We need better arms to fight Boko Haram –Military commanders
Fresh indications have emerged that military troops deployed to fight Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East are using outdated weapons and equipment, including failing Shilka guns procured during the administration of late Alhaji Shehu Shagari, who was the President of Nigeria between 1979 and 1983.
This development, according to top military officers who spoke to Sunday PUNCH on condition of anonymity, has exposed Nigerian troops at the battlefront to attacks by the terrorists, especially ISWAP fighters, who are said to have more sophisticated weapons. They noted that it was also responsible for the heavy casualties the country had suffered in the anti-insurgency war in recent times, noting that there were times the Shagari-era weapons failed during operations.
The top military officers explained that Shilka, an artillery gun mounted on fighting vehicles, being used by the Nigerian troops at the battlefront are outdated but that they were refurbished and deployed for the operation. They noted that such refurbished arms could not withstand the modern ones used by the insurgents and that there were times they packed up during operations.
One of the officers said, “The Shilka guns were acquired under Shagari’s government. We have many of them but they are outdated, so they were refurbished, even though a lot of their components are missing. However, they were deployed in the North-East for the anti-insurgency war like that, hence they fail during battles.
“Recently, Boko Haram even stole one from the troops. So, while we are battling with the refurbished Shilka, ISWAP fighters deploy the latest technology to attack us, and you know the President said a week ago at an ECOWAS meeting that how the terrorists deploy more sophisticated weapons is a matter of concern.”
Another officer, who is currently engaged in operations in one of the toughest operational zones in the North-East, also told Sunday PUNCH that apart from Shilka, they used to have in their inventory Tank 72, also known as T-72, which was made in Russia and manufactured in 1971 but sold out in 1972. T-72 are Soviet-era tanks.
He added, “They were procured by former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration towards the 2015 elections and they were used to capture lost territories, but unfortunately, the tanks came without spare parts.
“From time to time, we cannibalised one to fix another until they broke down and they were withdrawn from operations because there were no spare parts. What we have now is called Vickers MBT (Vickers Main Battle Tanks).
“They are even older than the T-72. So, as I’m talking to you, Shilka is what we have and the outdated guns we were supplied with and that is why the insurgents seem to be having the upper hand. The equipment is really outdated.”
In a similar revelation, another top military officer at the battlefront told Sunday PUNCH on the condition of anonymity that the attacks on soldiers had increased in recent times because the insurgents were now using the weapons and equipment they once stole from the military.
He noted that superior weapons and equipment, like Armoured Personnel Carrier and Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, popularly known as MRAP, which is both bullet- and bomb-proof, were urgently needed by the troops.
Meanwhile, the sources explained further that beyond using drones, the insurgents were now using night vision goggles, thermal detectors and other modern equipment to attack the Nigerian troops.
The Nigerian Army had in November 2018 pointed out that Boko Haram’s attacks on troops had revealed that the insurgents were using drones and foreign fighters.
Also, Governor Babagana Zulum of Borno State said in July while welcoming the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila, that Boko Haram had higher expertise and better technological weapons than the military.
He said, “The capacity of the military has to be re-examined in terms of technological warfare. Otherwise, this thing will never end. Boko Haram now uses drones to monitor the operations of the military. Without providing the proper and up-to-date technological capacity to the military, this thing will never end.”
In affirmation of the observation by the military and the governor, one of the sources said, “The ISWAP is highly advanced in technology and in training and that is obvious in the way they attack us. They fly drones; they use night vision goggles and thermal detectors, and they are very innovative.
“Thermal detectors are optic detectors that work as a result of heat emitted by any living thing that breath out carbon dioxide.
“No matter where you are hiding, you will be easily detected. We don’t have night vision goggles, not to even talk of thermal detectors,” one of them said.
“In fact, if I can, I will call them magicians, yet we keep fighting them with the obsolete equipment we are supplied with and that is why we are losing men. I can tell you that we have not been supplied with fresh equipment in a long while. Those terrorists, especially ISWAP, are very deadly and confident and they now use foreign mercenaries, who are foreign terrorists.”
The top military officer, who had previously been attacked, said these days, soldiers do not waste time in withdrawing because they use inferior weapons, compared to what Boko Haram fighters use.
While speaking on the killing of a colonel and an army captain sometime in July, he said the soldiers were travelling from Maiduguri to Damaturu when they ran into the ISWAP fighters and in “three minutes” they killed the soldiers.
Asked if soldiers would not leave the war front if the attacks become too much, he said, “If the attacks become overwhelming, and there are no weapons or equipment to fight with, some would move. We don’t have night vision goggles and it’s sad because those terrorists use it as an advantage over us in the night.”
One of them added, “Let me even shock you; there are times the insurgents come with handcuffs, with the notion of capturing soldiers alive, because when we kill them we see those things. In each of their operation areas, they have suicide bombing squads that move around with them; they have medical teams and engineering teams to manufacture make-shift bridges if they have to cross obstacles or repair any damaged vehicle during the attack. They also have a casualty recovery team that evacuates their dead and injured colleagues during attacks.
The source also lamented that there were times they would call for backup and no one would respond, while the ISWAP fighters, on the other hand, would send heavy backups, with men numbering about 500 sometimes.
“They are well equipped and that is why they launch RPGs cheaply and easily,” he added.
FG allocated over N3.77tn for defence in 10 years –Investigation
Meanwhile, despite the inability of the Nigerian military to acquire modern weapons to confront the Boko Haram fighters, findings show that the Federal Government has allocated over N3.77tn to the Ministry of Defence between 2010 and 2019.
Details of the N3.77tn, which were obtained from the Budget Office of the Federation by one of our correspondents, were contained in the annual budgets of the government for the ministry.
The Ministry of Defence is made up of the Nigerian Army, Navy, Air Force, Defence College, Nigerian Defence Academy, Defence Intelligence Agency, Defence Intelligence College, Military Pensions Board, Defence Missions, Defence Space Agency among others.
A breakdown of the allocation showed that the sum of N589.95bn was allocated to the defence sector in the 2019 fiscal period. The budget is made up of recurrent expenditure of N430.82bn and capital expenditure of N159.12bn.
In the 2018 fiscal period, the government allocated the sum of N576.39bn for defence, made up of recurrent expenditure of N418.68bn while capital expenditure was N157.71bn.
For 2017, the sector had a total allocation of N411.48bn made up of recurrent expenditure of N96.48bn and capital expenditure of N315bn.
The 2016, 2015 and 2014 fiscal years had total allocations of N443.07bn, N375.49bn and N349.71bn.
These were made up of N312.21bn, N338.79bn and N338.79bn recurrent expenditures in 2016, 2015 and 2014 respectively while capital expenditures were N130.86bn, N36.7bn and N35.36bn for the respective periods.
In 2013, the sum of N350.8bn was allocated for defence while for 2012, 2011 and 2010, allocations were N333.26bn, N111.52bn and N232.04bn respectively.
Further analysis showed that the Nigerian Army and the Nigerian Air Force got a total budgetary allocation of over N2.32tn to finance their operations during the 10-year period.
An analysis of the budget document showed that out of the N2.32tn, the Nigerian Army received a budgetary allocation of N1.55tn for the 10-year period while the Air Force got N845.81bn.
A breakdown of the N2.32tn showed that the sum of N228.14bn was allocated in the 2019 financial period. This was made up of N208.79bn for recurrent and N19.62bn for capital expenditure.
The sum of N224.25bn was allocated in the 2018 fiscal year made up of recurrent expenditure of N204.63bn while capital expenditure was N19.62bn.
In 2017, the Nigerian Army got N155.44bn, made up of N134.82bn for recurrent while N20.62bn was for capital expenditure.
In 2016, the allocation to the army was N99.63bn, out of which N65.97bn was for recurrent expenditure while capital expenditure was N33.65bn.
The 2015 fiscal period had the sum of N149.83bn allocated to the Army, out of which recurrent expenditure was N144.08bn, while capital expenditure was N5.75bn.
In 2014, the Nigerian Army got the sum of N136.08bn, made up of recurrent expenditure of N131.18bn and capital expenditure of N4.89bn.
In 2013, 2012, 2011 and 2010 fiscal periods, the Army got allocations of N128.12bn, N123.93bn, N111.52bn and N75bn respectively.
For the Nigerian Air Force, the security agency got N114.83bn in 2019, out of which N69.78bn was for recurrent expenditure while N45bn was for capital expenditure.
In the same vein, the sum of N111.65bn was allocated in 2018 made up of recurrent expenditure of N67.33bn and capital expenditure of N44.65bn.
In 2017, the Air Force got N111.65bn; 2016, N90.71bn; 2015, N77.02bn; 2014, N73.88bn; and 2013, NN68.76bn. For 2012, 2011 and 2010 fiscal periods, the Air Force got allocations of N66.44bn, N84.61bn and N58.28bn respectively.
The allocations excluded the withdrawal made from the Excess Crude Account for the purchase of military equipment.
Analysis of figures obtained from the Budget Office of the Federation showed that the sum of $496.37m was approved by President Muhammadu Buhari and withdrawn for the purchase of Super Tucano Aircraft.
The withdrawal of that amount, according to the Budget Office, was made in the first quarter of 2018.
Similarly, the President also gave approval that the sum of $380.51m be withdrawn for the first batch of procurement of critical equipment for the Nigerian Army, Navy and Defence Intelligence Agency.
The withdrawal of the $380.51m, according to document from Budget Office, was made in the fourth quarter of 2018.
However, despite the money spent on defence, especially on terrorism in the North-East, the Boko Haram insurgents have resurfaced and armed with better military equipment such as drones.
According to a report by the New York Times last Saturday, the terrorists were said to be roaming some parts of Borno State with impunity, even when President Muhammadu Buhari had insisted his administration had defeated the sect.
Another soldier in Borno told one of our correspondents that although the insurgents could not be said to be fully in control of any local government in the country, their threat was still very much potent.
He said the threat of the insurgents made the military authorities to deploy Super Camp and roving military tactics.
The soldier said, “The Boko Haram soldiers have superior firepower. Also, they have spies who work for insurgents at a price. Some of the civilians living along various axis come to buy foodstuffs and other things for these guys.”
Also, there is no proper synchronisation between the land Army and the Air Force. If this fight would be properly fought and Boko Haram dealt with, we need more of the air support.”
Also, apart from the budgetary allocation, $1bn was deducted from the ECA during the tenure of former President Jonathan to fight the insurgents. At that time, one dollar was about N192, making the sum N192bn.
Meanwhile, the Buhari government also in 2017 revealed its plan to withdraw $1bn to fight the terrorists, but as of December 2018, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.Gen. Tukur Buratai, said the Army had yet to access the fund.
Defence budget in the spotlight
When reminded that the military had had over N3.9tn in 10 years, the officers noted that there had been no sign of the money in their operation because there were no new weapons and combat equipment as they still relied on old weapons.
“On the other hand, what we see is that ISWAP comes with superior firepower. It takes extreme courage to withstand them for one hour and at times our soldiers may not be lucky enough to withdraw successfully in the face of a fierce battle.”
Super camps as safe havens?
Speaking on the Super Camps set up by the military, the officers expressed fear that the insurgents might someday dislodge soldiers from the camps if they were not equipped.
One of the officers said, “It’s for the big men to loot and nothing more. Do you form a super camp without weather and adequate equipment? When the dry season comes, their lies will be exposed. The terrain is swampy now, so the terrorists can’t move as much as they would want to. Let the terrain dry and you would see their capacity. That super camp is a big joke.”
Another officer alleged that the move was to make civilians believe that the troops are in charge but that the initiative would succeed in creating more funds for the personal pockets of certain persons other than the interest of the nation.
Scores of missing soldiers unfound 10 months after
Meanwhile, scores of soldiers who went missing following the Boko Haram and Islamic State fighters’ attacks on the army bases in Metele and Baga, Borno State, in November 2018, have yet to be rescued by the military almost 10 months, Saturday PUNCH can report.
This is coming about three months after the Multi-National Joint Task Force explained in June that its operation, Yancin Takfi, “is progressing steadily and is committed to rescuing all personnel who were declared missing in action.”
Findings among top military sources on Friday showed that scores of missing soldiers had yet to be found by the military. Some of the soldiers are feared to have been killed or abducted by the insurgents.
The Nigerian Army had on November 28 last year confirmed that it lost 23 personnel to the attack by the ISWAP terrorists, who attacked the 157 Battalion in Metele in northern Borno on November 18. The army also said 31 personnel were also “wounded in action and have been evacuated to several medical hospitals.”
The Defence Headquarters, Abuja, has, however, said that the military conducted regular search-and-rescue operations to free any personnel suspected to be in the enclave of the Boko Haram terrorists.
The acting Director, Defence Information, Col Onyema Nwachukwu, who stated this on Friday, said he was not aware any personnel was with the Boko Haram insurgents.
He said, “Of course, we do search and rescue operations; this is done regularly to ensure that any of our personnel are liberated from such captivity. This is apart from the offensives that we are conducting.
“But nobody has told me there is any personnel in captivity. When there are missing-in-action personnel during combats, what we do is to send out search and rescue parties, but there is none of our personnel in the enclave of the Boko Haram.”
The acting Director, Army Public Relations, Col Sagir Musa, could not be reached for comments on Saturday evening, as his line rang out two times.
A text message also sent to his line to seek comments on the reportedly outdated Shilka tanks was not replied to as of the time of filing this report.
The acting Director, Defence Information, Col Onyema Nwachukwu, could also not be reached on Saturday evening for comment.