The Nigerian Army said on Friday there was a devastating attack on a military base in Borno State by Boko Haram on November 18, one week after the incident occurred following days of relentless media reports of the high casualty toll amongst Nigerian soldiers.
PREMIUM TIMES broke the story on Tuesday detailing how rampaging Boko Haram insurgents overran a Nigerian Army battalion in Borno State on Sunday, killing the unit’s commander and dozens of soldiers.
Military sources told PREMIUM TIMES that a large cache of arms, ammunition, and military equipment were carted away by Boko Haram fighters during the attack on 157 Task Force Battalion in Metele, Guzamala Local Government Area, at about 6:00 p.m.
Security analysts described the attack as a huge setback for government forces trying to push terrorists further out of Nigeria’s North-eastern flank.
On Thursday PREMIUM TIMES reported the account one of the soldiers who escaped the attack after witnessing how his colleagues were murdered by Boko Haram.
The soldier said at least 70 of his colleagues were killed. He also confirmed earlier accounts contained in PREMIUM TIMES’ publication of October 20 that military hardware, arms and ammunition were carted away.
Some media reports, including one by London-based newswire Reuters, cited sources as saying up to 100 soldiers were killed by the insurgents in the attacks.
The Nigerian Army, the Defence Headquarters and the Nigerian Air Force all failed to return PREMIUM TIMES’ requests for comments about the attack throughout the week.
It was only on Friday night after the news of the high casualty figures gained heavy traction amongst Nigerians online that the military was compelled to issue a statement.
But rather than provide specific details of the incident to Nigerians, and what was being done to curtail further sacking of Nigerian military bases in the volatile North-east, the Nigerian Army devoted a large part of its statement to bashing the media.
Several reports said the Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA) a faction of Boko Haram known to target military asset has claimed responsibility and published a video on the attack on Thursday.
The video was circulated as having been shot during the attack in Metele on Sunday, but the Army said that claim was untrue.
The Army said: “several social media, print and online publications have been brandishing false casualty figures as well as circulating various footages of old and inaccurate Boko Haram propaganda videos and alluding same to be the attack on 157 Task Force Battalion.
“Whilst it is understandable how such misinformation can spread in this era of social media frenzy, the spurious circulation of some of these videos only contribute to further propagate the propaganda intent of the terrorists; to misinform the populace and portray themselves as what they are not,” it said.
The statement said normalcy had since returned to the battalion and Metele general area because “reinforcing units have been able to repel the terrorists”.
The Army blamed its failure to speak on the attack for nearly a week on the need “to respect the families of the fallen soldiers and the anguish they were living through”.
“It is important for the public to note that the NA has laid down procedures for reporting incidents that involve its personnel who fall casualty in action.
“Out of respect for the families of our gallant troops, the NOKs (next of kin) are first notified before any form of public information so as to avoid exacerbating the grief family members would bear, were they to discover such from unofficial sources,” it said.
Worrisome Military Losses
Worried about the rising cases of missing soldiers in Boko Haram attack, the chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, issued a warning to troops on the battlefront against fleeing from insurgents in August, threatening errant personnel with a tough prosecution.
The Defence Headquarters announced last week it had taken new delivery of military equipment, boasting of a tough time ahead for insurgents.
The military has said it recorded tremendous gains in its counterinsurgency operations over the past three years, especially after managing to confine the insurgents to the fringes of Nigerian territories.
This was against the previous years when the terrorists held vast Nigerian lands across its North-east stronghold, occasionally spilling into North-west and North-central geopolitical zones.
But Nigerians, including critics of the Buhari administration, are increasingly skeptical about the claim that military was winning the counter-insurgency war.
The Nigerian Senate adjourned session on Thursday in honour of the fallen heroes, most of whose loved ones have not been notified by the military.
President Muhammadu Buhari has not spoken about the attack as of Saturday morning, even though the gain its administration claimed Nigeria has made against Boko Haram is one of the major talking points in his reelection campaign.
The president’s main challenger Atiku Abubakar issued statements on the attack on Wednesday and Thursday, saying he was devastated and proposing ways to assuage the families of the fallen heroes, including personal scholarships for selected children.
Some Nigerians were also online to give the military a tough time over its response in the wake of the deadly carnage wrought by the terrorists, especially on the claim that the casualty reports by the media were untrue.
A Twitter user, @woman_being, said: “All I read here is the army’s concern about the media and the spread of the news not the concern for lost of our troops. Jesus take the wheel #HonourOurFallenTroops.
Another user wondered if Sambo Dasuki is still diverting the funds meant to get arms for the troop.
“Please @HQNigerianArmy is #Dasuki still diverting the funds meant for arms for our gallant soldiers?
Take a clue from the Iraqis, match BH ideology with the same brutality, your propaganda should be more than theirs. Change strategy,” @234crux tweeted.
@Codenamacus said “Clearly the army is more concerned with their social media image than the matter at hand.”
@aimlegend_ said: “All the Army HQ is showing is concern about what the media is saying and misrepresentation of figures. Why not give Nigerians the exact figures? Why allow speculation? This is very unfortunate.”
Peace Naija on Facebook, while responding to the Army’s statement said his brother who witnessed the attack on soldiers said no weapons were given to the soldiers.
“Please this is not the issue of false information, this bothers both the Nigerian army and members of the public, my younger brother was there he told me everything even so many voluntary retirements of first badge is out, please stop playing with the life of NIGERIANS, no weapons given to them no salaries for over two months.”
Also, Ideobi Albert said: “Why would you not refuse to make a definite statement on the casualty figures when the service chiefs are “unawarely” attending campaign meetings and flagoffs?”