The terrorists arrived suddenly at 4:00 p.m. that ill-fated Wednesday, November 5, catching the Nigerian soldiers and their commanders off-guard. As they invaded the headquarters of the 174 Battalion, Abadan Local Government Area of Borno State, located close to the Nigerian border with Niger, the Boko Haram insurgents, in hundreds, began to shoot sporadically in all directions.
According to witnesses, the terrorists were led into the battalion headquarters by insurgents bearing a number of Rocket Propelled Grenades (a shoulder-launched anti-tank weapon) and machine guns mounted on Hilux vans. Other insurgents, bearing AK-47 rifles, followed behind, shooting and chanting “Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar” (May God be praised).
For minutes, the attackers were repelled by Nigerian soldiers who returned fire, and at some point, appeared to be gaining the upper hand, our sources said.
But the troops capitulated shortly after more insurgents advanced on the camp from several directions, hurling grenades at them and shooting non-stop, our sources said. The soldiers fled the scene as it became clear they were less armed and prepared for battle.
Several Nigerian soldiers who took part in the fighting have narrated how Boko Haram secured yet again another victory over government forces, a defeat they blamed on their arms and the morale of the fighting force.
Boko Haram has seized many towns and communities in recent months, sacking security facilities while soldiers flee, in what appears the worst defeat yet for the Nigerian military since the insurgents launched a bloody campaign in 2009.
The 174 Battalion, which was moved from its Lagos base to the Nigerien border in Nigeria’s bid to rev up the war against the extremist Boko Haram sect, had over 300 soldiers. Over a thousand insurgents attacked the troops, witnesses said.
Before long, military insiders said, the soldiers began to abandon the battle in droves, throwing away their uniforms and yielding their arms to the terrorists. The terrorists followed in pursuit as majority of the soldiers and officers fled across the border into neighbouring Niger where some of them were hospitalized.
A yet unknown number of soldiers were killed; some declared missing while several others were injured, our sources said.
After the Nigerian soldiers fled, military officials said, the Boko Haram insurgents ransacked the camp, looting the battalion armoury and offices.
“They went away with every weapon we had,” one of the soldiers who partook in the battle told PREMIUM TIMES. “RPGs, armoured tanks, rifles, ammunition, I mean everything. As we are now, we have nothing. They have gone away with everything.”
He added, “We were simply overpowered. They were far more in number and the weapons they carried were far more than what we had. They could have finished all of us if we hadn’t fled.”
The spokesperson of the Defence Headquarters, Chris Olukolade, did not answer or return calls seeking comment for this story.
But a top military commander, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak on the matter, confirmed the incident to PREMIUM TIMES.
“I can’t confirm to you that it happened but we have managed to bring back the soldiers to Nigeria,” the general said. “The matter is being investigated.”
He blamed the incident on cowardice by soldiers of the battalion saying, “Initially, they were talking of weapons. But the weapons have started arriving. The problem now is the mentality of our soldiers. A lot of them are just cowards and should not have been recruited into the Army in the first place. The fact is if you don’t have the mentality of a soldier, you can’t fight a battle no matter the sophistication of your arm.”
The November 5 attack on the battalion was the second on the formation by Boko Haram. On August 4, 2013, the insurgents attacked the battalion, killing 15 soldiers and wounding several others.
Before the November 5 attack, some soldiers of the battalion had told PREMIUM TIMES their morale was at an all-time low.
“A lot of us have been here for more than two years without being allowed to see our family,” one soldier said “We were to be here for six months but we have now been abandoned here for two years. We are missing our families and our morale is zero. Some of us are even considering going on AWOL (away without official leave).”