Fury over troops’ desertion
APC seeks Jonathan’s action
‘Returnee soldiers under probe’
There was outrage yesterday over the defection of 480 Nigerian soldiers to Cameroon on Monday.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) described the development as a national embarrassment; political scientists said it was a bad omen.
Former Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) President Chief Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN) and another senior advocate Chief Niyi Akintola said the defection was worrisome.
Also yesterday, the soldiers, according to Agence France Presse (AFP), spoke through a proxy, on why they fled to Cameroon.
The AFP quoted the junior officer as saying that his colleague who spoke with him from Cameroon claimed that they fled after running out of ammunition.
He added that the soldier also spoke of the troops facing well-armed Islamic fighters. It said the officer insisted on anonymity since he was not authorised to speak.
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), in a report quoting Cameroon’s Army spokesman Didier Badjek on Monday, said Nigerian troops fled but the DHQ denied the claim, saying the soldiers strayed into Cameroon in a “tactical manoeuvre”
Yesterday, AFP said Basuma Muhammed, a resident of Gamboru-Ngala, in Borno State told it that soldiers joined hundreds of civilians who fled into Cameroon.
Initially, the soldiers were able to repel an attack by Boko Haram, killing many of their fighters, Muhammed said, adding: “But hours after the attack, a bigger number of the Boko Haram gunmen arrived from the other side of the town and engaged the soldiers who could not stand their superior force and had to join us in running into Cameroon.”
The defence headquarters statement said the soldiers had performed a “tactical maneuvre” when they found themselves in Cameroon.
The soldiers are back, the Defence Headquarters (DHQ) said yesterday, adding that they are in “high spirits with all their weapons and equipment intact.”
On its twitter handle, DHQ said: “The Defence Headquarters has confirmed that troops who returned from Cameroon were today addressed by the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 3 Division, Maj.-Gen. Zaruwa as they embark on another mission in the Counter Terrorism campaign. All the soldiers are in high spirits with all their weapons and equipment intact.”
Calling for a probe of the matter, the APC urged President Goodluck Jonathan “to urgently address Nigerians on the worsening security in the North which allows Boko Haram to proclaim sovereignty over Gwoza.
In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party also demanded a probe of how the $14 billion votes for security, defence and the police between 2010 and 2014 was spent.
‘’The issue that should agitate the minds of Nigerians now is whether our troops are adequately equipped to battle Boko Haram and, if not, what has happened to the funds allocated for such in the past. As we said in our earlier comments on this issue, between 2010 and 2014, a total of US$14 billion was allocated for defence, security and the police. What has happened to these funds?
‘’Nigerians must start asking questions rather than just blaming soldiers. Nigerians must ask why the alarm raised by Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State concerning the low morale and lack of necessary fighting equipment by the military was dismissed on the altar of partisanship. Nigerians must ask what next, if a rag-tag band of marauders are now carving out territories for themselves in our nation. Things cannot and must not continue like this,’’ the APC said.
It said in the face of the biggest threat to Nigeria’s unity and territorial integrity since the civil war, President Jonathan must also put partisanship aside and rally the nation against Boko Haram, which seems to be getting bolder and stronger, to the extent of hoisting its flag over parts of the nation’s territory.
APC restated its call for an urgent national stakeholders’ conference on security cutting across party lines to find a solution to what has become a danger to Nigeria’s survival. It pledged unalloyed support for any sincere effort to end the insurgency.
The party urged the President to halt the illegal electioneering campaign by his Ministers, other appointees and supporters, saying Nigeria must survive before any party or individual can rule over it.
‘’These campaigns, ostensibly by the Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria (TAN) but in truth being bankrolled by the Federal Government, offends national sensibilities at a time our citizens are being daily slaughtered and our troops are struggling against the terrorists who are bent on balkanising our nation. Needless to remind Nigerians that over 200 school girls remain missing more than 130 days after they were abducted,’’ the party said, adding: ‘’The President must put politics aside for now and lead the nation to defeat Boko Haram.’’
It charged the military and civilian leadership to quit politicking and fashion out ways for the military to live up to its constitutional responsibility of maintaining Nigeria’s territorial integrity.
APC said it was shameful for Minister of State for Defence Musiliu Obanikoro to be prancing around Ekiti and Osun states, marshalling troops to harass the opposition during the elections in those states, at a time Nigeria is losing territory after territory to Boko Haram.
Also worrisome, the party said, is the development that has seen some defence chiefs become the chief campaign managers to the President, an action it described as a violation of the military’s professional ethics. This has embroiled the military unnecessarily in politics, at a time they should be rallying troops against Boko Haram, APC said.
‘’Nigeria has never had it so bad. The country’s military that was being hailed worldwide for its sterling performance at global peacekeeping missions has now reached a level where its troops are deserting, engaging in mutiny or simply unwilling to fight.
‘’There is no way to spin what happened on Monday, when 480 Nigerian soldiers escaped to Cameroon. The Ministry of Defence called it ‘tactical manoeuvre’, but did not explain how soldiers fighting insurgents along Nigeria’s border with Cameroon will foray 80 kilometres into Cameroon! Also, if the Nigerian troops’ foray into Cameroon was in the spirit of the cooperation between the two countries in the fight against the terrorists, as some spin doctors have said, why were the Nigerian soldiers disarmed and then herded into schools in Maroua, 80kms from the Nigerian border?”, the APC wondered.
Political scientists, who described the development as a “bad omen” said: “It is a sad commentary. A standing army, is a national asset. A nation-state is incomplete without a competent army. If the army is fragile and incapable of defending the territorial integrity of the country; when soldiers for whatever reason, desert the battle for the defence of the national interest, that means the state is fragile and state fragility is a prelude to state failure.”
According to them, “there are certain factors that account for statehood. They include a government, population, land, boundary and a standing army. The role of the Armed Forces cannot be over-emphasised. To protect the government, land, the people, and police the boundary requires the presence of military proportional to the size and security requirement of the nation-state.
“It means that the army should also be motivated, equipped, and placed in combat readiness. The presence of a competent army constitutes the maturity of a country. A country without a bold army or a military ready to defend the national interest is vulnerable to conquest, foreign aggression and systemic fragility. Therefore, efforts must be made to raise the military bar. It is crucial to the survival of the democracy.”
Akeredolu said the soldiers’ action shows an urgent need to restore law and order in the military.
“If the story is true. It is really worrisome and calls for concern. It shows there must be a break down of law and order in the military.
“Desertion is a grave offence but what should bother us now is the effect of such action on our country. We should concern ourselves also in finding out the cause of the desertion.
“Soldiers and other ranks have been complaining that they are under equipped to fight Boko Haram, which attacks with superior weapons.
“This is the time for us to equip our military. Our military needs to be up and doing. They should come out and let us know what has been happening to military budget.
“The military should be properly equipped so that they will come up with necessary arsenal to fight and also forestall desertion in future,” he said.
Akintola said the penalty for desertion is death and condemned the soldiers for their action.
“For any soldier to desert the war front, it is a crime against the nation. It is a serious offence which no patriotic citizen should subscribe to.
“Those basing their argument on morality should know that morality is an unruly horse. When you get astride, it takes you where you do not expect.
“Those commenting on moral questions should have a rethink. When you join the army, you lose your liberty and freedom.
“There are certain rights guaranteed by the Constitution that are not applicable to members of the armed forces the world over.
“It is a serious thing, which no patriotic citizen should encourage under any right. To desert the Armed Forces of your country in the war front is worse than the crime of murder.
“It is treasonable felony and a mutiny. Such action if true is highly condemnable,” said Akintola.
The Nation gathered yesterday from a top military source that the soldiers traversed Nigeria-Cameroon borders throughout the night and arrived in Mubi, Adamawa State, at about midday.
The source said: “The soldiers have arrived safely in Mubi. Preliminary findings confirmed that they were all hale and hearty. There was no evidence of being hurt.
“The Nigerian Army has however started the process of debriefing the soldiers as part of the ongoing probe of how they crossed into Cameroon.
“The debriefing will involve their commander and other ranks to know what transpired between them and Boko Haram insurgents.
“This is a normal military tradition in order to guide military authorities on the next step.”
Responding to a question, the highly-placed source said: “The military is weighing options on whether to reintegrate these soldiers into their battalion or unit or allow the outcome of the debriefing to determine their fate.
“The military is being careful in managing the situation to avoid any decision which could lead to spiral effect in the Army. It is too early to judge the soldiers as guilty or not. A team is handling the debriefing of the 480 soldiers.”
Another source said: “The soldiers meandered through the volatile security challenges from Cameroon to Mubi. If you are familiar with the route, Mubi, Michika and Madagali are along the same axis.
“But each of the towns has border links with Cameroon making them vulnerable to attacks by Boko Haram.”
There were indications last night that the soldiers risk a two-year jail term if found guilty of violating the Armed Forces Act.
Their debriefing will confirm whether they breached Sections 60, 61 and 62 of the Armed Forces Act.
While sections 60 and 61 have to do with desertion, Section 62 prescribes punishment for “failure to perform duties.”
The sections provides for jail term of not exceeding two years.
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