Confusion, anger and questions following Saturday’s attack on Zamfara military base

Weeks of good news, overshadowed by an inexcusable gaffe.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

/ by National Pivot

It's been a flurry of good news in the past few days as the Buhari government seem a bit more serious in its commitment to ending insecurity in the country before leaving office in 2023.

The surge in banditry under the Buhari administration, has caused restlessness among Nigerians as many were forced to flee their homes over fear of being killed or kidnapped.

After years of agony and rising numbers of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in some parts of the country, particularly in the North, the Buhari government who watched bandits grew strong enough to successfully down military jets, storm military bases and even invaded the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) in Kaduna State, where some officers lost their lives, seem to have woken up from its slumber.

In a recent article posted on his Facebook wall titled, “I like this pampering. Don’t you?”, Presidential spokesman Femi Adesina gave a perspective on the successful onslaught against bandits by the Nigerian military. 

He said, “In the different evil forests, when the Nigerian Air Force strikes from the sky, the remnants of the evildoers not killed immediately attempt to flee. The ground troops then pick them off like flies. I say it again. One has never been prouder of our troops. They are cleaning up the country.”

While the Buhari government is proud of its achievement on the ongoing crusade against bandits by the Nigerian military, a good number of Nigerians are however, being cautious, and rightly so, considering the country never ceases to amaze in a somewhat comical yet disturbing manner.

Weeks of good tidings was soon beclouded by an inexcusable gaffe which led to the deaths of 12 security personnel in a Saturday attack on a forward operation base of troops deployed for anti-banditry operation in Zamfara. 

According to AFP news agency citing security sources, the attack which was carried out on the military base in Mutumji, near the banditry-ravaged town of Dansadau, cost the lives of nine naval ratings, two policemen and a soldier. The attackers also carted away with weapons, leaving behind torched houses.

“The attackers stormed the base around 10:30am and engaged the troops in a fierce gun battle,” one security source said.

“They subdued the troops and killed 12 of them. They include nine naval personnel, a soldier and two policemen.”

The base in Mutumji is described as a key site for logistics and reconnaissance in the army’s fight against bandits in the area.

Such attacks on military bases aren't new, except that previous ones were mostly carried out by Boko Haram fighters. So what when wrong?

According to Daily Trust citing a credible security source, the bandits took advantage of the lack of security communication gadgets and laid siege on troops at the Mutumji. 

“While the jamming of GSM in Zamfara has gone a long way in taming the bandits, it also has a negative effect on troops because communication among them was also extremely restricted,” the source said.

“Most of the foot soldiers relied on normal phone networks instead of any of the specialised communication gadgets that should be deployed during operations such as the one going on in the North West.

“Only the top commanders have military radio or walkie-talkie, meaning those in the frontlines would only use their personal mobile phones which are no longer accessible.

“The bandits took advantage of this and attacked them at their forward operation base. As you can see, the attack was launched on Saturday but it only came to the fore days after,” he said. Another source said there was the need to deploy specialised communication gadgets for the troops.

“The ban on communication in Zamfara and parts of Katsina is not bad in its entirety but the military high command should have taken note of the adverse effect on troops.”

How is this an excusable gaffe by the Nigerian military and by large, the Buhari government?

How would the Nigeria Army not be aware of the danger pose by lack of communication in a war front, where telecom networks were deactivated? Does this means bandits are now more organized, have an effective intelligence network, and knew the Nigerian Army's tendency of being caught off guard? 

Or are the bandits whom we were told, were fleeing Zamfara and being 'picked up like flies' and killed by ground troops, different from the ones who seemed courageous enough to take the fight to the army?

A recent report by This Day, claiming some bandits who fled from the ongoing military operation in Zamfara State on several motorcycles were on Friday ambushed along Maganda village in Shiroro Local Government Area of Niger State, and killed by men of the Nigerian Armed Forces, caused a bit of confusion among Nigerians. 

According to This Day, citing local sources close to Allawa community, most of the bandits neutralised resembled foreigners, saying: “From the dead bodies that we saw, they are not Nigerians, these are foreigners, all of them are carrying long hair like women.”

The report cast doubts as to whether or not the bandits being attacked by the Nigerian forces are actually the same ones Gumi has been advocating for amnesty. 

Also from available footages of bandits seen with Gumi, and based on testimonies of freed kidnap victims, it is unclear which of the bandits are being "picked up like flies" as described by Adesina.

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