INSURGENCY: How Military’s Failure to Implement ‘Rotation Policy’ Affects Troops in N/East

By Abdulsalam Mahmud

Sitting on a white plastic chair at the entrance of a military base in Borno State, Sunusi Ahmed (not real name), a Nigerian soldier, had a pleasant facial countenance. He has remained in Borno since he was deployed to the North East in 2013.

With a gun ‘calmly’ resting on his left shoulder, Ahmed, who was in a green camouflage Khaki, does not seem to be troubled.

But by the time an adolescent boy of around 15-year-old, was about entering the base while on a phone call, Ibrahim’s hell was aggressively let loose on the innocent lad, who seconds earlier had greeted him even while still speaking on the phone.

“You dey kolo ne! You no go drop that call ba. So, you get liver to Waka pass us and you no fit greet, ba,” he yelled at the young chap, wearing a stern look.

But this writer will soon receive a shocker after the ‘raging’ Ahmed, a lance corporal, roughly grabbed and twisted his young offender’s ear, for innocently walking past him without greeting.

After making the young chap kneel for about 15 minutes under a ‘scorching’ sun, Corporal Ahmed, finally set free his ‘offender’ when two of his colleagues pleaded with him to pardon the 15-year-old boy, whose face, by then, had already started gathering sweat.

When Troops’ Stay Long in N/East

Though intimidating and threatening behaviours like the one Ahmed exhibited above are common with most military personnel, he is not the only soldier that behaves in such a ‘wild’ manner.

Many soldiers in Borno and other parts of the North East, who have become ‘discontented’, owing to their long period of stay in the troubled region fighting Boko Haram and the Islamic State of West African Province, ISWAP, terrorists, PRNigeria gathered, also show aggressive tendencies, among other physical and mental health issues.

In January 2021, there was the case of a soldier who shot and killed his Platoon Commander, a Lieutenant, in one of the locations in Maiduguri because the officer denied the soldier the privilege to proceed on pass to see his family.

Before then, one Yahaya Ibrahim, an aggrieved soldier fighting Boko Haram insurgents in the North-East opened fire on his colleague, Abubakar Mohammed, on March 6, this year.

Ibrahim, with army number 18NA/77/0725, was said to have suddenly cocked his rifle and shot Mohammed (96NA/ 42/4975) in the shoulder, from behind. The incident happened at a military base on Borno.

In April 2021, Kila Jima, a corporal in the Army’s 152 Battalion, Banki, Borno State killed himself. Two years ago, a lance corporal attached to the Army’s 27 Task Force Brigade in Buni Gari, Gujba Local Government Area of Yobe state, committed suicide at his duty post, in September 2020.

While in July 2020, a soldier in the Army’s 202 battalion in Bama, Borno State, killed a lieutenant who did not give him pass to visit his family.

‘Soldiers Battling with Depression, PTSD’

A soldier, who has been in Borno for about 10 years now, told PRNigeria that most of them who have stayed in the North East for up to five years are battling with depression and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), because the military authorities refused to transfer them out of the region.

According to the soldier, who asked that his name should not be revealed, he has however garnered tremendous experience fighting terrorists as a result of the long years he has spent in the North East, generally.

“I have sustained injuries, twice during a combat operation against the Boko Haram fighters. The first one was in 2018, six years after I was posted to Borno State. While the second incident happened in 2020, two years later,” he said.

For some years now public concerns have heightened over the state of mental health of Nigerian soldiers, particularly the ones fighting insurgency in the North-East.

‘Signal’ on Redeployment from War Zones

But according to a signal, which first came into existence in 2016, soldiers and officers who spent more than two years in the North East fighting Boko Haram and ISWAP insurgents should be replaced with new troops, freshly-deployed to the region.

Rotation of troops in the military, particularly in war situations, is something that is routine, PRNigeria learnt. The exercise is however aimed not only at injecting fresh bloods into the battle, but also easing the burden of troops, so that they are not engaged in combat, for a long period.

Checks by PRNigeria revealed that two years is the standard deployment period for soldiers involved in war.

Military’s Irregular Rotation of Troops

Facts available to PRNigeria, however indicate that the Nigerian military authorities are yet to effectively implement their policy of rotating soldiers prosecuting the counter-insurgency operation: a failure that is hindering the war against the lingering insurgency.

In December 2020, soldiers deployed for counterinsurgency operations in Borno State, complained that they had overstayed their mission and were not allowed a break in nearly five years.

Officials of the 3 Battalion in Gamboru/Ngala and Rann (then) informed HumAngle that they were inducted into the operation on February 28, 2016, to fight Boko Haram insurgents.

Two years earlier, in August 2018, rioting troops seized the Maiduguri Airport for almost two hours. The aggrieved soldiers claimed they had overstayed, and were resisting redeployment to Marte, one of the Borno towns liberated by the military from the clutches of Boko Haram terrorists.

Experts believe that the non-redeployment is responsible for the PTSD suffered by many troops, as various studies have found a relationship between the likelihood of developing PTSD and long duration of Nigerian soldiers’ stay in mission areas

My Concern on PTSD in Troops – COAS

In a post-traumatic seminar organised in November 2021 by the Army Headquarters Department of Transformation and Innovation, the Nigerian Army expressed concerns over PTSD among its personnel.

At the event, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Faruk Yahaya, said security threats in the country have made security agencies deploy troops in various operations to restore peace, adding that these operations were putting pressure on the troops.

“Their involvement in those operations had resultant effect of high casualty rates, injuries, damage to equipment and accumulated stress, as well as other mental disorders such as PTSD,” he said.

Ways Nigerian Military Tried Battling PTSD

Military authorities in the country once deployed new strategies to tackle PTSD among troops when soldiers began killing themselves and their colleagues, in early 2020

The Defence Headquarters, DHQ, then, commenced the deployment of psychologists to the battleground in a bid to reduce suicides and murders among troops fighting against Boko Haram.

Medical experts, also (then) catered for the emotional, psychological and mental health needs of soldiers fighting against insurgents, aside from counselling tours embarked by psychologists to the theatre of operation, at that time.

Solution, by Expert

A retired Nigerian Army officer, Brig. Gen. Gbenga Okulate, stressed the need for military authorities and commanders to pay attention to the mental health of soldiers fighting insurgency, warning that some of them suffer combat-related mental disorders in silence.

Okulate, a specialist on mental and psychological health, noted that the battlefield is a very stressful environment, saying there are high possibilities of war veterans experiencing combat-related mental disorders. He added that even serving soldiers who suffer the disorders have often contemplated suicide.

He further explained that the victims suffer recurrent thoughts, including flash images of combat action, experience nightmares, emotional numbness, bipolar disorders and have even resulted in broken homes as wives of the soldiers complain about change in their (spouses’) behaviour, leading to domestic violence and eventually, divorce.

He advised that soldiers who become unduly angry, insubordinate or exhibiting other attitudes, should not just face court martial, but be brought in for proper diagnosis. He stressed that early detection and referral are very important in dealing with the condition.

This report was done with the funding support of the Civil Society Legislative and Advocacy Network, CISLAC