The Nigerian Army has yet to pay more than 700 soldiers making up the Armed Forces Special Force (AFSF) who were in 2015 sent to Belarus and Russia for training as snipers to strengthen the fight against Boko Haram.
The special snipers were chosen after a rigorous screening that was carried out towards the end of former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration. They were selected from the Army, Police, Navy, Air Force, and State Security Service (SSS) were flown to Belarus.
SaharaReporters learned that each of the sniper-trainees was paid $7,700, which was 30% of their Duty Transport Allowance (DTA), and promised payment of the 70% balance on their return to Nigeria. Several members of the group disclosed that the Army has failed to pay them their outstanding allowances since their return in December 2015.
Some members of the AFSF accused senior army officers of seeking to corruptly embezzle their remaining allowances. “May be some of these senior officers are waiting for some of us to die so that they may steal our money,” said one of the special snipers.
He added: “Before we went to Belarus, they were supposed to pay our allowances in full. But they gave us 30%, promising that we would get the remaining 70% when we return.”
Another sniper chafed at the delay in paying their allowances. “Up till now, we have not seen anything. We came back December 12, 2015. Till now, I don’t know what they are waiting for. They didn’t tell us how much the whole money was, but if they can pay you 30%, which was $7,700, then you do the calculation. The remaining percentage that is left, till now, we are yet to see anything and nobody is talking about it,” he said.
Our correspondent calculated the remaining sum to be at least $18,000.
One of the trainees said he learned that the Army had not paid the full amount out of fear that some of the trainees might abscond. “We heard that the officers at the top [of Nigerian army] believed that if they gave us 100% of the amount, some of us might not come back. That’s why they had to break that money. Okay, now that you are back, they have decided not to pay the money, because if they wanted to pay the money they would have paid it since.”
One member discounted the idea that the failure to pay them was a result of the change in government, from Mr. Jonathan to President Muhammadu Buhari. “The fact that we were paid 30% of the money before we left shows there must have been proper documentation on everything that is related to the payment. So I don’t see why it would be difficult for the incumbent government to approve the payment of the rest of the amount,” he said.
The trainer added, “If it is part of the money [former National Security Adviser] Dasuki stole, at least the government has been retrieving money from those who benefited from the cash Dasuki distributed. They should use some of the retrieved funds to pay us the remaining 70% of our allowance. At least we are still doing the work.”
Speaking also with SaharaReporters, one of the soldiers complained that members of the Police and SSS who undertook the sniper training did not proceed to Sambisa Forest with soldiers after returning to the country. “The police and SSS members received the initial payment, yet they have not joined us in operations. There is no reason why those of us who are advancing into the forest should not be paid,” he said.
“Eight policemen advanced with us but they were later removed. SSS didn’t advance with us although they went for training with us, got the same allowance that we got and nobody is making use of them for this operation,” said the source. He added: “But those of us in the Army, Navy and Air Force, we face the problem of the nation totally. And we that are in the operation, we are facing casualties and there is no plan to balance up our money.
According to him, SSS agents who undertook the training were deployed to Aso Rock on their return.
One sniper bemoaned the treatment he and others had received. “We were promised that when we come back we would get your 70% of the allowance to make sure that things like house and car would not be our problems. The payment was supposed to give us rest of mind. That’s why we went there and trained hard. We faced the rigorous aspect of the training. All of us did the training to the maximum.
“If you were not fit, they discovered from your heartbeat and they returned you. They returned at least two men. We are still fighting with the manual system, but war has gone beyond that. A lot of equipment was given to us in Russia, and they make us different from the conventional soldiers.
“This issue of the allowance is serious. We are risking our lives to defeat them [Boko Haram]. So why are we sacrificing our lives and the country is not paying us what we were promised?” he asked.