After weeks of austerity, characterized by meal skipping, the Nigerian troops in Mali on Monday started eating three times a day, PREMIUM TIMES has learnt.
A defence insider said normal regime of meals resumed among the troops Monday, days after PREMIUM TIMES exclusively reported the hardship soldiers were facing.
"We hereby express our gratitude to your paper for saving our people in Mali from starvation," one defence source said in a message to PREMIUM TIMES Monday. "Food has improved. Our troops now eat three times daily from today (Monday). We will keep you posted on all corrupt practices."
Despite the claim by President Goodluck Jonathan that the government has spent $34 million (N5.1 billion) on the deployment of troops to the war-torn country, the contingent has been hit by food shortages and lack of basic supplies.
Last week, things got really bad that the contingent were helped out by their host community who donated food items to them. They initially received 50 bags of rice and a cow from the Mayor of Banamba region after a courtesy visit. Last Saturday four cows were also donated to the troop.
In a telephone interview, the Director for Defence Information, Mohammed Yerima, said the contingent did not solicit for the food items. He said the rice and cows were given to the contingent by the Mayor after he paid them a courtesy visit.
"They did not beg for food," he said. "The items were given to them (the soldiers) as gift in accordance with their (host community) tradition."
All not rosy yet
Despite the commencement of normal feeding, the army is yet to resolve other issues incapacitating the troops such as basic supplies and payment of allowances.
Few days ago, a platoon, led by Captain A.H. Ali, on patrol to Koulikoro, 80 kilometres from the Malian capital, Bamako, were forced to buy fuel with their money as the Toyota Hilux truck they were traveling in ran out of fuel.
This, we were told by defence insiders, is particularly hard for the troops as they are yet to be paid their monthly and daily sustenance allowance.
Meanwhile, a soldier, who was deployed without medical examination, has died at the Armed Forces Command and Staff College medical centre in Jaji after he was hurriedly repatriated from the West African country, PREMIUM TIMES has learnt.
The soldier, identified as Sergeant Gabriel, was serving at the NACOL Signal Unit, Lagos before he was sent to Mali. Sgt Gabriel is survived by his wife, four children and other relatives.
Mr Yerima confirmed that a soldier, who was repatriated from Mali, died at the medical centre.
He, however, declined to confirm if the soldier was Sgt Gabriel or what led to his death. He said an autopsy is yet to be performed on the dead soldier.
Our sources said had a proper medical examination been carried out before deployment, Sgt Gabriel would not have been taken to Mali.