The Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, has denied saying that Boko Haram insurgency has continued to persist because soldiers under his command are no longer willing to fight.
Mr Buratai, a lieutenant general, said he was “somehow” wrongly quoted by a section of the Nigerian media “probably with some elements of mischief.”
He made this denial during a joint press conference he granted together with the Borno State governor, Babagana Umara, after he visited the governor.
“I have never said in my remarks that the troops lack commitment to fight,” Mr Buratai.
“It was completely wrong and I want to say it is somehow quoted out of context probably with some elements of mischief. If you carefully read my remarks, just as it was well published on our Army website you will see that there was nothing like me there was saying lack of commitment,” he said.
“Some journalists have even gone beyond that by saying that I said troops are cowards. This is far from the truth and it is unfortunate the way some journalists and newspaper houses will go to the extent of distorting fact.”
Mr Buratai said the statement in which he was misquoted was made during a training workshop that was organised by the Army to reassess its operations.
“We felt there was the need for us to do better on what is currently happening in the northeast,” he added.
But the News Agency of Nigeria quoted Mr Buratai last Tuesday as saying soldiers of displaying a poor commitment to defend the country in assigned tasks, 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 the event.
He was also quoted by NAN as saying that such an attitude could also be traced to “simply insufficient commitment to a common national/military course by those at the frontlines.”
On Monday, the Army chief said counterinsurgency is a complex operation that is very fluid because soldiers are dealing with an enemy they do not see.
“These are enemies usually mixed together with the population and they move about all over the places. Until one can identify them and say these are the criminals, only then you can deal with them effectively,” he said.
“But as long as they are not visible, as long as they mix with the population, and if the population doesn’t identify them at the time it is needed to be done, we will continue to have this challenges. And everybody will continue to suffer.
“These Boko Haram insurgents sneak into the towns and villages and members of the community see them, especially in places where troops are deployed, they normally do surveillance on the troops, especially on how they are deployed and on their activities.
“And these people in the community see these strange faces but they hardly report. Then the criminals will go back and call their members to come and attack troops and then the village or town where they card our foods and other items from the communities. So it is a collective responsibility of all.
“So the workshop where I was misquoted was an attempted to re-ginger our troops and rekindle troops’ commitment and courage and find solutions on the best way to tackle this insurgency.”
He said Nigerians should see the insurgency as a national challenge, which should not be left only for the military to tackle. He warned that the media should refrain from passing wrong information as doing so would not augur well for all.
“And if we continue to distort facts and continue to report negatively on the activities of the military we will all be consumed by this menace in this part of the country,” he said.
“So be rest assured that the Army is committed to defend our country and just like any other organisation, the Army needs to train and retrain its personnel so that they can be reminded of their responsibility as well as the tenets of their profession. I have never been in doubt of the commitment of our troops. But if we have setbacks or challenges we must address them accordingly and we must caution our troops the way it should be done.”
Why the Army no longer responds to media inquests
Mr Buratai had also explained why the Directorate of Army Public Relations no longer responds to journalists’ inquiries on casualty figures after attacks by Boko Haram.
Journalists at the joint press conference sought to find out why the Army has not been forthcoming with information on their operations especially after attacks in which troops were reported to have incurred casualties.
Mr Buratai said journalists must understand that military operations are different from activities of other paramilitary and related security outfits like vigilantes.
“We don’t give out information for the sake of it or because somebody is interested,” he said.
“Military activities and even issues concerning its personnel are all classified, which means they are not for public consumption. Unless when doing so is absolutely necessary for the purpose of winning confidence as well as promote our efforts in securing ours. And most of these reports that you see in other journals like the Boko Haram journals are mostly exaggerated and pure propaganda,” he said.
The Army chief said Nigerians should not see the death of a soldier as a defeat on the part of the military, arguing that what the troops are fighting a full-blown war in which lives must be lost.
“There is no way when you are in conflict you don’t record casualties; you must have a casualty. And when necessary, we give out information on such figures. But the problem is most of our journalists don’t tend to be contented with what the military gives out officially, they would still believe it is far more than that.
Up till today, some media houses are still quoting 300 and 500 casualties in the Metele attack of last year. People are still quoting the wrong figures because they don’t want to believe us.
“So why should we give you figures when you don’t believe the ones we have given you earlier. So we have to be very careful because the information on defense and security are not issues that you just toy about; for if we should all go along that way, we will all be the victims at the end of the day.
He said Nigerians should not engage in blame game because the issue of security concerns all and should be the responsibility.
I am ready to give the military all the supports – Borno Governor
The Borno state governor, Mr Umara, had earlier during the visit listed key areas where he wanted the military to focus on while stressing the need for a robust partnership with armed forces in the quest to end the Boko Haram insurgency.
Decrying the increasing attacks of the Boko Haram, the governor said he was “very much ready to provide the needed support the military needed in the ongoing counterinsurgency operations.”
While expressing condolences to the military over the loss of troops especially in recent attacks around Borno, Governor Umara said the security situation has improved in the past few weeks.
He, however, said the military has to also critically examine “the nexus between security and development by keying into the post-insurgency and recovery programs of government.
He also said while embarking on the recovery programs, the government must look at the root causes of Boko Haram by addressing issues of security, youth unemployment, poverty, illiteracy, drug abuse and climate change among others.
He said there is over 80 per cent of the Borno people who are unemployed.
“The mainstay of the economy of Borno state is agriculture, but here we have over 90 percent of our people who cannot assess farmlands for agricultural purposes,” he said.
He said with the increasing donor fatigue around the world, the state government is concerned about returning the people to their natural means of food production as a means of fighting hunger and poverty.
“Our main wish is for our people to have access to their farmlands, improve security on our highways, to open Gamboru Ngala from Maiduguri to eliminate escorts, strengthen the capacity of local security and vigilante to complement the military efforts and help regenerate economic activities. And we are ready to spend our last kobo for the military to help bring back lasting solutions.”