Nigeria: Welfare of the Fighting Troops

24 June 2021

The officers and men must be given all the support they need

As part of activities to mark the second anniversary of the ninth National Assembly, President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, recently led a delegation of lawmakers to commiserate with wounded soldiers undergoing treatment at the 44 Nigerian Army Reference Hospital, Kaduna. While some wounded military personnel were treated and discharged with different forms of deformities, according to the hospital's chief medical director, Stephen Onuchukwu, others are being rehabilitated from physical, emotional and psychological injuries. But those with spinal cord or related injuries which require "cutting edge medical facilities" are maimed for life as the hospital lacked the techniques and procedure for treatment.

More than 7,400 military personnel are victims of the long-running brutal insurgency in the Northeast. But a pertinent question arises: Do we adequately look after the disabled soldiers, widows and children of those killed in action? Apparently disturbed by what he saw in Kaduna, Lawan has called for more medical facilities to cater for wounded soldiers. "We can't expect so much from you and give you little," he said. "That will be unfair. Our armed forces deserve the support of all Nigerians."

For more than a decade, the Nigerian armed forces have been waging a searing war against an extreme Islamic Boko Haram insurgency which has cost the nation more than 40,000 innocent lives. A large number of the dead and the wounded are some of our brave and gallant soldiers. In recent times, the armed forces reportedly suffered heavy casualty particularly from the battle-hardened Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) faction of Boko Haram, focused on attacking troops and laying ambushes on military convoys. In one such attack in March 2020, about 70 soldiers were killed when the terrorists fired rocket-propelled grenades at a lorry load of soldiers at Gorgi village in Borno State.

One of the reasons often given for the high rate of casualty of our military men is the use of outdated weapons and equipment. Military officers have noted that insufficient or obsolete weapons are unable to stand the superior firepower of the insurgents. Indeed, no fewer than 350 soldiers in the Northeast and other theatres of operations last year applied for voluntary retirement because of the manner the counter-agency war is being waged. Some reports are indicative that the number of the dead and wounded is high because the war is not properly funded or rather that some of the monies for its prosecution are diverted. The authorities seem incapable of reining in corruption. Only last March, the National Security Adviser, Major General Babagana Monguno (rtd) alleged that the $1bn voted for the purchase of arms and ammunition to fight the insurgency could not be accounted for.

Besides inadequate equipment, the welfare of many of the living soldiers and families of the fallen heroes is not accorded needed attention, an issue that has correlation with the combat effectiveness of those in the battle fronts. Food is sometime rationed while salaries are almost always delayed. Only recently, some widows of felled officers in the decade-long war petitioned the National Assembly demanding an investigation into the delay in the payment of insurance claims of officers and men who died in service.

Last week, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Farouk Yahaya, while at the Seven Division Hospital and University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital, another theatre of wounded soldiers, commiserated with the sick, and promised to look after their welfare and medical needs. We must commend our military for the critical role they have played in the fight against Boko Haram and in making sacrifices on behalf of the nation. We also believe they should be given all the support they need. Indeed, their welfare will largely determine the speed we need to rid the nation of terrorism.

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