The General Courts Martial which have recently concluded in various locations give us an interesting insight into the way Operation Zaman Lafiya is conducted and the conditions of the soldiers at the front.
In the trial of troops from 111 Battalion (111 Bn), the CO Lt Col Timothy Opurum described the operation that led to the alleged mutiny it involved 3 Battalions launching sequential attacks on 3 enemy held towns. 111 Bn was tasked with capturing Delwa in order to allow 251 Bn and 252 Bn to pass through and capture Bulabulin and Dabwa.
Despite a ration strength of 750 men, the CO only had 4 officers and 98 other ranks under his command (i.e. a Company).
A standard infantry battalion consists of at least 3 Companies (about 120-150 men in 3-4 Platoons each) along with support, logistics, administration and other echelon.
In other words 111 Bn was effectively down to 14% of its stated strength. By virtually every matrix it was combat ineffective. For transport and support the unit had 6 x Toyota Hiluxs and 1 x APC (type unknown). It is not clear whether the Hiluxs were armed or what support weapons the Battalion had or whether there was air or artillery support available.
The soldiers (fairly understandably) balked at such an operation however the 4 officers and 29 other ranks (i.e. a platoon) conducted the attack and secured Delwa without incurring any casualties.
On 18th August they were attacked and overrun by a larger enemy force with friendly forces not sustaining any casualties but losing 3 vehicles, 1 x GPMG and 4 x rifles. The Battalion counter attacked on 20th August (with the 47 non conforming soldiers taking part bringing them back up to 98 men) retaking the town.
Prior to this operation on July 9th the Battalion had been caught in a successful enemy ambush whilst trying to capture Bulabulin, losing 3 officers, 23 other ranks and sustaining 83 wounded, in essence losing an entire company.
At the General Courts Martial held at Maxwell Khobe Military Cantonment, Rukuba, Jos 3 officers and 13 other ranks were arraigned in relation to the abductions of students from GSS Chibok. Again testimony in this case gives insight into the conditions of frontline soldier. The platoon commander 2Lt Godknows (who was charged with Cowardice in the face of the enemy) was stationed in the vicinity of Chibok with 13 other ranks armed only with their personal weapons (AK 47s) and an unspecified ‘limited’ amount of ammunition, no mention is made of transport, machine guns or any other support weapons. A platoon normally consists of 30 men (further broken down to 3 x 8 or 10 man sections) so 2Lt Godknows essentially only had half a unit or at best 2 weak sections of 7 men each at his disposal.
On the night of 14/ 15 April 2014, Chibok was attacked by approximately 200 Boko Haram fighters mounted in pick up trucks armed with rifles, crew served weapons, RPGs and IEDs. In essence the platoon was outnumbered 15: 1 and completely outgunned.
Despite these odds 2Lt Godknows allegedly attacked the enemy with 9 men leaving 4 men to guard their base. They fought until they ran out of ammunition and then withdrew.
Lt Col Ojo was charged with failing to reinforce Chibok during the attack, in his defence he states he was unable to communicate with units based in Damboa.
203 soldiers from 19 Bn were allegedly dismissed after a summary General Courts Martial for disobeying an order (the soldiers claim they were tasked for an operation in Bama and Gwoza and were being transported into combat in tipper trucks and without support weapons). Media reports state that one of the soldiers claims they were given 2 weeks leave after returning from an operation in Damboa in which their CO and several others were killed. Returning from leave they claimed they were issued with new uniforms and 30 rounds of ammunition each as opposed to the ‘customary’ 60 rounds prior to the above mentioned operation. When they questioned this, they were told to stand down and then arrested the next day.
60 rounds is just 2 magazines, even at a deliberate rate of fire these fellows would have gone through their ammunition in 6 minutes, with just 30 rounds they would have fired it all of 3 minutes or less at best and this is literally at best. It is no way near enough ammunition for any Army much less a professional army with an arms factory in Kaduna and access to the world’s arms market.
These trials have highlighted several things, the first and for me the most important is that despite negative press and adverse conditions, by all accounts the quality of the Nigerian soldier is extremely high.
Any Army that produces young officers who will reportedly lead 9 men with rifles against 200 armed with rifles, machine guns, crew served weapons and RPGs has young officers it can be proud of.
When 30 men out of a battalion of 750 can successfully capture an enemy held town and despite being outnumbered hold it for 2 weeks and still withdraw in good order with no casualties then we have battalions we can be proud of.
When you have soldiers who initially refuse to soldier on, volunteering to go back into the fight despite being outgunned and outnumbered to help their besieged friends and commander then we have soldiers (however initially misguided) we can be proud of.
These all indicate that the most important moral qualities that a soldier can ask for exist in the Nigerian Army, comradeship, sacrifice, loyalty, discipline and most of all courage.
We definitely have soldiers we can be proud of, now we need the Army to lead, provide and look after them in a way they deserve.