IT was the day formal campaign into elective positions in the 2019 elections commenced and incumbent President, Muhammadu Buhari, had seized the moment to begin in earnest a campaign that he and his subordinates had until that time taken formal and casual moments to do on and off.
Together with stalwarts of the All Progressives Congress, APC, the President had been joined by the top brass of the country’s military and head of police, so-called service chiefs, in a brazen show of solidarity that compromised their position as professionals sworn to defend the Constitution.
The service chiefs would leave mid-stream into the activities that demanded their presence among politicians in full ceremonial gears on a work free day. It takes an unprofessional military and police leadership to conflate its statutory role with personal allegiance to a president that is campaigning for re-election. The service chiefs should have been sacked unceremoniously. But this is Nigeria where the grossly abnormal has been normalised and everything goes.
Just hours after the shameless appearance of the leadership of the police and the military at a political rally, news would break of the killing of yet unverified number of Nigerian soldiers by an arm of the Boko Haram insurgents. The killings took place in Melete, a little town in Borno State.
The casualty figure remains unverified because the military would not even acknowledge an attack took place at all to say nothing of it admitting to a casualty figure. But independent sources in the know put the casualty figure at about 300, about half of whom are dead while the other half are declared missing and unaccounted for. All of this mass murder caused by a group that had been declared dead and defeated at different times by the Presidency, the ruling party and the military.
In the face of reports by local and foreign agencies accompanied with images of slain and injured soldiers, the Nigerian Army was forced to face the inevitable by admitting the truth that an attack did happen that led to the death of some of its personnel.
But even at that it sought to downplay the severity of the attack by issuing threats of court action against those it labeled peddlers of unsubstantiated rumours about high casualty figures in an attack against its personnel by Boko Haram. It tried in vain, it is now clear, to fob off its tardiness in reporting the attack against its formation in Melete by saying it wanted to contact families of deceased soldiers first before announcing the identity of the dead.
What the world would want to know is what right the Nigerian Army has to call anxious Nigerians rumour mongers when it would not offer any explanation of things but prefer to throw a cover on story that is already known by even the deaf and the blind.
Again I say a responsible military would behave differently from what we have seen with the leadership of the Nigerian Army so far. It would do the commonsensical by not only offering explanation of what happened but go on to acknowledge there have been casualties rather than wait until anxiety feeds wild speculations.
All of this because the military knew it would have no way to make its previous lies about defeating Boko Haram stand if it owns up to any kind of attack bordering on a massacre that resulted in the death of many of its men. No, the leadership of the Army as well as the military as a whole has not done well by its own soldiers that have become mere statistics in a deadly game of deceit and subterfuge. There is clear evidence of persistent dereliction here and we see this in the appearance of the top echelon of the military and the police at a political event.
While the military in particular and the country at large was literally on fire, faced with the deadly resurgence of a group that was only scorched but was prematurely declared dead- while the president, his men and women, were busy fiddling and stomping for votes, Nigeria burned. It is almost too late in the day for President Buhari to sermonise about not sitting back to watch Nigerian soldiers killed.
He should admit that his non-strategy to fight insurgency, more rhetoric than action, has failed and needs to be overhauled. But here is a president not only stuck in his ways but also with his service chiefs. The failing non-strategy of the present government, signposted by the sated and unimaginative leadership of the country’s military and police echelon, has longed conked out. Nigeria needs men and women of hunger, people hungry for action and with new visions and goals, not the tired bellied now waddling around in combat gears.
When the Buhari government and its military complain about Nigerians politicising the death of soldiers, do they expect we remain mute and deny the evidence of our eyes? Who are those politicising the fight against Boko Haram or indeed our military?
The President and his minders got it wrong; they took the first step in politicising the military and its leadership by their invitation of the service chiefs to their own event without regard for the neutrality that should guide their conduct. This government is so mixed up that it is unable to distinguish between its personal interest and what is and should be the interest of Nigerians.
Otherwise, it would not expect personal commitment from the country’s military chiefs in the manner it appears to demand. Who or what can be more blame-worthy than a president, a presidency or a situation that demands that state agents be partisan to the cause of an incumbent government?
In a campaign season, should the clear failures of a government and party seeking re-election not be fodder for its opponents? Does the President or a fumbling military leadership expect Nigerians to smile at their incompetence that is bringing misery into the homes of its rank and file?
When soldiers are complaining of abandonment and are deserting their posts due to lack of equipment or being saddled with obsolete weapons, should we as Nigerians look on in amused silence? What happened to the money, the billions of dollars in special appropriation, voted for new weaponry that the military hierarchy boasted about only months ago? Where did the money go?
Who cornered it? We are back in familiar territory and history is again repeating itself as at once a farce and a tragedy. Did the APC in opposition not mock the Peoples Democratic Party’s misuse of state funds; did they not make much song and dance of Goodluck Jonathan’s failure with Boko Haram and the hapless Chibok girls? What was that? A sermon or politicking? Nonsense!