Nigerian Soldiers Spend Year Combating Insecurity, Yet Spend Festive Season Without Salaries

After spending the last 12 months combating terrorism, many Nigerian soldiers say they have now had to beg from friends to meet their family needs during this festive period, owing to a delay in the payment of their salaries.

Femi Adegboyega* joined the Nigerian Army about 15 years ago. He was one of the first set of soldiers deployed from different parts of the country to combat the Boko Haram insurgency in Borno State, North East Nigeria. Despite sleeping in classrooms and being owed operational allowances on several occasions, he remains in the military and is currently helping the country to combat armed separatist terrorists in the South East

“After losing many of our colleagues to attacks in Maiduguri, some of my friends left the Army. But I still remain to prove the love I have for my fatherland,” he told HumAngle. “People keep leaving the military because of lack of adequate welfare, and it appears that is going to change. People even get punished for talking to the press and expressing their displeasure publicly,” he alleged. 

About three months ago, a Nigerian newspaper reported that a soldier was locked up for exposing the welfare challenges troops are subjected to at the frontlines. Soldiers say the Official Secret Act of 1962, which is intended to punish soldiers caught leaking information and official secrets of the Nigerian Army, is often used as a basis to punish those who speak to the press about irregularities. 

The law prohibits government workers from transmitting classified matter to a person not authorised on behalf of the government to transmit it. Section 7 of the Act provides for penalties that can be as high as 14 years imprisonment for whoever breaches the law.

Though Adegboyega swore to protect and die for Nigeria, he told HumAngle he was no longer proud of his job and not ready to hide his anger against the military authorities and the Nigerian government.

Despite spending the last 12 months on the frontlines combating terrorism, he and many other soldiers have turned into beggars, soliciting funds from friends and strangers to meet their family needs during the last Christmas celebrations, he said. 

When his son called to ask for Christmas clothes in November, Adegboyega promised the teenager he would get him the suit he had always asked for as a Christmas gift if he topped his class in the last examination in school. The youngster did, but his father couldn’t fulfil his promise due to the failure of authorities to pay soldiers their December salaries. 

Soldiers turned beggars 

Over the years, the federal government and many companies have paid December salaries and allowances a little early due to bank holidays. The decision is also to help workers who do not have savings to prepare for the festive season. The situation is, however, not the same this year, as many soldiers who spoke with HumAngle grumbled over the delay in payment.  

“The tradition is that we get paid before Christmas. The worst that I ever experienced was in 2016 when we were paid on Dec. 24. I failed my son this year because I promised him a gift but could not get it. In fact, we could not celebrate Christmas in line with our tradition of merriment,” Adegboyega told HumAngle during a telephone interview on Dec. 25. 

“I am running helter-skelter, calling relatives for support in a bid to provide food for my children as I speak to you. This is the situation for most of us. Everyone is aware that the economy of the country is tough, and many would not have savings. It’s not expected that the government will allow families of people defending the country to suffer at a time when different homes are rejoicing.”

Another soldier who spoke to us from the Ikeja Cantonment barracks said the delay in payment of their salaries was not only disturbing but also embarrassing. He explained that he has had to sell some of his properties to be able to buy clothes and foodstuff for his children. 

“I have sacrificed more than enough for this country than to live in penury. As we strive to maintain peace and order in all territories of the country, our family members are left to suffer. Our barracks are in deplorable condition, and no one is talking about renovation. Now, our salaries are held at a time when we should be able to be responsible husbands and fathers at home. Sometimes, I feel like crying.” 

After narrating his plight, the soldier pleaded with this reporter to send him some money so he “could buy fish to make rice for my children. Nothing is small, my brother,” he said before he hung up. 

In his case, Mubaarak Salisu*, a soldier who is serving in Bayelsa, South-south Nigeria, said he has had to borrow money from an online loan organisation to meet the needs of his family who are based in the southwestern part of the country. 

“I knew it was going to be difficult to go to Lagos to celebrate with my family so I promised to send them money when we receive our salaries. Unfortunately, we didn’t get anything even till Christmas afternoon so I had to borrow from an online loan app and send it to them.” 

The soldiers also expressed their displeasure over the failure of the federal government to pay the ₦35,000 wage award to cushion the effect of fuel subsidy removal as promised. President Bola Tinubu, after announcing the removal of the petrol subsidy, had said the ₦35,000 wage award alongside the payment of a 40 per cent special salary increase to workers will help cushion transport costs amid the rising cost of food and other commodities. But soldiers said nothing has been paid to them since October, when the payment started for other federal workers. 

“We are surprised that our take-home pay has not increased since the government announced the wage. Aside from the hardship being faced by fuel subsidy removal, the constant devaluation of our naira has made the price of goods and services triple within the last few months. The government has yet to fulfil the promise it made to soldiers. We are suffering in silence,” Salisu added. 

Defence minister intervenes

Following lamentations at different barracks and battalions, Defence Minister Bello Muhammed Matawalle intervened in the delay in the payment of December salaries to the frustrated troops. The minister in a statement made available on the defence headquarters website, said he has reached out to the Accountant General of the Federation, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to resolve the delay and “confirm that payments have commenced”.

“As the Minister of State for Defence, I am aware of the sacrifices made daily by our brave men and women of the Armed Forces in ensuring the safety and security of our nation. Your dedication, resilience and commitment to duty serve as a beacon of hope and inspiration to us all,” part of the statement by the minister read. 

Meanwhile, soldiers who spoke with HumAngle on Wednesday morning said they are yet to get paid. “I haven’t seen my salary, likewise my colleagues. We hope the minister’s intervention yields a reasonable result,” one of them said. 

Names of the soldiers interviewed for the report were changed to avoid being punished by authorities for speaking with the press.

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Adejumo Kabir

Kabir works at HumAngle as the Editor of Southern Operations. He is interested in community development reporting, human rights, social justice, and press freedom. He was a finalist in the student category of the African Fact-checking Award in 2018, a 2019 recipient of the Diamond Awards for Media Excellence, and a 2020 recipient of the Thomson Foundation Young Journalist Award. He was also nominated in the journalism category of The Future Awards Africa in 2020. He has been selected for various fellowships, including the 2020 Civic Media Lab Criminal Justice Reporting Fellowship and 2022 International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ) 'In The Name of Religion' Fellowship.

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