The www.icirnigeria.org can authoritatively report that, contrary to claims by the military authorities, scores of Nigerian soldiers were, indeed, killed by Boko Haram insurgents in Gudumbali in Borno State on Wednesday, November 18, 2015.
Information at the disposal of this website, including a video clip of the aftermath of the Gudumbali attack, indicates that only 147 of 330 soldiers have been accounted for by the Nigerian Army, with the others either missing, killed or fleeing without re-joining the battalion.
The military has denied that any soldier was killed or is unaccounted for after the attack, insisting that some of them who initially got missing had re-joined their battalion.
Premium Times, Nigeria’s leading online newspaper, had exclusively reported on November 19, 2015 that at least 105 soldiers, including the commanding officer, from the 157 Battalion were missing after the attack on their location in Gudumbali by insurgents.
What really happened?
A reliable military source told the www.icirnigeria.org that the army knew that Gudumbali was in Boko Haram territory but deployed only 330 soldiers instead of a full-strength battalion of at least 600 soldiers.
According to one of the 147 survivors, who cannot be named to avoid being punished, the soldiers were caught unawares by the Boko Haram fighters.
“They came very early in the morning and many of us had no time to get ourselves together,” he said.
He added that despite the fact that they were taken by surprise, a costly mistake by the troops led to the large casualty suffered. According to him, the extra ammunition the battalion went with was kept in a Hilux van at some distance from the soldiers, making it impossible for them to reach with the barrage of bullets coming from the insurgents.
“Before we knew it, they had almost surrounded us.”
He said that troops could only engage the insurgents as long as the ammunition on them lasted, after which they had to flee.
According to the soldier, contrary to reports, no T-72 tank was captured. He said two T-72 tanks were provided to the battalion but one developed fault on the way and was withdrawn.
During the battle, the remaining tank was reportedly hit with a rocket-propelled grenade, which led to the fainting of the three occupiers – the commander, gunner and driver – who had locked themselves inside. The insurgents, the source said, abandoned it after some failed attempts to open it.
After the attack, the source said only 147 soldiers were accounted for.
He added, however, that not all the remaining 183 soldiers unaccounted for were killed because some of them took the decision to desert the army as soon as they made it to Maiduguri, the Borno State capital.
The video clip
(A decision was taken not to go public with the video because of the gory images in it and in respect for the families of the fallen soldiers)
In the video clip obtained by this website, a burnt military truck is seen with eleven dead soldiers lying close to it. Four of the soldiers were badly burnt. There is no evidence that the truck was hit by a bomb or rocket as the whole frame of the vehicle, including the chasis, is intact but the front compartment where the driver sits was apparently the brunt of the attack as it was badly burnt.
According to one the officer who provided it, the video was recorded two days after the attack by the Army Public Relations unit when the military went to see the extent of damage done and evacuate the bodies.
While the video has no audio, the content suggests that the location is a military zone.
From the clip, there are trenches dug, suggesting that the soldiers were based there.
Also, a wallet is seen close to one of the soldiers, with the contents emptied. Among the contents are pieces of papers, passport photograph and an ATM card.
Prayer beads and mats can be seen close to the soldiers. Also, a cup is seen by the side of one of the corpses while a blanket and an adaptor lay on a camp bed. These, perhaps, confirm what a survivor said that soldiers were taken unawares.
Close to the camp bed, there is a 25 litres jerry can with the words “CO boys” written on it. CO in the military means Commanding Officer.
Toothpaste, body cream, food flask, cup, camp beds, blankets, packets of cigarette all appear in the clip.
At least three soldiers were present when the video was taken. Apart from the person behind the camera, a soldier with a rifle raises a blanket in front of the camera and appears to say something. Another soldier can be seen standing not far from the burnt truck.
About 100 metres away, two army trucks are seen packed on the road, probably the vehicles that conveyed the crew to Gudumbali.
Lies and cover up by the army
This website learnt that the army also denied the reports of the killing of the soldiers to the presidency when enquiries were made about the incident. It was gathered, however, that the presidency did eventually confirm the killings from the leadership of .a federal government agency that works closely with the military in the North east.
The families of the dead soldiers, this website also learnt, are being kept in the dark about the deaths of their sons because the military does not know how to tell them without the information getting out in the press.
“They (dead soldiers) are most likely being treated as MIAs (missing in action), which means the families can wait for as long as one year before being officially informed of the killings. The families will be able to receive their monthly salaries while the military wait to break the news,” the source disclosed.
Attempts to get the army to speak on the discoveries failed as Usman declined commenting on the matter. He has consistently refused to answer questions regarding military operations in the North east from this website.
Late last week when our reporter called his mobile phone it went unanswered and a text message hinting him of the information at our disposal and requesting for a meeting was ignored by the army spokesman.
However, when the Premium Times story first broke, the army, in attempting to deny the report and discredit the newspaper, only succeeded in contradicting itself.
Army spokesperson, Sani Usman, and then spokesperson of 7 Division of the Nigerian Army, Tukur Ismail Gusau, both Colonels, refused to comment before the report was published by the newspaper but immediately it became public, the former reluctantly confirmed the attack and added that details would be made known at a press conference later in the day.
During that press conference, the then General Officer Commanding, GOC, 7 Division, Yushau Abubakar, a Major General, confirmed the attacked adding that there were casualties on both sides.
“Yes, we went to Gudumbali and we were attacked and we repelled them and we are currently sorting out the situation. In war anything can happen and the operation is ongoing,” Abubakar told journalists in Maiduguri.
Curiously, however, later in the same day, the army issued a statement calling the Premium Times report “the imagination of those sympathetic to Boko Haram ways of life.”
“The attention of the Theatre Command Operation Lafiya Dole was drawn to an online media publication saying troops of 157 Task Force Battalion were overran by the Boko Haram terrorists in Guzamala axis of Borno state and that several personnel were killed and several others cannot be accounted for including the Commanding Officer of the Unit,” the statement issued by Usman read.
He did not mind the fact that the report did not say any soldier was killed.
Again, later in the day, Usman issued another statement saying the attack was a minor setback that is common in military operations.
From all indications the military high command is maintaining its stand that the soldiers have re-joined the brigade. One soldier conjectured the military is taking this stand because it believes that the news of the death of the men would demoralise others in the war front.
But one of the soldiers who spoke to our reporter said that it is the cover up by the army that is actually demoralising the fighting men who feel that if they die in active service, the same thing could happen to them with their family members left in the dark about their fate.
The soldiers are also miffed that while their dead colleagues are being treated as missing in action, “one oga is enjoying it as he is collecting the operations allowance of the killed men.”
In December, 2015, a non governmental organisation, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, HURIWA, called on the military authorities to investigate the killing s and the alleged secret burial of 105 soldiers originally reported to be missing after the attack.
The organisation called for the probe after media reports that the bodies of the dead soldiers were taken to Maiduguri where they were quietly buried. A statement by the National Coordinator Emmanuel Onwibiko, and the media director of HURIWA, Zainab Yusuf, said that the investigative panel to probe the soldiers burial be made up of members from the United Nations, Africa Union, Economic Community of West African States, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, National Human Rights Commission, Red Cross, Red Crescent, faith based bodies and the military.
It is doubtful that the military will set up any probe panel to investigate the burial of the soldiers as it insists that the soldiers have re – joined their battalion.