by Samuel Ogundipe,
A video of Nigerian soldiers making a passionate appeal for food and beverages while combating Boko Haram insurgents surfaced on the Internet Tuesday.
The footage, first posted on YouTube from where it was circulated to other platforms throughout Tuesday and early Wednesday, provoked immediate social media reaction and highlighted the scale of cover-up of the precarious situation of the troops by the Nigerian Army.
The Army authorities were quick to push back against the video and its content, describing them as dated and “mischievous.”
The video, nearly three minutes in length, showed dozens of gaunt, famished-looking soldiers queuing for appearances on camera to decry their situation and appeal for support.
The scene played out shortly after the troops fought and reclaimed Alargano, hitherto a major Boko Haram stronghold, from the terrorists in April this year.
The soldiers who appeared on the video echoed inadequate supply of food, water and other essentials, calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately intervene and save them from starving to death.
In his response, the acting spokesman for the Army, Sani Usman, added that the “matter was conclusively investigated at the time.”
Mr. Sani said a board of inquiry constituted by the Army found that “the unit’s water tanker still contained water, but a soldier mischievously concealed it.”
Consequently, “that soldier was charged and punished accordingly.”
But the statement was silent on the name of the officer who concealed the supplies for troops.
Mr. Sani did not immediately respond to PREMIUM TIMES request for more details about the incident and its aftermath Wednesday morning —especially over whether the Army made the findings of its panel of enquiry public which should contain the names of the officers penalised and the severity of their punishment.
Yet, the video confirmed an aspect of this newspaper’s exclusive reports about a mutiny that nearly resulted in the assassination of the General Officer Commanding of the Nigerian Army 7 Division at Maimalari Canton, Maiduguri.
The troops were attached to “Operation Rescue Finale” launched 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 soldiers, mostly of the Nigerian Army 21 Brigade in Bama, rioted early Friday after surviving from 9:00 a.m. on December 14 till 6:00 p.m. on December 15 — more than 24 hours — without food.
When the GOC, Victor Ezegwu, eventually arrived in a helicopter bearing food 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.
PREMIUM TIMES also reported that the tumult came eight months after a similar situation played out in Alargano.
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, this newspaper reported based on information obtained from top-level military sources.
Just as it did on the latest provocative video, the Army quickly denied our story then and even uploaded pictures on the Internet depicting the troops being at home with Mr. Ezegwu.
Over the past year, Army authorities have drawn criticism for its unwavering approach of denying any news report about happenings on the battlefront even when they’re fully cognisant of its accuracy and veracity.
For weeks, the Army pushed back against a PREMIUM TIMES’s exclusive series about how some soldiers drowned and scores went missing in a Boko Haram attack in Gashigar, northern Borno, only to launch probe of the incident and later send out notifications to victim’s families across the country.
The perennial denial is in line with what appears a strategy of the Buhari administration to pronounce Boko Haram out of existence.
Mr. Buhari has maintained that Boko Haram has been defeated, even as Boko Haram attacks on civilian and military personnel continued.
But the troops said their commanders are to blame for their alleged refusal to give the president a clear picture of the situation on the battlefield.