camps, they can fire, but cannot move to the frontline where we need them most because the APC is supposed to carry personnel to the war front, and with that we are protected as we fight.
There was a particular incident where we came face-to-face with Boko Haram in the bush. They wore the same desert uniform, boots and helmets like us and we were confused. Suddenly they started firing at us with their AA Shika guns.
This is a special machine gun with double nozzles that can fire over 1, 000 rounds in less than five minutes.
They attacked us with eight of that and other guns mounted at the back of their brand new Hilux truck, while we had just three AA Shikas.
Out of the three, one suddenly packed up while one refused to fire at all.
So, we relied on only one that was firing, but they fired at us as if it was raining.
That day we saw a hell of firepower, but God saved us, and we managed to escape using AK47 and Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs), which they also have, but we lost six of our soldiers. Our Generals just send us out there to go and die.
Why heap blames on Generals?
As far as we are concerned, Generals and highly-placed politicians in this country are the problem because some Generals and prominent people in this country are backing Boko Haram because they do not want the war to end. Some of them are using the war to make money.
Take for instance, on one occasion we almost caught Shakarau, the leader of Boko Haram, but just few kilometres to getting him we were ordered to return to base and no reason was given.
Apart from low morale, which is as a result of soldiers staying in the frontline for three years or more instead of the six months they ought to spend there, the soldiers are increasingly becoming war-weary, and our top officers are diverting some arms and Hilux trucks to Boko Haram.
So much money is spent on prosecuting the war, yet we do not get the result. If there is the political will, patriotism and an end to corruption in the military, Boko Haram will end immediately.
Also, when uniforms are purchased, some are diverted to Boko Haram, and some of us end up buying our own uniforms to fight for the country.
How much is our salary and general welfare? Sometimes we go for days without water. We manage to drink from any pond that was used in washing rice until it dries up.
Sometimes, we manage a sachet of pure water per person for a day, and I can tell you that what really keeps us alive is sheer determination, guts and love for the country, but the truth is that there is no political will to end Boko Haram.
The other time, some of the over 100 Hilux trucks, with AA Shikas and General Purpose Machine Guns (GPMG) that were meant for us some found their way to Boko Haram insurgents. How did that happen? How?
Helicopters will come at night and drop food and ammunition for Boko Haram in the bush and we cannot get there easily.
I am afraid that some top officers of the Nigerian Army are Boko Haram informants, and that is why they easily ambush us and attack because they get information ahead.
We are helpless and we do not have remote sensing equipment to dictate movement of heavy equipment in enemy camp and danger ahead.
The General who was killed in Plateau was a victim of a set up and blackmail because he exposed what the other Generals were doing to frustrate bringing an end to the war.
How is the Air Force in all of these, and of what importance is their contribution to ending this war?
They Air Force is trying, but in most cases when we are in danger and we call upon them, they always complain of bad weather.
In 2016 we lost 260 soldiers, who were bombed by the Nigerian Air Force due to poor coordination and bad weather.
So, when we are in distress, we reach out to them, but once they complain of bad weather, we just resign to fate and fight on.
Boko Haram fighters fight with foreigners and a large number of Nigerians, who are easily recruited and drugged to fight.
In spite of all these, we have killed large numbers of them but they keep coming like ants.
How do you manage the dead soldiers?
Our dead soldiers are abandoned in the desert and unaccounted for. Some families are not informed up till now. These days, we just fight to survive and you cannot carry a dead soldier except in few cases.
The Boko Haram insurgents when they capture our soldiers slaughter them like goats. We do the same to them when we capture them. There are mass graves everywhere and we burn some of their dead bodies.
The Federal Government has approved the release of $1b equipment fund. How do you think it should be applied when released to the ministry?
My advice on this is very simple. The government should ensure that proper firearms, ammunition and equipment are bought and delivered accordingly.
But government should monitor the spending to ensure that the money is used for what it is meant for otherwise, it will go the way others were spent.
When the equipment are bought, there should be proper inventory so that they don’t end up in Boko Haram insurgents hands.
In addition, if we can cut out equipment and food supply to Boko Haram, the insurgency will come to an end.
So, the Presidency, National Assembly should sit up and monitor what is going on.
Some of our Generals are good, but they have a difficult situation at hand, and that is why our men are suffering.
So, we need urgent intervention. Just give us the right equipment, stop sabotage and other things, we will finish Boko Haram.