Col Sani Kukasheka Usman, acting Director of Army Public Relations, in this interview with Pembi David-Stephen, speaks on the renewed fight against Boko Haram, the successes recorded, the reasons behind the new drive, whereabouts of Shekau, 219 Chibok girls and sundry issues. Excerpts:
Can you highlight what the mission of the COAS Is?
As you are aware, the COAS, Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai, no sooner than he took over the command of the Nigerian army, unveiled his vision and mission to the officers and men of the Nigerian Army. The mission is to have an army that is professionally responsive in the constitutional discharge of its duties. Therefore, the cardinal points of the COAS are the issues of professionalism and responsiveness. Responsiveness in the sense that, if you recall in the not too distant past, there was an allegation, especially in the fight against terrorism and insurgency, that the response timing left so much to be desired. So now, the Nigerian Army will be responsive to whatever distress call in the event of any attack, not only by insurgents, but whenever they are called to duty. They must respond swiftly, timely and also follow through. For instance, if there is a terrorists’ attack on a particular community or installation, it is not only for us to repel it, we ought to follow through even to the point of dismantling the attackers.
On the issue of professionalism, you know that the basis of the military profession is anchored on professionalism, discipline and other cardinal principles like adherence to human rights and the rules of engagement and so many other things.
There was a time that the Nigerian Army was accused of being defensive, they just wait for the terrorists to attack before they repel and they sit tight again. Now, the army takes the war to the terrorists. Does it have anything to do with the change of the Code-name to Operation Zaman Lafiya Dole?
Well, it has relationship not only to the change in the operation’s nickname, but also to an operation that specifically deals with terrorism and insurgency in the country. It also has to do with the vision of the Nigerian Army and the mission of the COAS to be professionally responsive in the sense that you no longer have to wait for the terrorists to attack. You have to be proactive in the fight against insurgency and terrorism. First, you remember that there was the issue of Never Again will we allow the terrorists to covet an inch of Nigerian territory. We are moving beyond that and we are being proactive, wherever there is a known enclave or haven for the terrorists, it is the responsibility of the Nigerian military to pursue and attack and deter them from committing any more havoc. You will agree with me that the activities of the Boko Haram terrorists have been seriously degraded due to the concerted efforts of the Nigerian military and there is a renewed effort not only on the part of the Nigerian military, but also the society and of course, the synergy among the Armed Forces. You can see the robust relationship between the Nigerian Army and the Nigerian Air Force and more importantly, the society is recognising the fact that no army wins the war but it is a nation that wins the war. So, we are enjoying overwhelming public support. The government is also giving the desired leadership in terms of equipment, weaponry and leadership.
In essence, what you have enumerated informs the reason why the Boko Haram terrorists are now being defeated?
Certainly, we are at the verge of defeating them. If you can remember, there were roads that were hitherto held by the terrorists like the Biu-Buni Yadi-Damaturu Road, Yamtaki-Gwoza Road and Sabon Gari-Biu road that were saturated with Boko Haram activities, burying improvised explosive devices. The Nigerian Army has worked assiduously and swept up all those mines, opened the roads and made them more secure for public use. Beyond that, we are also doing so many other things to ensure that Boko Haram terrorists are defeated in the country.
All these goes without emphasising the welfare of the troops because no matter how much you are motivated or how strong the vision of the COAS is, as long as their morale is not boosted, a lot may be left to be desired. How is the morale and the welfare of the troops?
I am not in a position to judge myself but I can tell you with every sense of responsibility and humility, that the welfare and morale of the officers and men of the Nigerian Army has never been this high, simply because whatever is their due entitlement, is being given to them including remuneration, equipment and other welfare issues. Apart from that, the first welfare you give to troops is the issue of training. As it is said that the more you train during peace time, it is less during wartime. It is so because various aspects that deal with their operational capabilities are being taken care of in terms of equipment, weaponry remuneration and the rest. In fact, there is a renewed vigour where these issues are being tackled and you can remember that no sooner than the COAS took over that he left for the theater of war and have been there for almost eight days, where he visited all the areas concerned and he had interaction with officers and men, knowing their problems and proffering solutions. In addition to that, there was the issue of logistics, where the chain of command between the war front and headquarters was a bit wide apart from the fact that there was a re-location of the military command and control centre, there was the readjustment of deployment and movement of logistics bases. I can tell you now that the base of the headquarters of logistics that we have in Maiduguri, we have a new one based in Damaturu and the tactical headquarters of the 3 Division which was in Yola, has now been moved to Damaturu.
27 Brigade has now been moved to Buni Yadi. Invariably, we are taking the logistics right to the war front. Therefore, they don’t have to go far or stretch themselves to get all the support needed. Also, there is a timely refreshment of arms and ammunitions, at the same time, we are closing in on the Boko Haram terrorists.
With all these, do you think that the three months’ target given by the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces is realistic and can be met?
It is more than realistic, that I can assure you. I have just told you about the renewed vigour in the fight against insurgency and terrorism. We talked about the surge in terms of man-power, arms and ammunitions, synergy between the Nigerian Army and Air Force, as well as other security agencies and members of the public, who have been very gracious in terms of the supply of information, public support and understanding. With these, we are making tremendous progress. There were areas that were hitherto, held by the Boko Haram terrorists that were no-go areas to the civilian populace and even the military; but today, we are able to root out these terrorists and pursue them as they now go into hiding. Invariably, the target is realistic based on the factors that have been enumerated and there are more. But for the sake of security of troops, I will not mention those here.
What is the level of cooperation between our military and those of our neighbouring countries?
There has been a very robust and tremendous level of cooperation between the Nigerian military and that of the neighbouring countries especially now that we have a renewed multi-national force based on the Lake Chad basin agreement. So, there is a renewed level of understanding and support based on various bilateral agreements and that has also contributed immensely to the success recorded so far in the fight against insurgency and terrorism in the country.
Sir, where is Shekau? Recently, there was an audio released, claiming to be by him.
I wish I knew because if I did, you wouldn’t have been asking me that question. The aim of the Nigerian military is to defeat insurgency and terrorism wherever it may be in our country regardless of the leadership. Our key aim is to decimate the leadership of that terrorist group as personified by their pseudonym leader called Shekau. So, if we know where he is, rest assured that you could have known as well.
How far have you gone with the search for the Chibok girls?
The issue about the unfortunate abduction of the school children is giving the Nigerian military particularly the Nigerian Army great concern. Like I have kept on saying and not only them, the Boko Haram terrorists for almost six years have been having a swell time attacking towns, abducting, maiming and killing people alongside the kidnapping of students from the government secondary school, Chibok. What we are doing is to discover where these terrorists are known to be hiding. We want to go there and wipe them out and liberate all the people they have held captive along with the abducted girls. It is our hope and prayer that they are alive and we will do the nation proud by rescuing them from the clutches of the terrorists and reuniting them with their family members.
Then what is the fate of the over 3,000 men and about 100 officers facing court martial?
One thing I want you to understand is that the recent review of the disciplinary cases in the Nigerian Army was informed by series of complaints and litigations by aggrieved officers and soldiers. Consequently, the army deemed it fit to setup a committee to review and it has submitted an interim report and some of the recommendations have been implemented.
So many soldiers have lost their lives in the course of the war, what is the fate of their families?
The Nigerian Army has a welfare provision for the families of deceased officers and men, ranging from the payment of Nigeria Army welfare and insurance scheme, the benevolent fund, gratuities and certain others, by the office of the National Security Adviser and state governments and of course, the Nigerian Army in terms of scholarship for the children of the deceased and other welfare packages.
Invariably, apart from when we have any mishap involving any personnel of the Nigerian Army or injury by soldiers, they are medically taken care of by the Army depending on the level of injury sustained. If it is beyond the immediate first level medical care, such persons are evacuated from the battlefield by air to the nearest hospital facility or 7 Division Hospital or even 44 Hospital and when the situation is critical, most of them are flown out of the country. In any case, we have arrangements with certain establishments in the event of the loss of any part of the body – limbs, hearing and others, arrangements are being made. For those who have lost their lives, their families are being adequately taken care of based on the provision of the welfare scheme we have.