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Feature: How FG abandoned the widows of fallen soldiers who fought Boko Haram

– The Boko Haram insurgency, especially in the northeast, has inevitably led to the death of many military personnel over the years

– The consequence of this is an increase in the number of widows

She had played the scene over in her mind many times, and talked to her husband about how she might react if it ever happened. Nothing, though, prepared her for the moment on a Sunday evening, when she peered through her living room window and saw two smartly dressed military men walking up the path towards her house.

The visitors hadn’t said a word, but she knew what was coming. As one of the men brought out his ID, the woman said to them, “He’s gone, isn’t he?” With the men nodding their heads unwittingly as a symbol of a confirmation to her assumption, she was thrown into a state of shock.

She knew at that moment that her world had crumbled and that everything for her had changed. This is the picture painted in the lives of many Nigerian army widows out there.

The January 15 Armed Forces Remembrance Day, a day set aside every year to honour the noble deeds of our heroes past, has now become a dull formality for the wives our fallen heroes.

Following neglect from the government, the dignified parades by a contingent of smartly dressed military personnel on January 15, means nothing to these widows, rather it arouses emotional memories of a painful past as the plight of their husbands has been glossed over.

“They will just dress up and parade themselves, is it the things that will pay my children’s school fees or bring back my husband, the government has neglected us, this is not fair,” Hadiza Bako told

For these women, the ceremony by government officials held little significance when such colossal sums of money used in organizing the event is absent in the welfare policy of the government.

Subsequently, former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2013 noted that: “the aim of the Armed Forces Remembrance celebration is to constantly remember the sacrifice the Nigerian soldiers have made, and to constantly remind ourselves that they left families behind who need to be cared and catered for.”

However, despite this remark, the living conditions of many of these widows are yet to improve for the better.

Boko Haram emergence

The insurgency in the country especially in the northeast, over the years, has inevitably led to the death of many military personnel who are at the forefront of the war. The consequence of this is an increase in the number of widows.

The year 2009 marked the period of Boko Haram’s violent uprising. Series of attacks by the Islamic terrorist group became crystal clear that terrorism was at hand.

The explosions that rocked the police force headquarters in Abuja, the UN building, a Catholic church on Christmas day, a bus park in Nyanya, and a shopping mall in the heart of Abuja were among the first stages of attacks from what US military now calls as the most lethal violent extremist group in the world, Boko Haram.

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Rescue team take away the bodies of the dead after a bomb blast rocked the UN building in Abuja in 2011

Rescue team take away the bodies of the dead after a bomb blast rocked the UN building in Abuja in 2011

Subsequently, the towns Baga, Bama, Gwoza, Monguno, Mubi and parts of Maiduguri fell under the hands of insurgents and were proclaimed part of their Caliphate.

In April 2014, the attackers raided Chibok deep in North-eastern Nigeria and kidnapped 276 school girls, generally between 16 and 18 years old.

The bloodshed unleashed by armed group Boko Haram on Baga, where hundreds of people, if not more, were killed, amongst many other attacks, became clear that Nigeria had to deal with a monster capable to completely engulf it.

However, the upsurge in the attacks of the terrorist group could be attributed to weak governance as ex-president Goodluck Jonathan had admitted that his administration underestimated the capability of Boko Haram.

“Probably at the beginning, we, and I mean myself and the team, we underrated the capacity of Boko Haram,” Jonathan said in an interview with This Day.

The Problems

Since the emergence of democracy, most politicians and presidents, even of military background, have been skeptical about the Nigerian military.

This attitude has culminated in the Nigerian military’s major weapons handicap and contributed largely to scores of attacks in the northeast of Nigeria.

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The military has repeatedly been vested by Boko Haram since 2009, when the group escalated attacks on villages, towns and cities in the northeast.

Despite being among Africa’s largest militaries and having played important roles in peacekeeping missions during civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia, Nigeria’s armed forces have struggled to stop Boko Haram.

The lack of a unified command structure, poor equipment, low morale and allegations of corruption among commanders are some of the key reasons behind the military’s failures at the early stages of insurgency.

The Fight back

For over six years, the Boko Haram insurgents turned the life of Nigerians into one unending nightmare. Although their target area of operation was the northeast region, the impact of their onslaught touched Nigerians from all the regions of the country as well as the international community.

The killings made it look like the country had ran out of wits on how to handle the insurgents. As expected, the military was at the receiving end of the efforts to bring an end to the raging insurgents.

They got all the bashing while the rampaging spree of the terrorists lasted.

As the terrorists’ attacks continued, it became ostensive that the country’s military may not be in a combat ready situation to overpower the insurgents.

They were said to have archaic ammunition and equipment which could not withstand the firepower of the terrorists.

This situation was said to have also brought the morale of the fighting soldiers to its lowest ebb and this attributed to what led some of the soldiers to abandon their duty post in the face of the insurgents’ confrontation.

Dozens were faced with court-martials for disobeying orders, but according to the former Chief of Army Staff, (rtd) Lt Gen Kenneth Miminah, the acts of cowardice exhibited by the soldiers was halted after the military high command instituted the court-marshal which arraigned officers and men who abdicated their responsibility at the battlefront or compromised their duty.

At least 600 Soldiers were to face Court Martial In Lagos, Abuja

At least 600 Soldiers were to face Court Martial In Lagos, Abuja

He confirmed that the table began to turn against the insurgents after the soldiers discovered that if they ran away from the insurgents they were coming back to face the court-marshal.

Soldiers gunned down

Some months ago, Boko Haram had taken over the control of no fewer than 13 local government areas in Borno state alone.

The councils include Mafa, Dikwa, Gamboru-Ngala, Kala Balge, Abadam, Damasak, Kukawa, Monguno, Damboa, Konduga, Bama, Gwoza. They also once had significant presence in Maiduguri, Jere, Beneshiekh, Biu and Askira-Uba local government areas.

The terrorists had also once held sway in Gulani and Gujba local government areas in neighbouring Yobe state and also large swath of territory in Mubi, Maiha, Hong, Michika and other local government areas of Adamawa state.

Previously, soldiers engaging Boko Haram had been anything but optimistic about the fight, blaming past military chiefs for the gaps in the supply of equipment and logistics to the frontline, which they claimed gave the insurgents the upper hand in the battle.

The controversial mass sack of the soldiers on the orders of the former army chief, (rtd) Lt Gen Kenneth Minimah, over their alleged refusal to fight Boko Haram, was widely seen as an attempt by former military heads to cover their failings and divert focus from allegations of corruption that were being levelled against them.

The affected soldiers had maintained that they were overwhelmed and forced to retreat because Boko Haram had better weapons.

Weeks after, at least 105 soldiers of the 157 Battalion, including their commanding officer, were feared missing after they came under intense attack from Boko Haram insurgents at Gudunbali, Borno state, on Wednesday, November 18, 2015, military sources told Premium Times.

Pay attention:

PIC. 32. NIGERIAN ARMY TROOPS CLEARING BOKO HARAM ENCLAVES ALONG AXIS  OF ADVANCE FROM BITTA TO TOKUMBERE,  SAMBISA FOREST IN BORNO ON WEDNESDAY (9/8/15). 6521/9/9/2015/OCC/BJO/NAN

PIC. 32. NIGERIAN ARMY TROOPS CLEARING BOKO HARAM ENCLAVES ALONG AXIS
OF ADVANCE FROM BITTA TO TOKUMBERE, SAMBISA FOREST IN BORNO ON WEDNESDAY (9/8/15).
6521/9/9/2015/OCC/BJO/NAN

It was gathered that the 105 soldiers attached to the 157 Battalion were killed after they came under a penetrating attack from Boko Haram in Gudunbali.

However, the Director of Army Public Relations at the Defence Headquarters (DHQ) in Abuja, Col.Sani Usman, described the report as a smear campaign against the Nigerian military.

A report on This Day however noted that the bodies of the 105 soldiers were quietly buried at the military cemetery in Maiduguri.

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The tears of the widows and the pending vow

The widows of fallen soldiers who lost their husbands in the Northeast had in an interactive session with the wives of service chiefs who comprise the Defence, Army, Air Force, Navy and Police Officers Wives Association, (DEPOWA) in November 2015, pleaded for assistance from the government.

In one voice, the women urged wives of service chiefs to save and assist them with the non-payment of allowances of their slain husbands.

Some of the widows lamented the difficulty of their lives after their husbands had been killed while defending the country. They noted that they now had difficulty feeding themselves and sending their children to school.

One widow, Mary Joshua, called upon DEPOWA for assistance.

“Ma, I beg you to intervene on behalf of us. Since 2014 when my husband died I am yet to get his benefits,” Mrs. Joshua stated.

Another widow, Aishat Abdullahi urged the wives of the service chiefs to assist the widows with accessing their husband’s accounts.

They also asked the federal government to create training programs for them and provide jobs for those that have educational qualifications such as secondary and tertiary school certificates.

While responding on behalf of the wives of service chiefs, the President of DEPOWA, Omobolanle Olonisakin, in a sober voice condoled them over the loss of their husbands who died in active service and praying for the soul of fallen heroes.

Olonisakin while presenting some relief materials to the widows promised them that all their complaints will be addressed.

“I assure you [the widows] that your complaints will be addressed very soon, and we are going to support you. We will not allow such problems to continue,” Olonisakin promised.

The plight of the widows

After four months in which the wives of our slain soldiers got assurances of a better life, nothing seems to have change.

The widows had told wives of service chiefs and that of the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) during their visit to Borno state about the shoddy treatment they are receiving from authorities after the deaths of their husbands.

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But despite the promise of Omobolanle Olonishakin, the wife of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), that she will never let her husband rest until the issues raised by the widows are fully addressed,

One of the widows told to speak freely of the problems she is going through said: “I am yet to see his corpse. He was declared missing since 2014 and we have not heard anything about him since then. But two months after he was declared missing, the military authority stopped his salary and drove us away from the barracks.”

Army widows beg DEPOWA for assistance

Army widows beg DEPOWA for assistance

Abdullahi said nothing has been paid to the family as benefits. “I’ve been a full-time housewife. I do not have a means of taking care of the children he left behind. We find it very difficult to even feed,” she said.

Another widow simply called Madam Serah, disclosed that after the death of her husband, the military kept paying her his salary up to a year before it was stopped:

“My problem is I have not seen the corpse of my husband. I am not begging for financial aid from the military. I am a university graduate. Give me a job to take care of our children. That is my prayer to the military authorities,” she said.

Mary Johnson said her husband was killed in Monguno: “When I went to the military headquarters for his benefit, they told me that I must go to Monguno in Borno state and obtain some papers from the Commander. On getting to Maiduguri I was warned that I cannot go to Monguno except with military escort. I am starving, along with my children.”

Mary Andrew, a widow of one of the slain soldiers, said she was crying because she can’t access her husband’s account.

Mary is not alone in this agony. Over 60 wives of the fallen heroes in the on-going military ‘Operation Lafiya Dole’ against Boko Haram terrorists and insurgents in the Northeast are also facing similar horror.

 “Our children are being sent out of schools because we can’t pay school fees. As I speak, none of us can access our late or missing husbands’ bank accounts because of the Bank Verification Number (BVN) policy,” Mary said.

For Victoria, Osuzoka, her misery is compounded by the fact that the government has tended to neglect them.

“Life is hell, hell, hell. Because as soon as a woman lacks support from her better-half as they say, a man is the head of the family, a widow is nowhere. All your friends will forget and desert you. Even as wives of army officers, we are not recognised.

“They (government officials) do not know us, so you have to go and suffer with your children and make sure you bring them up well so that they too do not suffer,” Osuzoka a retired school teacher, narrates her ordeal after losing her husband.

She added: “The Armed Forces Remembrance Day is not useful to widows. This day is supposed to be a sort of help and an avenue to make inquiries about us (widows), our situation in life, and the position of our children.

“This is a time they should get us nearer to them. If they are remembering our dead husbands, they should remember the wives and children of the fallen heroes.”

The halted compensation

In celebration of Valentine, former President Goodluck Jonathan, on Saturday, February 14, 2015, hosted widows and children of soldiers who died fighting Boko Haram insurgents in the Northeast.

He pledged the commitment of his administration to their well being. The ex-president also assured them that Nigeria “will not forget the sacrifice of these our brave men in uniform” and that the days of terrorism in the country are numbered.

“Let me reassure you that Nigeria will not forget the sacrifice of these our brave men in uniform. I strongly believe that the days of terrorism in our country are numbered,” he said.

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Jonathan hosts wives of Nigerian fallen heroes on Valentine day in 2015

Jonathan hosts wives of Nigerian fallen heroes on Valentine day in 2015

Just before that, on September 2, 2013, emotions ran high, at the 81 Division Headquarters of the Nigerian Army, Victoria Island, Lagos, as widows of military personnel killed by members of the Boko Haram sect in Maiduguri, Borno state were presented

The widows, numbering 12, majority of whom were between 20 and 30 years, including their children, broke down in uncontrollable tears.

Presenting the cheques, former General Officer Commanding, GOC, 81 Division, Major General Abel Umahi, said the compensation was from the former Borno state governor Alhaji Kashim Shettima, as part of succour to cushion the effect of the loss on their next-of-kin.

Describing the moment as a solemn one, he said the deceased soldiers from the 174 Battalion died in active service so that majority of Nigerians could live in peace.

He assured that the government and Nigerian Army would continue to do all within their powers to comfort the bereaved families. Unfortunately, nothing is being done as of today.

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President Buhari meet the families of the fallen heroes

Speaking through his vice Yemi Osinbajo at the 2016 Armed Forces Remembrance Day Church Service in Abuja on January 15, President Buhari commended the families of the nation’s fallen heroes.

He said: “No one has suffered much loss as you have and no one can truly understand your pain. But today, our nation commends you.”

Buhari commended the gallantry of the Armed Forces, especially those who have paid the supreme price.

“Today, we honour their service and their memories. The reputation of our Armed Forces for courage and service has also been noted not only at home but abroad, especially our military contributions to several international peace keeping missions from the Congo to Liberia to Sierra Leone and to Daffur,” he said.

According to him, at the end of last year, Nigeria had about 2,970 troops in various United Nations’ missions and Nigeria is one of the top 10 contributors to the United Nations across the world and top five in Africa.

He said their remarkable effort at combating insurgency, especially at this time, in the Northeast is appreciated by Nigerians.

He said the Boko Haram has now been degraded militarily as the insurgents no longer hold territories and can no longer mount military-style attacks as they had done in the past.

He prayed that the Armed Forces will not only complete the work they had started, especially the military offensive against insurgency, but that they will continue to render the type of service even better in the years to come.

The President said the Armed Forces will assist the people in the affected areas to recover and resume their normal lives, especially in securing their communities and kicking terrorists out.

He thanked the international community for their support and also called for continued support in the final onslaught against Boko Haram.

He also called on Nigerians to renew their determination to build a strong and united nation “where freedom, justice, peace and prosperity are easily within reach: a nation where we emphasise those things that bind us, rather than those things that divide us,” He urged them to continue to support the military.

The widows had their hopes once again shattered as they patiently waited for a compensation to be read out, but to no avail.

Plea for the widows

However, speaking at the January 15 Armed Remembrance Day, Bishop David Bakare, the Northwest zonal chairman, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), called on the Muhammadu Buhari-led government to set aside 10% of every recovered looted fund for the families of the fallen heroes in the Nigeria Armed Forces.

Bishop Bakare, who made the call while delivering his sermon, also charged the federal government to rename Abuja streets after the soldiers who died in the course of protecting their fatherland.

According to the clergyman, “there is a reward our soldiers deserve, there is a reward our fallen heroes deserve; it is not for them to die and their families can no longer feed well or take care of themselves.

“How do you pay somebody N15, 000 as retirement benefit and Boko Haram comes offering them a bigger sum of money and he will not compromise? What do you expect?”

The bishop, who urged the government and well-meaning Nigerians to ensure that soldiers are not denied their entitlements, said if one takes care of officers one has trained so well, they will not make the knowledge available to one’s enemy.

“It is for this reason I appeal that 10% of every stolen monies returned should be set aside for our fallen heroes. Their children should be taken care of from the 10% of stolen money returned; scholarships should be given to their children.

“This is not enough; the streets in Abuja should be renamed after the fallen heroes so that the soldiers can feel honoured,” he said.

Bakare, who expressed worry on how the money meant for arms procurement was misappropriated by the last government, said it was disheartening that wives of many soldiers become widows and were uncared for.

Reading from the book of 2 Samuel: 11 and 12, the bishop likened committed soldiers in the country to a soldier in Israel, Uriah, who showed absolute loyalty to his country despite the king’s order.

“Uriah chose to do what is right. This is what we need in Nigeria; the people that will do what is right no matter who is given the order. He was loyal to his nation, even though the Commander in Chief wanted him to do otherwise.

“It is a practical example to people in government and those working with private body. We need absolute loyalty. I believe we still have committed, incorruptible Nigerians in Armed Forces, in civil service, etc. They need to be encouraged. And I believe a time is coming when the Americans will be struggling to get Nigerian passport,” he said.

Nigerians long for an end to Boko Haram, the world cannot wait to have the perpetrators of the killings of at least 17,000 people in six years, punished for their crimes. But while we wait for that, the widows of our heroes should be given the keys to start down the path of rebuilding.

The federal government must as a matter of urgency enact laws to protect the rights of widows. The government needs to empower these widows so they would have a means of supporting themselves, as many of them are left at the mercy of the public after the death of their husband.

These women have needs to meet, they should be compensated and catered for. The widows and children of our gallant soldiers should receive the best Nigeria can offer.

The post Feature: How FG abandoned the widows of fallen soldiers who fought Boko Haram appeared first on Nigeria News today & Breaking news | Read on NAIJ.COM.

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This post was syndicated from Nigeria News today & Breaking news | Read on NAIJ.COM. Click here to read the full text on the original website.

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