Gunmen believed to members of the extremist Boko Haram sect on Saturday attacked a detachment of Nigerian troop going to Mali as part of the Africa-led International Support Mission in Mali, killing two and injuring five others.
The soldiers, who were members of Ibadan-based 81 battalion, were travelling by road to the Nigerian Army Peacekeeping Centre in Kachia, Kaduna, for preliminary training, preparatory to being airlifted to Mali, officials said.
But along the Okene-Lokoja highway, the troop was attacked by unknown gunmen who threw IEDs at them. Two of the soldiers were killed on the spot while five others were injured and rushed to the Federal Medical Centre, Lokoja, sources said.
Military officers told PREMIUM TIMES Saturday night the attack had the imprimatur of the Boko Haram sect.
“We have no doubt the attackers are Boko Haram insurgents,” a top military officer said, requesting anonymity because he had no official clearance to speak on the matter. “I think they got intelligence our men were travelling so they struck possibly in support of their Mali counterparts.”
Some sources in Okene had suggested that armed robbers were behind the attack. But our sources dismissed that suggestion, saying “Boko Haram insurgents were definitely responsible”.
About 700 soldiers have been nominated from 81 Battalion to join 906 others in Kaduna, PREMIUM TIMES investigations show.
Already 157 Nigerian soldiers, led by a Col Gagariga, the commanding officer of NIBATT 1, AFISMA, are on ground in Mali.
Recall that two soldiers were also killed in Okene in August last year when their patrol van was attacked by gunmen. The incident led to a near total shutdown of the town and triggered reprisal attack by soldiers.
PREMIUM TIMES was unable to get the spokesperson of the Kogi Police, Simon Ibe, for comments, as his phone line was unreachable as at the time of writing this report.
The spokesperson for the Army, Brigadier General Bola Koleosho, could also not be reached to comment for this story.