Nigeria: Soldiers Pardoned for ‘Cowardice’ Refuse to Fight Boko Haram

Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde
Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde

The 3,000 Nigerian soldiers pardoned in September after being arrested for various acts of contempt, including refusing to fight Boko Haram terrorists, are refusing their reinstatement in the nation’s northeast, where the Islamic State affiliate is headquartered.

The military has now begun to court martial eight other soldiers suspected of leaking the tension between the reinstated soldiers and their senior leadership to the press.

The national news outlet Naij reports that eight service members were arrested after military officials dispatched a Major General to Kaduna state to investigate and find those who leaked the story to the press. Vanguard lists those in custody, noting that the highest-ranking soldier to leak the story to the press is a Brigadier stationed in Lagos, on the opposite end of the country.

In an explosive reportVanguard exposed this month the struggle of more than 3,000 soldiers to escape being redeployed in the nation’s northeast, where Boko Haram remains an active threat. The soldiers have refused to return to the front lines because, the newspaper reports, they claim “they were never really pardoned and re-integrated into the Army, but rather, re-sentenced to the war front.” As proof of this, they cite the fact that they were never given redeployment letters.

Some who attempted to return to their units in the northeast were stranded in the region, rejected by the units, because of their lack of proper documentation. “Since they have been kicked out of the barracks they have not been paid for seven months making their families who live off-barracks begging [sic] for food,” Vanguard reported.

“But, our experience in fighting to save our motherland is too sad a story for the outside world to know. We are not cowards. We held on for over four months facing Boko Haram,” one soldier told Vanguard, asserting that he is not returning to the war front because army leadership “treated us like prisoners of war.”

“The Nigerian Army thrives on discipline, loyalty and good conduct and if anyone of them cannot measure up to expectation or live by those tenets, such a person is free to leave the army,” Sani Usman, a spokesman for the Nigerian army, said in response to the Vanguard report.

In September, Usman told reporters that the pardoned soldiers would absolutely return to their units. “The reinstated soldiers have shown their total readiness to be re-launched into the theatre to combat insurgency and have now commenced retraining exercise at the Nigerian Army Training Center,” he said at the time.

The Nigerian military has suffered significant setbacks in its war against the jihadist terror organization due in some part to disciplinary problems with its soldiers. In May, before President Muhammadu Buhari announced the round of thousands of pardons, the Nigerian military fired 200 soldiers they claimed had exhibited “cowardice” in the war on Boko Haram. Soldiers speaking to media alleged that the issue was not of cowardice, but preparedness. “The bombs given to us were made in 1964,” a soldier named Aguloye Sunday told the Premium Times. “Each of us was given five bullets, not five rounds, to fire.

Despite these complications, Buhari has proclaimed victory in the war against Boko Haram. “I think, technically, we have won the war,” Buhari said in a BBC interview in December. “Boko Haram is an organized fighting force, I assure you, [but] we have dealt with them.” He reiterated these claims in January: “The terrorists have been defeated; these criminals may rear their ugly heads through other means. We will continue to maintain vigilance.” Boko Haram has since executed numerous suicide attacks both inside and outside Nigeria, however, killing dozens.