Soldiers stationed in the three Northeast states most ravaged by attacks by Boko Haram, a militant Islamist group, want the military hierarchy to implement a policy of rotation, bringing in a new set of soldiers to relieve battle-weary ones. All soldiers demanded anonymity to avoid reprisals from their officers. In separate interviews with a correspondent of SaharaReporters, the soldiers, who are posted to Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States, criticized the practice of keeping them stationed for too long in the battlegrounds of the fight against the increasingly sophisticated Boko Haram, a group which wants the enthronement of strict Islamic values in Nigeria.
Some of the soldiers complained that they had been in the theater of war with Boko Haram for close to ten months. “I was told by my commander that I would be posted to duties against Boko Haram for six months at most,” one of the soldiers told our correspondent. He added that he has served more than eight months, with no idea when he would be able to be re-posted to his original battalion.
Another soldier, stationed in Borno, told SaharaReporters that his wife gave birth to his second child, a girl, a month after he was posted to the turbulent combat zone. “I have been here now for ten months. I have not seen my daughter or my wife because they cannot come here, and I have not received any release to visit them,” the soldier added.
He criticized their officers for being indifferent to the psychological pressures and physical fatigue of keeping soldiers in a volatile combat zone for close to a year at a time. “We are living in very bad conditions. The food they give us is terrible. The heat here is terrible. And I find it difficult to stay alert and concentrate on the job because every time I talk to my wife, she is always crying, asking me when will I come home to see my children,” said the soldier.
Another officer revealed that joining the army was a fulfillment of his childhood dreams. According to him, however, he did not expect the level of hardship and the sapping of his energy after spending what he considered too long a period of deployment in Yobe State. “We’re not the only soldiers in this country,” he said time. “Why are they not letting us rest after a while so that others can come and try?”
Another soldier echoed his colleagues’ sentiments. He said he understood that being a soldier means sacrificing his leisure for the peace and unity of Nigeria. “But after some time I cannot operate normally if I don’t have rest. That’s why they should mobilize other men to come and serve,” he said. Most of the soldiers were of the opinion that a period of six months was even too long for deployment. They asserted that, because of the inadequate amenities in their camps, soldiers should be deployed for a maximum of four months at a time.
To underscore the logistical handicaps faced by the soldiers, one of them explained that it took him and other soldiers from his unit seven days to travel from their battalion headquarters to Damaturu in Yobe State. “Why is it that a whole Nigerian army doesn’t have a chopper to airlift its troops to Damaturu?” he asked. He added that his contingent “traveled courtesy of the off-road TATA trucks that break down in every state we passed.”
The source added that, from Damaturu, some of his colleagues were moved to Mubi, Adamawa State, and another hot zone of the insurgency. One soldier deployed in Mubi said he and other soldiers had to make an advance “of about 300 kilometers to Izge in Gworza local government area, Borno State, on foot.” He disclosed that their mission was to capture Izge, an operational location for Boko Haram insurgents, and drive away members of the extremist Islamist group.
“Can you believe that the army did not even give us just one APC [anti-personnel carrier] for the advance,” the soldier added. He detailed the tough challenges faced by his unit, including a battle “at exactly noon on the 13th of February 2013 when the insurgents came to pay us a hot visit.” According to the source, the insurgents killed many soldiers, carted away the army’s food supply as well as ammunition and all the military vehicles.
“We came under very heavy effective fire for a non-stop period of 120 minutes. The [Boko Haram] boys were shouting Allahu Akbar at intervals to show their high morale and domination.
Another soldier who said he was lucky to survive the onslaught told SaharaReporters that insurgents triumphed because of several factors. “One, they came with more sophisticated weapon (night vision goggles, APC, RPGs, hand grenades, BMGs and AK 47 rifles). We didn’t have any to repel them. For the duration of 120 minutes when we were under their high volume of fire, there was no reinforcement from anywhere, not even the [Nigerian] air force.” The soldier disclosed that reinforcement only came at 7:30 a.m. the next day.
“It seems we are not ready to face-out insurgency in this country,” said one soldier who added that he was tired and frustrated. “I want to go back home and re-unite with my parents who have only me and one other son,” he said. He added: “I’ve spent over nine months in this operation without setting my eyes on my parents. Let another set of troops come and try their luck with the insurgents.
The soldier whose wife gave birth to a baby girl said his focus was to “give at least a hug to my sweet loving wife and also bear in my hands my new baby girl that has not seen her dad. All the soldiers who spoke to our correspondent strongly supported the immediate implementation of troop rotation. Via saharareporters.com