By Hussaini Monguno.
The Cameroonian authorities call them ‘deserters’ who fled the battlefield. Nigerian military authorities say no, they are on a ‘tactical maneuver’ in Cameroon. The question still remains; what were Nigerian soldiers doing at a primary school 80 miles into Cameroonian soil? Was it a tactical maneuver or flight from a better-armed and better-motivated adversary?
This is the latest embarrassment Nigeria has faced as the Boko Haram insurgents continue to overwhelm its army that was once described as the best in Africa. Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno state had in February this year declared that Boko Haram members were better armed and motivated than Nigerian troops.
Briefing State House correspondents shortly after meeting with President Goodluck Jonathan and service chiefs over Saturday’s insurgents attack on Izge, a community in Gwoza Local Government Area, Shettima stated that going by the rising activities of the sect, Nigeria was in a state of war.
In an angry reaction President Jonathan told reporters if the Borno state governor felt the military were not useful, he would pull them out of the state for a month. Even though the governor had only observed that the Nigerian army was losing ground and called for reinforcements in the wake of a five-hour attack on the towns of Bama and Izge in which hundreds of people died, the President in a veiled threat argued that if he withdrew troops from Borno it would become so unsafe that even the governor would not be able to stay there.
Then followed a barrage of attacks from Presidential attack dogs against the governor led by the boorish Doyin Okupe who has neither a military background nor has he ever visited Borno to assess the situation on ground.
Since the governor made that statement, the group has killed over 2,000 Nigerians; 650,000 people have fled their homes, some to foreign countries like Cameroon by August 2014. This is an increase of 200,000 since May.
As reports of the intensity of Boko Haram increase, the credibility gap between the claims of the military authorities and what is on ground also widens. For instance the military claimed in August 2013 that Shekau had been shot and probably killed. But it has turned out that the man is hale in kicking. He has recorded several-chilling messages that have been aired to a frightened world audience. He has taken responsibility for the April 2014 kidnapping of over 200 schoolgirls. Additional girls have since been kidnapped and in videotape, Shekau threatened to sell the kidnapped girls into slavery.
The distrust of the Nigerian military cannot be found only among the civilian populace. Even the rank and file has become wary of their commanders. In May 2014, Nigerian soldiers shot at the car of their divisional commander Maj-Gen Ahmed Mohammed, at Maiduguri’s Maimalari barracks, blaming him of colluding with Boko Haram and for the killing of their colleagues by the enemy.
It is also public knowledge that nine Nigerian generals are being investigated for suspected sale of weapons to Boko Haram. The conduct of these officers it is believed has led to a situation where the Nigerian military is losing grounds all round. Morale in the barracks is at an all time low and this has led to a situation where even the wives of Nigerian soldiers have protested against their husbands being sent to fight militant Islamist group Boko Haram. In the second week of this month, they held a protest at the Giwa military barracks Maiduguri as the government vowed to retake Gwoza town from the militants who overrun the town and several others before declaring the who neighborhood an Islamic Caliphate.
The situation in the Nigerian military today is a total embarrassment to the Nigerian military, which was once held as the strongest army in Africa. Nigerian military delegations to troubled spots in other parts of the world and in Africa have often distinguished themselves.
Such stellar performance is what led Gen Victor Malu as Chief of Army staff to reject proposals by President Olusegun Obasanjo to sign a military pact that gave Americans unlimited access to our defence establishment in the name of training our troops for peace keeping. General Malu kept arguing that the Nigerian army was combat ready and even superior to even the Americas. What the Nigerian army needed was equipment, he argued persistently.
This was the argument that heralded the exit of General Malu from the army. Since his exit, the affairs of the Nigerian army have taken a nosedive. There has been a rapid degeneration of exemplary leadership by the officer corps, which has led to the deplorable situation today.
In 2010, the Nigerian Army Intelligence Corp (NAIC) in a report indicted General Andrew Azazi of colossal theft of weapons from the military warehouses in Kaduna and Jaji when he was the General Officer Commanding, 1 Division of the Nigerian Army. The report was titled “Investigation Report into the Theft and Sale of Arms to Niger Delta Gunrunner by an Officer and Some Soldiers of the 1 Base Ordinance Depot Kaduna. It was submitted to the Chief of Army Staff (COAS).
Following the publication by Sahara reporters in 2010 Azazi was promptly sacked as the Chief of Army Staff and compulsorily retired from the army by late President Yar’Adua based on his role in the theft of the weapons. Amazingly when Yar Adua died and Goodluck Jonathan took over, he appointed Azazi National Security Officer!
When Nigerian authorities treat such serious military crimes as the type Azazi was accused of with rewards and promotions as Jonathan did to Azazi, they create situations where are soldiers will be ridiculed, defeated and killed in the field of battle; that close to 500 Nigerians soldiers took to their heels in their battle with Boko Haram and were hiding like rain bitten chicken, 80 miles inside Cameroon should be food for thought. Is this the same army we were trying to use in our fight with Cameroon over Bakasi?