NIGERIAN soldiers taking part in the counter insurgency operations in the North East have dismissed the claim by the federal government that there is no case of hunger or starvation or ill-treatment among the soldiers.
An investigative report sponsored by the ICIR had revealed the sufferings of the soldiers taking part in Operation Lafiya Dole. They narrated how they had to beg for money for food as their allowances do not come regularly.
The soldiers also said that they had to buy their kits from their meagre and irregular allowances, and sometimes some of them whose booths are worn out have had to go to the front wearing slippers.
But on Tuesday, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, addressed a press conference where he described the report as fake news and a downplay of the sacrifices the soldiers were making for the country.
Mohammed said that President Muhammadu Buhari had ordered an investigation into the allegations raised in the story and “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,” Mohammed said.
“On the allegation of poor equipment and inadequate kitting, it was found that the inflow of logistics into the theatre in the past six months showed an enormous quantity of material was distributed to troops in the theatre.”
According to Mohammed, such reports of alleged abandonment of soldiers in the North East “amount to collaborating with fifth columnists and enemies of the nation to weaken the fighting spirit of our fighting forces”.
However, when TheCable contacted some of the soldiers in the North East, they said Mohammed’s claims were false as there had been no probe of any kind and that the situation is even worse now than it was when it was first reported.
One of the soldiers at Giwa Barracks, Borno State has many questions for the information Minister: “When did the presidency carry out a probe? How many of us did the probe committee members come to check his condition to conclude that we are living in good condition?” he queried.
“You know Nigerian army is hiding those things. Don’t mind them, they are all looking for money,” he continued. “Till now, soldiers have not got their allowance and salary, and that is why soldiers don’t want to fight.
“Let me tell you the truth, what they promised soldiers to pay N90,000 but they are not paying. And if a soldier dies, after one week, they will freeze his account. The family will not be paid anything. Everybody is running away from the bush.”
Another said: “If anybody from the presidency came, we would have been the one to provide escort for them. Nobody came. We didn’t see anybody.
“The feeding is even worse. Soldiers in the bush now eat once in a day. When they wake, they don’t eat until 12 noon. And they won’t eat again till 12 noon the following day.
“Soldiers are using their personal funds to buy gas and pots from the market. The commanders are not ready to feed soldiers. They are pocketing the money. How can soldiers be on the operational ground and be eating only beans? The situation is worse.”
A third soldier added that President Buhari should come down to the North East himself or send an independent panel to investigate the issue.
“Three months now, I’ve not seen my operational allowance. The president should get independent people to probe this matter,” he said.
This is not the first report that is detailing the sufferings of Nigerian soldiers fighting the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East. In 2016, a five-part series sponsored by the ICIR, titled “Forgotten Soldiers“, told the sorry stories of several soldiers who were abandoned by the Nigerian Army after sustaining injuries in the line of battle.