By Jude Ndukwe
The recent massacre of our heroic soldiers by Boko Haram at Metele in Borno State will forever remain a disturbing phenomenon in the psyche of men and women of goodwill in our nation. We now regularly lose soldiers in numbers to the terrorists as if our military is one of a stone-age era despite all the claims by the presidency and military top brass that “Boko Haram has been technically defeated”.
Unfortunately for the soldiers, their families and Nigerians, there was no sense of urgency or even outrage from both the presidency and the military top brass as would have been expected. It all looked like business as usual as it took the presidency five whole days before it could muster any sense of responsibility to make a statement on the unfortunate and disastrous incident, and this only followed the outpouring of outrage against the presidency by the citizens for what many thought was the presidency’s lackadaisical attitude towards the fatal fate of the soldiers.
The pertinent questions Nigerians are asking are, how come Boko Haram still had the kind of audacity displayed in that attack on Nigerian soldiers when the presidency and the military top brass had earlier told us that the terrorist organization had been “technically defeated” and that they had been “degraded”?
How come what now seems to be one of the deadliest attacks on our soldiers is coming only days after the Nigerian Army showcased its newly acquired military hardware on its twitter handle precisely on October 30, 2018, with the following caption: “Breaking News. Nigerian Army Receives Large Consignment of Ammunition: The NIgerian Army has received a shipment of various ammunition to further enhance its operational capabilities and combat efficiency. Pictures below”.
Also, how come this deadly attack is coming only months after President Muhammadu Buhari approved the controversial $1bn for the purchase of military hardware, precisely in April 2018?
At that time, not few Nigerians expressed doubts as to the real reason why that humongous amount was approved by the president singlehanded without any legislative input as required by our laws. The question many are still asking now is, what happened to that money? What happened to the degraded and technically defeated Boko Haram? Can we still trust our leaders and the service chiefs on this fight against insurgency? Can we take their word to the bank or they have mainly been playing politics with the issue while feathering their own nests?
There is the assertion in authoritative quarters that despite the many singsongs of a defeated Boko Haram and how President Muhammadu Buhari and his anointed service chiefs have been directing the affairs of the military, the soldiers themselves have confirmed that their morale is at an all time low and that they are being sent to the war front with weapons far inferior to those of the terrorists, and this is despite all the noise about getting new and sophisticated weapons to prosecute the war against terrorism.
Some of the soldiers who escaped the onslaught of the terrorists have been widely quoted by the media to have narrated the following heartbreaking condition of the army: “See what the Nigerian Army has been doing to us. They brought us here. See how they killed our fellow soldiers, they burnt them inside the tanks,” a narrator in the video said.
“They are using us to make money; why? Are we not human beings? They can kill soldiers inside a tank. If Rocket Propelled Grenade can penetrate M-RAG vehicle, what of a fellow human being?
“This is the location called ‘Metele’; this is a place they (the insurgents) took over 40 barrel and these people want to use us, and within one week they killed over 200 soldiers and we are now 147. They want to waste us here. It is a lie, our blood is not here.
“This is a Third World vehicle, a tank manufactured in 1972; and Albarnawi broke all of it. They want to use us and we are not getting anything from them. We want to tell the government of our condition.
“Please, the Federal Government should intervene before the insurgents come and kill us. They mocked us and said we are Zombies, animals; we do not know our rights, any order given to us we will follow.
“We are millennium soldiers, most of us are graduates.
“Look at what they did to this T12 tank; it is obsolete. It was a 1983 Czechoslovakian tank procured during (Shehu) Shagari’s regime. Is this the money the Federal Government provided to procure weapons?”
In August this year, a band of soldiers shot sporadically in the premises of the Maiduguri airport in protest over shabby handling of their affairs by their commanders.
Soldiers are not known to easily lose their cool against their superiors to the extent of openly threatening to shoot them because they always know the consequences of such actions. But it seems the complacency, lack of man management capacity and unfair treatments meted to the soldiers by their superiors were enough for their tempers to so boil over irrespective of the consequences.
The soldiers themselves feel cheated, and they have so declared on several occasions. They have almost always complained about their poor welfare including the non-payment, and sometimes delay, in payment of their allowances.
The Nigerian soldier is, no doubt, gallant, and has enormous capacity, courage and determination to defend us as citizens and protect our territorial integrity as a nation. But when the enemy parades superior firepower, courage and determination take flight, naturally.
When Buhari appointed a majority of the service chiefs from a particular region and religion, he and his supporters defended it and claimed that even if all his appointees come from one region and religion in a multicultural, multi-religious and multiethnic nation like Nigeria, it means nothing as long as they are competent. The question stakeholders asked then was, was buhari saying he could not find other competent personnel from other parts of the country to head our security agencies and give his appointments a semblance of balance?
Today, nothing exposes the shallowness and puerility of such appointments than the relentless killings of our soldiers and the continued mishandling of information concerning the true state of the fight against insurgency than what we have been experiencing lately.
No doubt, the war against insurgency has failed. To say otherwise would amount to speaking blatant falsehood and such will not help our cause as we need new faces to head the military and other security components of our nation in order to inject fresh ideas and vigour into the fight against insurgency of all forms including that of rampaging herdsmen. To retain this current crop of service chiefs despite their obvious failure is to continue to live a lie. We cannot continue to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. Something has to give for us to make progress.
While it is unbearable that our soldiers were horrendously hounded down by a ragtag terrorist group, it is even worse that the subsequent operation by the military to evacuate the corpses of our fallen soldiers was also scuttled by the terrorists who laid ambush for the evacuators and dispersed them with the same ease they had attacked Metele.
Which military commander does not expect that the terrorists could still be lurking around and therefore should have launched the evacuation better prepared and better armed especially calling in the air force to provide aerial cover for such an exercise shortly after the first deadly attack and in a very volatile environment. This is too elementary for the military not to know. The terrorists must now be laughing at the indiscretion of our military commanders.
It also goes a long way to show that the security architecture which Buhari commands lacks the much needed synergy, and the service chiefs have stayed too long on the job for us to still be reminding them of the need for synergy. They cannot and should not be allowed to continue to sacrifice our heroic soldiers on the altar of their own incompetence and complacency.
The complacency also extends to the presidency which did not say a word about the incident until days later! Simply put, these are not the set of people to take us to The Next Level unless it is the next level of worse insecurity where terrorists have a field day killing our soldiers and herdsmen kidnapping, raping and killing their victims with reckless abandon.
Metele is enough! This incompetence and ineptitude have to be changed!
—firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @stjudendukwe