TEXT OF THE PRESS CONFERENCE BY THE HONOURABLE MINISTER OF INFORMATION AND CULTURE, ALHAJI LAI MOHAMMED, IN ABUJA ON TUESDAY, 30 OCT. 2018 ON THE ALLEGATIONS OF DEPLORABLE CONDITIONS OF TROOPS FIGHTING BOKO HARAM IN THE NORTH EAST.
Let me formally welcome you all to this press conference, and to thank you most sincerely for honouring our invitation.
2. Recall, gentlemen, that a little over three months ago, precisely on July 11th 2018, we launched a National Campaign Against Fake News.
At the launch, we said the campaign is to sensitize all Nigerians to the dangers posed to the peace and security, and indeed the corporate existence of Nigeria, by the phenomenon. We said that each and every Nigerian has a role to play in curtailing the spread of fake news. We also said Nigerians should not share any information they cannot verify.
3. Two months and 10 days after the launch, specifically on Sept. 21st 2018, an online publication reported alleged deplorable conditions of the troops who are fighting Boko Haram in the North East. Quoting a phantom Corporal, with the pseudonym Gandoki, said to be serving with one of the Special Forces Units in the theatre of operation, the publication alleged that troops deployed in particular along Gubio Road and the Brig.-Gen. Maimalari Secondary School were begging for food to survive, were poorly kitted with some wearing slippers and were facing irregular/short payment of their allowances. The publication also reported non-serviceable equipment in the theatre.
4. These allegations have grave implications for the security of the nation, hence the allegations were taken seriously by the President and Commander-in-Chief, who subsequently ordered an investigation to determine the veracity or otherwise of the claims in the publication.
5. Gentlemen, the investigation has since been concluded and, in line with the transparent stance of this Administration, I have invited you here today to share with you the outcome. The summary of the findings is that there is no case of hunger, starvation or begging among the troops fighting in the North East, and in particular in the Armed Forces Special Forces Battalion that was referenced in the publication. There is also no irregular/short payment of allowances,
while claims of poor equipment, inadequate kitting and accommodation are found to be ill conceived and unfounded.
6. Let me elaborate. The troops in question, deployed at Brig.-Gen. Maimalari Secondary School along Gubio Road, are being fed centrally three times a day, and are kitted immediately after their training before they are deployed in the theatre. How then can soldiers who are fed centrally be starving or begging for food? Concerning the payment of allowances, the monthly allowances of troops of the AFSF Battalion are being paid directly into their various accounts from the Defence
Headquarters, hence they cannot be shortchanged.
7. On the allegation of poor equipment and inadequate kitting, it was found that the inflow of logistics into the theatre in the past six months showed an enormous quantity of materiel was distributed to troops in the theatre. Needless to say that no army in the world has all the requisite equipment to prosecute a counter-insurgency operation
8. Let me recap: There is no issue of hunger, improper kitting of soldiers, non-payment or short-payment of soldiers’ allowances and poor equipment at the AFSF Battalion or in any other units within OPERATION LAFIYA DOLE theatre.
9. If anything, the publication in question exhibited poor understanding of what obtains in the theatre of military operations. For example, the claim of poor accommodation in an operational environment. By their training, soldiers in theatres of war are usually in trenches, tents or other makeshift structures. Fighting insurgency is not a walk in the park and the gallant men and women in uniform who are engaged in counter-insurgency operation in the North East are not on a luxurious
expedition. The battlefront is no playground.
10. Gentlemen, our men and women in uniform are making great sacrifices for us as a nation. They stay awake and are constantly in harm’s way so that you and I can sleep well and be safe. I saw this first hand when I took over 30 local and international journalists to the North East in December 2015. As we drove from Maiduguri to Bama, passing through Konduga, Kaure and other towns along the way, we saw gallant troops deployed on desolate roads and bushes. We saw them perched on very high towers, where they stay for hours on end. We marveled at the sacrifices they are all making on our behalf. The least we can do is to support and pray for them.
11. Engaging in the publication of what I can now call fake news about the troops on Sept. 21st 2018 is not only a great disservice to the nation, but a terrible downplay of the kind of sacrifices being made by our gallant troops. Such reports amount to collaborating with fifth columnists and enemies of the nation to weaken the fighting spirit of our fighting forces. In short, they (the reports) represent a clear and present danger to the nation’s security.
12. We are therefore using this opportunity to appeal to the media to check the veracity of whatever information they receive from any source before publishing such. It is particularly necessary to double-check with the government before publishing any information from the theatre of operation in the North East. Let me reiterate that this Administration is a firm believer in the freedom of the press, and will not do anything to jeopardize that freedom. On its part, the press must always commit to the highest standards of journalism.
13. I thank you for your kind attention