The Peoples Democratic Party presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, has mourned dozens of Nigerians soldiers who lost their lives after Boko Haram terrorists invaded their bases in Nigeria's volatile northeast last Sunday.
A Nigerian Army commander was also amongst those killed during the pre-dusk raid on 157 Task Force Battalion in Metele, Borno State, PREMIUM TIMES learnt from multiple military sources.
As of Thursday morning, fresh findings by PREMIUM TIMES indicate at least 70 soldiers might have been killed in the attack by the insurgents.
The Nigerian Senate adjourned session on Thursday in honour of the fallen heroes, most of whose loved ones have not been notified by the military. Neither the presidency nor the military has issued a statement about the tragedy, which occurred on November 18.
The killings on Sunday followed months of heavy losses of both personnel and equipment which the insurgents have been inflicting on Nigerian military since resuming their latest campaign in July.
Expressing concerns about the frequency of the attacks on Thursday, Mr Abubakar said funding has been a major challenge for the Nigerian military, but one which must not be allowed to linger much longer.
"The increasing deaths of our servicemen at the hand of terrorists and criminals, especially in the Northeast and Middle Belt, is a clear sign that our troops need to be better funded and better equipped.
"It is true that funds are scarce, but this is an emergency and if we do not take care of an emergency, it becomes a crisis which can lead to a total breakdown of law and order - anarchy in essence. I have been travelling all over Nigeria and I meet with both Muslim and Christian clerics who tell me that in the Northeast and Middle Belt, they now officiate over more funerals than they do marriages and child dedications," Mr Abubakar said.
Mr Abubakar, Nigeria's vice-president from 1999 to 2007, called on President Muhammadu Buhari to place a moratorium on future releases of Boko Haram detainees, saying there is little evidence that the policy works.
"This is heartbreaking and we must do something immediately to change the situation. Apart from funding, I advise the Federal Government to review its policy of releasing so-called 'repentant' terrorists.
"To think that the government can deradicalise these individuals in so short a time is wishful thinking. Many people, myself included, think that the upsurge in terror activities coming after the release of such detainees, is not coincidental," he said.
He asked the National Assembly to appropriate funds for our military on a fast-track basis.
"These are desperate times for Nigeria and desperate times call for dedication to duty of all concerned," he said.
Assuaging fallen heroes' families
Mr Abubakar also proposed urgent actions to support the families of the late soldiers, proposing to personally fund education of select children from five families of departed soldiers up to university level.
"As such, I hereby declare an endowment to provide full financial scholarships to five children of our fallen heroes from the 157 Task Force Battalion in Metele up to whatever level they are able and willing to reach at the American University of Nigeria, Yola," he said. Mr Abubakar is the founder and owner of AUN.
The former vice-president also rallied Nigerians, especially his friends and associates, not to send him birthday gift when he clocks 72 on November 25.
"These men and women gave their best and we must reciprocate their sacrificial giving. Therefore, instead of celebrating my birthday this year, which is coming up in a few days, I choose to rather celebrate our fallen heroes.
"I further call on those who desire to celebrate my birthday, that instead of sending me gifts, they should donate their gifts and money to the widows and orphans of our fallen military heroes. I also call on all Nigerians, rich or poor to do what they can for the families of our fallen heroes. They gave us all. We owe it to them to show love and support to the families they left behind," he said.
"Finally, I call on the Federal Government to think about setting up a benevolent fund for the support of widows and children of our fallen military heroes, run by an independent body, to which the public and corporate bodies can pay in funds. This is the least that we owe these gallant heroes," Mr Abubakar said.
Hundreds of Nigerian troops have been killed and even more missing since Boko Haram resumed its latest campaign in July, fueling concerns amongst military leaders, and prompting an emergency reshuffling of commanders.
The insurgency, Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima said has claimed over 100,000 lives and displaced millions as of early 2017, began in 2009, and it had defied efforts of three different president to bring it to an end.
The war on Boko Haram is expected to dominate debates about security in Nigeria ahead of the general elections next February. Messrs Abubakar and Buhari are the major presidential candidates in the field of over 60 contenders.
Worried about the deaths and rising cases of missing soldiers in Boko Haram attack, the chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, issued a warning to troops on the battlefront against fleeing from insurgents in August, threatening errant personnel with tough sanctions.
The Defence Headquarters announced last week it had taken new delivery of military equipment, boasting of a tough time ahead for insurgents.
The military has said it recorded tremendous gains in its counterinsurgency operations over the past three years, especially after managing to confine the insurgents to the fringes of Nigerian territories.
This was against the previous years when the deadly Boko Haram terrorists held vast Nigerian lands across its North-east stronghold, occasionally spilling into North-west and North-central geopolitical zones.