The Nigerian Army yesterday asked Chairman of Senate Committee on Army, Senator Ali Ndume, to prove his claim that 847 soldiers had been lost to the Boko Haram insurgency in the last six years. Ndume, who spoke with reporters after the Senate plenary to the debate on the general principle of the 2020 budget proposal, said the casualty figure was sourced from military authorities last week. But the military said the senator needed to substantiate his claim, even as it would not take issue with the federal legislator.
He said: “The casualty figure of 847 was gotten from the Army last Thursday when the National Assembly joint Committee on Army visited the war theatre in Borno State. The Boko Haram insurgents don’t only attack civilians but the military as well. So far, from the record we saw in the cemetery, I think we lost over 847 soldiers – by their record there and that is from 2013 till date.”
He dismissed claims that the military authorities organised mass burial for soldiers lost to insurgency in the North-east, saying Nigerian army will never do that. “In fact, if any of the soldiers is missing, they go out to search and get the person before declaring whether or not he is dead and even if he is dead, they make attempts to retrieve the body and inform his family before carrying out the necessary burial rites,” he said.
Speaking on the objective of the committee’s visit, the committee chairman stated that it was aimed to have a true picture of operations in the North-east zone. “We even visited the cemetery because as you know, there have been reports of mass burial by the armed forces. We went to see how well-kitted the soldiers are and also visited the army hospital that was attacked twice,” he said.
According to him, the commitment of Nigeria’s Armed Forces is commendable; especially with the conditions they find themselves and still decide to sacrifice their lives for the country. The former Senate leader wondered why with the kind of challenge being faced by the military to tackle the Boko Haram menace in the North-east, the federal government has continued to underfund the Ministry of Defence annually.
Ndume said: “We are in a war; when you are in a war situation and you are budgeting N10.33 trillion and you are allocating less than one per cent to defence, does that show that you are serious about it? Defence is allocated N100 billion. I was hoping that it’s 10 per cent. One per cent of N10.33 trillion should be N130 billion but I later discovered it was less than one per cent of the 2020 budget proposal.
“More than half of the budget is given to security. It is worth it because without it, all these things that you are doing – infrastructure, hospitals – will not work. “Better kits, bullet-proof vests, and better riffles cannot be provided for with the sum of N100billion. The war is won but Boko Haram needs to be defeated.” He added that Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the North-east were moving from unsafe zones to what they think were a safe zone and that was putting more pressure on the government.
On international support to tackle the insurgency, Ndume said international communities had requested from donor agencies $848 billion for this purpose, adding that, the international communities that were not affected, had so far donated $547 million – over N140 billion – while the Nigerian government is budgeting N38 billion for North East Development Commission (NEDC). The Senate, he also said, would look into the allegation that Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in that area were conniving with the insurgents – providing them information, logistics and so many things.
According to him, “I have been critical about this and people have told me to be careful but it has come out now that one or two of the so-called NGOs operating in the North-east are actually aiding and abetting and supporting the insurgents but we will do an investigation and we will hear if we have the evidence. “So far, we have evidence. We just want to make it credible. The evidence are there and the common questions are even there. I have asked them before – when Chibok girls were released, we were very happy.”
But in a swift response, Army’s spokesman, Colonel Sagir Musa, asked the senator to provide evidence of the killings. “If he says so, then he should substantiate. What is his source? Let him provide it,” Sagir told The Cable. Also responding to the issue, the spokesman of Defence Headquarters, Col. Onyema Nwachukwu, said: “Regrettably, at the moment, I am not able to ascertain the statistics of fatalities of the ongoing counter terrorism and counter insurgency operations in the North-east.
“However, I can emphatically say that we are at war in the North-east and our victory so far over the terrorists is at a price. We’ve had human and equipment’s casualties in combating terrorism and insurgency. The Armed Forces has paid the supreme price to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Nigeria, as well as guarantee the protection and safety of Nigerians