Disillusioned, exhausted Nigerian troops battling a surge in Boko Haram attacks have reached breaking point and hundreds of soldiers protested at an airport in Borno State.
The protests, which took place less than six months before presidential elections, were dismissed by Nigeria’s army as a “misunderstanding”.
Just recently, the soldiers demonstrated at the Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria for several hours, shooting into the air and disrupting flights.
They were furious about a planned redeployment to a battlefront in the Lake Chad region after fighting Boko Haram for years without relief.
“We should not have been here for more than a year but this is our fourth year and still they are asking us to move to Marte,” one of the soldiers told AFP on condition of anonymity. “We need rest. We are war-weary and need to see our families.”
The protest comes after a wave of assaults on military bases in the northeast, forcing the army to retreat and marking a Boko Haram comeback.
The resurgence of violence has put pressure on President Muhammadu Buhari, who is seeking a second term in office and maintains that the country is now in a “post-conflict stabilisation phase”.
Analysts say Nigeria has not faced such a serious threat from Boko Haram since the peak of the insurgency between 2013 and 2015, when it controlled swaths of territory in the country’s northeast.
“There has been a military evolution akin to what we’ve seen in Syria and Iraq,” said security analyst Yan St-Pierre.“Boko Haram’s quality of attack is higher, the level of preparedness is higher.”
The Nigerian military was overwhelmed by the “catastrophic security situation”, he added. “They are relying on old tactics no longer applicable in the northeast.”
Desperate to stop the onslaught, Nigeria’s military chief, Tukur Yusuf Buratai, said in a July 27 memo that “cowardly” soldiers would be punished by death.
Soldiers who “abandon their positions” have the potential to “rubbish all the laudable gains made in the operations in the past three years against [Boko Haram]”, he said.