The Nigerian Army has flatly denied reports making rounds in the media, to the effect that 83 Nigerian Soldiers have gone missing from the frontlines.
Online newspaper, Premium Times, has been inundating readers with reports of 83 missing Soldiers.
According to Premium Times, the Soldiers were attacked by Boko Haram terrorists while manning a station in Gashigar village, Borno State, near the border with the Republic of Niger.
The report adds that some of the soldiers hurled themselves into the Yobe River and never re-emerged.
However, in an exclusive chat with Pulse, Colonel Sani Usman who is the Director of Army Public Relations, says Premium Times has been feeding the reading public a tissue of lies.
“The onus is on Premium Times that went to tell a lie, with due respect, that 83 soldiers are missing”, Usman said, barely concealing his disgust.
“We issued a statement of what happened. We did not mention the number of soldiers that were missing. Eventually, we went to the theater of war. But they didn’t bother to ask us that we should tell them the number of soldiers that were missing. I declined to comment on the number Premium Times gave so that wherever they got that information, they should go and justify it”.
There have also been reports in the social media space to the effect that troops engaging insurgents in a brutal war in the restive North East, have been deprived of their allowances and are demoralised as a consequence.
Usman was quick to push back on those claims.
“The media went on to justify the unfortunate incident by saying the soldiers had low morale because they had not been paid their allowances and that they were talking to some of those soldiers. But between me and you, that story is subject to investigation and a directive has been given for inauguration of an investigative committee. That is why I don’t want to talk about it because doing so will jeopardise operations”, said the Army Spokesperson.
Pulse asked Usman if any number of soldiers were missing from their Gashigar outpost.
“Yeah, but the figures Premium Times reeled out are outrageous and not correct. I tried to make them understand that look, all you have to do is ask for information, not speculate, not say that everybody is a criminal because that is the way it looks like”.
Usman also said the Army has been coy with information from the battlegrounds because it doesn’t want to jeopardise ongoing operations.
“There are two things at play here: One, it’s an ongoing operation. Two, there’s an ongoing investigation and we don't want to jeopardise operations. The number is not correct and I made Premium Times understand that.
“It’s so sad that Premium Times went out of their way to lie. And I say before God who created me, if the number is correct, why not? We’ll confirm it and let them know.
“But for them to go out of their way to fabricate..I don’t know why they did that. If people will even ask them that question, it will be okay.
“The more we dwell on this issue, the more we jeopardise certain things. Especially for all you online publications, terrorists make use of information online. That is why you have to be careful what you post. They won’t mind if it is even subject to misinterpretation, but they’ll use that information.
“I thank Pulse for reaching out to clarify. That is all we needed. No matter how bad it is, it has been the principle that we say the truth and nothing but the truth. Since July when the current came on board, he made it absolutely clear that on no account should anyone hide anything from the press, especially if that information has to do with human lives.
"The story of 83 missing Soldiers is not correct…it is not correct at all. This war is not yet over. If we do not give information, it’s because this is an ongoing operation and lives could be in danger”, the Army Spokesperson cautioned.
Boko Haram has ended the lives of more than 30,000 Nigerians since it commenced a bloody war against the Nigerian State in 2009.
Millions have been displaced, thousands have been abducted; with whole communities getting sacked as the war has raged on.