By Samuel Ogundipe
The Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, has again lampooned Nigerian soldiers for allegedly failing to curb Boko Haram and other security challenges that have dogged the country for so many years.
Mr Buratai accused soldiers of displaying a poor commitment to defend the country in almost every task they had been assigned, a situation he described as “unfortunate” and responsible for sparse promotion in the military rank-and-file.
“It is unfortunate, but the truth is that almost every setback the Nigeria army has had in our operations in recent times can be traced to insufficient willingness to perform assigned tasks,” Mr Buratai said at a military-organised event in Abuja on Tuesday.
The alleged laziness of soldiers could also be traced to “simply insufficient commitment to a common national/military course by those at the frontlines,” Mr Buratai was quoted as saying by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).
Mr Buratai’s comments came as Nigerian soldiers and commanders were being killed in the Boko Haram war, which has now entered its 10th year. At least two lieutenant colonels have lost their lives to Boko Haram ambush over the past one month, with at least 50 soldiers also killed and even more missing in action within the same time.
Most of the personnel losses have come from attacks on military bases in the North-east, a strategic shift that Boko Haram has not backed down on since launching it last July. Although the insurgents still occasionally target civilians, invasion of military bases has become more regular in their brutal campaign.
As President Muhammadu Buhari faced calls to sack his military chiefs for their alleged incompetence in the face of worsening insecurity, Mr Buratai has blamed soldiers on the frontlines for the Boko Haram scourge.
Last August, Mr Buratai tackled military commanders and soldiers in the Boko Haram war, accusing them of cowardice in a memo obtained by PREMIUM TIMES. The army chief said soldiers were abandoning their positions in the face of Boko Haram firepower, an act he said should ordinarily demand court-martial of suspected personnel.
At times, the army chief would implement abrupt shuffling of postings in a bid to strengthen the military’s grip on the war.
Still, Mr Buratai alleged a widespread dereliction of duty amongst soldiers.
“Many of those on whom the responsibility for physical actions against the adversary squarely falls are yet to fully take ownership of our common national or service cause,” the army chief said.
He promised to continue to deprive officers of promotion unless for a few who display an exemplary commitment to national service.
After Mr Buratai castigated the troops as cowards last year, some commanders told PREMIUM TIMES the army chief was being dishonest and desperate to divert attention from his own gross incompetence and corruption.
The commanders pointed to several years of complaints about inadequate food and equipment supplies, some of which had led to a near-fatal confrontation with military chiefs. Scores of military personnel, including Enitan Ransom-Kuti, a brigadier-general, have been court-martialled for alleged mutiny in the Boko Haram war.
In December 2016, some soldiers attempted to lynch Victor Ezeugwu , the then commander of Nigerian Army 7 Division headquartered at Maimalari cantonment, after he left them on the battlefront for two days without food supplies.
In November 2017, soldiers on the battlefront told PREMIUM TIMES they were enduring weeks without allowances , which they had long decried as inadequate considering the assignment they were being given.
The rising suicides amongst soldiers involved in the Boko Haram war have also been linked to poor welfare.
The Armed Forces Act permits soldiers to abandon duty if there is no water, logistic support, absence of hope or relief on the frontlines.
Security analyst, Chris Ngwodo, urged Mr Buratai to focus on improving soldiers’ welfare, rather than openly castigating them in the face of an insurgency whose end remains difficult to predict.