BOKO HARAM: TALES FROM THE WARFRONT. A Nigerian soldier from the battle ground tells his story.

Difference between Jonathan and Buhari.

Why insurgency has persisted.

Shekarau is a title; you kill one, another emerges.

Our successes, trying moments.

Day our bullets couldn’t kill their Imam.

How to destroy Boko Haram.

Sometimes, we are restrained by Amnesty International.

Combat is never a comfortable or enjoyable experience and cant be made so. But the soldier who is eating well, has adequate supplies and modern equipment, and also feels that he is being supported both by the Army and the civilian population, will perform far better than the one who feels neglected,” – Lt. Gen. William G. Pagonis.

Nigerian Army

For more than ten years now, the dreaded and blood-thirsty members of the insurgent group called Boko Haram have held the nation and some African states in the jugular. They have continued to spill blood and bile, kidnap, rape and rob, especially in the North Eastern part of the country and beyond, without restraint.

On their part, the Nigerian army have embraced the challenge with vigour, vivacity and verve. They have exhibited unequalled and unrestrained gallantry.

However, the bloody music has continued ceaselessly drenching the nation with unimaginable tales of horror being unleashed by the insurgents.

A chance meeting with one of the active participants and a gallant soldier, straight from the battle field, unravelled stomach-churning and eye-popping tales from the war front, fit only in dreams. Excerpts:

Life in Maiduguri

Life there generally in Maiduguri was not easy, but we thank God for the grace to be alive. I have crisscrossed and served at many locations there, because I am a member of the Armed Forces Special Forces (AFSF), so, if there is an attack in any location, we are likely to be moved to reinforce another location. I have been under Mafa, a local government where we have 112 Force Battalion as at September/December 2016. I have also been in Dikwa, the Headquarter of 22 brigade. From Dikwa we moved to Gachigbo where we had a company located there, then to Logomani, then to head bridge, the Gaborun ngala, under Calabangi local government. From Calabangi local government, we equally have a location called Rann, where last time, there was a helicopter mishap. When they came, rather than shooting the enemies who were at the IDP camp, they shot at us about 8-9 pm on that faithful day. They claimed later that they could not differentiate between the enemies and our soldiers.

File: Some of the Boko Haram members who surrendered recently. The military did not allow Ali Goni’s photograph to be taken as he is a minor.

But that excuse did not hold water. This is because we were well kitted but Boko Haram insurgents were a rag-tag group and you could easily differentiate us from them. Moreover, a fighter with night vision goggle was supposed to differentiate us from the enemies. This obviously cannot happen with the British or US army.

Secondly, many times when we come under enemy attack, we call air force and sometimes they don’t come. Sometimes they come and say they don’t have the authorization to engage the enemies. Just like the attack that took place on August 15, this year at Bama, the jet went ahead and saw those Boko Haram Troups bouncing towards our location.

He told the ground troops to withdraw, that the strength of the enemy was overwhelming. The officer who was a major, standing in place of the commanding officer ordered us to engage them, but the pilot said he had not received authorization. Do we need authorization from anywhere to kill the insurgents when they were killing our soldiers? So, we went ahead and recorded another mass casualty there. Sometimes, they will tell you they don’t have aviation fuel.

Camerounianans and Mine Resistant vehicles

Also, the incident that took place in July, this year, in Jakana which is the Operational Area Responsibility (OAR) for 212 Taskforce battalion, when the fighter jet eventually came, they released only one bomb and disappeared. When Boko haram terrorists came again, the troops withdrew.

Then, we called them to return but they refused, saying that Boko Haram was shooting at it with Anti Aircraft (AA). They also claimed that they could site some of our soldiers on uniform among them but we told them that those people were not our men; they just had uniform. We told them to kill anything you see inside the camp.

The pilot still left. That was why Boko haram over ran that camp. At a point in time, when the General Officer in Command, GOC, paid a visit to the location two days after the attack, he was not happy with the performance of the Airforce. The battles fronts are many. Bama, Banki, Darel-Jema, Kumshe areas where we and some Cameroonian forces carried out joint patrol.

If you come out there, you would come across Pulka, then by the left again, you would go to a place called Ngoshe. When you pass Gwoza, you will enter a village called Imankra, from there, you get to Madangali, after there, Mubi. These are parts of Adamawa, but again, these are all under 23 Brigade. So, we didn’t want to interfere with their activities.

So at Bama, the Cameroonians have a lot of Mine Resistance ambush protection vehicles but we, as a battalion can boast of only one or two. However, the problem is that the Cameroonians don’t have the mind to resist attacks. So, when the insurgents attacked Kumshe, most of them fled. But Nigerian troops manned the vehicles which we used to dislodge them.

Nigerian troops rallied to flush out Boko Haram rag tag forces in Guzamala.

The battle of Alargano

Alagano is the spiritual temple or Headquarters of Boko Haram. It is where they have their Imams, Mullas etc. During the battle that took place in November/December, last year, we surrounded the place and most of the insurgents fled under our heavy gun fire. But, their head, the Imam, stood. We were shooting him but bullets couldn’t penetrate him. At a point, we had to move the car and hit him down, and then we used other weapons like rod, to inflict physical injuries on him. Eventually, we took him for questioning to the command, from there, they took him to Abuja for further interrogation and after then, we didn’t hear anything again.

The battle of Gudumbali

“Gudungali is the headquarters of Guzamala local government area. Those guys came In about 17 to 18 gun trucks at dawn and started shooting and chanting Alahu Akbah. They entered all places and dislodged our troops, soldiers and civilians were all running. It wasn’t a sudden ambush, but a deliberate attack. You could say you are prepared, but, when there is fire power that overwhelms you, it becomes difficult. They continued to shoot, we tried our best, but at a point, there was no more ammunition. So, the troops started to retreat from Guzamala to Gudumbali, about seven kilometres on foot with civilians. We tried our best, we stood for about seven to eight hours with those guys, but, when it was dusk, we ran. They had excess ammunition to waste. When they are attacking they don’t conserve ammunition or observe fire discipline. So, they took over the area temporarily. But, by morning when our fighter jet came, we dislodged them.

The story of Bama – How Boko Haram took our gun trucks away

For over three years, I have been there, we don’t advance during rainy season. This is because of the bad terrain. We were then surprised when we got an order to advance during rainy season. Our vehicles were bogged down. So, when the vehicle got bogged down, our commander said troops should come down. We tried to push but we couldn’t. We used our legs to advance. So, when those Boko Haram insurgents came and over powered us, we fled and left those vehicles. The next day, when the special armed forces battalion was sent there, they saw that the insurgents moved those vehicles that were bogged down. We saw the footprints of cattle and it was obvious that they tied ropes to the necks of cows and used them to pull the vehicles. That was how they took the eight gun trucks. Most times on that location, we could see them using the same trucks. When, they capture the trucks they will put Arabic inscriptions on them.

Trying moments of our lives

If you ask me, I can’t tell you exactly, but they used to carry out attack on troop’s Locations, and they do come at dawn or dusk, and those times have always been the trying moments of our lives. If it is day time from seven in the morning to six in the evening, you can have your peace. From six, that is what we call stand to, everybody will be on the watch out. If they don’t attack you at dawn, they will attack by dusk, you will see them coming en mass. They have this pattern of attacking, some will come from the north, while some, from the south, some, from west and some from the east in hundreds and overwhelming. After they must have done reconnaissance, for instance, if they find out you are twenty or thirty there, they will come in two or three hundred.

Success in raiding

That is what beats my imagination till today because, these are people we tag as bunch of rascals, how come they seem to, permits me to say, have that superior intelligence in carrying out reconnisance? what are you telling us?

Plain dropping ammunition

Sometimes, in that Gwoza axis and Rann area, you see them and when you want to engage them, your commanding officer will say Mr. Man, you are not authorized to shoot, that plane is from UN, which means the International community is also aiding them. That is where the political undertone comes in now.

Soldiers killing civilians?

Those allegations are unfounded and untrue. As an insider and active participant, you can’t say soldiers are killing people indiscriminately. For example, we go to a particular village now, and in the village, everybody there is armed. You are shooting at me, and I am shooting at you. If eventually my bullet hits you first, how can you now say I am killing you? Because even in the rules of engagement in Geneva convention, in the International standard, the military best practice all over the world, a civilian holding a gun, shooting at you, is no more a civilian, and the use of deadly force is advised. It is kill or be killed, so, no iota of truth in that.

Major constraints in fighting insurgents.

The major constraint is

1: The political leadership and the military leadership are not sincere. If they are, Boko Haram would have been a thing of the past, and let me tell you, if you were conversant with current happenings, in our theater of operation a few days ago, there was an attack that was foiled by the Nigerian Airforce at a location called Tuburego. Through Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnisance, ISR, they saw gun trucks coming towards our location in Damasak. The Airforce now contacted the Ground to Air (GTA) troop, those people said it was the enemy, they sent helicopter gunship there. Out of the eight gun trucks, the helicopter gunship wiped five off. The remaining three ran away. We now called for the fighter jet, the fighter jet came and traced those three that ran back where they converged under an umbrella tree. The fighter jet now dislodged them there. Then, we discovered that was a makeshift camp. So, you can see what we achieved by taken such proactive measure? Why have they not been doing it? You can see they have saved a lot of lives that could have died that day because, if those guys had come in contact with our troop, there would have been exchange, and many lives would have been lost. Imagine, if it were the Boko haram who had those gun shifts, what do you think could have happened to Nigeria as whole?

Mass graves for soldiers

Mass grave is usually done in a situation whereby you cannot identify individual soldiers. In a situation like the attack at Kotoganle where we lost the highest number of soldiers, and no news about that, from the way they struck, you see parts of the bodies littered everywhere. How do you identify who is who? At the end of such a day, we bury them together.

Treatment for wounded soldiers

Initially, when you are wounded there, first aid treatment would be given to stop the blood. But where we usually have challenges is when you are left at the base. Somebody that has severe gunshot wound or if your bowel was ripped open by bullets, they just bandage until proper treatment is done. Sometimes, they send them to University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital, while if you are lucky, they send you to 44 Reference Hospital, Kaduna. It is only the lucky few, that are being sent to India and Pakistan, and this is where the issue of godfatherism comes in. If the wounded soldiers have a General somewhere, the General could call to inform that his boy was wounded and they fly him abroad.

Boko Haram Terrorists

Condition of camps in the war fronts

You don’t expect to be comfortable in the camp. In terms of feeding, the men cook, females are not allowed in the frontline. Before now, hitherto, females used to be there, but later on when there was attack, the females found it difficult. Later, we were separated. Another issue is that the food and water are never enough.

Kitting for war

The kits for war is poor. Fragment jackets or bullet proof vests do not go round. Ballistic elements to prevent objects falling on your head are never enough. Go now, take a study tour of our troops in locations, you cannot see those things complete, but if the General Officer Commanding, GOC, is coming, they will go and borrow. Some will carry from store and give to troops to wear. It will now appear as if soldiers are well kitted, it is a lie.

Honour for dead soldiers

They will just give you a shallow burial and that’s all. Your family keeps suffering. After the burial, they may just give your wife about N20 or N30, and she will be waiting for death benefit which will take several years. Those are the horrors, ordeals and hardships we go through.

Last batch standing

Yes! The story was that they came for an operation called ‘Last Hold’ and the essence was to root out Boko Haram members still hibernating within the fringes of the Sambisa forest and the lake Chad basin. But, to a greater extent, that purpose was not achieved because, since those guys came, Boko haram has been attacking them in all their locations. That is why we have recent cases of incessant attacks like the ones at Agiri, Azare, Guzamala, Damasask etc.

What should be rightly done

The military and political leadership should have,

1: The will power to be guided with the fear of God, to be sincere in their dealing, because if the government decides, for real, to stop Boko Haram, they would go. That is why Abacha said, “if there is any upheaval that lasts more than 24 hours, be rest assured that the government has a hand in it. And this is what is playing out.

Why former President Jonathan failed over Boko Haram

Jonathan failed in the sense that, he would release money to buy equipment when they demanded, but, he did not follow up by monitoring them and they would produce fake vouchers. But, in the case of Buhari, I think because being an ex-millitary man, when you say you have bought those equipment, he would ask you to test them. He would ask what is the effective killing range, what is the maximum range, what is the minimum range and so forth. So to some extent, during procurement, there has been sincerity. But now, it is utility and deployment that matters. There is complicity, a gap, and a compromise. Summarily, Boko Haram is a grand conspiracy and high wired politics and some people use it as a cash cow all in the name of security.

Shortcomings in deployment of forces

To some extent, I will not say yes or no. This is because there are times some people benefit more in deployment but I don’t want to comment on this. Again, we saw action and relative peace during the time of some GOC’s. Attacks were not many and not many people were dying. When they changed, we started experiencing sporadic attacks. At the end, soldiers keep dying.

Special remuneration for soldiers in the war front

The extra money is the allowance, and it is forty five thousand that is divided. Twenty thousand comes to your account, ten thousand is paid to you in cash, then fifteen thousand is given to those in the kitchen to cook for you. Aside this, you will continue to receive your basic salary. Salary is different from the remuneration for war. But, the allowance is not steady.

How suicide bombers are handled

It depends on the type of bomber. It is either VBIED, Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device or PBIED, Person Borne Improvised Explosive Device. So, if it is VBIED, the vehicle will be coming towards you with full speed, it is either you keep on shooting so that the bomb will detonate before it gets to your location, other wise if it gets as close as 50 meter to your location, you will suffer some casualties, fragments from the explosion will definitely get to you. If it is PBIED, You will tell the person halt, and you will see them in hijab, but, they will refuse to stop, when you shoot such a person in your duty location, you will experience an explosion which will make you know it is a suicide bomber. Sometimes, the civilian JTF will ask us to leave them so they could catch them, and when they succeed, we would go ahead and unstrap them. But, if the civilian is not lucky enough, the bomber could go off, he and the bomber will die.

The civilian JTF, Juju

They have been very useful and prolific in the fight against Boko Haram insurgency, although some of them are trusting their charms so much. Sometimes, they give us direction on where to go and where not go, and in most cases, the areas they ask us to avoid, there is usually attack there. Sometimes, they may ask us to shoot the grass and if you do so, you will see blood gushing from there. Before you go on patrol and arrive, you will see human being has appeared there. On the issue of juju working in war fronts, it could help you at the initial stage, but there are times it fails. It is only the power of Almighty God that lasts forever.

Why insurgents always access Maiduguri; role of mercenaries

If you look at the geography of Maiduguri , they have boundary with Chad, Niger, Cameroon, so it is easy for foreigners to come in. We have captured a lot of them at the battle field and sent them to headquarters. Like all those videos they upload, where do they get the IQ from? We capture some Lebanese, Chinese, Arab Indians with them, helping with technological advancement. You see some of them using generators to power their guns, while ours is manual. There are no white men helping us. Unless, when we capture some sophisticated equipment, we bring them in to teach us how they are operated.

File: Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau.

Releasing Boko Haram suspects

It has it’s own negative effect, some of them are unrepentant.

On Shekau

Shekau is a title, when you kill one today, another one takes his place, because leadership is important. The last one, we injured him when he was speaking in a telephone conversation in Kanuri language. He said Nigerian soldiers had attacked him from all angles. They now called us, Gentlemen, you people should remain there. We now had to hold on at the gate of Camp Zero for two days. By the time we went there, Shekarau had left. We only saw their flag and some big Qur’an’s which we took to Mr. President.

Release of Chibok girls and Leah Shaibu

It is a difficult thing. You discover that they are here, we tell the commander to allow us go shell them, but you will hear order is coming from above, if you kill them there could be collateral damage, the girls could be there, we don’t want to harm everybody. If you shoot, tomorrow they court-marshal you for disobedience to order. So, our hands are tied and the show has gone public.

End to Boko Haram

I see an end, but not now. As far as those greedy politicians and Generals are still there, milking these cash cows, they would continue to do that to eternity, because it is an insatiable need of man, that when you have wealth, you will want to continue to amass more.

Link between Boko Haram, killings by herdsmen

I can’t confirm that authoritatively. It appears they are doing their things differently because, if herdsmen are killing people, when you come, they take to their heels. But, Boko Haram don’t flee, they are willing, able and ready to fight.

Handling Boko Haram captives

We take them to Joint Investigation Center (JIC) , there in Vida Barracks. 21 Amoured Brigade, administrative Tactical which is in Bama. They counsel them. That is where we get this concept of de-radicalization. From there, they hand them over to the state government, and at the end of the day, they set them free.

Advise to powers that be on ending Boko Haram

Simple! All these while, we have been on the defensive. This time around, let us be on the offensive, and instead of us going around with infantry men to assault, because this is not a conventional warfare, it is asymmetric which is difficult to fight. Allow the fighter jets to dislodge them, so that as they come out from their enclaves, we begin to pick them. It will make things easier for us. And once there is intelligence gathering about a location, we go there and swoop on them and take decisive action. Sometimes, we are being constrained by reports of Amnesty International. Let jets be flying, and when we call them, don’t tell us no fuel, and Boko Haram will end.

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