Sunday, October 7, 2007

How Sudanese militias killed seven Nigerian soldiers

When General Martin Luther Agwai, Nigeria’s former Chief of the Defence Staff, CDS, was approached by the United Nations, UN, to take up the appointment of the Force Commander of the 26, 000 UN/AU Hybrid force in Darfur, he initially declined the offer because he felt the conditions were not ripe for him as a 4-star general to accept since the logistics expected for such a large force structure, in fact the largest peacekeeping operation ever, was absent.

Aside that, Agwai who was once the deputy adviser to the United Nations General Secretary on Peacekeeping in New York, wanted all the parties involved in the Darfur crisis and the United Nations to come out with a clear mandate for the troops participating in the operations since experience had shown that what was currently on ground in terms of mandate was at variance with the enormity of risks to peacekeepers.

But with the UN insisting that its radar on the African continent pointed only at Agwai to do the job and former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s encouragement that the former CDS should accept the job as it was a recognition of Nigeria’s contribution to peacekeeping worldwide, Agwai accepted the job.

The acceptance was however with the proviso that the proposed troops compliment for the operation would be met by this month. The logistics requirement included weaponry like rifles for soldiers, machine guns, armoured personnel carriers, military aircraft, communication equipment and building of camp accommodation for troops that were promised by the UN.

So, about two months into the job, when Sunday Vanguard sought to know from Agwai if the UN had fulfilled its promise of providing the required troops and logistics holding for the Darfur operation, he sounded worried and non-committal, saying, “as force commander, I use what I have on ground (6, 000 troops). It is the duty of the UN and AU to generate the troops. As I speak to you, I honestly don’t know when and where the 14, 000 troops I am waiting for will come from. But I hope they will come and I hope I will have them soonest so that we can have peace in Sudan.”

According to him, “The world has realized that with just 6, 000 troops, you can do nothing in Darfur. If they can get the 20, 000 troops and the 6, 000 civil police on ground, if we can get the goodwill of the world, that the people and parties to the conflict are willing to sign the peace accords, if there is suspension of hostilities, then we can think of disarmament.”

“The truth is that if the peacekeepers don’t disarm the rebels and parties to the conflict, then you can never have peace in Sudan,” Agwai stated.

Against this apprehension of the force commander, barely nine days ago, it is little wonder that the killing of seven Nigerian soldiers attached to the Hybrid force at Sector 8, Haskanita area of Western Darfur by rebels of a faction of the Sudanese Liberation Army caused outrage and condemnation not only from Nigerians and the federal government but also other nations of the world.

During the attack which was launched at an awkward time when Moslems were preparing to break their fast; over 2, 000 rebels swooped on about 200 soldiers who are mostly Nigerian peacekeepers, with rocket propelled grenades, general purpose machine guns (GPMG) and AK 47 assault rifles while the AU troops were mostly unarmed, short of logistics and weaponry like APC’s and machine guns to fight back.
A further stumbling block to the AU forces retaliating immediately it became obvious that the Darfur rebels were out to spill their blood was the existing mandate, which the Force Commander complained about, that prevents peacekeepers from attacking indigenes they are supposed to protect.

But, according to Brigadier General John Musanda (rtd), Joint Chief of Staff of the AU Mission in Sudan, “in my private capacity, I feel we should have the right as AU or UN to pursue rebels or militias who cut down our peacekeepers in the callous manner that occurred in Darfur.’ Musanda who spoke at the national burial ceremony accorded the seven Nigerian soldiers in Abuja decried the killings further saying, “we are disgusted by this attack on peacekeepers sent to Sudan to bring peace. We are not part of the problems but we are there to solve them. It is unbelievable that we could have such attack mounted against our innocent peacekeepers.”

On his part, the CDS, General Andrew Azazi, who had the unenviable task of going to bring back the dead soldiers, did not mince words when he said, “on 30 September when information started filtering in of a heavily armed militia attack on a Nigeria position in Darfur, for several reasons, I expected the worse because the geography of Darfur did not allow for easy defence.

“So I knew that our troops were at risk. Of course the several militia troops that get formed every day and keep attacking each other are always heavily armed. Of course, when the details came out, we discovered that it was a totally unprovoked militia attack on a Nigeria location and 10 persons were killed, some wounded and others missing when their position was overwhelmed.

“Out of the ten killed there was a Major from Mali who had just been promoted Lt.Colonel and who was waiting for four weeks to go and enjoy his rank. He was married with three wives but he died. There was another Major from Botswana and a civil police from Mali who were also killed.”

Reacting to several questions that have been bogging the minds of Nigerians, Azazi said, “I am very sure there are debates all over and people are asking, why did we send our troops to that place? Why are our troops getting killed? Why this? Why that? But do we really need to ask all these questions?

“We must all die in one-way or the other, whether we are sleeping in our beds, we are in operation or just driving. And for these seven soldiers who died, they died gallantly. The military in operations is prone to casualties. The military is a calling that very often requires the supreme sacrifice. However we also hope to serve gallantly and retire and in our old age tell our grand children stories of our exploits.”

“We know how painful it is to lose loved ones. When their colleagues return from Sudan, for instance, they will not be there to share the warmth of returning home. They will not be there to see the rest of their families. Our colleagues are today going to mother earth; no matter what we say here today, what we do, no matter the prayers, they will not come back to us. What we can only say is goodbye to them.
“But we promise that the circumstances of their death will only give us more resolve. Wherever Nigeria sends us, we will go and as we have seen today by the presence of the mammoth crowd, we are assured of the support of the nation.

“And in fact, to show the resolve, by Monday 8 October, 2007, Nigerian troops will go back to occupy that position in Haskanita in strength, daring whoever to come and attack us again.”

With these tough words, Azazi may have driven home the point for the mandate of the peacekeepers in Darfur to be protected, for trying to protect others but it remains to be seen how the Nigerian government particularly the political masters would exploit this unfortunate incident to bring an end to these wanton killings of soldiers doing their diplomatic bidding.

Incidentally, during the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, another seven Nigerian soldiers lost their lives and nothing was heard of a national burial ceremony while their bodies were brought home secretly and buried.

Again, when it is remembered that exactly 12 months, two weeks and four days, last Friday, a national burial ceremony was held for 13 senior military officers including ten Generals who lost their lives in an Airforce Dornier flight 033 crash in Benue State while going to Obudu ranch for a retreat, one could only wish the Nigerian military journey mercies in all their endeavours.

Because going by what President Yar’Adua said at the occasion of the burial ceremony, “while I want to condole the nation and the families of the late soldiers on this irreparable loss, I wish to reaffirm our commitment to peace and stability in our sub region and the world at large and to say that this is the sacrifice Nigeria is making for the world.

“Whenever we are called and whenever we feel it is necessary to be there, Nigeria will be there.”
So for Danjuma Madaki, Usman Saleh, Duniya Audu, Samuel Orokpo, Bala Mohammed, Dogara John and Ajao Toyin, all fallen heroes because of the resolve of Nigeria to help bring peace to a sister African country called Sudan, it is hoped that future Nigerian soldiers taking part in these inevitable missions would not prematurely lose their lives especially when it concerns unwarranted attacks and killing.

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