LONDON — Nigeria's top security official accused many of his own soldiers of being "cowards" on Thursday, partly blaming them for the country’s ineffectual response to Boko Haram.
Sambo Dasuki was defending against accusations that Nigerian forces have been poorly equipped to deal with the brutal Islamist sect despite the country's multi-billion-dollar defense budget.
"Unfortunately we had a lot of cowards, so there was a problem in the recruitment process," said Dasuki, a retired colonel who is now national security adviser to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan. Speaking to an audience at London's Chatham House think tank, he added that some soldiers "give every excuse in this world not to fight." He said: "If you don’t want to fight, it’s not your fault, get out of the army."
Boko Haram’s brutal attack on the town of Baga at the start of January highlighted long-running claims of corruption, poor equipment and collusion with the militants from within the military. Witnesses fleeing from Baga said they saw soldiers running away, and some troops have complained about a lack of equipment.
Dasuki pointed to a recent video purporting to show Boko Haram’s leadership flaunting a large cache of arms captured in Baga. "If you see the equipment … that [Boko Haram] took from Nigerian forces, you would be ashamed," he said. "How could anyone who’s lost that equipment come and tell you that he is poorly armed and poorly equipped?"
Dasuki’s comments marked a rare and candid departure from the usually cagey nature of high-ranking Nigerian officials. On the 200-plus Chibok schoolgirls missing since April, he admitted that were "very hopeful — not very optimistic."
He also said he had urged Nigeria’s electoral commission to push back next month’s general election because 30 million voter cards had not been distributed.