In an effort to cover up the setback suffered by its soldiers in a recent battle with the ferocious Boko Haram sect and discredit PREMIUM TIMES exclusive report on the matter, senior officials of the Nigerian Army have made at least four contradictory statements in the last 24 hours.
Recall, PREMIUM TIMES had exclusively and authoritatively reported that at least 105 soldiers attached to the 157 battalion went missing after they came under intense attack from Boko Haram insurgents in Gudunbali, Borno State, on Wednesday morning, November 18, 2015.
When PREMIUM TIMES contacted the spokesperson of the army, Sani Usman, before the story was published, he directed us to forward our enquiries to officials of 7 Division in Maiduguri.
However, the spokesperson of the 7 Division, Tukur Gusau, a colonel, also declined to comment on the matter saying the commander of the division would address a press conference on the issue later on Thursday and that it was improper for him to pre-empt his commanding officer.
However, after our story ran, Mr. Usman called our reporter to officially confirm that the attack indeed took place as reported.
“I want to confirm the incidence at Gudunbali but the details you provided were not correct. “The unit attacked is within the area of responsibility of the MNJTF and troops are now organising to counteract the attack,” he said.
However, he did not give contrary details of the attack to counter PREMIUM TIMES account of the incident. He merely added that the theatre of command would provide details during a press conference in Maiduguri later on Thursday.
During that press briefing, attended by our reporter in Maiduguri, the commander of 7 Division, Yushau Abubakar, also admitted that the troops were involved in a major clash with the insurgents. He further stated that several causalities were recorded on both sides.
“Our troops were attacked in Gudumbali where we dislodged the Boko Haram there. We had an attack and we are sorting it out. But I have not heard anything relating to what is being reported in the media, he said.
He however became evasive when pressed further for details of the attack by journalists.
“I have spoken with the CO (commanding officer) there even this morning and I have not heard anything of such from him. Yes, we went to Gudumbali and we were attacked and we repelled them and we are currently sorting out the situation. In war anything can happen and the operation is ongoing.”
However, later on Thursday evening, the military issued a statement describing the report of the attack as a product of “the imagination of those sympathetic to Boko Haram ways of life.”
“The attention of the Theatre Command Operation Lafiya Dole was drawn to an online media publication saying troops of 157 Task Force Battalion were overran by the Boko Haram terrorists in Guzamala axis of Borno state and that several personnel were killed and several others cannot be accounted for including the Commanding Officer of the Unit, the statement signed by Mr. Gusau read.
At no point in our two reports on the matter did PREMIUM TIMES say the soldiers were killed. We merely reported that they were missing.
“The Theatre Command wants to state clearly that the story is a fabrication from the imagination of those sympathetic to Boko Haram ways of life.
“Although the location of 157 Battalion was attacked last Wednesday and was subsequently repelled by the gallant troops of the Unit, the Commanding Officer of the Unit is in contact with his Brigade Commander.
“However, the unit suffered some casualties which is normal in military operations. The affected personnel sustained minor injuries but no gunshot wound was sustained by the troops.
“The number of casualty and equipment lost as being circulated is not correct. The situation was unnecessarily blown beyond proportion to give terrorists the type of propaganda they desired,” he stated.
Also later on Thursday night, Mr. Usman, circulated another statement, describing the incident in Gudunbali as a “slight setback”.
“The situation is being stabilised,” he said. “The troops have rejoined their unit for further action. The earlier media reports were exaggerated. The CO is right now with his soldiers. It is just a minor setback and such are common in military operations,” he said.
However, in all its comments on the incident, the military failed to say whether soldiers went missing at any point during the operation or not.
PREMIUM TIMES Managing Editor, Musikilu Mojeed, said Friday morning that his paper was standing by its story.
“We are not surprised by the army’s desperate attempt to confuse Nigerians,” Mr. Mojeed said.
“We understand they were shocked that we got to know about the incident. We stand by our story, and we will provide further details as necessary.”