Enugu — Last week's visit by the Senate Committee on Defence to the various army formations and barracks nation-wide was in keeping with one of the oversight functions performed by the National Assembly; in this context, the Senate. Particularly, Thursday, November, 8, 2012 visit was, to enable the defence committee ascertain if the 2012 budget for defence was implemented to the letter.
Doubtlessly, the visit showed to what extent the current President Goodluck Jonathan's Government, and the administration of the Nigerian Army under the present Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt. Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika, have gone in rehabilitating the army barracks, upgrading the equipment and improving on training and re-training of officers and soldiers as well as giving "human face" to their welfare package.
Sunday Trust, for instance, recalls that on 10th August 2012, the Chief of Army Staff, commissioned at the 103 Battalion, Awkunanaw, Garki, Enugu a new office complex including Battalion Headquarter, ultramodern officers' mess and play ground for the unit, as well as a acknowledging soldiers' and officers' living accommodations which were also duly considered by the COAS. Besides, Lt. Gen Ihejirika also commissioned the newly tarred 1.6 kilometer road with a car park at the new battalion headquarters complex within the 103 Battalion barrack. The unit now can comfortably accommodate 40 officers, 193 soldiers and their families along with the standard offices and an ultramodern officers' mess. It was learned that all the projects commissioned were handled from the scratch to completion by the Nigerian Army Engineers as directed by the COAS. The 103 Battalion is under the 82 Division, and it was established since 1960s.
Our reporter learned that since it was built, except Gen. Ihejirika, past Army Chiefs hardly visited the barrack; they usually ended their official visits at the 82 Division Headquarters, Abakpa, thereby ignoring the decay that gradually set in over the decades inside the 103 Battalion barrack.
However, the visit of the Senate Defence Committee to the 82 Division of Nigerian Army, Enugu quickly brought to the fore the mind-boggling rot in infrastructure and amenities in the nation's barracks, particularly in the 82 Division, but more so in the 103 Battalion unit, Enugu, where it was revealed, that toilet is used as labour room inside the only functional medical centre within the place.
"I will like to highlight some of the challenges confronting the command as it affects accommodation and welfare of the soldiers. When the unit occupied its present location, it was without any structure or facility as medical centre or station. It was the outpatient unit that was used or converted as medical centre. This adhoc arrangement is not adequate and lacks the capacity to cater for the number of officers, soldiers and their families living in this barrack. Additionally, the improvised medical centre is dilapidated and part of it was constructed with wood and zinc which, apart from being old and weak, is prone to fire and weather effects," the Commanding Officer, (C.O.) 103 Battalion, Lt. Col. Muhammed Kabiru Ibrahim told the committee.
"The station also has one in-patient ward with capacity to admit four patients at a time for both post-natal and other patients. We use toilet in the adjacent house as a labour room; which I will show you before you leave," explained the Commanding Officer.
The information drew both laughter and shock from the people with commanding officer and thecommittee members before they later inspected the projects in the barrack. "We are supposed to have anti-natal clinic ward; we are doing the anti-natal clinic inside the ward here," a nurse told the gathering. The clinic has one small generating plant that supplies electricity to it.
The 103 Battallion barrack accommodates about 3,000 persons, according to Lt. Col. Ibrahim, who quickly added that another serious problem confronting the unit is acute water scarcity.
He recalled that when he arrived, he made efforts to reach out to the Enugu state government, through the state Water Corporation, in order to solve the water problem facing the barrack. "I was able to succeed; the government, brought water down to the gate here but most of the pipes had rust, were blocked and could not serve the purpose. So presently, there is water outside the barracks but none in this place," he said.
According to him, "The Chief of Army Staff during his visit last time purchased brand new water tanker which is the only source of water now especially as the dry season is fast approaching and that one water tanker is not adequate to supply water to the entire people in the barracks. Another challenge also is road; the 1.6 kilometers leading from the barracks through Headquarters to officers' mess; other areas in the barracks, the situation of the roads is worrisome."
To give a graphic picture of the office buildings in the barrack before Lt. Gen. Ihejirika came into office, the committee members were taken into one of the halls built with plywood with its floor full of dust. "We brought you here for you people to see and understand very well the situation of the buildings before the current Chief of Army Staff came to effect the change you are seeing now in the barrack," the senators were told as they continued to look round the hall in apparent amazement.
He recalled sadly that in the past, all the roads within the barracks were untarred, muddy and dusty during rainy and dry seasons, stressing that the situation of the roads got worse with successive years due to erosion and "greatly reduced the beauty and value of the barracks."
On the combat readiness of the formation, the Commanding Officer said at present the Unit's state of combat readiness is satisfactory and regular trainings are being conducted by the Unit at all times. According to Lt. Col. Ibrahim, "Presently the Unit is committed to the following local and stand-by operations: we have 3-by-60 soldiers and 3-by-70-soldiers operating in Enugu and Ebonyi states aimed at curtailing armed robbery, cultism and kidnapping activities which is within the general area."
He explained further, "We have 1-by-30-soldiers, that is one officer, 30 soldiers placed on six hours notice; we have 1-by-60-soldiers also placed on six hours notice to move to Baga, that's in Maiduguri side for multi-national joint task force; we also have 1-by-28-soldiers, that's a platoon strength manning Enugu-Port Harcourt expressway; we have 2 officers-and -85-soldiers as general officers combined forces in case of emergencies at any point in time; we also have 1-officer-and-70-soldiers doing garrison duties within the battalion."
As the senators were driven round the barracks, one could observe the long line of many shanty structures otherwise called "batchers" in which some people are living or doing some commercial activities. "Some of them do catch fire some times," a soldier who lives in the barrack revealed. "The situation in this barrack is even better than when you go to Owerri, Ogoja, Ibadan and some other places in the country," a soldier said.
Sunday Trust recalls that some years ago, a section of the barrack was razed by fire which burned the entire tailoring department. The situation was so bad that civilians who live across the road - directly opposite the barrack assisted in fighting the inferno by hurriedly supplying water from their houses before the Enugu State Fire Service arrived at the scene. That was when one Lt. Col. Mukhtar was the Commanding Officer of the station. People were happy that at least no life was lost in the fire to which nobody could trace the actual cause.
Besides, there is also the large dilapidated huge water borehole that has gone moribund over the decades. "It used to supply water here many decades ago. It has been in this state many years, totally abandoned by past administrations," another soldier told Sunday Trust. "If it is functional, it has the capacity of supplying water to the entire barrack," he added. "The army has everything but bad management and lack of funds are the main problems we are having, just like you have in other Nigerian sectors. Bad management; that is the cause of all the rot you are seeing now inside this place," another soldier remarked. Yet another soldier chipped in, "The roads are bad. If you come here when it rains, you won't be able to pass through this road." The red-earth road being referred to leads to the area where the uncompleted building project of All Saints Catholic Church is located. The project is also being overtaken by grasses.
Before coming to 103 Battalion, Awkunanaw, the committee drove to the Abakpa Barrack where stones and used vehicle tires were placed on very old roof tops of buildings inside the barrack. "Most of the buildings here need total renovation. The stones and used tires are to prevent the roof from being blown off by wind," said a soldier on the entourage.
Inside the Abakpa barrack is also an uncompleted 40-unit bedroom flat transit project almost overgrown by tall grasses. The client is Enugu State Government/ 82 Division of Nigerian Army while the contractor is DEFOLDAT Logistics. The project was abandoned a very long time ago, our reporter was told, and no wonder it has been overtaken by very tall grasses.
Earlier, the Vice Chairman, Senate Committee on Defence, who is also Chairman Sub-Committee on Oversight functions on Enugu and Owerri, Senator Mohamed Jubrilla said the purpose of their visit was to examine the 2012 budget implementation and also ascertain the combat-readiness of the 82 Division of Nigerian Army.
Senator Jubrilla expressed satisfaction with the level of rehabilitation works in the Division so far. "Honestly, I'm very impressed not only with the GOC and his men in the 82 Division but especially with the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Ihejirika, who has done tremendously well regarding the initiation of his involvement of the Nigerian Army Engineers in all their construction works.