The Nigerian Army has dismissed 203 soldiers after a secret court martial held in the dead of the night, for allegedly disobeying a direct order from their commanding officer.
One of the sacked soldiers, who spoke on condition of anonymity with an online news portal, Premium Times, said the soldiers were dismissed for asking for support equipment, following the army’s plan to convey them in a tipper for an operation in Bama and Gwoza, two strongholds of Boko Haram insurgents.
The soldier, who is originally of the 19th Battalion in Okitipupa in Ondo State, but attached to the 7th division in Maiduguri, said the army detained them for over 90 days before dismissing them after a midnight trial. He said they are owed up to five months in unpaid salaries.
Narrating the event that led to their dismissal, the soldier said his unit reconvened in Maiduguri last August, after they were dislodged by the insurgents in Damboa in an operation where their commanding officer and several other soldiers were killed.
He said they were given two weeks pass and that at the expiration of their pass, they were issued new uniforms, boots and 30 rounds of bullets each as opposed to the statutory 60 rounds. And were going to be conveyed in a tipper lorry to Gwoza and Bama for an operation.
He said having engaged the insurgents in several past battles, majority of the soldiers argued that the operation would be fierce, and therefore requested support equipment.
“So we asked for support weapons. No support weapon was provided. Our CO (Commanding Officer) said he would discuss with the GOC (General Officer Commanding) of the 7 Division at the headquarters. When he came back, he said we should stand down. We thought all was well,” the source said.
But the request made by the soldiers fetched them more than they bargained for.
The next day their new CO, Mohammed A, a lieutenant colonel from 195 battalion, Agenebode, ordered them to submit their weapons and uniforms or be charged with mutiny.
“On the morning of 16 of August, after the GOC briefing, our commander started calling our names and he said anyone whose name is called should submit their uniform and weapon. He added that anyone who failed to do that would be charged for mutiny. We were surprised at what was happening.
“He started from the most senior soldier among us, a warrant officer who had served for almost 30 years. They asked us to go back to the barrack. It is a war zone and our weapons had been taken from us. Staying around was of no use so we left Maiduguri back home.”
The next order from the army hierarchy was for the soldiers to report to the 4th Brigade headquarters in Benin where they were detained for three months. “They kept us in the fenced field at the officers’ mess in 4th battalion headquarters. When we first arrived at Benin they took statements from us and took it to Maiduguri.
“The original charge against us was for deserting but after our statements were taken they changed the charge to disobedient to particular order. They said we disobeyed the CO’s order. They seized our phones, we couldn’t communicate with our families for the 90 days we were kept in detention,” our source said.
After they were released on December 24, they were conveyed to their various units, but the soldier said on getting to their units, a court martial was set up at about 11.30 p.m. where they were tried and dismissed. He said the next morning, they were evicted from the barrack with their families.
“It was dismissal without benefits. After 17 years in service. Even people that served for 30 years were dismissed without benefits. We had no legal representation.”