A few Nigerians imputed extraneous meanings into what many perceived as the “combative” interface between the Nigerian Army and Daily Trust newspaper, a publications outfit based in Abuja.
While many Nigerians were fast to take side with the Army without dissecting the issues due to its patriotism, a few persons still unjustifiably bandied all manner of derogative labels on the Nigerian Army.
The Daily Trust edition of Sunday, January 6, 2019 published a story with the caption; “Military prepares massive operation to retake Baga, others.” The publication incurred the wrath of the Nigerian Army, which is battling the resurgence of insurgency in the Northeast. The report divulged details of a military operation meant to flush out terrorists who have occupied Baga, and other communities in Northern Borno state.
The Nigerian Army had accused the medium of publishing classified military information, which postured the newspaper as an agent or sympathizer of terrorists against Nigeria. These were grave allegations no doubt. Obviously acting based on the spur of anger, propelled by the frustration it caused, soldiers lay a peaceful siege on the Abuja headquarters and Maiduguri offices of Daily Trust.
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The action triggered mixed reactions from Nigerians. Many blamed the newspapers editors for insensitivity and overstretching the limits of freedom of the press and speech by the publication, which served insurgents unsolicited information on planned military operations.
However, a few Nigerians only saw the Nigerian Army as the aggressor in this circumstance; but refused to discern Daily Trust as an offender for the simple reason that the siege was anti-democratic.
Again, a few others delved into personality attacks on the person of the Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces, President Muhammadu Buhari and the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and leader of the counter-insurgency operations, Lt. Gen. TY Buratai. And the partisan times fired and smouldered the criticisms.
Opposition politicians feasted on it like maggots on rotten meat. The substance and rationality were lost completely in the haze and in its place; name-calling, sentiments and malice resonated very loudly.
Some persons commonly referred to as “bad belle people,” in Nigerian pidgin parlance, even trumpeted a strained relationship between the Army and the Nigerian media. It was completely a misplaced predisposition on the Nigerian Army under Gen. Buratai whose watch has seen the Army transformed into the darling of many citizens.
Once in a while, where human beings interact from opposing positions, there comes a moment of strained relationship. But it does not last forever, like even in the case between the Army and the newspaper. Daily Trust will not be the first to drag the Army into such frustrations and altercations. But it has always been resolved amicably.
Gen Buratai’s antecedents as a soldier and most especially, his leadership of the Nigerian Amy holds civilians in highest esteem. He has also re-orientated Army personnel to respect the dignity and human rights of Nigerians anywhere they are offering service to the nation. . He understands perfectly that a soldier or the Army’s basic responsibility is to protect the civil populace. And he exemplifies it consistently.
And it has not come as happenstance, but a factor of conscious reforms and innovations that Gen Buratai has imposed on the Army. Today, the Nigerian Army on internal special assignments to contain insurrections do not stealthily invade communities at nights like thieves. In the past, it was the tradition and such scenarios’ created panic and fear, leading to psychic destabilization and dislocation in communities.
Today, the narrative is positively different. Military/ Civil relations is at its very best. Before any community is assailed by soldiers, the information goes out in the media to herald their presence and awareness.
Thereafter, Gen Buratai or his representative will personally pay courtesy calls on traditional, political and religious leaders of the communities where the operations are intended. They are briefed sufficiently on the mission and their approvals voluntarily given to the Army.
Thereafter, deployed troops will mingle freely with community members who are usually bolstered by this gesture to assist the Army with information to anchor rewarding operations. A cord of fraternity is struck.
The existing harmonious working relationship between the Army and the civil population has been rewarding to the latter in multiple ways. Today, communities which had no dream of enjoying basic necessities like water, electricity, mini-bridges and roads have benefitted from the Nigerian Army’s benevolence from Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). The Army offers free medical services everywhere they are redeployed on special assignments.
Gen Buratai’s courtship of the civil populace is endless. His human rights reforms in the Army are legendary and far-reaching. It climaxed into the establishment of the Human Rights Desk to oversee incidents of rights abuses by Army personnel in Nigeria.
It is the Army’s Chief’s desire marched with efforts to standardize operations of the Nigeria Army that led to his rebranding reforms to give Nigerians a respectful and professionally responsible Army as an institution. Today, the Army has earned the enviable reputation of a military institution competent enough to defend the nation against external aggressions and insurrections.
It is evident in the records they have flaunted in public domain on Boko Harm counter-insurgency operations. And no matter what anybody or institution feels, the Nigerian Army must be supported to finally win the war against terrorism in Nigeria. And the with the emergence of cyberspace terrorism, Nigerian media has a vital and critical role to play in complementing the efforts of Nigerian troops at the battlefront.
That’s why Gen Buratai operates an open-door with the media. Foreign media cannot tell the Nigerian story better than indigenous media. So, the Nigerian Army leadership has ensured the Nigerian media savours a seamless working relationship with the Nigerian Army under Buratai.
And it reflects in the celebration of the COAS as one of the most friendly media personality in the country. No Nigerian COAS in recent history has been visible in the media like Gen. Buratai because the DAPR has thrown its doors open to the media for information ceaselessly to keep Nigerians informed about its counter-terrorism operations.
It is in this regard that the action of Daily Trust through the publication is deemed repulsive and reprehensible. To say, the contents of the publication thwarted the planned onslaught on insurgents in Baga and other surrounding localities like Doron-Baga, Kross Kawwa, Bunduran, Kekeno and Kukawa is to put it mildly.
It has also disfigured significantly the military operations in the region and emboldened the terrorists against the Nigerian nation. Painting lurid details of the operations and portraying the military as subdued by insurgents is unpatriotic and unpardonable.
No doubt, the Daily Trust publication has the tendency to hamper and momentarily halt the operations in these Northern towns of Borno under Boko Haram captivity. This newspaper has to toe the line of decency by apologizing to the military for leaking that strategic information about its operations. It’s a grave and sabotaging mistake.
In spite of everything, Gen Buratai and his troops should not be incensed by the medium’s misconduct any further. Let them put the interest of the nation foremost by re-strategizing for another operation. Gen Buratai should keep the spirit flying higher and dust off the temporary setback. This is imperative because to err is human and to forgive divine. So, there is every need for forgiveness.
The generality of Nigerians and every critical stakeholder must appreciate that Gen Buratai and troops are in the Northeast for the common good of the country. There is need for synergy. Gen. Buratai’s presence in the warzone alone has thwarted the plans of the insurgents to wreak more havoc on Nigerians.
The sacrifice of the Army is on the heels of the painful moment many are beginning to think that the insurgents are back. But Gen. Buratai is standing up against insurgents for all Nigerians. Nigerians are indebted him and the troops and they must execute sacred responsibility of encouragement as against frustrations.
Odoma writes from Asokoro, Abuja.