30,000 soldiers homeless -Ex-Army chief, Ihejirika

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Former Chief Of Army Staff(COAS), Lieutenant-General Azubuike Ihejirika (retd), has said about 30,000 soldiers do no have accommodation.

Gen. Ihejirika, who disclosed this in an interview with Daily Sun decried the poor and inadequate accommodation for soldiers. He said the situation has forced army authorities to keep troops fighting Boko Haram insurgents for as long as three years in the North East, whereas they ought to spend between nine months and one year there.

To solve the accommodation problem, Ihejirika suggested that 50 percent of funds approved for construction in the North East be channeled into renovating military barracks and construction of new ones.

He said: “More barracks need to be built. Within the three and half years I was in office, we expanded the strength of the army by, at least, 21,000, but we did not build accommodation for the 21,000.

“We built new barracks leading to new accommodations for, at least, 5,000 people; what of the other 16,000? And since I left office, more people have been recruited, so, any fund available for the counter insurgency, a good proportion of that money, if possible, fifty 50 percent, should go to rehabilitation of barracks and construction of new ones, to accommodate the, perhaps, up to 30,000, soldiers currently not properly accommodated.

“Today, they are engaged, tomorrow, they will be disengaged and they will go back to the barracks.

“Due to inadequate accommodation, rotation of troops is difficult. We now have troops in the battle area for two or three years; so, that has to do with welfare of troops generally.”

On the recent order by the chief of army staff to officers and soldiers of the Nigerian army to learn the three major Nigerian languages of Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba, Ihejirika, who said there was nothing wrong with the directive, explained that Knowledge of local languages enhances unity in operations and reduces mutual suspicion between the civil populace and the military that operate in the area.

He said several efforts by the military, especially at multinational joint operations, have failed to yield the desired result in the past due to serious language barrier.

The former army chief described the extension of tenure of the Defence and service chiefs by President Muhammadu Buhari as “bad business for sponsors and sympathisers of the Boko Haram terrorists” operating within and outside the country.

He said by extending the tenure of the service chiefs, those who would have taken advantage the crisis of the change in command will no longer be able to have their way.

Gen. Ihejirika said appointment of new service chiefs at this time, when the military is at the verge of clearing Boko Haram terrorists in the country, would, no doubt, give the enemies, who have been destabilised the opportunity to re-strategise and come out even stronger than before.

“By extending the services of the service chiefs, a situation where change in command in the midst of serious problem would given the enemy the chance has been blocked.

“The service chiefs are under direct command of the commander-in-chief. So, for the commander-in-chief to extend their services means he is satisfied and impressed with their performances. I am of the opinion that the service chiefs have done well, so far, and they should continue.”

The former COAS, who also commended President Buhari for embarking on a tour to solicit the support of world leaders and neighboring African leaders, said it now behoves on the Ministry of Defence, foreign affairs and the relevant government agencies to consolidate on the gains of the visit.

Ihejirika, while assessing the counter insurgency operators, so far, said rather than continue to condemn the activities of the terrorists, government should focus more on countering their ideology and things that would convince old and new members from joining the group.

“Terrorists ideologies needs to be countered properly and not just by condemning them, but by doing things that would convince the terrorists and prospective terrorists to shun what is being preached by Boko Haram. Boko Haram, by their narratives, give a lot of unemployed youths hope for the future and that needs to be countered.”

Going into memory lane, the former army chief said: “For instance, in 2011, I cried out that what we were having was terrorism which later dovetailed into insurgency. At that time, the message was not clear to a lot of Nigerians and even the international communities. Our neighbors did not bother to cooperate and the insurgents seized the opportunity to build a lot of their bases in territories adjoining Nigeria.”

Apart from countering the ideology of the terrorists group, Ihejirika, also advised government to strengthen the police to enable it curb kidnaping, bank robberies and other high profile crimes.

He said apart from their sponsors, the terrorists group gets their funding through these criminal acts.

“Greater part of Boko Haram funding comes from bank robbery, kidnapping, and so on. When there is spate of kidnaping, weather in Kaduna, Yola or Niger, ransoms are  paid.”

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