The Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, has circulated a set of operational guidelines warning Nigerian Army commanders of grave consequences should they abandon their positions in the face of firepower from Boko Haram insurgents.
The 180-word memo, sent to all commanders at all levels, formations and locations in the nine-year-long war against Islamist militants across Nigeria’s North-east, was a direct response to the recent killing and maiming of soldiers and officers by terrorists, amidst renewed fears of a resurgent Boko Haram.
At least two officers and 43 soldiers have been killed in Boko Haram attacks on military targets between July 13 and 26, a shocking setback that sent the country’s top military brass seething, PREMIUM TIMES learnt.
“Recent occurrences in” ‘Operation Lafiya Dole’ “where units abandon their positions cowardly in the face of action” from Boko Haram terrorists “without reasonable resistance is worrisome,” Mr Buratai said in the July 27 memo to all commanders, adding that it “portrayed” them as “incompetent and cowardly”.
“It also has the potentials to rubbish all the laudable gains made” in the war against Boko Haram
“Consequently,” Mr Buratai, a lieutenant-general, said any commander who “abandons his position in the face” of enemy fire “leading to avoidable death of troops and loss of equipment will be subjected” to harsh punishments as enumerated in the Armed Forces Act.
“All should be reminded that the law recommended any officer or soldier found guilty of cowardly behavior ‘shall on conviction by a court martial be liable to suffer death or any less punishment provided by the Act,’ depending on the circumstances of the case.”
Multiple military sources authenticated the document to PREMIUM TIMES, days after political activist Deji Adeyanju first disclosed its content to his followers on Twitter.
A misplaced swagger
A spokesperson for the Nigerian Army would not comment on the memo, but commanders and other soldiers on the field said they found it “intimidating, distracting and disturbing.”
The troops, who spoke under strict anonymity to avoid being punished for unathorised interaction with the media, said Mr Buratai completely failed to discuss the real triggers of the recent killings of soldiers and the general resistance of Boko Haram fighters.
“He’s supposed to provide strategic intelligence to the troops,” a commander said. “But had severally informed them and the world that BH is completely defeated.”
The commander, who noted that Mr Buratai would likely start with officers found wanting in the recent attacks on a military base in Yobe and another in Jakana, Borno State, said the troops lacked adequate supplies. Between July 21 and 26, 17 soldiers were killed and 18 wounded in multiple Boko Haram attacks
“All the armoured vehicles and T72 tanks brought by former President Goodluck Jonathan (which this gov’t refused to sustain) have broken down and in a state of disrepair,” the officer said.
The officer said reinforcements for detachments under attacks are often late, when they come at all. This has led them having to beg for support from neighbouring countries.
“Imagine Cameroonian soldiers had to come 60 kilometres into Nigeria to support us in Sambisa,” he said. “We keep begging them to support us becuase they have the equipment that we don’t have.”
“Same thing being done with Chad at the Lake Chad region, it is really sad,” the officer said before quoting the apocryphal saying that defines insanity as doing the same thing over and again while expecting a different result.
Since July 13, at least 45 soldiers and commanders have been killed in confrontation with Boko Haram.
The terrorists also stormed military brigades to kill troops and cart away equipment and supplies, including food items in large quantity. At least 50 were wounded in critical conditions.
The sudden surge in attacks on troops followed months of remarkable drop in Boko Haram attacks on soldiers.
While civilians were still being regularly killed, and some troops being lost in intermittent ambushes, whole-scale attacks targeting military formations and detachments were rare since the October 2016 killing of scores of soldiers in River Komadogou Yobe.
Although military commanders and soldiers affected by the attacks at the time told PREMIUM TIMES inadequate supply of food, equipment and arbitrary deductions in their allowances were to blame, the Army launched a probe into the incident without disclosing its outcome.
A few weeks after in December 2016, some soldiers attempted to lynch Victor Ezeugwu , the commander of Nigerian Army 7 Division headquartered at Maimalari cantonment, after he left them on the battlefront for two days without food supplies.
In an incident as recent as last November, soldiers on the battlefront complained to PREMIUM TIMES they were going weeks without allowances , which they had long decried as inadequate in the circumstance.
Another source said Mr Buratai’s apparently premature victory lap, largely drawn from the position of President Muhammadu Buhari , has given troops a false sense of the complexity of the war, as well as the timeline of the withdrawal.
“So, it is not only the problem about lack of food or equipment to fight Boko Haram or even the small allowances but everyone is relaxed that Boko Haram had been defeated,” another military commander said.