Sept 21, 2014 – “Nigerian Army Can’t Win Boko Haram Because We Are Using Old Weapons” – Soldier Laments
A Nigerian soldier fighting the Boko Haram insurgency in Borno State has painted a picture of the sterling efforts being made by Nigerian soldiers in the north-east to overcome the terrorist group.
In this chat with Sunday Sun, the 38-year old John Chukwu (not real names), explained how he had escaped being killed many times by the Boko Haram fighters. On one occasion, he explained: “They were firing, but they couldn’t get me. I was just like 100 meters away from them. I was firing the RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade). If that weapon hits any wall, it can bring the house down. I was firing the thing until it got finished. Then the Boko Haram fighters engaged me; to the extent that I walked from 20 meters up to 100 meters but they couldn’t get me.”
The soldier further assured that the war against insurgency could be won a lot quicker if there was more commitment by the government, the officers and soldiers of the Nigerian Army.
What is your rank in the Nigerian army?
I am a corporal.
Attached to which division?
Army Headquarters (AHQ).
Sorry, I won’t say this.
Apart from your posting to Borno, have you gone on any other peacekeeping?
Yes, I was in Liberia and Sudan for 6 months, the duration of peacekeeping is six months.
When were you posted to Borno?
I was among the first set of soldiers sent to Maiduguri when the state of emergency was declared there.
When you arrived there, what was your initial experience like? Did you feel prepared for the war you went to fight?
When they drafted us, we didn’t even know exactly what was happening. We were hearing of Boko Haram, but we didn’t know exactly what they were doing in Maiduguri.
You mean you were not briefed?
No, we did not know anything until we got to Maiduguri.
Were you then surprised when you got there?
Initially, we were on top of the situation. That time, wherever we came in contact with the Boko Haram insurgents, we defeated them. That was during the time of the Joint Taskforce (JTF). The first time, it was just like a child’s play. But when we entered there we started seeing the reality. We saw how soldiers were being killed and there were bombings everywhere. They deployed us to the bushes between Nigeria and Cameroun.
How long have you been there now?
I have spent a year and six months now. Currently, I am still in Maiduguri.
Why did you leave Maiduguri?
I got a pass to see my family.
Do you feel motivated by the army? Apart from your salary, what other incentives do you get?
Anyway, they try. They feed us sometimes twice a day. Once in a while, they feed us three times a day.
You sound as if the food is insufficient?
No, how can a human being feed twice a day? The Federal Government budgeted N100,000 monthly for each soldier in Maiduguri, but they are paying soldiers N30,000. That is operational allowance. Sometimes, they pay just N28,000. When you come outside Maiduguri, people will be congratulating you because they think that you have made it, but at the end of the day, they just pay us peanuts.
What explanation do they give you for the cut in your allowances?
There is no explanation. That is why I am complaining that the Army is very corrupt, even the Federal Government as a whole. If you must complain, you must do so through the same man that cheated you. You have to pass through him to lay your complaints. You cannot bypass him.
You said you have been in combat with Boko Haram insurgents. What do they look like?
Boko Haram fighters look like soldiers. When you see them you will not know the difference between them and soldiers.
When you engage them, how do you distinguish them from your colleagues?
The Boko Haram fighters are hardly fully kitted. You may see one with canvas and another without helmet. They hardly wear helmet because it is heavy. If you don’t have endurance, you can’t wear it. In the Army, there is standing order that everybody must wear helmet whether good or bad. Boko Haram fighters don’t like helmet. So, they will just cover their heads with that their popular scarf; and wear the army uniform.
Do you feel that the government is sincere with the war against the Boko Haram insurgents?
Mr. President is not sincere with the fight because if you give someone money to buy weapon, you should be able to know whether what the person supplied is new or not. If you buy new Caterpillar today, you will know that it is a new one. But all the things we are using are old weapons that Alhaji Shehu Shagari bought during his time in office. So, when the government asks them to buy weapon, they will go and repaint the old weapons and present them as new ones. And the president will take it like that.
Do you think that the president will know that they did not really buy new weapons?
He knows. There is no way the president will not know that they didn’t buy new ones.
If the weapons you use are outdated, does that mean that Boko Haram has more sophisticated weapons? What kind of weapons do they use?
Yes. They use Anti-Aircraft. You can use it to bring down an aircraft from the sky. Boko Haram also uses RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade). And people are saying that we are fighting war in Maiduguri. And truly we are fighting war, but there is no equipment. Could you believe that there is only one jet operating in Maiduguri?
How many in your opinion are needed for the fight?
We need at least three or four jets. Borno is big. And there is no way soldiers can cover the state. The soldiers there are trying, but the problem is that everybody in government is corrupt, both the presidency and national assembly. This is a political war; it is not a tribal or religious war.
You mean Boko Haram is fighting for politicians?
It is a political war. This popular politician from Borno (name withheld) is truly a Boko Haram sponsor. There was a time they attacked Gamboru Ngala. That was where that man’s father used to live. At that time, Boko Haram destroyed more than 200 houses, killed 18 policemen and about 350 civilians, burnt a police station and destroyed more than 150 vehicles on the road.
The father of that politician was in his house, but nothing happened to the house. They only broke some of the glasses, forced themselves into the compound and moved 14 vehicles from the compound.
There was a man from Adamawa State who told me that he was abducted by Boko Haram as he was returning from Maiduguri with his family. They were camped in Sambisa forest. In that forest, our big men go there on Fridays. Whenever they are coming, they (the captives) would be asked to lie face down. The man said he managed to look up sometimes and the only person he could recognize was that politician.
The man even told us that we (soldiers in Maiduguri) are just fighting for nothing. The big men in Nigeria know what is going on. There is no day in Maiduguri that you will not lose at least 15 soldiers. Soldiers are dying in large numbers. If you go to the cemetery in Maiduguri behind Maimalari Barracks, the graves there are uncountable. If anybody dies in Borno, they will bury him there whether his people come or not. The army does not want people to know that they are killing soldiers. And truly they are killing soldiers in Borno.
You mean that the army is not telling the people the truth about the war?
They are not telling you the truth. And you know, Army has their own spokesman and their own pressmen. It is what they tell you that you will take. They hardly tell you that they killed soldiers; and they are killing soldiers everyday.
Do you still have the will to fight on?
Yes, we have the will to fight on. Our slogan in the Army is: “No going back.” The problem we have is the weapons that we don’t have in Borno.
Have you been in combat with Boko Haram?
It is the life in Borno. Even as a civilian, you will be seeing how soldiers are doing it. Personally, I have escaped death twice. I was firing to the extent that my ammunition got finished. Then Boko Haram engaged me face to face; they were firing at me, but it was God that saved me.
How did you escape?
They were firing, but they couldn’t get me. I was just like 100 meters away from them. I was firing that RPG. If it hits any wall, it will bring the house down. I was firing the thing until it got finished. Then the Boko Haram fighters engaged me; to the extent that I walked from 20 meters up to 100 meters but they couldn’t get me. I think that it is just God that said it was not my time to die. At the end of that day, they killed one of our men and injured three that day.
Do you think that Boko Haram have more fighters than the army? Are people still joining them?
They are increasing in number. If they find themselves in any village, they will capture any young man from 15 years and above and force them into Boko Haram. Then there are foreigners joining in.
How true is the story that some soldiers escaped to Cameroun?
It is true. That same place in Ngala; this is Ngala (pointing to a map), this is Cameroun; the distance is not up to 15 meters. All these places are water. So, there is no other place they can go to apart from Cameroun.
So the Boko Haram fighter overpowered them.
They are many. They are many. You know what happened in the first place, soldiers killed many of them. When Boko Haram ran out of ammunition, they will go and come back. So Boko Haram went home and reinforced.
So, finally the soldiers ran out of ammunition. It is either they need to camp or they called for reinforcement. Meanwhile, Boko Haram had already reinforced and they kept firing at the soldiers. Normally, soldiers fire controlled firing, but for Boko Haram, once they fix their magazine, they will finish it on one person. Five of them can engage you like that and about 90 rounds will be coming to you at once. So, there is nothing you can do.
Is it that the army does not send enough soldiers?
Borno is too big. What they do sometimes is that they will deploy 200 soldiers to this place, 100 the other place and may be 50 in another place. And Boko Haram knows everything. They use small boys in the village to spy on the army. The boys will pretend to be helping the soldiers and then gather information for Boko Haram.
You also claimed that some soldiers are working for Boko Haram?
There are many; both soldiers and officers. There are many of them.
How do you think this war can be won?
Sincerely, I don’t know. But if the government can bring in more weapons, maybe, we will be able to win the war. We have just one jet in Borno. The same jet is serving Adamawa, Yobe, Kano and Bauchi. In the whole of Nigeria, we don’t have a jet fighter. I don’t know what is happening. Sometimes when you call for jet for reinforcement, the jet will tell you ‘I only have one bomb,’ ‘I want to go and refuel,’ I can’t see them.’ Sometimes when the jet comes, it will start bombarding and killing soldiers.
Do you feel helpless as a Nigerian soldier?
Nigerians can help themselves if the president agrees to bring in modern weapons. I don’t feel helpless, it is something we signed. I will be going back to Borno.
So, why are you volunteering this information?
I am doing this because of my friends who have died fighting this war. I lost eight of my friends in one day. We were going for an operation and one of our vehicles was ambushed. I was just lucky to be in another vehicle. That was how my friends lost their lives. More importantly, I want Nigerians to know the truth about what is happening in Borno.