In Nigeria’s contemporary history, nothing brings to fore our penchant for self-destruction as Nigerians than the #EndSARS protests that rocked the country last month. The whole of this page may not be enough for us to catalogue the acts of destruction visited on our institutions, especially in Lagos and many other states in the South-East.
The two security institutions that have suffered most are the Nigerian Police Force, which has seen tens of its personnel killed in cold blood and many of its stations destroyed and/or burnt to ashes, and the Nigerian Army, whose name we have continued to drag on the mud, preferring to believe false narratives against it concocted mostly for political reasons.
In this column a year ago, I narrated the amazing story of what happened when I was travelling in company with a close friend from Kano to Zaria. The guy is a state chairman of one of the major opposition parties in Nigeria, and the topic of discussion was the insecurity of Nigeria. Curiously, I asked him the question: would he want to see an end to the Boko Haram war that has been ravaging in our land for ten odd years? As most Nigerians would answer, his response was positive. But I found his response rather very shocking when I asked yet another question: as an opposition element, would he accord the credit to the Buhari administration if the Boko Haram terrorists were 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 know he hates with a passion? He answered without any equivocation that rather than have President Buhari score a plus through a total defeat of banditry and insurgency, he would rather have the twin evils continuing to 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 on the part of some Nigerians to go on 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 figures to make our military appear weak. For them, the difference between President Buhari and the Nigerian military is that between six and half a dozen. For them, they are one and the same, in as much as he remains the commander-in-chief of the Nigeria’s armed forces.
But only six years ago, someone else was the commander-in-chief of these same armed forces. And less than three 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 or representation 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 is a constructive engagement. But even at that, the civil authorities always have the last say.
So, if President Buhari was not the commander of the armed forces five years ago, and less than three years from now someone else is going to take over that responsibility from him, what it definitely means is that the armed forces belong to you and me. It belongs to every Nigerian, irrespective of background. If we destroy our military by politicizing 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?
In December of 2018, something instructive happened in America. President Donald Trump was visiting Iraq secretly, and leaking the news could expose his life to serious danger. And, so, the government sought the cooperation of the American press in general to keep the trip a top secret. None of the newspapers or radio or television houses reported it until after the U.S. President safely returned home. That was in spite of the fact that President 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 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 the stories of attacks they carry 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 comes to matters of the military, they (the press men and women) set aside their differences with government and simply support the military.
The reason is simple: the military is the symbol of a nation’s strength, and its members or personnel are staking their lives to make sure you and I 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 not have been possible. If you are in doubt, ask Rwandans during the genocide of the 1990s. There won’t even be electricity to charge our cellphones, with which we share fake or unsubstantiated news just to spite political enemies and cause disaffection.
Theoretically, every Nigerian will tell you he or she wants banditry and terrorism to end. But hardly does anyone ask what contribution he or she gives towards the realisation of that goal. We seem not to know that, by spreading negative news about our military or the police force, 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 getting emboldened.
Now the security situation in the country is worsening as the security services, especially the police force, are afraid to do their job for fear of the unknown. They can’t even defend themselves when attacked, because there are civil society organizations that are waiting to report them to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity.
In Nigeria today, the only life that is not important is that of our security personnel. As a result of that, many security personnel have abandoned their duty posts, with the result that crime has worsened across the board. The security services have, for example, before now, been able to effectively stop kidnappings on the Abuja-Kaduna highway. But even two days ago, according to Daily Trust newspaper, the kidnappers operated on the highway, killed one person, abducted many.
And you want government to believe this is not in furtherance of an agenda to destabilize the country and plunge it into civil war? There are many things that are happening beyond the surface. Government knows more than we do. It has a duty to ensure that foreign interests are not the ones funding the opposition to cause the nation all sorts of problems. We all know about a prediction, made by an American group, that Nigeria would come to an end a few years ago. Of course, we have crossed that threshold, but who knows if other foreign groups are out there insisting in a doomsday scenario for us all?
In the United States, a country we always like to copy things from, it is an unforgivable crime to kill even one security personnel. All hell will be let loose if that happens. But here, owing to our capacity to deploy the social media for mischief, many security personnel have been killed without it even being reported by the media. At that time you claim that the Nigerian army or police is operating with weak or obsolete equipment, the armed forces were probably at the verge of totally wiping out a particular territory of the enemy. But by this information that you now make go viral, the enemy will be 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. The army will not frame you up when you pass information to its top echelons.
The armed forces of other countries that we admire are also not magicians. Their success stem 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 eleven years ago, the monster will definitely not have blossomed to what it became. The truth is bitter. But 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 the level where their first victims were their 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 only few people in Borno State support Boko Haram, but it came too little too late.
No matter what, the fact remains that the Nigerian military and the police are our pride as a nation. Those security personnel are our sons, brothers, fathers and friends. They are members of the 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 three years ago, the foremost opposition figure, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar strongly poured encompass on our military and commended them for their bravery, strongly arguing that they are seriously winning the war against terror. When asked why it is taking so long to totally wipe out the remnants of the insurgents, Atiku gave an example of Colombia, where insurgency festered for fifty years. That was shortly before he fell out with President Buhari. As is typical with us, he is now singing completely a different song. In our desperate quest for political offices, we tend to turn a blind eye to reality and go all out to put a speck on 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 and banditry. What is happening now is simply a new form of terrorism spearheaded by international forces of ISIS, under the banner of ISWAP. Even that is being properly tackled, against all odds.
Billions of naira worth contribution we give terrorists, bandits
There has never been any war without casualties. Thousands of American, German, Chinese, Russian, French or British troops have been killed in different wars. And so it is not even newsworthy celebrating when we share or publish the news that so and so number of our 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 totally wiping out the 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 have continued to be on soft targets.
About six 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 and also kills innocent civilians, you need to go and find out whether the bases of American armed forces in war zones do not get attacked 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 two years 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 that 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, and it will sooner than later completely stop, with our support. Six 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.
We at times think these attacks cannot reach us. But exactly six years ago, a respected editor and personal friend, Suleiman Bisallah, at that time managing editor of The New Telegraph, was killed by a terrorist bomb at Emab Plaza in Wuse 2, Abuja. Before him, several other journalists were killed by the same Boko Haram that we are inadvertently helping.
Poverty and hopelessness, of course, are at the heart of the spread of insurgency. Sadly, we have for decades allowed corruption to eat very deeply into the moral fabric of our society. We will help in defeating terror and banditry when we blow the whistle on our corrupt elements, past and present.
God so kind, President Muhammadu Buhari has undertaken to significantly remove millions of Nigerians out of poverty. We all have a duty to support him to do that. Through the Social Investment Programme, government is working hard to reduce the high levels of poverty in Nigeria. We need to sensitize our youths to realize their full potential by keying into the programme to become very useful to themselves and the society at large. Government officials saddled with those tasks must also fear God and give equal opportunities to all eligible Nigerians, irrespective of their backgrounds.
While we have a constitutional right to protest, we must realise that government can hold us responsible if it accepts our conditions for any protest and something goes wrong courtesy of our insistence in continuing with the same. I know for sure that this is not the kind of truth people want to hear at the moment. But there is definitely no reason whatsoever for anyone to continue with the #EndSARS protests when the government has accepted all the five conditions given to it by the protesters. Even with our deep pessimism for our government over the years, we must give those in authority at least an opportunity to discern their commitment to promises made.
Those who organized the recent protests should be grateful that a movement they started has led to so many positives happening in our country. Even our rapacious governors and federal legislators will now be forced to rethink, before they appropriate all job offers for themselves and their girlfriends. They will now be ready to make the sacrifices needed for any national growth.
But we should never push our luck too far. As I have repeatedly said in this column, we have only one army and one police force in Nigeria. If we continue, through false narratives, to run down these institutions, I assure you we will end up with no nation at all. Of course that is the wish of some Nigerians, but sad as it surely sounds, millions of lives will also be lost through war or any act of insurrection, and we could well be the victims, and no one else. There lies the need for us all to be very careful and weigh every word before dishing it out.
Lastly, we will recall that in April this year, the Islamic State for West Africa (ISWAP), through its Shura Council, set up a strong propaganda committee, which it saddled with the responsibility of intense propaganda against the Nigerian military and government in general. The committee has been very active writing all sorts of falsehood in the social and traditional media, without many of us realizing it. By spreading false information against our security services, especially the Nigerian Army that has been making life a hell for Shekau and his commanders, you are inadvertently helping the terrorists against our armed forces, free of charge. So far, as mentioned earlier, the free propaganda we have given those enemies of ours run into several billions of naira.
And you know what? That is as good as picking a sharp-knife and stabbing ourselves in the heart. Even if only for the fear and the real possibility that we could well end up as victims of that propaganda, we must not lend our hands in supporting an enemy who does not care whether you support or hate President Buhari; or whether you support Nigeria’s continuous existence or not; an enemy who will not blink an eye before dispatching any other human being to the great beyond. Let’s not merely stop at saying God forbid. Let’s in all reality stop it by showing strong support for the armed forces, as citizens of other countries we are always quick to cite examples with, always do,