The Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, has taken punitive measures against senior military officers under whose watch a key brigade fell to Boko Haram terrorists last week, PREMIUM TIMES has learnt.
Two major-generals and a colonel who were overseeing the Nigerian Army 5 Brigade have now been sent to the training and doctrine headquarters as part of the latest shuffling of top commanders of the Boko Haram war.
The withdrawal of BA Akinroluyo and CG Musa, major-generals, and IA Ajose, a colonel, from the battlefront comes less than a week after the brigade was attacked in Gubio, Borno State, on August 10.
At least four soldiers were killed and a large quantity of weapons carted away when the insurgents entered the brigade at about 6:00 p.m. The attack also left a large swathes of territory without military control across Borno, the heartland of the 10-year insurgency.
Military sources familiar with the latest posting decision said the three officers were singled out for punishment for not doing enough to prevent Boko Haram from overrunning the 5 Brigade. Mr Ajose was the commander of the brigade when it was sacked by insurgents last week.
Mr Akinroluyo was the theatre commander of Operation Lafiya Dole, while Mr Musa was the theatre commander of Sector 3 Operation Lafiya Dole, overseeing northern Borno and Sector 3 Multi-National Joint Task Force. The 5 Brigade in Gubio falls under Sector 3 Operation Lafiya Dole.
A senior military source who spoke under anonymity with PREMIUM TIMES said the punitive measure against the three officers was obvious in the pattern of the latest postings by Mr Buratai.
"The loss of Gubio was why the theatre commander, Sector 3 commander and 5 Brigade commander were the only ones affected," the source said.
The remaining five of the total eight officers that were mentioned in the latest reshuffling were all posted to other units, including Bulama Biu, the general officer commanding 7 Division who may have been removed for throwing a lavish party after a colonel and six others were killed last month.
"Most importantly, they were not posted to any particular unit but training and doctrine for deployment," the military chief added. "This is not the norm: officers are always posted directly to individual units with appointments except when it is punitive."
Our source also said that unless pressure is mounted on Mr Buratai, a lieutenant-general, he might decide to retire the three officers or keep them perpetually idle at the training and doctrine command.
Wielding a big stick
A spokesperson for the Nigerian Army, Sagir Musa, did not return requests seeking comments on the fate of the officers, especially whether or not they would be left redundant for a long period.
Mr Buratai had threatened commanders and soldiers of harsh consequences should they give up their positions under heavy firepower from terrorists.
The warning first came in August 2018, a few weeks after Boko Haram's Islamic State affiliate began a series of coordinated assault on Nigerian military formations. The insurgents inflicted heavy personnel and equipment casualties in successive attacks on military bases across Borno and Yobe.
Mr Buratai said he had learnt that commanders and soldiers were abandoning their positions for terrorists rather than stand up to fight. He then drafted a new guideline which he believed would help address the attacks and heavy losses.
More than a year after the guideline was introduced, little evidence exists of its effectiveness. The attacks grew in frequency and toll. Hundreds of troops have been killed, and top military officers, including colonels, captains and majors have lost their lives.
About two months ago, Mr Buratai again described Nigerian soldiers as lacking the commitment to the counter-insurgency operation, which entered its tenth year last month. He blamed troops' cowardice for the unchecked ruthlessness of Boko Haram.
'Distracting and reactionary'
Although Mr Buratai later back-pedalled on his public criticism of the war he has led since 2015, he appeared determined to portray himself as a disciplinarian army chief.
"But such strategy, while it may sound good for media optics, will only breed more disaffection within the military," Cheta Nwanze, a security affairs commentator, told PREMIUM TIMES. "It is distracting and reactionary."
Mr Nwanze, lead analyst at SBM Intelligence in Lagos, said Mr Buratai should focus on a longstanding advise from security experts that soldiers on the frontlines should be properly equipped to fight a relentless enemy rather than being punished for the lapses of their leaders in Abuja.
Military chiefs have faced allegations they enriched themselves with funds meant for equipment and personnel amidst a floundering counterterrorism effort.
"Without the proper and serviceable equipment, there is only so much they can do," Mr Nwanze said. "They are not going to fight a superior enemy with bare hands."
Mr Nwanze said Mr Buratai should have come down harder on Mr Biu, who deliberately went ahead with a jamboree while the families of fallen soldiers were still mourning last month.
"The three officers who were sent to training and doctrine might have been able to properly combat Boko Haram if they had adequate resources," Mr Nwanze said. "But the general who had a choice not to throw a party but went ahead with it anyway should have been stripped of at least a rank."
"You don't take an action that has the potential of downgrading morale of personnel and get a pat on the shoulders," Mr Nwanze said. "Being redeployed to the MNJTF is too mild."
The analyst said discipline could be best enforced in the military if all necessary provisions had been made for officers.
"There has to be discipline in the military, but you only need to provide necessary equipment before you can justify enforcement," Mr Nwanze said.