In this interview with the icirnigeria.org, Major General Chris Olukolade, Director of Defence Information, contends that there is a psychological war being waged against the Nigerian military aimed at demoralising troops fighting insurgents in the North east.
Many soldiers who spoke to us complained that their N30,000 allowance has been reduced to N15,000 and alleged that somebody must be stealing their money
Most of these complaints are based on misunderstanding on the part of the soldiers and the journalists who believe them. 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 their entitlement.
And I know that commanders on the ground explain this to the soldiers. The problem is that they don’t believe their commanders. The truth is that no officer is placed to be able to take the money belonging to another officer or another soldier. The system has ways to check such tendencies. The earlier the soldiers and the media understand this the better. Nobody can steal any soldier’s allowance.
Most of these complaints are not needed because their entitlements will be paid when all the procedures are completed.
Another complaint is their tour of duty. They say time allowed is six months but some of them have been in the North east for two years.
No no no. The idea of six months is not sacrosanct. It depends on how the operation goes. The idea of six months is often determined at the strategic level to know when troops on ground are due for rotation.
Yes it is six months with foreign missions. Many times what obtains in foreign mission is different from the realities of our own internal security situation. What if they are posted there? 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. It is a mark of discipline for the soldier to remain where he is posted regardless of how hazardous it is. This is what many of our soldiers need to understand. The idea of rotation is conditional, it is situational and it is not as if it is a standing regulation for every operation.
The commanders know the appropriate time to rotate the troops. It could be within the mission area, it could be outside the mission area. But if anybody is posted anywhere, it is a posting and the tenure is determined by the authorities.
If we are expecting so much sacrifice from the troops how can there be appalling situations in the camps and military bases? They complained about food, no sleeping kits and that they get only three sachets of pure water in the desert heat.
It is unfortunate … I still maintain that the authorities concerned know the welfare of the soldiers and they are doing everything to meet it. There is no condition that is deliberately created to punish anybody. We are aware that every condition is to motivate the fighting spirit of our men. So it should not be taken as punitive but we are working within the available resources. It is part of the sacrifice that we need to defend our country. Every action is being taken to meet the comfort of soldiers on that mission. As long as the mission continues efforts will continue to be made. And they too will agree that improvements have been incremental. It is not as if it is a definite state. As the mission adjusts, the authorities would also adjust according to the resources available.
The senator representing Borno South, Ali Ndume, was on television a while ago and he reiterated the biggest fear and complaint of the soldiers that our troops are equipped with inferior arms, basically AK 47 rifles to fight well-armed insurgents. How can they win the fight?
That kind of assessment sometimes is also meant to dampen the moral of the soldiers. Maybe somebody told the soldiers the calibre of weapons the insurgents are coming with. But how many of them (the insurgents) have it? Yes they use Anti-Aircraft, AA, guns. It may have a big sound but there is a limit to which it can be used in ground warfare. An undisciplined or fearful soldier might feel intimidated by the sound but the real purpose of the weapon is to get at the aircraft.
But the soldiers mentioned Browning Machine Guns, BMGs and other superior weapons used by Boko Haram fighters.
I think the superiority here should be in the area of training and the will to fight. Despite all this we have seen our soldiers demonstrate gallantry and this has led to a number of defeats for the insurgents in spite of all these things you mentioned.
But when their moral has been dampened to the point that they feel intimidated…If there are 100 of them, we have found out that not all are carrying this big weapons. In that large group only a few have the big weapons but it is the sound that makes people feel that they have many heavy weapons. Of the 100 in a group, for example, maybe only 10 per cent would have AAs. There is a duty for everybody in the group. There are some whose job is to carry dead bodies of fallen colleagues, there is a group whose business is to slaughter, there is a group whose business is to set buildings ablaze. They are not all combatants carrying weapons. Compare that to the Army where everybody has a weapon, at least an AK rifle. But when you mystify them and their weapons many times these things are exaggerated and sometimes it is to dampen the morale of the soldiers and their will to fight..
But even when you capture or seize weapons from them as we see in some photographs released by the military, we see that they have superior weapons. Does it not make sense to upgrade the weapons our soldiers use to standard?
Let me tell you that in every description, the grades of our weapons are still higher. But being an undisciplined setting, they can come with all kinds of weapons – just one group. The Nigerian Army has scales of ammunition for a battalion, for a company and for a platoon which are graded as in a regular army. You cannot have an army where every soldier is carrying machine guns.
So it is not AK 47 that our soldiers use?
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. And we cannot say because we are fighting insurgents then…
So you think that many of these things are about perception. I wonder what the Army is doing to educate the troops about these perceptions. Many of your soldiers believe that the DHQ releases funds for different operations that are merged on the field so the commanders can make money. Why are the Special Operations Brigade, the Forward Operation Brigade and the Task Force Mike all kept together when funds are released for separate ops for them? They say this is corruption.
It is easy to say that and when you mention corruption everybody becomes alert. But let me tell you, 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. Any correct soldier knows where to raise his queries about deployment. Even when you are on a mission, before you move there is room for 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.
They are Nigerian Army soldiers. We spoke to them ourselves I assure you.
Then they must be extremely disloyal soldiers, not correct soldiers. Like I said, there are procedures… but military system is not as draconian as we assume. Before you move you can ask your commander that you want a few thing clarified. It is a right. He must explain to you the details of the mission you are going. So if a soldier is avoiding that but rather is writing a petition, and not even to the authorities… because if he wrote that petition to the Army authorities we know what to do. If he is not doing that it is because he knows he cannot back his allegations. Or he is out for mischief.
But is it possible for the FOB, SOB and the TFM to be all in the same base, even for strategic reasons?
What is wrong with that? It is the commander on ground who understands what he is confronting and he can arrange his forces the way he likes. The essence is to achieve the mission. Are they looking for separate locations for the troops? Do you even understand the environment?
For instance I was in Bulabuline last week and while we were there, about 100 metres away IEDs were exploding and these were landmines. And I hope you know that landmines are even outlawed in international warfare but these insurgents are using it. So do you say because they are using it we should also use it?
Second, if a commander says this is where he will keep everybody, he has an idea of the dangers in the environment which a soldier may not have. So, most of the soldiers writing this are motivated by fear.
You think the army is doing enough for the psychological state and morale of the troops?
Within the resources available to the Nigerian Armed Forces, the leadership is doing its best. And I emphasise that the impression that money is being stolen is unfair because the circumstance does not even allow for it. If you hear , for instance that N2 billion has been given, do you know how much goes into feeding soldiers? Do you know how much goes into fuelling the tanks and vehicles? You hear N2 billion and you think it is a lot…
The ordinary Nigerian hears that Defence is taking a lot of our budget and sees that yet we cannot even equip our soldiers.
But have you thought of how much is going into servicing even those doing the battle? I just told you that each soldier is entitled to N30,000 a month. You know how much that comes to? The same people are entitled to be fed three times a day. The vehicles they use for patrol must be fuelled. The tanks they drive must be fuelled. Every weapon they use must be serviced and oiled on a regular basis. But the assumption is that N2 billion goes into somebody’s pocket.
Our reporter also heard complaints that there are not enough men prosecuting this war against Boko Haram. Even the senator said so.
Enough men is determined by the mission and what is available to us. What do you mean by enough men? So we should devote the entire Army to the North east. These same people are the same who said they don’t want soldiers in their environment.
You must understand the nature of terrorism. The number one mission of a terrorist is to wear the system down. To wear it out and exhaust it. People cannot understand our deployment more than us. And let me tell you what happens in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states. Everybody who thinks he is somebody wants a soldier in his bedroom for protection.
If you recall, most of the police stations have been burnt. Why are policemen not asking for redeployment? But everybody who thinks he is somebody wants a soldier even this senator.
It is unfortunate that people are ready to believe the negative about the Army in the suspicion that there is corruption or that these people are not competent. But what they terrorists and their sponsors want to prove is that they have overrun every other agency of government and that they will do same to the military. But this military is very resilient. That is why the campaign is aimed at their moral. That is why the military is the target of both psychological and physical assault. Unfortunately most people are unwittingly joining in the campaign against the morale of the military.
So many of the soldiers who spoke to you are doing it out of fear or collaboration. We have tried many of our people for collaboration with the insurgents. And you know that cowardice is a crime in the military. And that is why they will not complain to the military because if you demonstrate cowardice during war the consequence can be serious.
Finally, on the kidnap of the girls in Chibok. Daily Trust did a story saying that villagers have seen the girls, some of them in uniform, being transported from place to place. How is it that the military is not able to track them.
Let me tell you, there is no information on this matter that we ignore. We take every information even though many of them are so misleading. One mission of the terrorist is to wear out the state agencies sometimes through misleading information. We have gotten too many misleading information on this issue.
But how are they able to move these girls?
Do you even believe it? But in spite of that we are not dismissing any information. But we must analyse it and see how it fits into the operations. We don’t need to tell people what we are doing.
We hear stories that they are in villages on the Nigerian border which are known to the military
All of this is aimed at attacking our morale. It looks like a grand campaign to undermine the efficiency of the Armed Forces. It is a design to sulk us into controversy. And that will not help our mission. Our mission is to look for these children and believe me we are looking for them frantically. Unfortunately rumour has overtaken the reality here and the problem is that people are ready to believe anything. But it is not everything out there that is relevant to operations.
The Senate President, David Mark, a former Army General has said that the full weight of the military should be brought to bear on the insurgents but there are those who say the use of force will not win the war. What is your take?
My opinion here does not count. My opinion can only be that of the government and the leadership of the military. The leadership of the military believes that we will do our job as mandated by the political authority. And we would do it as effectively and efficiently within the resources made available to us. I assure you that the Armed Forces and its leadership in collaboration with other security agencies are doing their best to resolve these issues.
The Chibok incident is very unfortunate because it has brought a lot of reversal and doubt on the military. But it is consistent with terrorist patterns all over the world. It is left for us all to do our best to continue undistracted.