By Emma Nnadozie
Soldiers are the ones who bear the brunt. They are in the frontlines, battling daily with Boko Haram insurgents. They face the bullets, get hit and die in the war front. They are not happy. Though they swore to protect, preserve and die for Nigeria, they are no longer happy carrying out their professional duties. In fact, announcement of the appointment of new service chiefs elicited wild jubilation and cheers from our gallant soldiers in the war front.
They could not hide their anger against the retired service chiefs. Saturday Vanguard had an exhaustive telephone conversation with a cross section of Nigerian soldiers in the battle field in Borno and other endangered Northern states.
The interview which lasted for hours had unprecedented out pour of anger and curses against what was in place before new changes were made. Those interviewed sought strict anonymity so as not to be subjected to military order. Their expose is an agenda setting for the new service chiefs.
APPOINTMENT OF SERVICE CHIEFS
One of the officers who spoke from Borno said “the appointment of the new service chiefs was long over due. It brings hope that there will be changes. Many of us are now full of expectations.
ALLEVIATING THE SUFFERING OF TROOPS ON THE FRONT LINE
They should provide the soldiers on the front line with full military kits, ranging from boots, camouflage uniform, ballistic helmet, fragmental jackets, night vision goggles, serviceable compass, amongst others as well as basic infantry, platoon and company weapons. Also, soldiers in front line should be rotated out of the battle field after a minimum period of six months interval to avoid battle fatigue or what you call ‘job monotony’ in civil parlance. This aspect is only on paper, but not in practice. It’s only the Navy and the Airforce that seem to keep to such policy.
Imagine keeping a soldier in the theatre of operations for three to five years, yet if he is allowed to go on pass, it’s just once or twice in a year to see his family that he has left for a long time. It was only a former GOC of 7 Division, Maiduguri, General Victor Ezugwu who sympathized with the plight of soldiers on the front line and decided to increase the pass duration from seven days to 14 days and also shortened the interval from once a year to every 90 days (3months). That is, when you spend three mouths on ground, you are entitled to apply for a pass of 14 days to see your family and loved ones provided you don’t have any disciplinary case against you.
But immediately the GOC was posted out, everything changed and we went back to the status quo, if not worse. Recall that just some weeks ago, there was the case of a soldier who shot and killed his platoon commander, a Lieutenant, in one of the locations in Maiduguri because the officer denied the soldier the privilege to proceed on pass to see his family.
So, you can see that this is a very serious issue that needs to be looked into by the new service chiefs. There should also be adequate remuneration to the immediate family in case of death or any hazard incurred by the soldier in the line of duty. If a soldier is fully kitted and well equipped with all the necessary support weapons, knowing full well that if he dies, his family would be well taken care of, such a soldier will be highly motivated and be eager to fight with his last breath.
Also, there should be collaborative efforts between the Army and Airforce components in terms of logistics and movement of troops in and out of the theatre of operations. For instance, if there’s an arrangement in place for the Nigerian Airforce (NAF), to always station an aircraft like the C-130 to airlift officers and men who wish to go on pass, let’s say once in a week, we will avoid a lot of reckless and senseless deaths that we have witnessed in time past. Some times, soldiers that went on pass, on returning to the theater were ambushed by marauding Boko Haram insurgents while at other times, it could be that the vehicles were involved in a crash.
POLITICAL AND MILITARY LEADERSHIP
Another officer said: “Attention should be focused on the political and military leadership. This is against the backdrop of the fact, that in a democracy like ours where the military has subordinated itself to civil rule, it goes to show that, it’s the political class that calls the shot while the military leadership only executes.
If there is sincerity of purpose and the political will on leadership, Boko Haram insurgency would have been a foregone conclusion by now. Even the sabotage you are talking about, it still boils down to sincerity of purpose. If the Government of the day is honest and sincere, all the moles that are crawling in high places would have been fished out and completely dealt with. But because some people in the corridors of power are feeding fat at the expense of others dying, that is why the war seems to be unending.”
One other officer had this to say: “Soldiers combating Boko Haram confront a lot of difficulties. Napoleon Bonaparte once said that,”a soldier marches on his stomach”. If you are not properly fed, you will not have the stamina to carry your weapons and fight gallantly, let alone assisting a wounded colleague who has been shot. How do you exert strength to carry your colleague who is down?
The only option you have is to abandon him at that point, which is very bad. You are fighting a battle and you are thinking of your family at home who are staying hungry simply because you have not been able to send them money. These are distractions that dampen the soldiers’ morale and a demoralized man can not give his best to fight effectively. At the end, the insurgents are winners by default.
USE OF EXPIRED BOMBS
“Another disturbing factor is the issue of giving expired bombs and ammunition to troops. Just imagine you, firing an RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade) to dozens or pockets of the insurgents only for the bomb to land but refused to explode and will only be bringing out smoke, what do you think will be your fate? For success to be achieved, we need to go down the roots to the least private soldier in the front line and address the above stated challenges.
Pay the troops their allowance on time and ensure that modern equipment are supplied and very active, because what they normally do is to refurbish old and archaic weapons including battle tanks. We are witnesses to all these practices here in the front line. If not, how do you explain supposedly newly acquired artillery gun or Armour tank that cannot fire more than three bombs before you start to experience stoppages.
Most times in the thick of the battle, your tank can neither fire nor move, at such critical times, before abandoning the tank and our commanding officer will order us to remove the firing pin to further render the gun useless in the hands of the insurgents while we look for alternative way of saving our lives.
The battle against Boko Haram insurgency appears insurmountable because of some of the reasons stated above. The battle will continue to linger because of high wire politics and grand conspiracy. But, if our leaders decide to wriggle itself out of this politics, the insurgency threat would crumble like a pack of cards.
WHERE FORMER SERVICE CHIEFS FAILED
The officers also spoke on what they felt made the former service chiefs to fail. Said one: “Failure in monitoring procurement of armaments and other platforms used in the fight against insurgency from the very stage funds are released to the last stage of purchase and test firing.
*While trying to boost the troops’ morale by accelerated promotion, they also failed to follow up to ensure that it’s actually those at the theater of operations who should be the ones benefitting from such promotions. Such lapses make it possible, for instance, for a soldier serving in Abuja or Lagos to benefit from such special promotion while most of the soldiers that are on ground and are fighting the battle don’t benefit from such promotions.
This is how it normally happens in case you are wondering how possible that could be; once the Chief of Army staff, gives approval for names to be compiled for special promotion with emphasis on those serving in the North East alone, some treacherous chief clerks in the process of compiling names of troops in their location, will call or reach out to soldiers serving outside the theatre of operations to forward their particulars, some time in exchange for a token fee while some times, it could be based on relationship.
And once the name is included under such units and sent to the headquarters in Abuja, no body will ask questions again. They would just promote all the names sent while some troops in some difficult locations are being shortchanged.
“Leadership by example is another area to view seriously. You can not just be sitting in the comfort of your air-conditioned office and be dishing unnecessary orders to troops. A good commander will always find time to visit troops at the front line thereby bonding with his men and inspiring their confidence too. Although, the former COAS did that a few times you will agree with me that his case was like a knee jerk approach, because it’s only when there was an infraction or when the terrorists dislodged our troops that you would see him visiting such locations.
‘Most importantly, all officers and soldiers that have not been deployed to the theatre of war should be made to go and have a feel too. Can you imagine, some one who has been there and after spending three to four years and just came back last year June, has been nominated again to go to the battle front for a second time, while many officers and soldiers who have senior Generals as their godfathers are kept away from the theatre of operations.
This is the major reason many soldiers are applying for voluntary discharge from the military. In summary, if the new service chiefs want to avoid the pitfalls of their predecessors in this regard, they should ensure no sacred cows exist, no matter how highly placed or connected. Officers and soldiers who have not been to North East since the beginning of this fight against Boko Haram insurgency should be deployed immediately without further delay. The records are there to show those of us that have served there both dead and alive. And those of us that God Almighty kept alive were given medals by the Army Authority.
‘It’s not possible to completely end kidnapping, banditry and other criminal activities, but it’s very possible to reduce it to the barest minimum. This is because globally, there is no country that is 100 percent crime free. Even the U.S, with all its sophisticated technology, still experiences some of these vices although at a minimal rate. That is why you don’t get to hear about it so often as is the case with us in the third world. But in the midst of all these, if we make concerted efforts and build a robust collaboration with other security agencies we can drastically curb or put this menace in check.
THOSE WOUNDED IN ACTION
One officer called for social intervention fund to be set up by the Government to take care of the wounded soldiers. Also, a general provision should be made to fly out all cases of injuries sustained as a result of gun shots wound(GSW) and other severe cases that may lead to amputation of limbs or fixing of prosthetics. Go to 68 Reference hospital, Yaba, Lagos. Go to 44 Reference hospital in Kaduna, while in Maiduguri, go to 7 Division medical services and hospital in Maimalari cantonment or University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital in Maiduguri town itself.
It’s just a few privileged ones with strong godfathers who are flown abroad for comprehensive medical treatment. It really grieves our heart when the authorities say that NHIS, National Health Insurance Scheme does not cover gunshot injury and the question we keep on asking them is: was it in our farm land that we sustained the injury or in the course of defending our father land (our country) that we sustained such injury?
The new leadership should look into this area again and also ensure that all soldiers who are wounded in the line of duty are given adequate treatment and if need be, should be flown out for best medical attention.
As for the dead or what we refer to as KIA, (killed in action), no amount of money can buy back a life that has been lost. We will suggest that the family left behind should be given prompt and adequate attention as fast as possible and avoid a situation where the deceased family starts to run from pillar to post in a bid to collect the deceased soldier’s benefits.
Although, in this regard, the past leadership did ensure that a maximum of four of the children left behind by the dead soldier are sponsored up to secondary school level. But the new leadership can build on this and ensure a speedy response process because hitherto, it would take several months and sometimes even years before the deceased family could eventually claim all benefits of such deceased soldier.
And we don’t think it will be too much to ask that a permanent accommodation be provided for such family because in most cases the family will spend a larger part of the benefits in renting accommodation and before you know it, after one or two years when she can no longer afford the house rent, they’re begging for alms especially when the woman does not have any other means of lively hood.