Army authorities in Nigeria are planning for the burial of 45 soldiers who died when their vehicles slammed into a petrol tanker in northeast Nigeria. The soldiers were returning from a peacekeeping mission in Darfur as Gilbert da Costa reports for VOA from Abuja.
The Nigerian army says the soldiers died "in active service" and would be given a state burial in the capital, Abuja, on Friday.
Top army chiefs, including chief of staff Lieutenant General Luka Yusuf, left Abuja Thursday to visit the scene hundreds of kilometers away from the capital.
Andrew Uroula, a veteran defense correspondent, describes the mood at defense headquarters in Abuja. "They are mourning, they are flying the flag at half mast. There are preparations to bury the dead tomorrow….They survived the war [in Darfur] only to come home and die," he said.
The soldiers were in a convoy when one of the vehicles smashed into a petrol tanker near the city of Potiskum on Wednesday night. Several soldiers were also injured.
At least 5,000 people die on Nigerian roads every year due to poorly maintained vehicles and roads and reckless driving.
Lai Mohammed of the leading opposition Action Congress Party says the poor state of infrastructure and the neglect of the military may have contributed to the road accident. "To us it was an avoidable tragedy. The government should invest in the welfare of law enforcement agencies. We are not investing enough in the welfare of our personnel and we are not investing enough in our infrastructure," he said.
The soldiers were part of the African Union force serving in Darfur, where hundreds of thousands have died and millions displaced by five years of civil war.