Soldiers deployed to fight Boko Haram insurgents in the north-east say the report that their poor welfare has been looked into is untrue.
TheCable had published an investigation on how soldiers beg “enemies” for food and wear slippers to the battlefield.
After the report, President Muhammadu Buhari promised to look into the matter, saying he remains committed to the well-being of soldiers and other security operatives.
On Tuesday, Lai Mohammed, minister of information, said the outcome of the probe showed that the soldiers were living in good condition.
“The summary of the findings is that there is no case of hunger, starvation or begging among the troops fighting in the north-east, and in particular in the Armed Forces Special Forces Battalion that was referenced in the publication,” he said.
“There is also no irregular/short payment of allowances, while claims of poor equipment, inadequate kitting and accommodation are found to be ill conceived and unfounded.”
But when TheCable reached out to some of the soldiers across major barracks under Operation Lafiya Dole, they described the minister’s statement as incorrect.
“When did the presidency carry out a probe? How many of us did the probe committee members come to check to conclude that we are living in good condition?” a soldier at Giwa barracks in Borno state, said.
“You know Nigerian army is hiding those things. Don’t mind them, they are all looking for money. Till now, soldiers have not got their allowance and salary, and that is why soldiers don’t want to fight. Let me tell you the truth, what they promised soldiers to pay N90,000 but they are not paying. And if a soldier dies, after one week, they will freeze his account. The family will not be paid anything. Everybody is running away from the bush.”
Another soldier in Mailmalari barracks, still in Borno, said the minister is not helping with the matter because they have all been waiting on the president to probe this issue.
“If anybody from the presidency came, we would have been the one to provide escort for them. Nobody came. We didn’t see anybody,” he said.
“The feeding is even worse. Soldiers in the bush now eat once in a day. When they wake, they don’t eat until 12 noon. And they won’t eat again till 12 noon the following day. Soldiers are using their personal funds to buy gas and pots from the market. The commanders are not ready to feed soldiers.
“They are pocketing the money. How can soldiers be on operational ground and be eating only beans? The situation is worse.
“I came back from the bush yesterday. Soldiers have refused to advance. They have run from the bush back to town. Even yesterday, there was an attack. They killed some soldiers while some were injured. It happened around Gudumbali side.”
“President Buhari should come down and see things himself,” an angry soldier in Jimtilu barracks told TheCable when called to react to the minister’s statement.
“Three months now, I’ve not seen my operational allowance. The president should get independent people to probe this matter.”
WHY IS THE ARMY REFUSING TO GIVE INFORMATION ON MONEY RELEASED FOR SOLDIERS’ WELFARE?
Eight billion naira, N25 billion and N78 billion were appropriated for operation Lafiya Dole in 2016, 2017 and 2018 respectively.
In the 2017 appropriation, the ministry of defence budgeted N2.2 billion to rehabilitate barracks nationwide. There was also a separate budget of N1.7 billion for the construction/provision of barracks while another N1.6 billion was budgeted to construct special force barracks.
In the same budget, the Nigerian army was to purchase defense equipment for N5.8 billion, construct barracks for N5.2 billion while N51 million on is for rehabilitation of barracks.
N2.56 billion was budgeted for the provision of uniforms and other kitting items, and N670 million for the purchase of health/medical equipment.
N5.5 billion for the provision of barracks and N1.4 billion for uniforms and kitting in the 2016 budget.
In spite of these huge budgeted sums, the soldiers at the end of the chain did not feel the effect.
Twice, TheCable had sent a freedom of information (FoI) request to the Nigerian army finance corps for a breakdown on the fund releases for soldiers’ welfare, but there was not a single response in more than a year.
The information requested from the army were; a breakdown of amount released for the construction/rehabilitation of barracks across Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states; the name of each construction/rehabilitation project for which funds were approved from January, 2014 to October, 2017; a breakdown of total amount released to kit soldiers and officers in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states from January, 2014 to October, 2017; a breakdown of total amount released as operational/danger allowance for soldiers and officers drafted into the Operation Lafiya Dole across Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states.
Interestingly, however, in the 2017 appropriation, the ministry of defence earmarked N20 million for a line item it called “implementation of FoI.”
“Indeed, funds were released for our troops but they boys in the bush are being shortchanged,” an officer at the Nigerian army finance corps had told TheCable.