At least 83 Nigerian soldiers, including a commanding officer, are still missing days after they came under a Boko Haram attack, PREMIUM TIMES can report.
Top level military sources monitoring the development told this newspaper that the soldiers were still missing in action as of Friday morning, four days after the attack.
The Army confirmed the attack in a statement on Tuesday, but has not given further updates. It did not also admit 83 soldiers were missing.
The latest update from several military personnel, follows our earlier report on how Nigerian troops drowned in a river as they scampered for safety in the face of a superior firepower from the terrorists.
While about 22 of the fleeing soldiers were later rescued by their Nigerien counterparts and dispatched to a hospital in Diffa, southern Niger, several others were fatally wounded after Boko Haram opened fire on them when they jumped into the River Yobe.
The Army leadership has established contact with the 22 soldiers —including two that sustained serious gunshot wounds— recuperating in the Niger hospital, PREMIUM TIMES understands.
The missing Commanding Officer of 223 Tank Battalion in Gashigar, was identified as K. Yusuf, a lieutenant colonel.
Military sources said the troops could not withstand Boko Haram because they had only two light armour tanks to work with.
Even the two tanks were withdrawn from the battlefront in Damasak to Gashigar, leaving soldiers in Damasak and other small units nearby with no tank.
“May God touch the heart of our dear president to equip the Army,” the source said. “How have we offended him that has made him not to equip us as promised?” one source said. “May God touch his heart to forgive. Our men are dying daily here.”
Besides the poor equipment, the renewed show of strength by Boko Haram has frightened many, coming after months of relative success by Nigerian troops.
Since the beginning of this year, the Army had maintained that troops were clearing the sect’s remnants across the troubled Northeast as a precursor to a new phase of winding down combat operations.
The Buhari administration claimed credits for the “improved morale” of the troops which had made it possible for previously displaced residents to return to their communities and commence rebuilding efforts.
But high-ranking sources on the ground told PREMIUM TIMES the latest setback was because poor morale had returned to the battlefield.
“On the day they were dislodged, troop’s morale was at the lowest ebb and troops were not ready to face the terrorists,” security sources said.
The sources said the soldiers have had to endure months of unpaid salaries and their allowances also being held by their superiors.
All military sources who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES asked that their identities be protected because of the sensitivity of the issue.
This turn of event had compelled some commanders on the battlefield to go out of their way in search of financial support to keep their men fed — albeit poorly.
“The cause of the low morale was due to their being fed once a day and the insensitivity of the authorities to pay them their allowances,” the source said. “Only part payment of their allowance for August has been paid to date.”
“The commanders on the ground go out of their ways to incur debt in order to feed their troops.
“The ration cash allowance meant for feeding was last paid for the month of August. So the Commanding Officers on the ground are the worst hit,” the sources said.
The sources blamed alleged greed of a few brigade commanders for the situation the troops now find themselves.
“Some brigade commanders reduce the official feeding ration of N500 per day to a meagre N300 just to make money. Our findings reveal that most locations outside Maiduguri only feed their troops once a day with mostly beans,” the sources said.
The sources said this “insatiable craze for quick money” bears a stark similarity with what obtained under the Goodluck Jonathan administration.
“The last administration doled out a lot of money to the theatre of operations which was mismanaged,” the source said.
Other sources said the current pain is part of the consequences of a new distribution policy put in place by the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, who came in a little over a year ago.
“The present Chief of Army Staff, in his good effort to minimise waste, decided to check these excesses by reducing maintenance allowance for the various units by half.
“So the commands are not too happy with the development and have resorted to looking into troops feeding money,” one source said.
They, nonetheless, described the policy as “a patriotic one” which was put in place to check the commanders’ use of allowances by “to settle political godfathers and patronise women”.
Army spokesman, Sani Usman, did not respond to PREMIUM TIMES’ requests for comments.
Nigerian troops are fighting alongside their counterparts from Cameroon and the Republic of Niger.
Monday’s development marked the first time in more than two years that Nigerian troops would come under superior firepower that required foreign military personnel to come to their rescue.
A similar incident last occurred in August 2014 when about 480 troops crossed the border into Cameroon while fleeing Boko Haram.
The insurgency, which began in 2009, has left approximately 20,000 people dead and displacement of millions.
Boko Haram leaders recently engaged in negotiation with the Nigerian government which led to last week’s release of 21 of the over 200 girls kidnapped from Chibok, Borno State, in April 2014.