Mr. Osita Chidoka and all those who think like him may mean well, but they need to be guided right. First, every true patriot needs to condemn anybody who plays politics with our fallen soldiers. But it is perfectly legitimate for the Nigerian people to call government to account and if you want to see that as mocking the government, that is your cup of burukutu! People’s sons, dads, brothers, cousins, uncles, nephews, relations, friends are being sacrificed needlessly by bloody greed and you think playing politics with words and pictures is the answer? A ragtag army of fundamentalists are mowing down young, brave, patriotic citizens and we want to debate the appropriateness or otherwise of videos in public space?
Again, I hate to bring this up, but Osita Chidoka has brought it up already and we need to talk about it, even as we insist that any party in opposition should never repeat the infamy. Prior to the election of 2015, Candidate Muhammadu Buhari of the APC made himself the spokesperson of Boko Haram. He excoriated the President Goodluck Jonathan government for robustly fighting them and asked that they be given a juicy deal like they gave the Niger-Delta militants through the Amnesty Programme. He declared the fight against Boko Haram a fight against the North and at a point, the Boko Haram were consistently naming him as a negotiator on their behalf. He mobilized APC governors and they rushed to Washington to tell the world that Boko Haram was a fight against poverty and that President Goodluck Jonathan was using the fight against them as a cover for ethnic cleansing in the North.
In one of the most egregious display of wickedness, when President Jonathan took the proactive step of going to Chad to see that country’s leader, Idriss Deby (who at the time was the Chairman African Union’s Peace and Security Council) to discuss the actualization of agreements for greater cooperation against insurgents and terrorists reached by Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon at a meeting in Paris earlier that year, Nasir el-Rufai came out publicly to accuse Jonathan of going to Chad to plan more attacks with Boko Haram and Deby against Northerners. I mean, how much more treacherous can you get? Yet today we hear now that President Buhari is sending the Minister of Defence, Brigadier Mansur Dan Ali (Ret) to Chad to see the same Idriss Deby over the renewed Boko Haram attacks in the North-East.
Despite all Buhari’s provocative pro-Boko Haram rants and further disgraceful comments by el-Rufai, which included an earlier declaration of the Nigerian army as ‘Jonathanian Army’ and a call for Nigerians not to support the soldiers, the Jonathan government ignored them and faced the job even in the face of some low-level Western sanctions against Nigeria over arms supplies championed by the United States.
— Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai (@elrufai) June 20, 2014
Buhari mobilized the opposition not only against working with Jonathan government on a solution, but they were actually having a field day mocking the Jonathan government and his person. Buhari indeed openly led that charge from the front while hordes of APC activists blanketed public space with real and photo-shopped videos of Nigerian army casualties killed by Boko Haram laced with assorted curses on Jonathan and his government in faux rage against what he was supposedly doing to our soldiers. Buhari peppered public space with comments decrying the death of soldiers, fuming with righteous indignation. But, as I said, they were ignored. When the government decided they needed to shift the election timetable a little further within the time permissible by law so they could fight the insurgents and make all Nigeria safe for the election, Buhari and his ilk cried blue murder and the international community and their agents came running down, wagging their fingers in our face! Yet, the whole of Nigeria was liberated and we had elections in every ward and in every local government in Nigeria and no single territory of Nigeria was occupied by Boko Haram or under their control when Jonathan handed over to Buhari. And now we are here!
This hypocritical government has used the story of the money for arms being stolen to make hay propaganda-wise. They have squandered every goodwill they had at the beginning and people are beginning to wonder whether those being held over charges that they stole money meant for arms actually did what they’ve been tried and convicted for in the media already, but not by the courts. Billions of dollars have been voted for arms since the government came on board, part of which Buhari even seized unconstitutionally before he hurtled to America to go for that photo-op with Trump. Still our soldiers have no arms to fight and are being killed like chickens, while Armed Forces Chiefs are wandering around in APC meetings dressed in full gear!
Let’s be clear, as I have implied above, I am not asking that the PDP and the other political parties pay back Buhari and the APC in their own dirty coin. That would be inconsiderate, wicked and unpatriotic. People like Osita Chidoka should not only be encouraged to support President Buhari and the Federal Government in the fight against terrorism and in the mission to secure the country, he should get his party hierarchy and their political leaders at every level to be part of the solution. For instance, there is no reason why the Senate and the House of Representatives should be wringing their hands and scratching their heads. By now we should have had a National Assembly Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War on Terror. This Committee should have been investigating military contracts and arms purchases, illicit trade in arms, activities of possible moles in the Nigerian Armed Forces giving information to insurgents, state of medical treatment of wounded soldiers, whether there’s adequate remuneration for fighting men, whether adequate benefits are being paid promptly to the families of fallen soldiers and whether their bodies are given befitting treatments where recovered before burial. They should have been investigating problems of inefficiency, waste, war profiteering and even the reason why the insurgency has been able to last this long and so on. All this should have been going on as we speak!
On the executive side, political party leaders should have been beating a path to the President’s door to inundate him with proposals about how to deal with this issue. Basically, the nation must see that our political leasers are singing from the same hymn sheet where Boko Haram is concerned and getting down to the business of protecting Nigeria and Nigerians, even as their politicking goes on apace. It is in that type of atmosphere they all must come to a consensus on what the national security issues must be in the campaign. For instance, they can reach a consensus that the Boko Haram insurgency would not be a campaign issue except to the extent that all parties would say they are working together at the national and states executive and legislative levels to tackle the issue, while they leave the command to the President to handle. So, while other issues pertaining to national security can be campaign issues, the war against the insurgents would be off the table. That way, they give Nigerians confidence that their political leaders are showing the required maturity and sobriety in actually working together to protect them. This would also send a signal to the insurgents that they cannot profit from any political division as they did in 2014 and 2015 when Buhari and the APC were acting nasty.
But where Osita Chidoka got it wrong is in the way he’s stigmatizing the posting of pictures on social media which he says show Boko Haram wickedness against us because it is us versus them. While I won’t post Boko Haram videos myself, I cannot pretend that they are not there and I cannot pretend that they serve only Boko Haram propaganda purposes. Chidoka has to understand that ordinary Nigerians posting those pictures are not in anyway in support of Boko Haram; rather, it is information and a way to pressure the government to act quickly because we are losing young people! This was exactly what happened when ISIS videos began to be shared on social media, the US and the allies took that as a signal to act quickly against the terrorist group and they did that unrelentingly until they flushed them out of Raqqa in Syria and Mosul and Rawa in Iraq late last year. Ours is even more heartbreaking because we don’t only have pictures made by Boko Haram in public space, we also actually have more of the videos in public space made by Nigeria soldiers themselves desperately asking for help in the face of what they are facing. Everywhere you look on social media, you are assaulted by videos of soldiers dying from hunger, soldiers pleading that the Nigerian media should help them send the message to the authorities about their conditions and all manner of complaints from lack of weaponry and use of obsolete weaponry to neglect while ill. We hear them in their own voices repeatedly claim they are being killed because of the lack of arms and because those in authorities do not value their lives.
Of course, none of these soldiers are saying they are afraid to fight or die for their country because they know what they’ve signed for, but it’s the manner of death that rankles. They are obviously demoralized in the face of their allowances not being paid and in the face of superior firepower by the enemies. Hear one account: “The situation has gone so bad that it has gotten to a stage that soldiers would be rushing to pack up their camps and flee upon hearing the news that Boko Haram fighters are advancing. We have suddenly lost our spirit of launching attacks because of lack of resources to prosecute the battle. Many of us are ready to do our best, but there has been no requisite support from those people that sent us here”
As for the videos and pictures put out by Boko Haram, no use bolting the doors after the horses have bolted and no use pretending that because you are not receiving it or posting it they are not being posted. It is the beauty and hazard of the social media that information and pictures travel fast on it and there is really nothing you can do about it. Nigerians posting them are not doing so because they support Boko Haram or because they do not know they are the enemies. Yeah, they know that it’s us against them, but as I said earlier, they are posting them to ensure that the authorities see these things and know these things are in the hands of the people with the hope that this will force them to act immediately to arrest the situation! These are lives of men protecting us that are being wasted, so what niceties about posting and non-posting are we to now begin to observe at this stage when we know from experience that the President can declare after several weeks that he’s unaware while those who should do something can callously continue to gallivant all over the place as if all is cool without lifting s finger? I mean, it took the Army ages to issue a statement about the latest deaths and when they did, they gave no valuable information, except blame the media for crimes unknown and issue threats of prosecution against groups spreading “fake videos of purported Boko Haram attacks”. How helpful is all that? Clearly, these shouldn’t be their focus right now. They need the people’s support now and the people are eager to give that support, so no need shooting themselves in the foot and undermining every effort by seeking to criminalize a section of the population when they should be concentrating on giving those insurgents hell!
If our political and military leaders are not comfortable with the disgraceful death of our men on the battlefield, they should begin to act in a manner indicative that they’re serious, rather than worry about videos or pictures insurgents have put in public space because there’s really nothing they can do about those. Nigerians are using these to inform themselves about the issues and pressurize those in authorities to act quickly and they are doing so in the face of historical lack of response to such matters by authorities. Nigerians know Boko Haram is a terrorist organization and therefore cannot help them with spreading any propaganda. Indeed, if anything, the government has been the ones guilty of helping spread Boko Haram propaganda by actually empowering them with some of their actions. For instance, at a time the nation is still asking questions about the killing of over a hundred soldiers in the hands of Boko Haram, the Army is choosing that very moment to come out in the media to announce the release of 154 Boko Haram fighters that have supposedly been rehabilitated under the De-radicalisation, Rehabilitation and Reintegration (DRR) programme. Of course, we know a programme like that is on, but don’t they know that perception is reality? Can’t they see how bad the optics of releasing supposed ex-Boko Haram fighters is when you are still picking the bodies of your fallen men on the battlefield? How can the populace have confidence in an army releasing those who’ve been killing their fellow citizens into public space at a time we are losing men in droves in the battlefields? Add to all that the fact that we have been hearing of series of ransom monies being paid in millions to Boko Haram militants to release some captives here and there. Or did we all not watch aghast when Boko Haram drove into Dapchi to calmly drop off captives they took from the town after collecting ransom? Did we not watch them thereafter proceed to spend time there preaching their heinous message in the centre of the town, openly serenaded and wildly celebrated by misguided citizens while the Nigerian army kept away journalists to allow the terrorist to finish whatever they were up to and saunter out of town? Is that supposed to give citizens any confidence that their army or government is protecting them? Isn’t it easier to believe that the Boko Haram war has become a racket now between government, military officials and the insurgents, periodically watered by the blood of innocent young Nigerians to keep the farce going?
Let’s be serous and face up to what’s on the ground. We want to see the Nigerian Army destroy Boko Haram and record their exploits in videos too and post them in public space, so the nation can jubilate! Yeah, we have cried enough from the death of loved ones, we want to celebrate the humiliation of these vermin! We want to celebrate our soldiers and see them pay back Boko Haram in their own coin! If political and military leaders stop chasing cockroaches and rats while our nation burns, we will get victory! The pictures and videos in public space are not any problem; it is the handling of the fight against the insurgency so far that is the problem and that is what Osita Chidoka must tell his party and the government! The people will not have a failed political class preach to them about decency while our defenceless young ones in uniform are mowed down by insurgents in droves!