News, rightly believed to be disturbing, had filtered in that officers and men of the Nigerian Army fled from the frontlines after Boko Haram insurgents invaded and took over military bases and the towns of New Marte and Dikwa in Marte and Dikwa Local Government Areas of Borno State.
The news, which many wished was not true, was, however, confirmed by army authorities via a signal from the headquarters of Operation Lafiya Dole in Maiduguri, the Borno State Capital on March 1, 2021.
The signal, signed by Colonel AO Odubiyi, which labelled the officers and soldiers as deserters, put their number at three majors, three captains, six lieutenants, three sergeants, and 89 soldiers.
The signal reads: “I am directed to connect Reference A on above subject and to respectfully forward details of additional officers and soldiers who absconded from the defensive location during the BHT attack on New Marte and Dikwa.
“You are requested to declare the named officers and soldiers’ deserters WEF 19 Feb 21. You are also requested to cause HQ NAFC to freeze their accounts and apprehend/bring them under military escort to this Headquarters if seen within your AOR.”
It would be recalled that the Boko Haram insurgents had dislodged Nigerian troops in Marte on February 14, prompting the troops to relocate to Dikwa. In the battle for the takeover of New Marte, seven soldiers of the 153rd Task Force Battalion, were reportedly killed by the insurgents after which they hoisted their flags in the Marte area.
The insurgents also took the war to the troops at Dikwa on February 19 before they were repelled.
Irked by the audacity of the insurgents, the Chief of Army Staff, Maj.-Gen. Ibrahim Attahiru, while on a visit to Dikwa, gave the troops a 48-hour ultimatum to recapture Marte from the insurgents, a task the troops carried out.
The news of the desertion of the officers and soldiers, has, however, brought to the fore salient issues surrounding Nigeria’s prosecution of the war on insurgency.
According to experts and analysts, the fact that officers and men of the Nigerian Army fled from the battle field speaks volume about the way the war is being prosecuted. They are also almost unanimous about the kind of equipment, intelligence and welfare that is available for the troops at the frontlines.
Babatunde Adebowale, a security strategist/consultant, in a chat with DAILY POST, was unequivocal in his belief that a lot of things may actually not be right with the way the Nigerian military has been waging the war against the Boko Haram insurgency.
According to him, the matter of concern of the military should be watertight intelligence, without which he said they will be fighting a blind war and remain at the mercy of the insurgents.
“I want to believe that the major drawback for the military in the fight against Boko Haram and the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) is the lack of adequate and genuine intelligence about their movements and plans. The insurgents have largely been able to attack communities and military formations, wreaking havoc because the military have been oblivious about their movements and plans. So they have largely caught our soldiers unawares.
“It will be foolhardy for anyone to think that a ragtag army like Boko Haram and ISWAP are better than our soldiers. Far from it! The insurgents have succeeded largely in their raids and attacks because of the element of surprise they have so far employed, which is because our troops do not have adequate intelligence at their disposal,” he said.
Also in a chat with DAILY POST, a Lagos based security expert, who runs one of Nigeria’s private security firms, believes that the kind of equipment at the disposal of the troops is a contributing factor to the lingering war, and the way troops have overtime become easy targets of the insurgents.
According to the security expert, who does not want to be named, several videos have been posted online showing Nigerian soldiers with just AK-47 rifles while the insurgents are armed with much more sophisticated weapons, gun trucks and RPGs.
“Let us not deceive ourselves, the insurgents most times appear better armed with superior firepower. We have a well trained army who can hold its own anywhere; but what do you do when you come face to face with an enemy with better equipment?
“I remember the immediate past Governor of Borno, Shettima telling reporters in Abuja that Boko Haram insurgents are better equipped. As a soldier, what do you do in such a situation? Agreed that it is not part of the character of a soldier to abandon the battlefield and flee but when you do not have what it takes to take on your enemy, you may never have an option”, he said.
A retired army officer who chose to remain anonymous, however, believes that the desertion of the officers and soldiers should be a cause for concern.
According to him, what army authorities chose to label as desertion may not be entirely true as some might have even been killed while orders may have retreated to their main bases.
“This is not a new thing. It happens when military bases are dislodged,” he said.
He also opined that some of the soldiers might have left in protests against the fact that the insurgents have superior weapons.
“It should be noted that most of the weapons procured by the federal government in 2013 and 2014 have worn out and they are not being replaced. Some were actually stolen by the insurgents during raids on military bases. These are some of the issues the government and the army high command must look into if the troops at the frontlines must give their best”, he said.
Aside from intelligence and equipment, many respondents to questions posed by DAILY POST also pointed out that welfare and quality motivation may also be one of the reasons for the desertion of the officers and soldiers. There have been concerns over the years over the welfare of soldiers in the frontlines, with allegations that some of the commanders are in the habit of shortchanging their men.
Though the allegations have remained unproven, analysts believe that good welfare and quality motivation for the troops is key in putting them in the right frame of mind to not only fight the insurgents but also win the war conclusively.
According to them, allowances for the soldiers must be right and timely for them to give their best in defending their fatherland.
Speaking further, Mr. Adebowale is of the opinion that the issue of rotation of the soldiers in the frontlines must be taken seriously, as some of them are already battle weary.
“Rotation of the soldiers in the theatre of war must be taken seriously. There is no way you can have a soldier in the frontlines for upward of two years non stop and he will not be battle weary. A time will come when he will feel the need to rest and re-energize. And thank God, the new Chief of Army Staff, Major General Ibrahim Tahiru made mention of this while addressing some of the troops in the North-East shortly after his appointment.
“You cannot take away the negative impact fatigue can have in the prosecution of any war. That may just have contributed to the desertion of the 101 soldiers”, he submitted.