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46 fallen soldiers: One year after, families cry over unpaid benefits

Following the incident, the Federal Government gave the fallen heroes a befitting burial with full military honours. As part of the respects also, President Umaru…

Following the incident, the Federal Government gave the fallen heroes a befitting burial with full military honours. As part of the respects also, President Umaru Musa Yar’adua had to cut short his trip to Arusha, Tanzania to attend the burial, which was also graced by the then Minister of Defence, Alhaji Yayale Ahmed and former Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Luka Yusuf as well as the next-of-kin of the deceased soldier and hundreds of sympathisers.

But shortly after the final ‘goodbye’, the families began another phase of a difficult journey. While some of them developed high-blood pressure because of the agony, others who managed to survive the trauma are now battling to get their entitlements from the Army authorities despite unending promises. Shortly after the incident, one of the widows, Mrs Lydia Sini, developed high-blood pressure and eventually died, as the eldest child in the family, Hyaluwa Sini, told Weekly Trust.

According to her, Lydia after 34 years of blissful marriage, couldn’t just bear the burden of managing her six children without her husband, the late Corporal Sini Jaduwa, who was an indigene of Michika, Adamawa State.

“When the list of the 46 soldiers was being rolled out not long after the accident, my mother fainted immediately after the third name on the list, which happened to be my father’s. Since that incident, she was never the same. She kept to herself and was always looking dejected. I consoled her all the time, telling her she needed to be strong for us, her children, especially my younger ones.

“She somehow began to overcome it, but it later seemed that she was dying in silence. Her face was that of a woman in agony and I told her life must go on. So, I thought she would overcome the condition,” Hyaluwa said.

Day after day, other family sources said the widow kept on saying that her problem was how to take care of her children. It was gathered from other widows close to Mrs Sini that her concern was anchored on the manner in which the families of other numerous dead soldiers live for many years in despair without getting the entitlements meant for their breadwinners.

On June 20, 2008, Lydia’s health deteriorated and she eventually died of heart failure as the primary cause of her death and hypertension as the secondary cause, as hospital records obtained by Weekly Trust revealed.

A year after, Weekly Trust investigations reveal that out of the 46 deceased soldiers, only five were permanently residing with their families at the Monguno Barracks, while the remaining ones were temporarily selected from various barracks across the country before they travelled to Darfur. It was also gathered that three of the widows and their children in the Monguno barracks have already packed out of the barracks.   

Weekly Trust gathered that only two families of the late soldiers are still living in the barracks and even the two are yet to be paid their entitlements as disclosed by the families. Madam Rebecca, the wife of late Lance Corporal Bitrus Goni who hailed from Adamawa State and who had served for 29 years, said her husband left behind seven children but accused the military authorities of not doing enough to ensure speedy payment of their benefits so as to cushion their suffering. According to her, despite the non-payment of the entitlements, the military did not offer them any assistance, thereby making life more unbearable for them.

“We are very shocked that the military authorities have not fulfill their earlier promises that the entitlements of our husbands would be paid within the shortest time. To our surprise, one year after, we are yet to get anything. The majority of us can no longer continue sponsoring the education of our children. Presently, our struggle is just to feed them since we cannot afford to pay their school fees,” she complained.

Asked how she has been coping since the demise of her husband, especially that he left seven children, Rebecca said, “after the accident, the military authorities gave us about N100,000 each as balance for the peacekeeping mission benefits of our husbands. Similarly, during the burial, the Federal Government gave every one of us the sum of N100,000 and the Borno State government equally donated same amount to us.

“So, since that time, I have been managing that amount to cater for the children. But I adopted a marketing strategy where I used to purchase food items in large quantities and stored them before selling them bit by bit to maximise my profit. I have been surviving on this technique.”

Another widow, Rabi Mohammed, who hails from Jigawa State, disclosed that her late husband, Corporal Mohammed Ya’u, left behind five children and since his death, she has been relying on relatives to take care of them. Rabi said she cannot leave the barracks as was done by other women because the house left by her husband has been occupied by his relatives and she can’t eject them. Asked whether the military attempted to eject them from the barracks, the widow disclosed that there was no such attempt but that the officer commanding the battalion has summoned them to know why they are yet to leave.

“The C.O. asked why we are still living in the barracks and we told him that we are waiting for the payment of our benefits so we can rent or buy a house because we have nowhere to go as our late husband never owned houses,” she narrated. Rabi pointed out that the sufferings they are undergoing have made her eldest son who is 11 years old, to hate the military career.

“My cousin who is a military officer promised to assist my son to join the Nigerian Army, but when I informed him (my son), he said he will never join the army because of the way we have been neglected since the demise of his father,” she revealed.       

However, Rebecca explained that when the military at the barracks failed to make any comment pertaining to the payment of their husbands’ entitlements, she recently compiled all relevant documents and lodged a complaint at the Defence Headquarters in Abuja to inquire about the payment of the benefits. She stated that her request was ignored and she was told that she had no right to do so as only the authorities at the barracks can seek clarifications on the issue. They also  noted that the promise made by the Nigerian Army to offer scholarships to their children was not fulfilled, saying further that six months ago, forms were brought for each of the children but after filling the forms, nothing has been done.  

“We are appealing to the Federal Government and the military authorities to consider our critical situation and work out the modalities to ensure the speedy payment of our benefits. It is pathetic that we are being subjected to untold hardships despite the fact that our husbands lost their lives on their way home after serving the nation. The government should please redeem its earlier pledge that our benefits would be worked out without delay so that we can continue a comfortable life and our children can go to schools,” the families said.

It will be recalled that shortly after the accident, the former Commanding Officer of the 243 Battalion of the Nigerian Army in Mongunu, Lt. Col. Edward Ofili, promised the families that the army “cannot eject the families of the deceased now; they would not be treated in the normal procedure because their case is a special one unlike when if a soldier died, his family can be allowed to stay in the barracks for a period of three months within which they would receive the full entitlements of the deceased.

“I want to assure the families that all protocols that normally delay the payment of the entitlements of deceased soldiers would not be applied to them due to the nature of the demise of their breadwinners. Beside that, the children would also benefit from the Nigerian Army Scholarship Scheme and the Nigerian Army Welfare Scheme for families of soldiers killed in active service, which are all being worked out for proper implementation,” he said.

However, when contacted, the Army spokesman, Brigadier-General Chris Olukolade, said, “as far as the army is concerned, the families of the deceased soldiers have been paid their entitlements as the authorities are not insensitive to such things.”

He appealed to the families to contact the Army authorities on the matter. It is now left to be seen whether the families will find succour or have to endure long years of neglect and rejection by the same authorities who brought them to the barracks.