The Nigerian Army has officially declared one officer and 45 soldiers missing in a major Boko Haram attacks five weeks ago.
Consequently, the Army authorities have formally informed the families of the 46 personnel of the fate of their loved ones and requested that their next of kin forward bank details for onward remittance of accrued payments, military sources told PREMIUM TIMES.
The sources said the declaration and notification were contained in a November 20 notice sent by M. Jimoh, the new commander of the Nigerian Army 145 Task Force Battalion in Damasak, Borno State.
Mr. Jimoh, a lieutenant colonel, sent the signal to the 145 Battalion rear base in Ohafia, Abia State, and copied the Army 7 Division Headquarters in Maiduguri and 82 Division Garrison in Enugu.
Also copied were 5 Battalion in Kano; 20 Battalion in Serti, Taraba State; 103 Battalion in Enugu and 119 Battalion in Malam Fatori, Borno State.
Also in receipt of the signal were 143 Infantry Battalion for special forces in Borno State; 144 Battalion in Asa, Abia State; and 146 Battalion in Calabar.
Each of the battalions copied in the signal had soldiers that were part of the 83 missing, PREMIUM TIMES understands.
Mr. Jimoh recently replaced K. Yusuf, a lieutenant colonel who PREMIUM TIMES exclusively identified as the commander of the 145 Task Force Battalion who was among the missing soldiers.
The admission by the army that 46 personnel are missing came exactly five weeks after the soldiers were dislodged from their base in Gashigar, Borno State, by Boko Haram operatives.
The aftermath of the attack was exclusively reported by PREMIUM TIMES, which included how several soldiers drowned in River Yobe and how at least 83 troops went missing with Mr. Yusuf.
The troops were on deployment in Gashigar, which sits on the northernmost edge of Borno State, as part of the ‘Operation Gama Aiki’ aimed at displacing insurgents hibernating around the Nigerian border with Niger and Chad.
The operation was launched in June 2016.
They were manning the Forward Operation Base there when Boko Haram operatives pushed towards them with superior firepower in the evening of October 16, senior military sources familiar with the encounter told PREMIUM TIMES at the time.
After initial resistance, the troops soon abandoned their base and scampered for safety. At dawn on October 17, the leadership of the Nigerian Army was informed that Boko Haram attacked the troops when they jumped into River Yobe, where the sect opened fire and left unknown number of them fatally wounded.
Twenty-two of the fleeing soldiers were rescued by the Nigerien troops and transported to a hospital in Diffa, southern Niger, for treatment, the Army also learnt at the time.
Yet, for several days, the spokesman for the Army, Sani Usman, maintained that the report was false.
But on the same day that he spoke, the Theatre Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole in the northeast, Lucky Irabor, a major-general, claimed only 39 soldiers went missing.
The Army also opened a secret inquiry into the attack after some brigade commanders raised questions about the conduct of the soldiers.
For instance, the commanders said it was difficult to explain how utility trucks were used to dispossess soldiers of their armoured vehicles especially when the soldiers said they were alerted in their various positions.
Senior military officials also found it curious that some of the soldiers were rescued by their Nigerien counterparts with their bullets still largely unspent.
“If they actually came under attack while they were fully at alert, then they should have exhausted their ammunition before taking to their heels,” the source said. “At least that much should be clear.”