• Soldiers cry out over poor welfare

 

As the increasing spate of insurgency in the North-East continues abated, the issue of corruption within the nation’s Military Brass of how the billions of naira to fight the war is being cornered into private pockets, has made it extremely difficult for the military to march the fire power of the dare-devil insurgents, writes our Roving Correspondent

 

According to a Voice of America, VOA, Hausa service news, a Nigerian soldier who was a guest on the Voice of America Hausa Service has claimed that some military chiefs are aiding the men of the dreaded Islamic sect, Boko Haram.

The soldier, who did not reveal his identity, told VON Hausa Service that some time ago, while serving in Bama Unit in Borno State, a commander from a nearby unit got in contact with his own commandant and asked for backup.

He said when he and the soldiers were to meet with the soldiers from the other commandant, they discovered they were given different uniforms and in the brink of launching the attack on the insurgent group, the soldiers from the other unit were withdrawn by their commandant, leaving them to face the men of the insurgents alone with light arms. He also claimed that some of the insurgents they killed were officers that conducted training in military base in Kontagora near Abuja.

“We had only light arms and our men were being picked off one after the other. We realised that some of them were actually mercenaries from the Nigerian army… hired to fight us,” he said.

The unidentified soldier said that most of his colleagues were silently putting their arms down and leaving the army due to the frustrations they experienced and what he termed the politicization of the war against terror in the country. “I swear by Allah, there are soldiers who are coming out of the forest after they were abandoned; several of them dropped their weapons and just went home. There were more than 20 of them from this battalion in Kwanduga. Even me that is talking to you now, I am preparing to leave. I just want to tell the world so that they will know what is happening. These people are doing this secretly,” he said.

His claim on some military personnel being recruited by the sect group seem to have been confirmed as some Military high command on Sunday launched an investigation into claims of a lance corporal who was said to be killed by the Special Forces during an encounter with  insurgents in Borno State. The Lance Corporal according to a source told Punch that he was a trusted trainer of Special Forces at the Nigerian Army Training Centre, Kontagora.

“A soldier who trains Special Forces at the Nigerian Army Training Centre in Kontagora, Niger State, was among those who were killed. The man was not among the Special Forces; he was obviously leading the attack for the insurgents but he got killed. It was one of the soldiers that identified him as somebody from his unit in Kotangora. The soldier called attention to the man’s corpse and when the commander said he should be searched, they recovered a current pass authorizing him to leave Kotangora and his Army identity card from him”.

However, responding to the allegation, the Director of Defence Information, Maj. Gen Chris Olukolade, said they were all not true and that the unidentified soldier could be a Boko Haram sect member who was disguising as a Nigerian soldier.

“The person that granted that interview on the VOA we believe is not a soldier, he could just be one of those simulated on the other side to give some false impression to support the insurgents.” He refused to comment on the story about the killed lance corporal who is alleged to have been working for the sect members.

Meanwhile, a national daily (not DESERT HERALD) has reported that both the medical care and welfare packages for the fighting soldiers were grossly insufficient to motivate them. According to national daily, it reported that some of the soldiers who spoke to it on the condition of anonymity, because it is against military rules for unauthorised soldiers to speak to the press, alleged that apart from the poor welfare package, some of the wounded soldiers pick their own medical bills while others do not get  the required comprehensive medical attention.

It was gathered that most of those injured in conflicts were treated at the barracks while complicated cases were referred to government hospitals, including the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital (UMTH). A soldier said, “Some of the injured are compelled to pay for their drugs, they have to pay for the expensive drugs, the only drugs available are usually   paracetamol and  phensic.’’

He claimed that some soldiers’ limbs had been amputated due to lack of proper   medical attention.

Another soldier told our correspondent that there was a time one of them was shot in the stomach and admitted at the UMTH. “’When we visited him, we could not but be moved to contribute some money towards his medical care, because he was in great pain and had no money to treat himself.’’

Investigations revealed that since President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency on the three states of the northeast on May 14, 2013, the Joint Task Force, which assumed initial responsibility of combating the insurgents, put in place an arrangement to pay N1,000 per day to each security operative involved in the operation.

It was learnt that the same amount was paid to soldiers, riot policemen, State Security Services officials and other security operatives under the JTF.

Security sources said that while the Federal Government pays N45,000 per month to each security operative, the authorities deduct the sum of N15,000 from each personnel as feeding allowances in the camps. The allowances were paid strictly on a daily basis as N31,000 is paid for months with 31 days; N30,000 for months with 30 days and N28,000 for the month of February. Investigation further revealed that the present arrangement makes a provision of N50, 000 for the family of any soldier or security operative who gets killed in action.

“No extra financial arrangement was put in place to cushion the pains of injured soldiers in the frequent audacious attacks of the sect. In principle, medical arrangement was supposed to be made available for injured soldiers, some of them with gunshot wounds were left at the MRS. The  MRS is a short term for the traditional medical facility in any military formation in the country.

“In most cases, the MRS is not equipped to the level of a standard medical facility with the capacity that could give adequate treatment to gunshot wounds inflicted on soldiers during gunfights”.

It was further learnt that even those who were taken to the general hospitals where they are supposed to be treated for free had issues with the quality and frequency of the feeding arrangement. A good number of security operatives are lackadaisical because of the magnitude of risk and the associated loss involved in the operation if things went the other way. The source said: “What they pay is N45, 000 per month to each security operative. When you say soldiers, there is no difference between a soldier, police, SSS, immigration, customs or any other security agent.

“Out of the N45, 000, they deduct N15, 000 per month from every operative for feeding.

“What they pay is N1,000 per day because they pay N30, 000 when the month has 30 days and N31, 000 when the month is 31 days. They pay according to days in the month. As for allowances for the injured, I am not aware of any such allowances. If you are unlucky and you are injured, you are taken to a general hospital, where you will be treated. They will feed you but if you rely solely on that and you don’t have money, hunger go wire you.”

“There are also occasions when soldiers are taken to the MRS where they simply dress the wounds if there are no spaces in the general hospitals. And if a soldier or security operative is killed, they pay N50, 000 to the family, they take the body back home and that is it. Of course, this is apart from the entitlement of the personnel in his service”.

 The source said that the issue of the N50, 000 death allowance to the family was a major disincentive to the soldiers and security operatives involved in the fight.

It was stated that many security operatives were reluctant to be transferred to the operational areas because of the feeling that N50,000 could  be easily made in a non-operational area and was not worth the risk.

Speaking further, one of them who said: “We were supposed  to get  N45,000 monthly allowance which should also take care of our feeding but instead of getting  the whole amount, we are only paid N30,000 monthly with the understanding that the remaining N15,000 was  deducted to prepare food for us.”

The soldier, who is of the infantry unit of the Nigerian Army, said that he was returning to the troubled Maiduguri. He explained that in his first sojourn to the troubled region, soldiers  were served three times daily.

He went on: “But now the food is brought just once; the whole three meals are brought at the same time.’’ He also lamented that the quality of the food was poor.

Another soldier, a Lance Corporal said, “I just dey manage the food, it is not something that is worth the N15,000 they are taking from me monthly but wetin man go do?”

He said he believed that the allowance was jointly contributed by the state and the Federal Government. The soldiers described the N1,000 per day allowance as grossly inadequate.  One of them said it was generally believed that the allowance is N5,000 daily, but that  the officers  were  short-changing them.

He said the most annoying thing was that the soldiers were made to go back home empty-handed after the exercise. The soldier, who said this was his second time of being deployed in the state, explained that: “The other security outfits in the Joint Task Force deployed out of the state went away with N1m when they were being deployed from the state but those from the Army went with  nothing.”

One of the soldiers lamented that other incentives from the governor of Borno State were not given to them by their superiors.  He said, “There was a day we went out with the governor and he gave the officers N12,000  each for a soldier but the officer just bought a can of coke for each of us  and did not give us anything.

“It is a pity that there is so much corruption in the system and this is discouraging,    especially at times like this when morale should be high to deal with the insurgents.”

The soldiers, however, said the state governments in the region had been helpful to families of soldiers that lost their lives in the fight against the insurgents.

“The states give N1m each to the families of slain soldiers,’’ they said, but  lamented that this, sometimes, does not get to the family of the deceased intact, alleging that officers sometimes give as little as N250,000 to some families.’’

However, speaking the Director of Defence Information (DDI), Major-General Chris Olukolade, questioned the motive of any soldier, who complains in public, noting that such development smacks of indiscipline and mischief. The DDI said it was unprofessional of any officer or soldier, to use the press as a veritable platform to ventilate perceived grievances, since there are established procedures for such cases to be addressed.

In refuting the allegation that allowances of soldiers were being cut, Olukolade said: “I make bold to say that no officer of the Nigerian Armed Forces has the capacity or can explore any loophole to steal the allowances due to any officer or soldier.  “Maybe for procedural reasons the money or entitlements may not have reached them at the moment, but that may be related to financial regulations, which we need to comply with… So, procedures are on to make sure they are paid their allowances.

“These soldiers know that occasionally, these allowances are even paid in arrears. This is not as general as the impression has been given. There must be a genuine reason, if anyone of them has not gotten his allowance that will most likely be related to procedural issues.

“All I can assure them is that once those procedures are completed, they will get their money. Nobody can steal their money,” he assured. It will be recalled that Borno State governor, Ibrahim Kashim Shettima, had in February this year spoke on the issue that insurgents are better equipped and motivated than the Nigerian military. The governor stated this at the presidential villa, Abuja recently after briefing President Goodluck Jonathan on the killings in Konduga and Kauri in Borno by the sect.

Shettima while, addressing State House correspondents after meeting with the president, said; “In all fairness to the officers and men of the Nigerian Army and Police, they are doing their best, given the circumstances they have found themselves in. But, honestly, Boko Haram is better armed and better motivated than our own troops. “And believe me — I am an eternal optimist as I have always said, but I am also a realist. Given the present state of affairs, it is absolutely impossible for us to defeat Boko Haram.”

Speaking further he said; “I made it emphatically clear to Mr President that the Boko Haram is better armed and better motivated. Anybody who is following events in this country can attest to the fact that they have a very smooth sail overrunning communities, killing people.

“Have we ever succeeded in thwarting any of their plans? They went to Konduga and did what they wanted to do; they held sway for over four hours before they left. They were in Kauri, Idzge — and I don’t blame the Nigerian military honestly. We the leaders should be held responsible for our failure in leadership.

“In a nutshell, what we are being confronted with is that we are in a state of war. It is what I came to update Mr President; the sooner we stop playing the ostrich and rise up to the challenges of the day, and marshal all resources towards visualising the antics of Boko Haram, the better for all of us. But the bottom line is that we need more resources, more vote on ground.”

Meanwhile, the Northern Governors’ Forum Wednesday welcomed the U.S. government’s offer of military assistance to Nigeria to help locate and rescue the over 200 schoolgirls abducted in Chibok, Borno State.

The chairman of the forum and governor of Niger State, Babangida Aliyu, expressed the forum’s position at a meeting on Wednesday night in Abuja between some select Northern governors and the U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID, administrator Rajah Shah.

The visiting top U.S. envoy hosted the governors at the residence of the mission director of USAID in Nigeria, Michael Harvey, in Maitama, Abuja.

Aliyu told the U.S. official that the April 14 abduction happened in a part of the country where parents are still begged to bring their children to school.

“For the abduction to happen in a school environment means that if we do not do anything, we will be taken fifty years back, because many parents would be discouraged to send their children to school. So we welcome the participation and assistance of the American government to ensure that we are able to get this children back alive and for us to have more secure environment,” he said.

The governor noted that the meeting was a follow-up to the meeting held in March in Washington D.C. between U.S. officials and the governors, which centered on security issues and development of the region. “People should understand that when we talk about security, it is not normally about the bullet and the guns; security is about the welfare of people,” Aliyu stated.

Earlier, Shah expressed deep sympathy for the families of the kidnapped girls and reiterated President Barrack Obama’s commitment to help find the missing girls.

U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, James Entwistle, also told reporters that he held discussions earlier on Wednesday afternoon with some Nigerian security officials on what the “U.S. team might look like”.

“Obviously I cannot share out those details but we are in the process of putting together a team that we think will respond to what your security officials had told me you need,” he said.

The ambassador said the team would be in Nigeria shortly and did not provide further details on the composition of the inter-agency team offered by the U.S. government.

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