For the past three decades, the Nigerian military has been infested with all sorts of people in the name of soldiers who were more or less ‘imposed’ on the armed forces by politicians and the likes who claim they are making dividends of democracy available to their people and the result is manifesting today.”
That was how a senior army officer who craved anonymity described the rot in the army which culminated in their inability to initially contain the activities of Boko Haram insurgents.
Vanguard Features, VF, learnt that recently, a member of the National Assembly, took a list of 600 persons from his senatorial zone to the Army headquarters and insisted that they should be recruited into the force. The Senator claimed that the boys were the team that worked for him during his electioneering campaign to the Senate.
This scenario is a common feature and the failure of the military to strike a compromise with such politicians, has always led to confrontation resulting into funds allocation for the armed forces either being slashed, delayed or released in piecemeal.
This impasse affects the welfare programmes, equipment procurement and operations on the battlefield.
VF further learnt that oftentimes due to mainly to the selfish interests of these interested parties, what is eventually released to a sensitive sector like the armed forces, out of the budgetary estimates, would not be up to 70 percent. This is notwithstanding the fact that weapons acquisition is denominated in foreign currencies.
So when two months ago, 480 Nigerian troops crossed to Cameroon as a result of a sustained battle between the troops and the terrorists around Gamboru/Ngala (in a tactical manoeuvre), the media was awash with stories that Nigerian soldiers were running away from the insurgents while the uninformed concluded that Nigerian troops were chicken-hearted and defectors.
Before this incident, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General KTJ Minimah at the quarterly conference had given reasons why the war against the insurgents was dragging. He also gave reasons why some soldiers were deserting. According to him, in reality desertion, acts of cowardice and indiscipline are some of the greatest setbacks in the fight against Boko Haram insurgency in the country.
His words: “A few issues need to be urgently addressed that have caught my attention in recent weeks. Principal among these is the rising acts of indiscipline and unprofessional conduct by troops. In this regard, the recent mutinous act in Maiduguri and reported destruction of public property in Lagos, readily come to mind. As a professional army, the conduct of our troops must be above board at all times”.
He blamed these acts on the fact that most people, who joined the military in the not- too-distant past, did so out of the need for employment and not passion for military service. “Desertion is part of warfare. We must accept that since the era of the Cartagena wars, soldiers have deserted from the battle field. But we need to have a thorough recruitment because mind you, there is high level of unemployment on ground. Most people want jobs and if that job means joining the army, fine. However, when the reality of the military service comes, he drops his rifle. So desertion will continue to be there. We had desertion in ECOMOG; in the Nigerian Civil war. It will continue to be there, “ Minimah said.
Continuing, he said: “We are not fighting a conventional war. The Nigerian Army is a conventional and regular army. The terrorist is someone you don’t know. It may be someone who sold food or fruit to you in the morning and by the afternoon he is the terrorist. We are having all that inter-play in the battle front in the North East. We have to be conscious to separate the terrorist from the law-abiding citizens and we also have human rights to protect”.
He further explained that in the prosecution of the war, a lot occurred to indicate that all is not rosy for the military. This is because equipment needed, both for the Nigerian Airforce and the Army, are lacking or not in sufficient quantity, while the available ones are in comatose state.
A pilot who wouldn’t want his name in print, told VF that what the Air Force requires to rout the Boko Haram terrorists are attack helicopters with sound proof facilities and night vision windscreens. These helicopters would be able to fly into and land inside Boko Haram camps and take them unawares.
Mapping out strategies
“From the air and with the night vision, we can see through the jungle, gather our intelligence and map out our strategies without their knowledge. But this equipment is not there,” he lamented.
Similarly, the type of equipment needed by the Army to prosecute the war, such as armoured tanks, artillery guns, surface-to-air weapons and other technical weaponry are not available. Anti-landmine tanks for instance, are needed for a land sweep of the Sambisa forest because going there without such mines resistant, detecting and demobilising equipment, would be suicidal.
It is against this backdrop that the Federal Government’s procurement of 40 modern attack helicopters with capabilities for night operations and sound proof technology was highly welcomed by the troops and pilots of Operation Zaman Lafia. The distance and reach capability of the aircraft has since enhanced the fight against insurgency.
The high casualty figures inflicted on Boko Haram insurgents in Kawuri, Benishek, Konduga and Vimtim, has signaled a new dawn in the war against the insurgents. VF learnt that dexterity and leadership style of Lt. General Kenneth Minimah have played a major role in the .recent successes recorded by the army.
For those who may have forgotten, General Minimah, as a Major, was the Commander of Operation Sweep, the highly successful Lagos State anti-crime outfit set up by former Lagos Administrator, Brig-General Mohammed Marwa (rtd),
Boko Haram challenge
So the Boko Haram challenge to him was another mandate he has to execute with professional precision, hence he has been christened ‘War General’ in military circles. Minimah, according to insiders, is only interested in containing the insurgents and would recruit the best hands to do it, irrespective of the state of origin or connection of the person with the powers that be.
He recently warned the General Officers Commanding, GOCs, Brigade Commanders and Commanding officers that they would be booted out if the troops under their command fail. Similarly, he warned that if soldiers fail to live up to expectation, or leave the job of defending the nation for which they swore to an oath of allegiance and break the law, they will face court martial.
The soldiers who do well and make the nation proud, according to Minimah, will be rewarded. A classic example of the reward system took place recently when about 250 officers were promoted in Maiduguri for their gallantry in checkmating Boko Haram insurgents.
During the visit, Minimah told the troops that “although what we are fighting is asymmetric warfare, one in which we had not been trained, one where we do not have the specialised weaponry and one where we do not have the doctrine, we just have to learn on the job.”
“Things are beginning to change because we now understand the doctrines and modus operandi of the terror war and it has enabled us to adjust our tactics to match the challenge,” a senior military officer told VF
“The COAS told the troops, you are Infantry men; do not retreat if they use anti-aircraft guns to fire. Yes, the sound and impact is scary. But stay and wait for them to come to you. When they now come out of their hiding, take them out. They are cowards, they can’t match our professionalism,” he recounted.
Noting that this admonition by the number one soldier has turned the tide, the senior officer told VF that ‘morale’ is presently very high among the troops after several victories recorded by the soldiers. “It is not only money or acquisition of new weaponry that boast morale. In the army, victory in battle is a very important morale booster,” he noted.
The high morale was boosted by the fact that General Minimah has put in place modalities to ensure better medicare for soldiers wounded in the battle front. He made it clear that even if such treatment is to take place in the US or Germany, no stone should be left unturned to do so.
He has established a Special Ward, known as the ‘Zaman Lafia ward’ at the ‘44’ Army Reference Hospital in Kaduna where any soldier wounded in battle must be taken to within the shortest possible time. Already there is a dedicated Airforce aircraft for that purpose.
He also endowed the sum of about N25 million in the office of the Chief of Administration as special fund for treatment of soldiers in any part of the world if necessary. VF gathered that so far, about 10 soldiers and officers are currently abroad receiving treatment after suffering gunshot injuries from the war on terror.
The idea of deploying soldiers who just finished from the depot or officers of the Nigeria Defence Academy, without requisite fighting experience, to fight against the insurgents, was discarded by the Army High Command. In their place, very experienced soldiers who have seen battles in several peacekeeping theatres of war, were now tasked with responsibilities of checkmating the insurgents.
These steps have boosted the confidence of soldiers that they have a leadership who leads by example and one that has genuine concern for their welfare.