Something amazing happened penultimate week when I was travelling in company with a close friend from Kano to Zaria. The guy was a state chairman of one of the major opposition parties in Nigeria, and the topic of discussion was the insecurity of Nigeria. I asked him the question: would he like to see an end to the Boko Haram war that has been ravaging our land for 10 odd years? As most Nigerians would answer, his response was positive.
But I found his response rather shocking when I asked another question: as an opposition element, would he accord the credit to the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, if the Boko Haram terrorists are totally wiped out? In other words, doesn’t he think winning the war at this point in time could aggregate to a major plus for the Buhari administration that I knew he hated with a passion? He answered without any equivocation that, rather than have Buhari score a plus through a total defeat of banditry and insurgency, he would prefer to have the twin evils abide with us.
And if one takes a close look at the social media, especially opinions emanating from many political enemies of the government of the day, one finds the tendency to be in a celebratory mood whenever our troops are attacked or killed. They do this first by making the news of any attack go viral, at times even jerking up the casualty figure to make our military appear weak. For them, the difference between Buhari and the Nigerian military is that between six and half a dozen, they are one and the same, inasmuch as he remains the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
However, five years ago, someone else was the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. And five years from now, no matter what, someone else is going to be the holder of that post. So, it simply means the armed forces do not belong to any individual.
Globally, the military is expected to show absolute allegiance to the country setting them up. And the President of any country is always the face of that sovereignty. That informs why they can be accused of supporting any government of the day. Where they disagree with government, you don’t expect the military to go to the social media or any other marketplace of ideas to say so. In the days of old, the military simply upstaged any government its top echelon disagreed with. That is no longer fashionable, so, what it does now is constructive engagement. Even at that, civil authorities always have the last say.
So, if Buhari were not the commander of the armed forces five years ago, and less than four years from now someone else is going to take over that responsibility from him, it definitely means the armed forces belong to you and I. They belong to every Nigerian, irrespective of background. If we destroy our military by politicising it and urging the troops to rebel against their commanders or the government of the day, what happens if you, the instigator, become the next commander-in-chief?
Whereas mediums like the Wall Street Journal could write fantastic stories about an imaginary 1,000 troops being accorded a secret burial by the Nigerian military, the same medium is doing all it can to defend the armed forces of the United States of America, where it is based. In December last year, something instructive happened in America. President Donald Trump was visiting Iraq secretly, and leaking the news could expose his life to serious danger. So, the government sought the cooperation of the Wall Street Journal and the American press in general to keep the trip top secret. None of the newspapers or radio or television houses reported it until after the US President safely returned home, in spite of the fact that Trump was openly at war with the American press. He could be rightly described as enemy number one to the American press. If it were here, just in the bid to be the one to break the news, some mediums would have published the story and damned the consequences, knowing they could easily blackmail the government and get their personnel released, even if detained.
There is also this story I always tell, about a sponsored trip I, as the then editor of the daily title of Leadership newspaper, undertook to Turkey in 2012, alongside editors of nine of Nigeria’s biggest newspapers. On a visit to the Journalists and Writers Foundation, which was the preeminent association for all media personnel in that country, the president of the body somewhat accused the Nigerian press of supporting Boko Haram. He explained that he and his colleagues in Turkey were always amazed that, in Nigeria, we always accorded prominence to the dastardly activities of Boko Haram in our newspapers. I personally asked whether anything was wrong with that, and the man explained that terrorists globally thrive on publicity and, by publishing stories of attacks they carried out, we were inadvertently helping and encouraging them. He cited an example of the PKK terrorists group that was very active in Turkey, saying that whenever the group carried out any attack, they published the story deep inside their newspapers and only gave it scant mention on radio and television.
It is instructive to point here that, in Turkey, too, the government of the day was (and still is) enemy number one to that country’s press. Yet, the president of the country’s journalists was emphatic that when it came to matters of the military, they (the press men and women) set aside their differences with government and simply supported the military.
Simply put: the military is the symbol of a nation’s strength, and its members or personnel are staking their lives to make sure you and me continue to operate safely from our comfort zones. Without the sacrifices of our military, the truth or mischief we dish out every day from the comfort of our offices or homes would be impossible. If you are in doubt, ask Rwandans during the genocide of the 1990s. There won’t even be the electricity to charge our cellphones, with which we share fake or unsubstantiated news just to spite political enemies and cause disaffection.
Theoretically, every Nigerian would tell you he or she wants banditry and terrorism to end. But hardly does anyone ask what contribution they can make towards the realisation of that feat. We seem not to know that, by spreading negative news about our military, we are inadvertently encouraging the same terrorists that we accuse the armed forces of not defeating or wiping out. This is because, with every negative information shared on the traditional or social media, the enemies are emboldened.
When you claim the Nigerian Army operates with weak or obsolete equipment, the armed forces are probably on the verge of totally wiping out a particular territory of the enemy. But by that information you make viral, the enemy is encouraged to do more to kill the troops or inflict serious damage on them.
Similarly, when you decide to keep the information on terrorist movement or plans to yourself, you are helping the terrorists and weakening our armed forces. Unlike the police, the army will not frame you up when you pass information to its top echelon. The armed forces of other countries that we admire are also not magicians. Their success stems purely from the fact that they get the full support of their compatriots, not only psychologically but more so in passing important information to them.
For example, if the people of Maiduguri were not inadvertently supporting Boko Haram by seeing the terrorists as their own at the very beginning of the insurgency 10 years ago, the monster would definitely not have blossomed to what it has become. The truth is bitter. Eventually, the same boys that the people were supporting started turning their weapons on them. There were Boko Haram boys whose level of indoctrination reached a level where their first victims were the very parents who brought them to this world. Others started by killing their close friends and relations. An adage says, when you play with a tiger, you always end in its stomach. Now the people of Borno State no longer support Boko Haram, but it is too little too late.
The fact remains that the Nigerian military is our pride as a nation. The soldiers are our sons, brothers, fathers and friends. They are members of society like you and me. They are humans who make mistakes, and mistakes are meant to be forgiven. The late Nelson Mandela said something to the effect that the weak does not forgive. Only the strong does.
And if your hatred is rooted in political opposition, you need to reflect on what would be your (or the nation’s) fate when the person you support becomes the commander-in-chief of the armed forces that you are now working so hard to destroy.
In an interview that went viral on the social media two years ago, the foremost opposition figure, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, strongly poured encomiums on our military and commended them for their bravery, arguing that they were winning the war against terror. When asked why it was taking so long to totally wipe out the remnants of the insurgents, Atiku gave an example of Colombia, where insurgency festered for 50 years. That was shortly before he fell out with Buhari. As is typical with us, he is now singing a completely different song. In our desperate quest for political office, we tend to turn a blind eye to reality and go all out to put a speck in the people’s eyes just to win their votes.
But whether one supports the military or not, the reality is that Nigeria is strongly winning the war against terror. What is happening now is simply a new form of terrorism spearheaded by international forces of ISIS, under the banner of ISWAP.
There has never been any war without casualties. And so it is not even newsworthy celebrating when we share or publish the news that so and so number of soldiers have been killed. We should rather be interested in how many terrorists have been killed because that number is always far higher. Even with the best equipment, our military can only succeed with our total support. I wonder what goes through the mind of our soldiers when, in defending us, they put their precious lives on the line and all we have for them are negative narratives.
Undoubtedly, America has the strongest military in the world. But has its armed forces succeeded in wiping out Taliban terrorists? You then need to wonder whether it makes any sense to have our people always accusing our military of not wiping out Boko Haram, even when they no longer hold any territory in Nigeria, even when most of their attacks are on soft targets.
Four years ago, for example, Gwoza was one of the headquarters of Boko Haram. They killed the emir of the town and killed lots of people. Now, the current emir is back in town, all courtesy of our military. And Gwoza is beyond the reach of the insurgents. These are the kind of narratives we should be advancing, to support and strengthen our troops.
If your argument is that Boko Haram still attacks military formations, you need to go and find out whether the bases of American armed forces in war zones do not come under attack by terrorists. It is all in their desperate bid to create the impression that they are still very much around.
A veteran journalists who was kidnapped a year ago told me that, when he was being released by his captors, they told him that part of the condition was for him to inform the police that they numbered up to 50. But he told me that they were only eight in number. It is all in the DNA of criminal elements to create a scary posture of their operations, to psychologically defeat law enforcement agents.
Sadly, we mostly take their bait and help them spread their propaganda, free of charge. If we were to quantify in naira and kobo the value of free propaganda with which we have been helping our very enemies, the terrorists, in spreading, there is no doubt it would be in several billions.
This column salutes the officers and men of our armed forces for making it possible for me to pray in my mosque or church without the fear of being attacked. Of course, this is not to discountenance the fact that a few of these places of worship are still being targeted, but it has largely been confined to one or two states. Five years ago it was the order of the day to have our churches or mosques attacked every week, and in several states of the federation, including Abuja.