There are strong indications that the ongoing military operations against insurgents in the North-East may have been seriously hampered by lack of modern military hardware and the prevalence of aging equipment in the Armed Forces.
Saturday PUNCH learnt that the military had been faced with the difficult challenge of using mostly refurbished military hardware in the critical campaign against the deadly members of the Boko Haram sect.
It was learnt that a good number of the military hardware in the country such as the Armoured Personnel Carriers, the Alpha Fighter Jets, the MIG Fighter Jets and the Helicopter gunships that were being used in the ongoing fight
against the insurgents were acquired between 1979 and 1982 by the Alhaji Shehu Shagari regime.
A very senior military source, who spoke to one of our correspondents on Thursday, on the condition of anonymity, said that the successive military administrations that took over the governance of the country did not pay adequate attention to the importation of military tanks, fighter jets, helicopter gunships, APCs and other hardware.
It was further learnt that the situation persisted from 1999 under President Olusegun Obasanjo to the Goodluck Jonathan administration. It was gathered that Shagari had obtained the hardware to position the Nigerian Army as a force in the sub region.
Our correspondents gathered that a good number of the APCs deployed during critical military operations against the Boko Haram insurgents had either failed to fire or had broken down in the middle of action.
The source said that the APCs which looked new with their bright paints were merely mostly refurbished.
It was stated that the situation had resulted in the deaths of some Nigerian soldiers in the hands of the insurgents.
Saturday PUNCH learnt that the unreliable state of some of the APCs in the arsenal of the army had, on some occasions, resulted in the capture of some soldiers by the insurgents.
Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State had on Monday said that Boko Haram members were better armed and motivated than Nigerian soldiers battling to end insurgency in the region.
But the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe, in a swift reaction to the governor’s claim, had said the military was winning the war against Boko Haram insurgents.
In February alone, the Islamic sect has killed over 300 innocent Nigerians while countless others have been seriously wounded. The wounded include military personnel.
It was further learnt that the military had not been helped by the belief in government circles that not much money was needed to fund the military operation in the North-East.
Another source, who confided in one of our correspondents and pleaded anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the matter, alleged that several government officials in the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Finance had deliberately delayed the release of funds meant for the operation despite the President’s directive.
The source stated, “Look, there is the belief that money is not required for this operation and that is why releasing funds from the finance ministry has been a problem; the problem is even worse with the Ministry of Defence. These people feel they must get their share from everything.
“There is no way government can fund purchase of military equipment from the budget; there should be extra-budgetary provision to update the military with equipment.
“Many of the equipment we have in the military inventory are old; they were acquired under Shagari’s administration. Some of the APCs are old and are breaking down. At times, they break down in action; they are either not firing or they are not moving.”
President Jonathan had made a tacit reference to the abandonment of the military by successive military regimes and their civilian counterparts at the decoration ceremony for newly promoted major-generals in Abuja on December 20, 2013.
The President said that those in leadership positions failed to do what they were supposed to do for the military over the years.
The President said that there were a lot of things that the military ought to have had which they had not acquired. He said this inadequacy was playing out in some of the recorded incidents in the Boko Haram crisis.
“…So you have seen that for quite some time, probably, we at the leadership level of this country have not been doing things the way they should be done.
“I believe that the number of things that the armed forces are supposed to have got over these periods, they don’t have.
“Now that we are now faced with a challenge that we never expected, we were being overwhelmed. We will surely get over it,” the President said.
Aside from the issue of aged military hardware, a source blamed the absence of Army Aviation in the country for some delays in executions of operations in the country.
The absence of Army Aviation had made it compulsory for the Nigerian Army to rely solely on the Air Force for air support.
A source said that before the appointment of the new service chiefs, the relationship between the Nigerian Army and the Nigerian Air Force on the issue of the ongoing military operation was not very smooth.
The Air Force was said to be reluctant in taking orders from the Army because of the inter- service rivalry and a feeling then that the Nigerian Army had taken over the operation with the establishment of the Div.7 of the Nigerian Army in Maiduguri.
The 7th Infantry Division was established last year to take over the operations, erstwhile controlled by the Defence Headquarters from the Joint Task Force.
The source said that the Army pilots trained with public funds for such operations were not being utilised because of the absence of an operational air wing of the Army.
It was learnt that a policy of the Armed Forces had made the Nigerian Army to hand over the G222 transport aircraft for Special Forces to the Air Forces which had a platform to maintain them.
It was stated that an air wing would make it possible for the Army to plan its operations and execute them speedily without relying solely on the Air Force for such support.
Our correspondents learnt that there were instances where soldiers had been endangered in 2013 when an expected air support was called off when troops had advanced especially at the Sambisa Forest.
The source said that the military would require not less than 50 helicopter gunships to halt the killings being perpetrated by the Boko Haram in quick succession and to overcome the terrorists’ challenge.
“The military has its plans to tackle the problem of insurgency but the military cannot be everywhere as had been said before but let them provide helicopter gunships; we need not less than 50 helicopter gunships to fly the border areas.
“The Nigerian Army has people trained as helicopter pilots but they don’t have an air wing or Army Aviation. Even the paratroopers, who could be used in some battles, cannot be effectively exploited.”
But the Director, Army Public Relations, Brig. Gen. Olajide Laleye, said in a telephone conversation with one of our correspondents that it was untrue that the Army had not been acquiring military hardware.
He said that the Nigerian Army remained the best equipped military in West Africa in terms of personnel and equipment and had acquired some hardware recently.
He said, “It is not very few hardware that have been acquired. There is no military in West Africa that is better equipped than the Nigerian Army. An army is rated not only in terms of its personnel but also its equipment.
“The Nigerian Army is capable of executing any battle. We have aircraft; we have helicopters, we have tanks; please let us not equate Boko Haram with the Nigerian Army. We are maintaining what we have had, we have bought several recently.”
The Army spokesperson, who also commented on the issue of aging APCs, said that the claim was untrue.
He said that the Nigerian Army had produced its own APC known as Igirigi and had been maintaining weapons in its arsenal.
“The Nigerian Army has built its own APC known as Igirigi; I don’t know where you got your information from but that is not true. There is no Army that is 100 per cent complete but where you have 75 per cent, you are an efficient army.
“There are equipment acquired in the 60s; they are still functional because we have an efficient maintenance culture,” he added.
He denied claims that soldiers were ill-armed and were overpowered by insurgents, saying that those making the claim should prove it.
“That should be substantiated, I am not aware of any soldier that has been overpowered. In any war, there are bound to be casualties on both sides; in this situation, we have lost so little and the Boko Haram has lost so much; the killing of hapless citizens by the Boko Haram should not be seen as victory, it should be seen as murder,” he said.
The Chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Relations Committee during the Second Republic, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, confirmed that the last time major military hardware was purchased for the Nigerian military was during the Shagari regime.
Mohammed, who was also a member of the House Committee on Defence, noted that all through history, especially in developing countries, military professionalism, welfare and training were better handled under a democracy.
He said, “It is not surprising to me that facts are now coming out that the last major procurement in terms of military armament was done under the Shagari administration.
“I was a member of the National Assembly; I was chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the House and member of the Defence Committee as well as the Special Security Committee; which consisted of members of the House and the Senate.
“I should know. I also knew the generals who were behind these procurements. Generals Wushihi, Babangida and so many others. This is a telling lesson to us in terms of the Boko Haram insurgency.’’
Also, a chieftain of the All progressives Congress and former National Publicity Secretary for the defunct Congress for Progressive Change, Rotimi Fashakin, said this confirmed Governor Shettima’s statement.
Fashakin also called for the resignation of President Goodluck Jonathan, saying that he had failed in his primary duty to protect Nigerian citizens.
He said, “Shettima alerted the nation that from what he had seen, the sophistication of the weaponry of the Boko Haram insurgents could not be compared with that of our military, and that from his own reading of the situation, Boko Haram was more prepared and that we were in a state of war. That was all he said, but they (Federal Government) criticised him.