According to The Nation, the Nigerian Army on Tuesday warned that the allegation by Borno State Governor Babagana Zulum that soldiers extorted people plying the Maiduguri-Damaturu highway was counter-productive.
Although it promised to investigate the allegation, it said the action of the governor was capable of reversing the gains recorded so far in the fight against insurgents and other criminal elements across the country.
Swiftly, the governor welcomed the probe but was silent on the complaint by the Army that his outburst could affect the war against insurgents.
Zulum had at a military checkpoint on the highway told the Theatre Commander, Maj. Gen. Olusegun Adeniyi, on Monday that the troops were collecting N1,000.00 from each traveller who had no National Identity Cards.
But the Army, through its Operations Media Coordinator, Col. Aminu Iliyasu, said the military outfit, as “a professional and disciplined institution views such allegations seriously, particularly coming from a state executive.”
A statement made available to reporters by Iliyasu reads in part, “the attention of the Nigerian Army has been drawn to an online publication … as well as some amateur video clips circulating on some social media platforms.
“In the said publication, His Excellency, the Executive Governor of Borno State, Prof Zulum was alleged to have accused soldiers of Operation Lafiya Dole deployed along Maiduguri – Damaturu Road of extorting commuters and causing them unnecessary hardship.
” It is important to unequivocally observe that public outburst, particularly by eminent personalities such as a state executives, could be counterproductive and indeed capable of reversing the gains recorded so far in the ongoing fight against insurgents and other criminal elements across the nation.”
The Army, however, assured that it would carry out a thorough investigation to establish areas where there were infractions and fish out any personnel indicted in the unwholesome act.
Iliyasu said: “ It is on record that whenever such allegations of troops’ misconduct were made in the past, the Army never reneged in conducting thorough investigations to establish them and where any infractions were established against any personnel, appropriate sanctions were applied in line with extant rules and regulations as provided for in the Armed Forces Act CAP A20 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria.
“The Army wishes to emphatically reiterate its steadfastness on the protection of lives, properties of all law, abiding citizens as it is committed to wiping out insurgency in the Northeast and other forms of criminality across the country.
“ Additionally, citizens’ continuous support and cooperation are highly appreciated. Any observed misconduct by troops could be reported directly through a toll – free code 193 for immediate remedy.”
Meanwhile, Zulum has commended the quick response of the Army, saying he was happy that the matter would not be swept under the carpet.
“Governor Zulum is very pleased with the swift action from the Army Headquarters and by implication, the headquarters of Operation Lafiya Dole,” his spokesman, Isa Gusau, said in a statement
Gusau added that “as someone who took oath to serve the people of Borno State under every situation, he (Zulum) could not drive past the gridlock he saw around Njimtilo checkpoint, hence he needed to step in.”
He explained that the governor’s encounter with the theatre commander and his men did “not and will not change the very high regard” Zulum had “for all the security personnel operating in Borno, particularly soldiers who give up their lives and safety in finding peace for Borno.
The statement added: “Zulum acknowledges and respects the sacrifices of these soldiers and the fact that they put their lives on the line operating in high ways, where insurgents try to ambush them.
“The governor recognises all of these and the fact that the military needs and deserves his support and the support of all citizens.
“ However, he also knows that civil-military cooperation will be better enhanced when certain conducts of a few are addressed in other to preserve and protect the integrity of majority of security personnel who not only do the right things, but make the ultimate sacrifices of giving up their lives for Borno citizens while others abandon their families for months and years fighting at the front lines.”