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How Corrupt Army Commanders Undermine Fight Against Boko Haram
Corruption in the Nigerian Army might be the biggest impediment to the fight against Boko Haram insurgency say rank and file soldiers
By Iro Dan Fulani
Ibrahim Garba, (name has been changed for his protection), a non-commissioned officer in the Nigerian Army is a very angry man. As he speaks, his voice throbs with anger. He has been a soldier for over a decade and returned from a foreign mission about two years ago, after which he was deployed to the North east, where Boko Haram insurgents launched a terrorist campaign in 2009.
In the first few months of his deployment, he received a monthly allowance of N30,000. Suddenly, over a year ago, even as the war against the insurgents intensified, his allowance was cut to N15,000. No explanations have been given to him and his colleagues about the pay slash.
“Unlike before, our allowances are not being paid in full. Instead of the N30,000 monthly allowance we used to get, we now get N15,000. Somebody is sitting comfortably in Abuja, stealing our money, and we are here facing Boko Haram fire every day. God will judge them,” said the soldier in a voice thick with despondency.
Moses Adeleke, (again, not real names) is another soldier serving in the crisis-riven North east. He is similarly bitter. To him, the federal government and the Army have practically abandoned the troops fighting the insurgents.
Having served for more than 18 months in Borno and Yobe axis fighting insurgents, daily leaving the army base without knowing if he would return alive, he paints a grim picture of the situation of the soldiers confronting well-armed Boko Haram fighters daily.
First, Adeleke says the soldiers’ daily ration of mainly a miserable mess of pottage is inadequate for a 10 year old, an uncomplicated indication that the troops are poorly fed.
“Many of us have to find means of buying food to supplement our ration. In this place, where we have to be alert 24 hours, where, sometimes, we go out for over 24 hours on military campaign, food should not be an issue. But they just don’t care”, he says.
Also, in the oppressive desert heat, Adeleke says soldiers officially get only three sachets of water to quench their thirst, a situation which leaves many of them thirsty and dehydrated most of the day.
The story told by Garba and Adeleke exemplifies the experience of many of the Nigerian troops fighting insurgency, many of who accused the military high command of corruption and deliberately frustrating the war against terror for pecuniary reasons.
The soldiers, whose identities cannot be disclosed because of their safety, spoke to the icirnigeria.org reporter over several weeks in two of the states currently under emergency rule in the Northeast.
The disenchanted soldiers painted a sorry picture of the condition of the troops who are expected to confront well-armed Boko Haram insurgents and concluded that the Nigerian government is not serious about the war against terrorism.
They expressed the opinion that the insurgents, could be defeated in a matter of weeks, even days, but alleged that corruption and greed on the part of military authorities, who are benefitting from the on-going crisis, will not let that happen.
According to them, there is no way poorly fed and inadequately armed soldiers, can defeat the insurgents, whose strong homicidal will is augmented by better weaponry.
It was alleged that deliberate acts of corruption are being perpetrated to enrich military commanders at the detriment of troops’ welfare and morale, thus undermining the war on terror.
Many of the soldiers that spoke to our reporter confirmed Garba’s allegation that the troops get only N15,000 out of the N30,000 due to them, accusing the field commanders of short changing them.
But soldiers also believe that the corruption that is affecting the effectiveness of the war on terror goes beyond the field commanders, as there are operational deficiencies militating against their efforts, which could not be without the knowledge of the defence high command in Abuja, the Nigerian capital.
A very good example of corruption from the top, they insist, is the merging of the operations of many units and their areas of operation. It is alleged that though the government provides money for different battalion of troops to operate in different places, army commanders in the field ensure that up to two or three units share the same operational structure so as to save costs. The problem is that the money saved goes into the pockets of a few people, but the situation not only impacts negatively on welfare and morale of troops. It also ultimately undermines the campaign against terrorists.
Our reporter learnt that three separate army units, which are supposed to have different camps and areas of operation, have been kept in one military base along Mubi Road in Mubi local government area of Adamawa State for a long time.
The units are the Special Operations Battalion, SOB; Forward Operation Battalion, FOB; and Task Force Mike, TFM, which are all camped in the same base in Mubi.
Soldiers alleged that the military authorities receive appropriations for each unit to operate independently, but by keeping all three together in one camp, the commanders “make money for themselves but it means that they all cover the same area of operation”.
At a time when troops are needed in many places all at the same time, this, they opined, cannot be based on sound judgement.
It was gathered that the SOB was formed in response to increasing attacks by Boko Haram and located in Mubi over a year ago. The troops in the battalion, including officers, were selected from various army formations around the country.
Many officers were surprised when the FOB was formed, specifically carved out of the 23 Armoured Brigade, Yola. One soldier said that they were surprised because “Its area of responsibility is the same as that of the Special Operation Battalion” and asked “why then are the two battalions given the same area to operate in? And why is the FOB base camp also situated in the same base camp with the SOB”?
But, according to the soldiers, in November 2013, yet another unit named Task Force Mike “made up of 10 officers and 360 soldiers to make a foot advance into Izhge village in Gworza Local Government Area of Borno” was formed and sent to the same camp in Mubi.
“The soldiers (in the unit) were picked from the existing Special Operation Battalion and the Forward Operation Battalion, the 20 Battalion, Serti Baruwa in Taraba State and some others came from Sokoto,” a soldier told our reporter.
But he observed that “the SOB, FOB and TFM are the same sets of troops, spread aimlessly across just one area of operation but with different budgetary allocations.”
However, the soldiers lament that despite the three – fold allocation coming to the Mubi military base, the conditions in the camp are appalling while welfare of the troops is nothing to write home about.
This soldier complained further that in terms of welfare, the troops are mostly left to improvise, as that they are not even issued with any sleeping kits, thus forcing them to sleep on the bare earth.
“Soldiers are not issued any sleeping kit, so many of us sleep on bare dusty ground; no tents to sleep. We are made to lie openly under the scorching sun and in night stars,” he said.
Thus, the soldiers are forced to construct their own beds using sticks and leaves from surrounding bushes. Those who cannot go through the trouble of improvising have to sleep on the bare, hot ground.
Our reporter could not access any of the soldiers’ camps to assess the conditions there, as he was told that civilians’ access to any of them is strictly prohibited..
However, soldiers in some of the camps did take photographs of their food, sleeping area and the local well from which they draw water. The photographs published here speak for themselves.
Another complaint of the soldiers is the long duty tours they are forced to endure. Many of them, like Garba, complained that they have been deployed to fight insurgents for more than two years when the normal duty tour for soldiers is six months.
Said one angry soldier: “We have been in this operation for almost two years, since our return from Liberia and we were supposed to be here for six months”, adding “you journalists are supposed to beam this to the world that troops are made to suffer unnecessarily even though funds are being released for their welfare”.
Our investigations show that many of the soldiers serving in Yobe and Borno states have been there for at least two years, well before the state of emergency was declared in the two states, along with Adamawa.
Due to the long stay of the soldiers from home, many of them say they have lost their wives who have returned to their families.
“Our wives thought we were dead when they did not see us return after nine months and decided to go back to their family houses or to our relations”.
But losing their wives is not as worrying to the soldiers as the threat to their own very lives. Many of them say that their feeding and general welfare is so disproportionate to the gruelling task of combatting insurgents that many of the troops go into combat heavily fatigued.
Even more frightening is the picture they paint of the inferior weapons they have to use against well-armed dare devil Boko Haram fighters. They said that while they are equipped with just AK 47 riffles, the insurgents deploy the most sophisticated ammunition, including Browning Machine Guns, BMGs; armoured personnel carriers and rocket propelled grenades.
The experience recounted by one soldier best illustrates the reality of the threat that stares the Nigerian troops in the face daily in their confrontation with blood thirsty Boko Haram insurgents.
“They came in droves, driving about 20 pick-up trucks accompanied by two light armoured tanks, all wearing our military colours – desert camo. We had to retreat to our base to reinforce after running out of ammunition. But they followed us down there, surrounded our base and began to shell our building. We couldn’t stand the their superior firepower. We had to retreat into the village after they killed two of our soldiers and three policemen. They left with an armoured tanker and four military patrol trucks,” the soldier revealed.
Another soldier in another location recounted a similar situation when Boko Haram insurgents overran ill – armed troops. This was an attack by the insurgents on one of the Nigerian troops’ defensive locations on February 12, 2014.
The gunmen were well equipped and even had night vision goggles, which enabled them see the soldiers well in the dark. “They also drove in armoured personnel carriers, with a BMG (Browning Machine Gun) mounted on them. Their footmen were armed with assault rifles, hand grenades and rocket propelled grenades,” recalled the soldier.
He added listlessly: “The Nigerian Army troops in Izhge do not even have an anti-tank weapon let alone an APC (Armoured Personnel Carrier).”
With their night vision goggles, the insurgent easily picked out and shot at the soldiers, it is alleged, forcing them to run into nearby bushes.
It is not the first time Nigerian soldiers engaged in the war against insurgents in the Northeast are crying out about their pitiable conditions and the fact that they are being sent out ill-equipped against a more formidable force.
A few weeks ago, the Voice of America, VOA (Hausa Service) interviewed a Nigerian soldier serving in one of the states under emergency rule. He alleged that the army had abandoned its troops on the field.
The unidentified soldier confirmed that Nigerian soldiers are ill-armed to fight insurgents, alleging that “they send us with AK 47 assault rifles to fight with people who possess AA, BMG and LMG” and wondering “how can someone with AK 47 fight someone with LMG, AA and BMG.
The soldier also observed that the Boko Haram insurgency can be quelled in a matter of days, but opined that the Nigerian government is not serious about ending the crisis.
“I am telling you this government is only doing business with our lives. And in their quest to get money, they felt that our lives are not important. Boko Haram can be defeated in a day. But it seems the Nigerian Army is not ready to crush Boko Haram,’ he stated.
However, an army commander on the field in the North east who spoke to the icirnigeria.org, but who does not want to be named, dismissed most of the complaints of the soldiers, insisting that they were informed by ignorance, fear or mischief.
He said that repeated explanations given by the commanders on ground over time about some of the issues raised have not registered because many of the soldiers, in the first instance, resisted being deployed to the North east and would do anything, including discrediting their superiors and the Defence Headquarters, in order to be released.
“Many of the soldiers were posted here from the Mali mission. They went to Mali expecting a rain of dollars and misbehaved so much that when the United Nations took over the mission, they rejected our soldiers. We brought them home and when they were being deployed to Borno and Yobe, they nearly mutinied because they knew they were not going to get any dollars here,” said the commander.
Regarding the payment of N15,000 instead of N30,000 allowance to the troops, the commander said that it had been explained times to the soldiers that the government was delaying the release of funds to the Defence Headquarters to prosecute the campaign and that the military authorities had to borrow money to pay part of the allowances.
“We have explained that the finance ministry has been delaying paying their money and that Abuja was borrowing to pay the much we get, but they would rather believe that their money is being ‘chopped’ by somebody in DHQ,” the commander lamented.
The is also the position held by the Director of Defence Information, Chris Olukolade, a Major General, who spoke to icirnigeria.org last Wednesday in Abuja.(Read full text of Major General Olukolade’s interview in our Interviews section)
Olukolade, who confirmed that the monthly allowance due to the soldiers is N30,000, said that nobody has stolen the troops’ allowances but that the processes of getting funding from governments is slow and that the soldiers would get their full payment when money is released.
“The truth is that a lot of sacrifice in being made behind the scenes to ensure that everyone is paid his due. The required patience may be lacking on the part of those affected who would not understand the efforts of the authorities to solve their problem. We can only assure everybody – the soldiers, journalists and Nigerians that there is no way any soldier can be denied his allowance. If he is not paid now he would be paid sooner or later.
“There are processes and they must be completed. The processes are not all just military. Some of them have to do with financial regulations. We pay them as we get funds. So they need to be patient. Everybody will get his entitlement,” the Army General said explained.
Olukolade entirely dismissed the allegation that corruption in the military is a major reason why Boko Haram cannot be dealt with decisively, contending that the accusations are coming from disloyal soldiers or must be part of a grand psychological warfare being waged to demoralise troops.
The Defence spokesman defended the merging of operations of different battalions of soldiers, insisting that the commanders on the field must have genuine strategic and military reasons for doing so.
“…There is no way a soldier of junior rank can understand the packaging in strategic terms of how to organise a battle. He is not in possession of all the information that the commander has. And it is not in all cases that it should be assumed that it is motivated by corruption. The assumption that deployment is motivated by corruption as you quote some of them as saying is wrong,” he stated.
Olukolade equally dismissed the soldiers’ complaints of long tours of duty, reasoning that every soldier “signed to serve in any part of the country. There might be peculiar hazards now, but that is the calling of a soldier.”
He said the six months tour of duty standard maintained by the United Nations in foreign missions is not “sacrosanct” in Nigeria and that a soldier’s deployment is informed by need and exigencies of military operations.
“It is a mark of discipline for the soldier to remain where he is posted regardless of how hazardous it is,” he maintained. Olukolade disagreed with suggestions that Nigerian soldiers are ill-armed compared to Boko Haram fighters, insisting that the much touted superior weaponry of the insurgents is exaggerated.
He vehemently denied accusations by the soldiers on the field that the only weapon they are issued is the AK 47 rifles.
“It is not only AK 47. Haven’t you seen our tanks on the field/? Do they have tanks? All these are graded by the regimentation of the system. There is a table of equipment for every formation,” said.
He contends that ‘in every description, the grades of our weapons are still higher” but also thinks that “the superiority here should be in the area of training and the will to fight.”
The Army General queried the loyalty of the soldiers who spoke to our reporters and even questioned our claims of ever speaking to any Nigerian soldier, insisting that a good soldier knows where to direct his questions.
“A good soldier will pose his questions to his commanders. A good soldier will not be writing this kind of thing in the press or to BBC. So you can understand the motive of the person. Those kinds of characters are not with us. If they are soldiers… and we have a very strong belief that by the level of discipline expected of a soldier, the people writing all of these are likely not to be soldiers,” Olukolade said.
But soldiers who spoke to us after our interview with the Defence spokesman disputed some of his claims. First, they said that the explanation of delayed payments from government is the usual ploy by military commanders to short-change soldiers and that they had heard such stories before and that assurances that they would be paid when money is released are never met.
The soldiers also insist that they are only issued AK 47 rifles contrary to Olukolade’s claim that soldiers engaged in the anti-terrorism war are issued different kinds of guns.