The Nigerian military has admitted that hundreds of government troops have fled heavy fighting with Boko Haram, but said their apparent escape to neighbouring Cameroon was a “tactical manoeuvre”.
The Cameroonian army said Monday some 480 Nigerian soldiers who sought refuge in the country, had been disarmed and accommodated in schools.
The news came a day after Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, released a new video in which he declared Gwosa, a town captured by the group, as part of an “Islamic Caliphate”.
A spokesperson for the Army spokesperson, Lt. Col Didier Badjek, was quoted by the BBC as saying that the Nigerian soldiers are currently in the Cameroonian town of Maroua, about 80km from the Nigerian border.
In a statement Monday, the Nigerian Defence Headquarters said the troops relocated to Cameroon in a “tactical manoeuvre”.
The statement said the soldiers surrendered their weapons to the Cameroonian authorities as a “normal protocol”, and as an evidence they were not on a hostile mission.
“Eventually they found themselves on Cameroonian soil. Being allies the normal protocol of managing such incident demanded that the troops submit their weapons in order to assure the friendly country that they were not on a hostile mission,” the statement said.
The Nigerian military said it has carried out talks with its Cameroonian counterpart, and that the troops have confirmed that they will be on their way back to their respective units in Nigeria.
The military criticised media reports over the incident, saying they were inappropriate considering that talks had held between the two countries.
Nigerian soldiers have repeatedly complained about their weapons, and have accused their superiors of exposing them to a better armed Boko Haram.
Earlier, Nigerian Minister of State for Defence, Musiliu Obanikoro, said reports that soldiers had fled fighting were untrue.
“I have been briefed by the Chief of Army Staff that this is not the case,” Mr Obanikoro, wrote on Twitter when pressed by a user for comments.