A soldier who survived the attack on 157 Task Force Battalion, Melete in Guzamala Local Government Area of Borno State has disputed the casualty figure released by the Nigerian Army authorities.
While the Army reported 23 dead and 31 injured in the November 18 attack, the soldier was quoted by the Vanguard as saying that no fewer than 200 lives were lost in the incident.
He further said that some of the attackers were insurgents that had earlier been captured by troops but released on orders from superior authority.
The soldier also dismissed the video being circulated as being from the Melete attack, saying it was a video of an earlier attack in Jeli.
He attributed the huge damage inflicted by Boko Haram in Melete to wrong location of the base, faulty Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) and absence of aerial support from the Nigerian Air Force.
He implored President Muhammadu Buhari not to listen to some of the reports being given by army authorities and interface with the troops to get true picture of their living and working conditions.
The soldier said troops were being given faulty equipment and owed six months allowances.
He further accused army authorities of lacking accurate figures of soldiers deployed in the war on Boko Haram.
He said, “The information about the Metele attack by the head of the Army, especially the Chief of Staff is wrong. I do not think they are doing what they are being paid to do. Soldiers are being killed daily, and their families are not being catered for properly. Last year, a celebration was hosted in Maiduguri to make sure that Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs returned to their respective areas. One hundred and fifty (150) vehicles left Abuja for Maiduguri for the exercise, 15 suddenly got missing and the 15 vehicles that got missing were painted green, with Operation Last Hold written on them. They are the vehicles being used in attacking military locations, including Gagiram that was first attacked.
“The attack led to the death of a Captain and 11 others, but they told the press and others that we lost only seven soldiers. Even if seven soldiers died, was it right to describe the figure as only? I think Nigeria is in a state of war. For us to lose about 11 soldiers and they called it just seven it is not true.
“Gagiram was attacked the second and third time. Minari was attacked and we lost 13 soldiers and officers. Others, who ran into the bush are still missing. The fight against the insurgents became intense with attacks on many locations. Between Gudunbalo and Gamasa, we lost many soldiers but it was unreported in the press and to the Presidency. No fewer than 200 soldiers were killed and the truth was never told.
“Jeli was also attacked. Many soldiers died and some are still missing. The question I am asking today is: Does the Army headquarters actually know the total strength of soldiers fighting in the North East? I don’t think so.
“Since the Metele attack, many soldiers are still missing. Some corpses have been recovered while many have not been recovered. How do they know the total number of soldiers? I was surprised when the Chief of Army Staff came out on the TV and said only 23 people died. Let’s assume that 23 soldiers died, was that enough to call the number only? It is inhuman. What I know is that when a General loses in a battle, he is supposed to be court-martialed, retired, or jailed.
“But, some of our commanders failed and were then promoted. It shows that we are very wicked and we have lost it all as a nation. What about the people that died as a result of his actions?
“On our welfare, the Federal Government has released Ratio Cash Allowance, RCA, and operational allowance. It has not been given to us. We are only paid N20,000 monthly, and we are not paid at when due.
“They pay N10,000 in cash and N45,000 is being given to the commandant for feeding. What are we being fed? They feed us beans every day in the morning. At noon we are given rice, while we eat garri for supper. People have developed diabetes because of regular intake of carbohydrate. Some soldiers now have challenges with their eyes because of what we eat. We are not properly fed, but they will come out to tell Nigerians that soldiers are well paid.
“The issue is not about deploying more people to the North East. People have stayed in the North East for four years without being rotated. Some have never seen their families, some who had no chance of seeing their families have died. They should forget about sending people to the North East and equip the soldiers properly. I want the President to heed this advice. What we need is not to send people to Sambisa. The President should ask what the army leadership did with money for the procurement of weapons. Did they actually buy new weapons or refurbished weapons?
“The APC’s we have cannot run for 10 to 15 minutes without overheating or stopping in the bush. The Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AA) also has the same challenges. We cannot shoot for three minutes without stoppages. But Boko Haram shoots for more than two straight hours without stoppages. Now, the question I am asking is: Is the Army supposed to be on the offensive or defensive? I know that an army is supposed to be on the offensive. There is no need for us to be defensive all the time.
“We lack equipment. Soldiers have overstayed in the battlefield. There is a standing order that soldiers who have spent three months will be allowed to have two weeks to visit their families. What suddenly happened to the standing order?”
He added, “Soldiers, who fought and died were never to be promoted. But those who recovered the body of the late Major General Alkali in Jos have all been promoted. What about the people who are fighting Boko Haram and those who died fighting Boko Haram? The late Lt. Colonel Sakaba who died in Metele should be promoted. The families of other soldiers who died fighting should be compensated. We are all human beings. We only read about our allowances on the pages of newspapers.
“It was reported that we are entitled to N2,000 daily for feeding, while N5,000 is the operational allowance for 30 days. The Federal Government said the soldiers in the North East are being paid N95,000, it is not true. We are only being given N20,000 as monthly allowance and it is not regularly paid. We want our money paid as at when due and they should pay us all the arrears effective from the day it was released.
“They have moved soldiers from Arege to Malapatori but Malapatori is not supposed to have two locations. The removal of soldiers from Arege has made Monguno vulnerable to attack. The moment they take Monguno, definitely, they will capture Maiduguri.”
However, defence authorities have reiterated that 23 soldiers were killed and 31 others wounded in the Melete attack, urging Nigerians not to listen to hearsays about the counterinsurgency operation in the North East.