By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor, Dirisu Yakubu & Omeiza Ajayi
•Buhari insensitive to plight of soldiers — Atiku
•Atiku politicising national tragedy — Buhari
•Investigate killing of soldiers, PDP tells NASS
•Metele attack, an isolated case – Presidency
ABUJA—The nationwide solemnity arising from the killing of more than 100 Nigerian soldiers by Boko Haram in Melete, Borno State, was yesterday breached by the exchange of salvos by the two leading presidential candidates, Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku Abubakar.
Both presidential candidates exchanged blames, even as the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, also, yesterday, charged the National Assembly to launch an inquiry into the issue.
The All Progressives Congress, APC, had on Sunday through its Deputy National Publicity Secretary, Yekini Nabena accused Atiku of leading a gang of selfish and mercantile politicians desperate to take power from the ruling APC.
Atiku in response to the claim, which he said cast aspersions on his person on his birthday and his turbaning as Waziri Adamawa, observed that the Melete incident happened on the same day Buhari launched his presidential campaign, an occasion he claimed the nation’s service chiefs withdrew from at the last moment.
Meanwhile, the Presidency has described the Metele killing as an isolated case, insisting that Boko Haram has been technically defeated.
Atiku blasts Buhari, APC over Metele killings
While noting that the APC has yet to make a statement on the issue, Atiku challenged Buhari and the APC to donate 10% of the reported N100 million spent by the party on advertorials to the families of the deceased soldiers.
“As a matter of fact, we now know through Premium Times report, that these real Nigerian heroes were killed on November 18, 2018, which was the exact time the candidate of the APC, Muhammadu Buhari, invited the service chiefs to attend the launch of the plagiarised #NextLevel launch at the banquet hall of the Presidential Villa.
“The nation can only wonder if the Metele massacre could have been avoided if the APC and President Buhari had allowed the service chiefs to focus on their core duties, rather than on his ill-fated re-election campaign.
“We at the Atiku Presidential Campaign Organisation commend the service chiefs for beating a hasty retreat from the event as soon as they discovered that President Buhari was trying to hoodwink them.
“It took Waziri Atiku Abubakar only a few hours to respond to the incident and express support, while it took the APC’s President Buhari a whole week to express ‘shock.’ We, therefore, wonder who is truly ‘selfish.’
“It is left to Nigerians to compare and contrast who is a leader and who is a follower, based on the conduct of these two parties.
Buhari, Atiku tango over killing of soldiers in Borno
“In any case, we would like to inform the APC of Waziri Atiku Abubakar’s call for financial support from well-meaning individuals and institutions for the survivors of the Metele massacre, and, indeed, all who paid the supreme sacrifice in the front lines for us to be safe.
“Seeing as the APC spent N100 million to buy frontpage advertorials in all the papers on that fateful day of November 18, 2018, we appeal to them to consider donating even 10 per cent of that amount to the endowment for the families of our heroes as proposed by Atiku Abubakar.
“Incidentally, the APC’s statement accused former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of ‘selfishness’ and ‘mercantilism’ which is very curious as the Waziri dedicated his birthday, not to himself, but to celebrating the 100 or so heroes of the 157 Task force Battalion of the Nigerian Army who lost their lives to Boko Haram at Metele in Borno State.
“That the Waziri Adamawa asked for anyone who wished to give him birthday gifts to instead endow such on the families of the slain heroes is the opposite of selfishness.
“Ironically, the All Progressives Congress that is now accusing Atiku Abubakar has not deemed it fit to pay tribute to these gallant men who gave their lives in order to secure the lives of others.
“As a party, they have not issued even one statement condoling with the slain or their families, neither have they offered any tangible support to the families of these fallen heroes. Yet, they are accusing the Waziri, who has shown commitment to honouring these heroes, of selfishness.”
Atiku politicising national tragedy — Buhari
But responding through Mr. Festus Keyamo, SAN, yesterday, President Buhari dismissed the charge, as he upbraided Atiku for politicising what he claimed was a national tragedy.
He said: “They are just playing politics with the tragedy that happened. They are just playing politics. What happened should be a collective problem, it cuts across party lines, it is a matter that patriots must rise and address collectively.
“It is not a matter that PDP and APC would be addressing separately. In saner societies, there would even be no mention of PDP or APC in this matter, it would be a collective problem. The reason is that right from the time they were in power, they were the ones who started this problem in the first place.
“It was under their government that Boko Haram started in the first place and they are blaming others for what they caused.
“As it is today, the PDP should cover its head in shame when we talk about Boko Haram because if they had nipped Boko Haram in the bud, it would not be where it is today.
“They have no moral right to accuse any other government over Boko Haram. Boko Haram was birthed, developed, escalated under the PDP government, so they should cover their head in shame over the Boko Haram problem.”
PDP tasks NASS on investigation
The PDP, meanwhile, has tasked the National Assembly to immediately commence an extensive investigation into what led to the killing of the soldiers.
This came as it accused the Presidency of condoning extra-judicial killings in the country and demanded an immediate forensic inquiry into the death of a principal witness in the Offa robbery incident, Michael Adikwu, in the custody of the Police in Kwara State.
“The legislative investigation on the killing of our soldiers has become imperative, given reports of compromises and alleged failure of the authorities to promptly act on a reported threat by insurgents to attack the base and other military locations in the area, a few days before the attack,” the party said in a statement signed by its spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan.
“This is in addition to a disturbing video, circulating in the public domain, showing soldiers, weeks before the attack, giving accounts of their neglect by the authorities, resulting in their vulnerability to insurgents.
“This is particularly worrisome given apprehensions that President Muhammadu Buhari has been distracting the military by dragging our service chiefs to participate in his re-election campaign activities, instead of concentrating on their statutory duties.
“The apparent insensitivity of the Presidency to the killing as well as alleged moves by the authorities to sweep the matter under the carpet has created despondency among the citizens,” the party said.
“In a related development, the party argued that an inquest into an alleged extra-judicial killing of the principal suspect in the Offa robbery has become essential following conflicting reports by the Police over the cause and circumstances surrounding the death in its custody.
“We invite Nigerians to note that the Police had initially claimed that the witness was killed in the course of an arrest, it later claimed that he died in the course of investigation, only to again declare that he was discovered dead just as he was about to be taken to court.
“The PDP notes that the conflicting reports by the police only point towards an attempt to cover a case of extra-judicial killing, ostensibly with a view to mute vital information and derail the course of justice in the matter which has since assumed a political dimension targeted at key opposition leaders,” it added.
Metele Boko Haram attack, an isolated case – Presidency
The Presidency has said the recent killing of about 100 Nigerian soldiers during an attack on an army base in Metele, Borno State on November 18 is an isolated incident, which does not mean the insurgents are having an upper hand.
Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, who stated this on Channels Television Politics interview on Sunday night, said the recent attack was a mere breach and does not mean Boko Haram has not been defeated.
He said: “Nigeria, we can say, is at war in that side of the country. For some time, things had eased, Nigerian Army had had the upper hand, and like the term goes, the insurgents had been technically defeated.’’
On the accuracy of the statement on Boko Haram being technically defeated, he said: “I believe so. That (the recent attack) was maybe a breach in security but it does not mean that Boko Haram is having the upper hand. And like the President said in the statement we issued yesterday, we will still get to the end of this Boko Haram insurgency.
“This is one isolated case after a long time of the military being in charge. The military has been in charge for a long while. I agree with you this is a breach. It is sad and it is unfortunate. But then, it does not mean that Boko Haram is now in charge. They are not”.
Declining to give the number of soldiers killed in the Metele attack, Adesina said: “There’s this sudden upsurge and there’s that casualty figure which I do not know but which people say is on the high side. The military is the one that can tell us what actually happened.”
The latest attack in Metele followed months of heavy losses of both personnel and equipment which the insurgents inflicted on the Nigerian military since resuming their latest campaign in July.
Worried about the rising cases of missing soldiers in Boko Haram attacks, the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, had in August issued a warning to troops on the battlefront against fleeing from the insurgents, threatening errant personnel with prosecution.
Defence Headquarters also announced last week it had taken new delivery of military equipment, boasting of a tough time ahead for the insurgents.
The APC’s spokesman, Mallam Lanre Isa-Onilu, did not respond when he was called on phone on the matter. He also did not respond to a text message on the issue at press time.