About 850 soldiers shortlisted for a counter-terrorism course at the Nigerian Army Training Centre in Kontagora, Niger State narrowlyescaped death when they were ambushed by suspected members of the outlawed Boko Haram islamist sect.
Four of them were however seriously injured in the incident which took place at a location between Okene and Lokoja, Kogi State on Sunday night.
A security source said on Monday that the soldiers were men of the 322 Artillery Battalion, and the Fourth Brigade Garrison, Ekeunwa, Benin in Edo State.
The PUNCH learnt that the 850 soldiers were expected to give fillip to the ongoing counter-terrorism operation in Borno and Adamawa states on completion of the counter- insurgency course.
Our source said there were suspicions that the attackers were insurgents because of the intensity of the gunfire directed at the vans conveying the soldiers from both sides of the road.
He added that the soldiers, who shot their way through the ambush, passed the night at the Nigeria Army formation in Lokoja.
The four injured soldiers, according to him, were taken to a military facility in Lokoja while the commanders of the troops addressed the others on Monday morning.
The source said, “There was an attack on soldiers along the Okene-Lokoja Road on Sunday night. Four of the soldiers were seriously wounded in the attack though all of them are still alive and are receiving treatment at Lokoja.
“The soldiers were on their way for a course at Kontagora, where they are expected to be deployed in the North-East for the war against the insurgents.
“The soldiers were pulled out from two military formations in Benin–the 322 Artillery Battalion and the Fourth Brigade Garrison in Ekeunwan, Benin.
“It was not long that the soldiers returned from a peacekeeping operation in Sudan; they were members of the NIBBATT 41 that returned to the country about two months ago.
“The soldiers were taken unawares as the attackers operated from both sides of the road and got four of the soldiers seriously wounded.
“However, they returned the fire and passed through to Lokoja where they were addressed the following morning. I believe as I talk to you that they must have left for Kotangora to participate in the planned course.”
The source said that there were feelings that somebody might have given out information on the movement of the troops from Benin to Kontagora.
Efforts to get the comment of the Director of Defence Information, Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade, on the latest ambush were futile as the calls to his mobile telephone indicated that it was switched off.
It will be recalled that about 190 Nigerian troops were ambushed by militants a few kilometres from Okene on January 19, 2013.
The militants were said to have cut through the convoy of Mali-bound Nigerian Army peacekeepers travelling in three luxury buses via Kaduna to Bamako, Mali.
They first hit the convoy with Improvised Explosive Devices planted on the highway before firing on the troops afterwards. Two soldiers were killed and several others injured during the attack.
A few days after the incident, a group, Jama’atu Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis-Sudan, claimed that it carried out the attack. The group is a break-away faction of Boko Haram.