Over 100 Nigerian soldiers, who served as part of the country’s contingent to the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA), might be forced to do the over 2000-kilometre trip back home in army trucks as military authorities secretly conclude plans to transport them by road.
Reliable defence sources, who asked not to be named, revealed that 10 officers and 99 soldiers remained stranded in Bamako, the Malian capital, after a Nigerian Airforce aircraft that airlifted 704 members of the contingent back home failed to return.
Sources said authorities now claim the aircraft, which made its last trip to Bamako on August 10, had been flown out for maintenance and would not be available to move the remaining officers and men back home.
Rather than make arrangement for alternative aircraft, the authorities are now working to move the soldiers back by road, with many of the soldiers apprehensive that they might come under attack during the trip as many of the border towns in Mali are still under the control of insurgents.
In January, Boko Haram insurgents in Kogi state killed two members of the contingent as they travelled by road from Ibadan to Abuja.
Many of the AFISMA troop members, who are now camped in a squalid camp in Bamako, fear that their superiors may have misappropriated the money provided for their airlift, our sources said.
It was learnt that the contingent’s Commanding Officer, Colonel T. E. Gagariga, who is presently in Mali and would not be doing the road trip with the soldiers, has not spoken to the soldiers in the last five days for fear of a possible showdown.
No explanation has been given to the soldiers for the change in travel plans, our sources said.
“It’s against military practice,” said one source. “The army has ordered that troop members be airlifted but compliance here is borne out of personal gains. It is part of the plot to cheat and risk troops lives.”
According to reports, the troops are camped in squalor in Bamako without basic amenities.
According to one source, the troops survive on poor nutrition as food and other supplies are now in short supply.
Director of Defence Information, Chris Olukolade, declined to comment without giving this reporter the chance of asking any question, saying he did not know him.
“You don’t expect me to talk to any man on the street,” he said and hung up.
Source: Premium Times