Multiple Nigerian and international news outlets are reporting that the nation has fired between 200-290 soldiers for alleged “cowardice” while conducting operations against jihadist terror group Boko Haram, a sacking numerous soldiers are protesting as unfair, as they were improperly armed and directed during said operations, they claim.
The BBC reports that the Nigerian military has not confirmed the number of those expelled from the military over a video allegedly showing Nigerian soldiers fleeing a Boko Haram battle rather than engaging the enemy, but that the number could be anywhere between 200 and 4,500 by the time the purging of Nigeria’s armed forces is complete. The national website Naij suggests that the number has increased to 290 since the initial reports began circulating in Nigeria.
BBC highlights one particular incident believed to be among the prime evidence for dismissing the soldiers: the fall of the second-largest town in Adamawa state, Mubi, in which soldiers actively fled the battleground when Boko Haram terrorists appeared. According to a soldier who tells the BBC he was present at the battle of Mubi, higher-ranking commanders ordered the soldiers to flee. “We weren’t given an opportunity to defend ourselves. I’ve spent 20 years in the service of the Nigerian army, I’ve never been accused of any offence,” he objected. They were ordered to flee, he claims, because they were insufficiently armed.
One soldier speaking out and using his name, Aguloye Sunday, similarly told Nigeria’s Premium Times that the government had refused to properly arm the soldiers, leaving them at the mercy of Boko Haram, calling the charges against the soldiers “untrue, false and malicious.” “The bombs given to us were made in 1964,” he alleged, “they were expired, so we could not use them.” As for the conventional arms, “each of us was given five bullets, not five rounds, to fire. While in the forest, our biggest weapon was to cover just a distance of 400 meters, but our enemy had aircraft weapons that could cover a distance of more than 1 000 metres, aside other dangerous weapons.”
Colonel Sani Usman of the Nigerian military told news outlet Naij only that “some” soldiers had been disciplined. “On disciplinary action being taken against some soldiers for cowardice and desertion in the face of enemies, especially as regards the fight against Boko Haram terrorists, most of the stories and figure being peddled are far from accurate,” he claimed, adding that court cases are unlikely in the eyes of the military.
The dismissals follow months of criticism of the Nigerian army, particularly from neighboring Chad, which has been aiding the efforts against Boko Haram in order to contain its spread into their nation. Chadian President Idriss Deby described relations with the Nigerian army this month as “regrettable” and urged the two nations “to work together” in order to defeat the terrorist group.
After a major military initiative in the northern Sambisa Forest that resulted in the rescue of hundreds of women and children being held hostage by Boko Haram, it appears the group has begun to strengthen itself once again, possibly with the aid of foreign groups. Boko Haram changed its name officially this month to the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) after pledging allegiance to that group. Video found in Sambisa Forest camps, however, seems to indicate the group is also working with Al Qaeda. Reuters reports footage “Boko Haram administering sharia judgments in front of a big crowd in a field stained with blood with a man speaking in Sudanese Arabic,” which suggests the presence of members of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (IQIM).
Also this week, Boko Haram attacked the town of Gubio in Borno State, killing at least 37 civilians. The move suggests many of the terrorists forced to flee the Sambisa forest have begun looking to take over more territory to reestablish themselves. The governor of Gubio is encouraging citizens not to leave the town, so that rebuilding is possible and Boko Haram is denied a new stronghold.