Though allegation has been debunked by Defence Headquarter, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar yesterday called for an investigation into the alleged secret burial of over 1000 Nigerian soldiers said to have been killed in the ongoing war against Boko Haram.
“Even the death of one soldier affects me. But the alleged cover-up of the deaths of scores of soldiers is a national emergency that should shock all statesmen and leaders of thoughts into action to save Nigeria.
“To ensure that we get to the bottom of this matter, I urge that a Judicial Commission of Inquiry headed by a non-partisan and reputable jurist, be inaugurated to investigate the findings of the Wall Street Journal,” Atiku said.
He urged that “a panel of inquiry comprising distinguished former military officers be set up to investigate and report to Nigerians the true state of the war on terror and what must be done to ensure Nigeria brings a speedy end to the ongoing insurgency.”
The statement reads in part: “The men and women of our armed forces are our first, second and last defence against our domestic and foreign enemies and should be treated with love, respect, dignity and appreciation for the invaluable service they render to Nigeria.
“I cannot fathom that in the space of a year, scores of these great patriots were killed and buried secretly without their families being told. I hesitate to believe that deceit on such a grand scale is even possible.”
A section of the report reads: “At the northern edge of this city’s sprawling military base, a vast field of churned soil conceals the hidden toll of a deadly offensive by the allies of Islamic State.
“After dark, the bodies of soldiers are covertly transported from a mortuary that at times gets so crowded the corpses are delivered by truck, according to Nigerian soldiers, diplomats and a senior government official. The bodies are laid by flashlight into trenches dug by infantrymen or local villagers paid a few dollars per shift.
“As the secret cemetery at the Maimalari barracks grows, the military has expanded the site into neighboring fields. ‘The farmland has been fenced off so they can bury the forces,’ said Sarah James, a 50-year-old farmer whose husband is a retired soldier.
“Official secrecy and a weak economy have left Nigerian soldiers poorly equipped to fight. Soldiers who would ordinarily rotate out every few months have been on active operations for years. Morale is collapsing and discipline beginning to fray, soldiers and the senior government official said.”
The Defence Headquarters, however, denied the allegation. A statement by the Director of Defence Information, Col. Onyema Nwachukwu, said the insinuation could only have emanated from an uninformed position.He said: “It must be unambigously clarified that the Armed Forces of Nigeria does not indulge in secret burials, as it is sacrilegious and a profanity to extant ethos and traditions of the Nigerian military.
“In tandem with the traditions of the Armed Forces, fallen heroes are duly honoured and paid the last respect in befitting military funeral of international standard.“It features funeral parade, gravesite oration, solemn prayers for the repose of departed souls by Islamic and Christian clerics, as well as gun salutes, aside from other military funeral rites.”
Nwachukwu said the cemetery described in the publication, located at Maimalari Cantonment, is an officially designated military cemetery for the Armed Forces in the northeast theatre, with a cenotaph erected in honour of the fallen heroes.He explained that the official cemetery has played host to several national and international dignitaries, where wreaths were laid in honour of fallen troops.
“It is therefore a far cry from the sacrilegious impression being painted by the Wall Street Journal. The Defence Headquarters therefore urges members of the Armed Forces and the public to disregard such a misinformed publication and see it as a figment of the imagination of the writer, whose knowledge of military values, ethos and traditions is grossly misplaced.”