by Samuel Ogundipe,
Victor Ezegwu, the General Officer Commanding of the Nigerian Army 7 Division in Maimalari, escaped being lynched by rampaging Nigerian soldiers on Friday morning, PREMIUM TIMES can report.
Details of the attempted assault on Mr. Ezegwu, a major general, by troops attached to ‘Operation Rescue Finale’ in Sambisa Forest, came a day after he denied our report about a mutiny on the battlefront.
The troops were enraged over poor welfare arrangement and alleged deceit by their commanders, our sources recounted.
Specifically, they accused the commander of leaving them to fight for two days without food. The incident occurred in Sambisa Forest on Friday morning, as this newspaper reported.
Most of the soldiers involved in the mutiny were deployed to Sambisa from 21 Brigade in Bama, Borno State.
PREMIUM TIMES obtained new details of the incident on Saturday, that show that the soldiers went from 9:00 a.m. on December 14 till 6:00 p.m. on December 15 — more than 24 hours — without food.
When Mr. Ezegwu eventually arrived in a helicopter bearing foods and other supplies on Friday morning, the troops swooped on him and scavenged the snacks, food and water he brought. They removed all the supplies, including parts for operational vehicles and other equipment, before moving towards the GOC in an attempt to attack him, our sources said.
“The GOC escaped being lynched because he was immediately shoved into an aircraft and whisked away from the area,” a source said.
With their target having escaped, the troops began sporadic firing, sources said. They also rained curses on their commander.
Army spokesman, Sani Usman, did not immediately respond to PREMIUM TIMES’ request for comments Saturday afternoon.
Shortly after our report about the incident on Friday, Mr. Ezegwu issued a statement to deny our facts.
Mr. Ezegwu said he was at Bama on Friday morning but he did not witness any outbreak of violence amongst the troops, much less against his person.
“I want to assure that nothing like mutiny happened in Bama. Nothing happened,” he told reporters in Maiduguri on Friday. “I just came back from Bama and nothing like that happened.”
Military sources told PREMIUM TIMES that the Army has commenced efforts to evacuate some troops from the area in order to forestall complete breakdown of order. The Army leadership will also increase supply of essential materials to the troops.
The latest tumult over lack of adequate food and water for the troops came eight months after a similar situation played out in Alagarno.
At the time, troops fighting to take control of the town attempted to kill their GOC after they were left for five days without water.
There have been repeated cases of mutiny by Nigerian soldiers since the war against Boko Haram began, and the Army has tried over 100 soldiers for the offence.
The worst case occurred in May 2014 when troops of 7 Division, angered by the death of 12 of their colleagues in a Boko Haram ambush, opened fire on the vehicle of their General Officer Commanding (GOC), Ahmadu Mohammed, a major general.
The soldiers were later arrested, tried and jailed.
The Army launched “Operation Rescue Final” earlier this month to dislodge Boko Haram insurgents from Sambisa Forest — a massive reserve which has long been occupied by the terrorists— and rescue civilians trapped there.
The commanders have claimed success in the operation, with thousands of women and children having been announced rescued.
But the momentum is being threatened by frequent complaints of poor equipment and welfare for the troops.
In October soldiers told PREMIUM TIMES of how they were forced to go without salaries for months.
Similarly, the troops also complained about their allowances being arbitrarily reduced by their commanders as well as how they made do with low-nutrient meals in undignified environments.
Although the Army denied any poor treatment of the personnel, it immediately started paying the soldiers a few days after the report.
Since then, soldiers have regularly reported being timely and appropriately remunerated and expressed their comfort until yesterday’s fallout.