By Kingsley Omonobi & Dirisu Yakubu, with Agency reports
ABUJA—The Military High Command, yesterday, decried what it described as a figment of Wall Street Journal’s imagination, its report that over one thousand soldiers killed in the anti-insurgency war against Boko Haram were buried secretly in Maiduguri.
According to the military, the writer of the publication lacks knowledge of military values, ethos, and traditions on treatment of fallen heroes.
This is even as former Vice President and presidential candidate of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the 2019 elections, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, demanded, in his reaction, report of the true state of the anti-terrorism war.
The military high command in a statement signed,yesterday by the Acting Director, Defence Information, Col. Onyema Nwachukwu, titled “There Are No Secret Graveyards in the North East Theatre,” said: “The Defence Headquarters has noted with dismay an online article by “Wall Street Journal” purporting that the Nigerian military maintains secret graveyards in the North East theatre of operation.
“This insinuation can only emanate from an uninformed position of the author of the said publication. It, therefore, becomes necessary to inform the public that the Armed Forces of Nigeria have a rich and solemn tradition for the interment of our fallen heroes.
No secret burials — DHQ
“Therefore, it must be unambiguously clarified that the Armed Forces of Nigeria do not indulge in secret burials, as it is sacrilegious and a profanity to extant ethos and traditions of the Nigerian military.
“In tandem with the traditions of the Armed Forces, fallen heroes are duly honoured and paid the last respect in befitting military funeral of international standard, featuring funeral parade, grave site oration, solemn prayers for the repose of departed souls by Islamic and Christian clerics, as well as gun salutes, aside from other military funeral rites.
“The cemetery described in the publication, which is situated in Maimalari Military Cantonment, is an officially designated military cemetery for the Armed Forces of Nigeria in the North East theatre, with a Cenotaph erected in honour of our fallen heroes.
“The official cemetery has played host to several national and international dignitaries, where wreaths were laid in honour of the fallen heroes. It is, therefore, a far cry from the sacrilegious impression being painted by “Wall Street Journal”.
“The Defence Headquarters, therefore, urges members of the Armed Forces and the general public to disregard such a misinformed publication and see it as a figment of the imagination of the writer, whose knowledge of military valued ethos and traditions is grossly misplaced.”
The Wall Street Journal had, while quoting military sources, said the number of soldiers buried in that manner could be higher than the figure.
It said on the eve of President Muhammadu Buhari’s visit to Borno in November last year, Army commanders secretly moved corpses of soldiers from a morgue to unmarked graves.
“When President Buhari visited the Maiduguri base in November, commanders rushed to bury bodies that had accumulated at the morgue from the recent attack on the base in Metele and several others, according to several soldiers at the base. They moved the bodies from the morgue into the unmarked graves under cover of darkness,” the report said.
It quoted a soldier as saying: “We could see the headlamps and the torches of the engineering division digging the graves.”
The report said as the commanders prepared the base for the President’s arrival, they also drafted in additional medical staff to treat the dozens of wounded soldiers in the base’s hospital wards.
It said as soldiers tried to register complaints about their conditions when Buhari addressed them, the President pledged to do everything within his powers to continue empowering them.
The report said military authorities were reportedly trying to expand the secret graveyard, adding that “as the secret cemetery at the Maimalari barracks grows, the military has expanded the site into neighbouring fields.”
It also quoted Sarah James, a 50-year-old farmer, as saying: “The farmland has been fenced off so they can bury the forces.”
Atiku demands inquest
Meanwhile, Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has called for an independent inquiry into the reported secret burial of soldiers who died in the Boko Haram war.
In a statement yesterday, Atiku said it was shocking that such a thing could happen under a democratic government.
The former vice-president described the situation as a national emergency that should shock all statesmen and leaders of thoughts into action to save Nigeria.
He said: “Shock, that such a thing could happen under a democracy. I shudder to think that the cover-up of such an event of epic proportions can be true.
“The men and women of our armed forces are our first, second and last defence against our domestic and foreign enemies and should be treated with love, respect, dignity and appreciation for the invaluable service they render to Nigeria.
“I cannot fathom that in the space of a year, 1000 of these great patriots were killed and buried secretly without their families being told. I hesitate to believe that deceit on such a grand scale is even possible.
“To ensure that we get to the root of this matter, I urge that a judicial commission of inquiry, headed by a non-partisan and reputable jurist, be inaugurated to investigate the findings of the Wall Street Journal.
‘’While this is occurring, I also strongly urge that a panel of inquiry, comprising distinguished former military officers, be set up to investigate and report to Nigerians the true state of the war on terror and what must be done to ensure Nigeria brings a speedy end to the ongoing insurgency.”