In addition to corruption, inadequate armament, low morale and possible collusion with the enemy, the growing rift between officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs) in Battalion 101 of 7Division based in Maiduguri, has been identified as one of the factors that has hindered the country’s counter-terrorism efforts in the North-east, THISDAY has learnt.
According to findings, the mistrust between officers and the NCOs is so bad that it has served to weaken the country’s offensive against Boko Haram terrorists.
Investigations have revealed that the rift has seen the parties setting each other up and helped to expose senior officers in the army currently being investigated and face court martial, contrary to the repeated denials by the Defence Headquaters and Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh, that no officer is being tried in the military.
Whereas the soldiers have accused their commanders of colluding with the enemy, the officers have blamed the soldiers for deliberately refusing to fight and pushing their colleagues to their deaths.
A senior officer in the Nigerian Army who spoke to THISDAY on the issue said his fellow commissioned officers have maintained that rather than the insurgency, it is acts of cowardice, indiscipline and desertion from duty on the part of soldiers that constitute the greatest danger in the ongoing fight against terrorism in the country.
He disclosed that the troublesome Battalion 101 of 7Division, which recently mutinied against their General Officer Commanding (GOC), was made up of lily-livered soldiers whose frame of mind was not conditioned to engage terrorists in a battle.
He revealed that the pervasive rot had become so frightening that the military authorities are considering a comprehensive overhaul of both their recruitment system and more importantly, re-orientation of personnel on the professional calling of soldiers in the armed forces.
According to another top military source, the military authorities have been trying to deal with rising cases of sabotage within their ranks and soldiers refusing to fight or desertion in the heat of battle but were taken aback by the recent acts of mutiny in Maiduguri.
Worried by the ugly development, the military has traced the remote and immediate causes of this alarming trend to three major factors, including the overbearing influence of the elite during recruitment process such that candidates without a passion for the profession are being recruited into the armed forces.
It was revealed that most political figures, traditional rulers and influential personalities under the erroneous notion that the military is a money-making establishment rather than war-fighting profession put enormous pressure on the services to recruit their candidates who are not suitable for the job.
“What we have today is frightening. This is not an issue of morale or motivation but outright cases of cowardice with soldiers refusing to fight. They even beat up their officers and commanders and before you know it they will start calling their political godfathers who will in turn start making demoralising comments and talking about morale.
“It has been difficult getting them to imbibe the discipline required of soldiers. For example, the attitude exhibited by this battalion has been unheard of in the annals of the Nigerian Army whereby you will send a soldier on assignment, and he dictates to you where, when and how he will go, as well as the type of weapon he must be given before going.
“Those who complain of weapons and other issues are all excuses born out of fear and cowardice, not issues of motivation and morale,” the source said.
However, the soldiers have attributed the woeful performance of the military in the North-east to the army officers, whom they accused of selling information, equipment and military uniforms in exchange of Boko Haram members.
Soldiers, who spoke to THISDAY, lamented the maltreatment of their colleagues, pointing to the poor allowances they are paid and poor feeding, saying: “They treat us like slaves.”
“What kind of cowardice are they talking about when they are the problem? Our big men and our generals are the problem. If all the money that is being sent to them is well utilised, why can't we fight them (Boko Haram)?
“Look at other countries how they treat their soldiers. Since I joined this army, it was only once that I was supplied a uniform, which was during the passing out from training.
“Any uniform they bring, they will divert it and sell to Boko Haram, while those of us in the army don't even have any. It’s amongst the officers who use all these things to make money, while we other ranks are suffering.
“That is why we felt they are just using us to die for nothing and immediately you die, they freeze your account and after three months they will send your family out of the barracks.
“All those generals are using us as slaves to make money. They are not paying us all the allowance due to us, which is N45,000. What they do is to keep N30,000 and say they are using N15,000 to cook food for us.
“But how could you use that to prepare food for so many soldiers.
Besides, look at the food they give us, in fact sometimes it's better to starve than to even eat the food and when you eventually eat it, it is sickening. Some soldiers end up with stomach pain, while others fall ill. The remaining N30,000 they don't even pay as and when due,” the soldiers revealed.
Army Arrests Traitors
THISDAY also learnt that despite repeated denials by DHQ and Badeh, the Nigerian Army has embarked on sweeping arrests and comprehensive investigations that have helped to expose some of the officers and soldiers responsible for colluding with the terrorists.
One of the officers who has been arrested and is being investigated is the former GOC of 7Division, Maiduguri, Major-General Abubakar Mohammed.
According to a military source, so many senior officers have enriched themselves by giving vital operational information to the insurgents in exchange for money, thereby sabotaging the counter-terrorism efforts including the ambush near Chibok that led to the death of about 18 soldiers and Lt-Col. Salisu, and the subsequent mutiny against the former GOC.
The source alleged that the former GOC was accused of deliberately misleading the soldiers, resulting in operational blunders, which cost several lives including some officers.
The decision to keep away the former GOC pending the final investigation by the panel set up by the DHQ was corroborated by a source in the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA).
“If along the line the action of the GOC provoked the mutiny, the GOC has to be court-martialed. But the only thing we are sure of is that he is not likely to go back there,” the source said.
Providing further insight, a source within the 7Division said: “The Lt-Colonel died during the last ambush after the operation at Chibok as a result of the order given by the GOC who insisted we must sleep over instead of returning back to Maiduguri that night. It was in the process of sleeping over that the Boko Haram informants tipped off members of the sect and they ambushed us.
“This happened despite the fact that we told him that we wanted to come back that very night but he refused and told us that we should wait. Then there was an ambush where we lodged and suffered heavy casualties. We don't know what was his plan and that is why he has been arrested for questioning but we know that at the end of the day nothing will happen to him.
“They handcuffed the GOC for allowing the blunder that caused the heavy casualties. Even though we know they will set him free, which has always been the problem with our officers who feel they can do anything and get away with it.”
Although Mohammed was immediately replaced by Brigadier-General I.Y Ibrahim, while an investigative panel was set up by DHQ, information reaching THISDAY showed that the probe has been expanded beyond the immediate cause of the mutiny, which has led to the arrest and/or questioning of 25 other senior army officers.
The army officers, THISDAY discovered, included Captains and Lt-Colonels, while nine Generals are being placed under watch but no decision has been taken on them.
However, another source within the military disclosed that some of the senior officers under investigation are on the run.
“What is happening is that all these our officers normally communicate with BH, telling them the type and amount of ammunition we have. When they have also given this vital information to the enemy, they will now ambush us and that was what happened when we had the problem with the GOC.
“Its our officers who are killing us… And now the officer that was communicating with Boko Haram has run away with his family under watch,” the source said.
Also speaking to THISDAY on the issue, a top military source said the investigation was advanced and had almost been concluded at the regimental level and a more comprehensive one would be undertaken by the Military Police.
“It is the Military Police which will determine the level of charges, involvement and punishment for those involved. These are being done simultaneously. Definitely the full wrath of the law is going to be applied, which is death by firing because mutiny and sabotage during a war is a serious offence,” the source said.
Boko Haram Kills Five
In a related development, suspected members of Boko Haram have laid siege to two villages in Borno State, killing at least five persons and carting away food items and livestock.
Residents of the area informed journalists that armed hoodlums believed to be members of the sect attacked the two villages – Tohya and Wurojene – near Chibok, the town where over 200 schoolgirls were abducted on April 14.
According to them, the attackers opened fire on the villagers as soon as they sneaked into the communities at about 7pm on Monday, killing at least five people.
A resident of Chibok, who preferred not to be named, said: “The attackers fired at the people and many residents had to flee into the bush. There was confusion everywhere as the attackers also went about setting fire on houses.”
He added: “They attacked for about two hours and carted away foodstuff, bags of grains and chicken belonging to our poor people.”
The two villages, which share a common border, are about 14 kilometres away from Chibok in southern Borno.
The source said: “Most of the villagers were forced to sleep in the bush throughout the night and the insurgents left after the killing spree and destruction. There was no resistance from the military troops around the area.”
A security source, who was not authorised to speak to the press, confirmed the incident. He said based on reports from the residents of the two communities, the insurgents were “well armed though not as many as they usually were in previous attacks”.
He maintained that the troops stationed around the area were not alerted on time, allowing the insurgents to have a field day.
Also, suspected members of the notorious Boko Haram were reported to have launched a daring attack on Bilta in Borno State on Monday, where about 50 of their members were killed by the military at the weekend.
Residents of the community said the insurgents are now in control of Bilta after troops withdrew from the area.
It could not be ascertained how many people were killed in the latest attack but the insurgents were said to have destroyed many buildings in the reprisal on the village.
Security sources said over 350 insurgents armed with rocket-propelled grenades emerged from the bush and attacked the military formation in Bilta.
One of the security sources said: “The terrorists re-mobilised and attacked Bilta after the heavy casualties they recorded at the weekend. Our troops withdrew for strategic reasons only and not out of fear. Remember that we recorded a huge success on Saturday and Sunday.”
A resident of the village, who spoke to reporters on the phone, said: “The insurgents were well kitted in military fatigues and drove in about 35 vehicles and dozens of motorcycles. They also had armoured personnel carriers and they instilled fear in everyone.”
Council Boss Denies Attack on His Community
In another incident, the caretaker Chairman of Dikwa Local Government area in the state, Alhaji Ali Modu Gana yesterday dismissed the report of Monday’s attack by insurgents on his council, saying it was a pack of lies.
The Hausa service of one of the foreign radio stations had reported the attack on Dikwa during which the council secretariat was set ablaze and security operatives deployed to the area chased away.
However, Gana said the report was false, adding: “There was no Boko Haram attack on Dikwa as carelessly and unprofessionally reported by the news medium. The story was baseless, unfounded, untrue and aimed at misleading the public and giving terrorists cheap publicity.”
The council boss, who spoke to reporters in Maiduguri, also said sources quoted by the news outlet to have spoken to were totally falsified and concocted.
He added: “I was in Dikwa throughout yesterday (Monday), I even swore in all my appointed ward councillors in line with the constitution peacefully. But all of a sudden, people started calling me on the phone Tuesday morning sympathising with me and saying that Boko Haram attacked my town and set ablaze our local government secretariat and chased the military away.
“Inasmuch as the constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression, such freedom must not be misused to give Boko Haram cheap publicity as well as tarnishing the image and integrity of our security forces who are doing their best to ensure peace and tranquility.”
He explained that what actually took place in Dikwa on Monday was an explosion caused by faulty solar street light batteries that led to panic among some residents and was not an attack in any way.
He urged the media to always verify their information before going to press to avoid misleading their audience, even as he cautioned those that claimed to be eyewitnesses of incidents and media sources to always give authentic information and stop spreading rumours that could amplify people’s fears.