Nigeria’s Defence Headquarters recently offered an explanation into the “tactical maneuver” that took some Nigerian soldiers into Cameroonian territory while facing Boko Haram terrorists. Though the soldiers actually beat a retreat when the mission to recapture Gwoza failed, the DHQ decided to be diplomatic about it. Some who are knowledgeable in defence matters have wondered why the soldiers were disarmed by Cameroonian authorities if they were actually on a maneuver.
It all started when the military high command decided to move some armouries into the Northern part of the country. Then, Nigerians in some parts hailed it as a good move, at least to curtail the acts of terrorism that have turned some parts of the North East into a war zone. To some, it would complement the emergency rule in operation while to others; it would fuel the government’s resolve to stamp out terrorism. Only a few people however asked if an adequate number of personnel were being moved to those armouries. The question came up again recently when the Boko Haram terrorist group released a video of the capture of Gwoza, how they sacked and looted a military armoury as well as how they overran the Police Training School.
In the gory and embarrassing video, Nigerian soldiers who were well respected as the pride of the West African sub-region and even some of the best in Africa were seen running for their lives as terrorists shot at them and drove them up the Gwoza Hills.
While the argument has always been that Nigerian military forces are ill-equipped, in a show of contempt for constituted authority and the sovereignty of Nigeria, the terrorists uploaded a video of the looting of a military armoury. Artillery shells, 60 mm anti-tank shells and other ammunition were freely carted away in large quantities by Boko Haram members.
Incidentally, while that hardware lay fallow in the armoury, men in the heat of battle lacked equipment to combat insurgents causing 480 of them to flee into Cameroonian territory to avoid being wasted by the superior firepower of the rampaging terrorists. A survivor of a Boko Haram massacre had told Street Journal that the military ordinance ensures that each soldier gets a maximum of 60 rounds of ammunition. Meanwhile the terrorists they are expected to face at times fire 120 rounds in one minute.
The latest of Gwoza’s woes started on August 5, when the Special Forces of the military sacked Boko Haram insurgents from Damboa. The terrorists retreated into Gwoza, killing hundreds of civilians and the military men around. They also torched almost all the government buildings in the town after which they hoisted their flag.
Three days later, the Special Forces in an attempt to consolidate the victory at Damboa, advanced towards Gwoza and tried to hold position. The insurgents were however able to repel the attack with their superior fire power. In the course of beating a retreat, the Special Forces lost some infantry vehicles to the terrorists.
And on the 21st August, the terrorists raided the Police Training School and hoisted their flag there also after having appointed an Emir to administer affairs in Gwoza.
Street Journal’s findings have revealed that part of what made the soldiers turn their backs on the enemy was the fact that they had old Infantry Fighting Vehicles, some of which malfunctioned as well as lack of adequate air cover, which further made the Gwoza situation disastrous. The Nigerian forces were simply outgunned by the enemy. When that happened, it became a matter of “run or die”.
Street Journal also gathered that the Lt. Colonel who led the attempt to retake Gwoza from the terrorists has been blamed for “not holding position”. Military sources disclosed that he might face a court-martial and stands the risk of being dismissed.
The Colonel, a veteran of the wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone fought alongside General Maxwell Kobe. He is also known to be one of the good infantry officers from the 47th Regular Course. He hails from the Middle Belt Region. Checks revealed that he and his men did all they could with the limited equipment they had.
Street Journal gathered that during the offensive to retake Gwoza, things went wrong when the Russian made Shilka ZSU-23-4 that was at the front of the onslaught fired a few shots and the guns jammed. The malfunctioning of the armoured tank reportedly dealt the mission a deadly blow as it became difficult for the Colonel to mobilize his men with the state of the equipment.
Some young officers who spoke to Street Journal pointed out that the insurgents would not have had it easy if the Infantry Fighting Vehicles were in good condition. Some of them even alleged that no special provision has been made for fighting insurgents.
To worsen the old equipment issue, when the Air Force came to provide support, Street Journal gathered that within minutes, the pilots started having issues with the aircraft. Not a single bomb was dropped on the insurgents. The officers noted that in other countries, the army might not have to wait for the Air Force as helicopter gunships are normally attached to battalions.
According to the soldiers, some of who sounded disgruntled, “every time a battle is lost to the Boko Haram sect, bad equipment and lack of supplies are usually responsible.”
It has also been found out that contrary to the belief that the Boko Haram sect is the main cause of the trouble being faced, the sect has being reinforced by two other militant groups thus making the security forces battle three different enemies fused into one. The groups, Harakat Al- Mujahim, Jama’ atu Ahlis Sunna Wadil al Jihad and Ansorul Musulumin are all made up of followers of the philosophy of Mohammed Yusuf, the slain Boko Haram leader.
Why The War Against Terror is Not Working
It won’t be wrong to state that the Nigerian Armed Forces are engaging in the war with the insurgents without the knowledge of who the enemy is and where they are per time. The military lacks adequate information about the formation of the enemy, their number and the equipment in their possession.
Moreover, they were grossly outnumbered. In Gwoza, the Special Forces of less than a thousand men were obviously shocked to find themselves facing a Boko Haram group of about 12, 000 strong armed men.
Inadequate Military Hardware
It is daily becoming more evident that the terrorists are better equipped than Nigeria’s forces. This also came to the open recently when spouses of some soldiers stood their ground insisting that their husbands would not resume duties in the North East where the armed forces are engaging terrorists.
Some soldiers have also gone on international media to state that they will not resume in the North East unless they are given better equipment. Some of them told BBC that Nigerian Army cannot win the war with the obsolete equipment it has.
The guns on the Infantry Vehicle that malfunctioned while leading the assault in Gwoza are not less than three decades old. When the guns failed, the vehicle turned back and changed the tide of that battle.
Lack of Communication
Communication gap is another factor that has caused the military to lose men and equipment. Sometime ago, the troops were already advancing towards enemy position in Borno having been told that the Air Force was going to provide aerial cover. Those advancing were not aware that it had been communicated to the base that the air cover would not be available. A lot of fine soldiers were wiped out by the terrorists as a result.
The Gwoza issue was somewhat similar in that as the ZSU-23-4 malfunctioned, inadequate communication between the tank and advancing troops made the infantry men believe the vehicle was turning because they were meant to retreat despite the fact that there was no order to that effect. As a result, the soldiers gave their backs to the enemy.
Lack of Coordination Between The Armed Forces
That the Nigerian armed forces, known to be one of the best fighting machines in Africa now lacks coordination is a cause of surprise to many. In the Gwoza episode, the soldiers were left with very little choice as they had little or no air cover. The support that was provided could not do much as the terrorist’s anti-aircraft guns gave the pilots something to worry about.
Motive for joining the military
Gone are the days when the army was the place for hardy youth. Almost 5 decades after the army’s foray into Nigerian politics, soldiering has become one of the most lucrative professions. Influential Nigerians now send their children to military schools to position them for power in the near future.
It is an open secret that a large chunk of cadets in Nigeria’s military academy have godfathers who are either serving or retired officers. Many chose to join the army for the fame and envisaged wealth and not necessarily for the love of the profession.
And with the lack of motivation, only a few officers are willing to lay down their lives for their fatherland or for the honour of the military.
One other fact that has continually haunted the army is the fact that some of their own are snitches who daily provide information to terrorists. Military sources disclosed to Street Journal that after the ambush that led to the death of a Lt. Colonel and several Majors in Borno State sometime ago, one of their colleagues who was believed to have provided the terrorists information is presently on the run. He was reportedly declared AWOL by the authorities.
The way the terrorists engage soldiers and the way the hold positions have clearly shown that some of them have military training. Habibu Bama, a serving soldier was one of the terrorists killed about two years ago during a gunfight at a terrorist stronghold in Borno. Ogwuche, the suspected mastermind of the two blasts in Nyanya was not just the son of a retired Colonel; he too had served in the Army before he turned against the state.
The Way Out
If properly utilized, the $ 1 billion loan being sought by the Federal Government will go a long way in helping to curb the activities of the insurgents. The military needs better equipment to be able to effectively combat Boko Haram.
Fighting terror has never been cheap. Each unit of the AGM Hell Fire Missile being used by the US costs about $ 110, 000, though it is highly effective.
The issue of engaging the terrorists without aerial support too should be looked critically into. That will give the troops advantage over the terrorists who are better equipped.