No fewer than 480 Nigerian soldiers have fled into Cameroon following fierce fighting with Boko Haram insurgents. The Cameroonian Army Spokesman, Lt Col Didier Badjek, who confirmed this, said the troops had already been disarmed. But the Director of Defence Information, Maj. -Gen Chris Olukolade, said the soldiers merely strayed into Cameroon and therefore were not “deserters.”
Badjek told the British Broadcasting Corporation on Monday that the disarmed Nigerian soldiers were being accommodated in schools in Maroua, about 80 kilometres from the Nigerian border. The BBC which added that there were clashes in the border town of Gamboru Ngala, said that thousands of civilians also fled to Cameroon. Our correspondent in Maiduguri gathered that Boko Haram insurgents had at about 5.15am on Monday invaded Gamboru, forcing both civilians and soldiers to flee to Cameroon.
One of the residents who called from Cameroon, said the insurgents went straight to attack the military base and police station in the town. He said an initial attack was repelled by the military which killed many of the insurgents. The resident added that about two hours later, the insurgents regrouped and launched a fresh attack on the troops. He said. “They engaged the military and caused them to retreat into Cameroon. It was most likely that the Nigerian soldiers ran out ammunition.
“But some soldiers later emerged with their Cameroonian counterparts and continued the battle with the insurgents. “As I am speaking to you now (4pm on Monday), we are still hearing sound of gunshot miles away, meaning they are still engaging themselves.” An elderly woman who did not want her name in print, told journalists on the telephone from her temporary abode in Cameroon, that she fled “ when the shooting became intense in parts of the town.’’ She said that she saw many corpses while fleeing to Cameroon.
But in Abuja, Olukolade told one of our correspondents that the 480 soldiers strayed into Cameroon while in pursuit of the insurgents. He said the soldiers were on their way back to the country and would soon be reunited with their units in the North-East. The army spokesman stated further that it was the standard practice for soldiers who strayed into a foreign but friendly country to be disarmed. He explained that the soldiers were not expected to react because there was no hostility involved in the issue.
Olukolade also denied the claim by the insurgents that they had taken control of Gamboru Ngala, stressing that security operatives were still confronting them in the town. He said, “In the pursuit of the insurgents, some of our soldiers strayed into Cameroun. The military authorities are in touch with the Cameroonian authorities and the soldiers are on their way back and would soon be united with their units in the country.
“These are normal procedures; when an Army enters a country and are not on a hostile mission; normally, they won’t fight back. “All that has been sorted out to the best of my knowledge. “As for Gamboru Ngala, I can tell you that the operation is still going on as we are speaking.” The DHQ later issued a statement in which it again explained the presence of Nigerian soldiers in Cameroon.
The statement on its official website, defenceinfo.mil.ng, stated that the troops had to submit their weapons to the Camerounian authorities to show that they were not on any offensive mission. It added that it was wrong to describe the presence of the soldiers in Cameroun as defection in view of discussions between the military leaderships of two countries and contacts made with the soldiers about their safety.
The statement read, “The presence of the Nigerian troops in Cameroun was as a result of a sustained battle between the troops and the terrorists around the borders with Cameroun which saw the Nigerian troops charging through the borders in a tactical manoeuvre. “Eventually, they found themselves on Camerounian soil. Being allies, the normal protocol of managing such incident demanded that the troops submit their weapons in order to assure the friendly country that they were not on a hostile mission.
“Following necessary discussions between Nigerian and Camerounian military authorities, the issues had been sorted out. Subsequently, the troops are on their way back to join their unit in Nigeria. “The reference to the incidence as a defection is therefore not appropriate considering the discussion between the two countries’ military leadership and the series of contacts with the soldiers who have confirmed that they are safe.
“Meanwhile, troops are repelling a group of terrorists who are trying to enter the country through Gamborou Ngala. A group of them who fizzled into the town are being pursued.” Boko Haram had on Sunday released a video in which it said it had established an Islamic state in the towns and villages it controls in the North-East. Last week, a group of 40 soldiers allegedly refused to follow orders to go and fight the insurgents, saying the militants were better equipped.
Insurgents also seized one of Nigeria’s two main riot police training academies, which is near Gwoza, a town they claimed to have captured earlier this month. Less than two weeks ago, the wives of some soldiers had protested at the Giwa Barracks in Maiduguri against their husbands being sent to the Boko Haram militants. In May, some soldiers opened fire on their commander, Maj-Gen Ahmed Mohammed, at Maiduguri’s Maimalari barracks, blaming him for the killing of their colleagues by Boko Haram fighters.