NIGERIA ARMY UPGRADES MEAL RATIONS AS WAR RAGES WITH BOKO HARAM
Over the arid savannah of Borno in northeastern Nigeria, the rains did come late, but plentiful for the planting season. However, it did little to help the harvest or encourage cattle to graze. The prairie had become a battlefield wasteland that welcomes neither herdsmen nor farmers.
The region is ground zero of an Islamic terrorist insurgence- Boko Haram that claims to be fighting to establish an Islamic state in northern Nigeria. The insurgence has already consumed over 12,000 lives and billions of dollars in economic damage.
Described as one of the poorest and least educated region in the Nigeria, even before the Islamic insurgency unleashed terror and death, the region was already reeling from cattle hustling and poor harvest. Now, residents are skeptical if the once famous center of old Kanem-Bornu Empire can still regain its past economic strength-even if pintsized, given the scale of economic ruin.
But as the familiar scene of war - the inevitable consequence when peace is made impossible, plays out with the loud explosions of restless mortar and artillery fire, there is a strange twist to the sounds of the carnage; the less noisy rumbling of hungry stomachs of soldiers at war.
Make no mistake. Nothing is pretty about war and those asked to joined battle must sacrifice luxuries. However, an empty stomach is hardly luxury for a soldier at the front when supply lines are running.
Long before the war on the Islamic terrorists came knocking on the door of Africa's largest economy, gripes about poor feeding allowance for soldiers in Nigeria Army appear to be almost incidental to any active deployment outside their barracks.
So much so that at the last United Nations (UN) sanctioned deployment to Sudan, Nigerian Army soldier's outcry over poor welfare was blended with allegations of how $43 million dollars of operational allowance disappeared into the private pockets.
According to a report by icirnigeria.org- a coalition of investigative reporters, a soldier at the front, Moses Adeleke, (not real names) says the soldiers' daily ration of mainly a miserable mess of pottage is inadequate for a 10 year old, an uncomplicated indication that the troops are poorly fed. 'Many of us have to find means of buying food to supplement our ration. In this place, where we have to be alert 24 hours, where, sometimes, we go out for over 24 hours on military campaign, food should not be an issue. But they just don't care', he says. Also, in the oppressive desert heat, Adeleke says soldiers officially get only three sachets of water to quench their thirst, a situation which leaves many of them thirsty and dehydrated most of the day.
Such complains have the Army authorities in fits. Their soldiers, they say, are well catered for, and attributed such complains to enemy propaganda. Despite such denials, informed sources say the Nigerian army have concluded arrangements to upgrade the operations feeding rations to meet with US Army Special Forces nutrition standard.
Although Army officials are keeping closed lips on the issue citing military confidentiality, informed insiders disclosed that the President's interest in the welfare issue may have triggered a quicker response, as rations will now include a military-grade energy bar- Soldier Fuel Energy Bars (formerly Hoorah! Bars-used by US Army Special Forces). Both military nutrition experts, and combatants have hailed the military-grade energy bars for its high energy release and mental alertness for extended periods in extreme combat operations.
When contacted, the company spokesperson declined comment citing confidentiality but admitted having company representative in Nigeria for their products.
With the strings of recent victories by the Army against Boko Haram, many are skeptical that the changes have fully taken effect given the skimpy gain of territories previously lost to the terrorists, amidst the dismal troop's withdrawals or 'tactical maneuvers' in what many speculate may be indicative of low morale and operational capacity
Senior Statesmen under the Bornor Elders Forum (BEF) have called out the Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan for not doing enough to support the army to win the war.
Cries of funding limitations may have given the President a plausible, momentary escape but with his request for $1 billion appropriation from Legislative house was recently approved, leaving little wiggle room for more excuses.
However, such delays may turn out to be an ill-wind as the insurgency become more emboldened. This much is certain- the war against terrorism including Boko Haram terrorists will not be won by soldiers fighting on empty stomachs.
Written by Eribo Kassim.