For the family of Paul Ojo, an 85-year-old Nigerian who retired as Warrant Officer in the Nigerian Army, Monday, August 17, 2020, started like any other day. Mr. Ojo had served Nigeria meritoriously and retired peacefully from the military decades ago. He thought he had earned the right to be accorded some respect and privileges, not only as a senior citizen, but one who, owing to his passion for Nigeria, even signed up to die for the country, like all military officers do.
But the day soon turned out to be a real nightmare for the old soldier and members of his family. Officials of Kaduna State Government paid him an unscheduled visit, and in a whisker evicted him from the house he had come to regard as home for years. No notice was served on the soldier. The stern-faced officials were in no mood to respond to his passionate appeal for fairness and mercy.
In 1999, just before the military administration of General Abdulsalami Abubakar handed over to General Olusegun Obasanjo as elected President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, I interviewed a group of soldiers who tendered in their resignation letters en masse. They told me that they had to leave the military service as they saw no ray of hope for their future. They talked about their barracks being severely dilapidated “and not fit even for a pig to live in,” in their words. I was shocked that that would be happening though the military was governing Nigeria for decades.
Fast-forward to 16 years after that incident. Muhammadu Buhari, a retired General, was elected President of Nigeria in a historic election that saw him defeating the incumbent President. A few months later, the new President appointed a new set of service chiefs to man the three components of the military and the Defence Headquarters. For the Army, the new kid in the block, a brave warrior at that time in charge of the Multinational Joint Task Force based in Chad, by name Tukur Yusufu Buratai, a Major-General, was appointed Chief of Army Staff. It was to the good fortune of the soldiers that, for the first time for as long as most of them could remember, the new helmsman embarked on massive rehabilitation of army barracks all over Nigeria, even when he was preoccupied with clearing a big mess bequeathed to him in the war against terror.
Millions of Nigerians who ply the Zaria-Kaduna highway would remember how dilapidated the barracks in Jaji Military Cantonment was. Many are amazed that the horrible-looking structures have now been totally transformed. Nigerians are seeing what excellent leadership could achieve. There is hardly any barracks in Nigeria that has not benefited from one life-changing project or the other since the coming into office of the incumbent Army leadership.
Also to make life easier for the rank and file, COAS Buratai set up army farms and cooperative societies, with shops selling provisions and foodstuff at mostly subsidized prices for the army personnel. Since then, you hardly see any soldier in civilian hospitals because their chief has transformed these health centres and also equipped them to treat difficult ailments. Now it is the other way round. Civilians rush to military hospitals all over the country to get treated of various ailments. Things that are directly outside the control of the military hierarchy, like better salaries and allowances for the rank and file, have also been pursued, with a lot of improvements being witnessed. The Federal Government is also geared to do more for the military, as additional resources become available for the country.
Sadly, for Warrant Officer Ojo, he had retired long before Buratai was appointed as army chief. So, he missed out in benefitting directly from these goodies. He settled down in Kabala Costain, a residential quarters in Kaduna, thinking he had earned the bragging rights to live in peace, which was deeply shattered on that fateful day.
But his agony was short-lived. The army authorities got wind of the sad development and wasted no time in informing General Buratai of the plight of the old soldier. In his turn, Buratai also wasted no time in directing a new house, better than the one from which Mr. Ojo was evicted, to be purchased and donated to the old warhorse. And, pronto, that was what happened!
A colleague that I discussed the matter with argued that the army leadership was just bragging, that at the end of the day nothing would be done to the helpless soldier; that the whole promise was for the cameras only. But it turned out to be that my friend was just pessimistic for no reason. He was one of many Nigerians who prefer to see only the negatives anytime the words “military” or “army” was mentioned.
The COAS wiped the tears of deep agony off the sad face of Warrant Officer Ojo by purchasing for him a brand new residence in a better area of Kaduna. Reports had it that the house from which he was evicted was a two-bedroom residence. But the one purchased for him was a three-bedroom befitting house with a gatehouse.
At the handover of the residence to Mr. Ojo, General Buratai, who was represented by Major-General Usman Mohammed, the General Officer Commanding, 1 Division, Nigerian Army, Kaduna, said he was moved by the unfortunate circumstances that led to Ojo’s eviction.
“I was emotionally touched by your plight and consequently directed that an alternative permanent accommodation be secured for you and your family. Pursuant to this, we were able to secure a more befitting house at No. 26, Yakowa Street, Anguwan Galadima, Kaduna.
“It is thus my pleasure to formally present this three-bedroom house to you as a mark of goodwill and uncommon gesture. The Nigerian Army has always demonstrated its willingness to impact on personnel welfare and that of their families,” the Army Chief had said at the brief occasion.
Army officers and men are now more optimistic that though resources are severely limited, their Chief prioritizes their welfare in everything he does, as he wastes no time in doing one thing or the other to make life better for them. It is of course a work in progress, as the military as an institution had suffered decades of virtual abandonment even when their own were governing the country.
President Obasanjo was reported to have degraded the capacity of the military just to ensure they did not abort democracy by staging coup d’etat, a practice that was the norm, rather than the exception. That remains one of his legacies, but the project was pursued in a wrong way, as it is now needing trillions of naira that Nigerian does not have, to restore the military to its lost glory. The Buhari Administration succeeded in getting the military to be apolitical without degrading the military, and the institution will be better poised to play its constitutional roles with more vigour by the time Buhari bows out as President in 2023.
Nigerians woke up earlier in the week to the sad news of the death of Colonel DC Bako, an officer and gentleman who the Nigerian Army described as “one of our gallant and finest war heroes.” Until his death, Bako was the Commander of the 25 Task Force Brigade in Damboa, one of the few remaining bastions of terrorist Boko Haram. The National Hero was leading from the front, personally leading his troops in the relentless efforts of the Nigerian military to finally uproot Boko Haram from our national existence, a virtue of valor the late Colonel copied from the Army Chief.
Though he was ambushed by the terrorists, Colonel Bako succeeded in killing as many terrorists as possible, before they also got him mortally wounded. The brave officer was then evacuated to a military hospital in Maiduguri, where he was recuperating from the bullet wounds. All of a sudden however, he died when it was least expected, at a time he had shown advanced signs of full recovery. This column joins in condoling with all Nigerians on this very profoundly-sad loss. May the soul of Colonel Bako and all officers and men who lost their lives in the course of defending Nigeria from our enemies Rest In Peace.
This column specially celebrates the hardworking Governor of Borno State, Professor Umara Zulum, who has been deepening his ties with the Nigerian military. I have always held the position that the Boko Haram war cannot be completely won without the full cooperation of the civilian population of particularly Borno State, where it all began. Till today, there are many people in Maiduguri and other parts of Borno State who give sanctuary to wanted Boko Haram commanders and will never pass any meaningful information to the security services. They do this because they see the terrorists as “their own” since most Boko Haram members are of Kanuri extraction.
The one person who could lead in the process of converting this negative narrative to positive attitude is Governor Zulum, who has been enjoying widespread respect not only from his own people of Borno State, but many other Nigerians as well.
There was a time Kano State was virtually the Number One Flashpoint in Nigeria, where a small crisis in a remote part of Nigeria could ignite a fire that would consume innocent Nigerians living in the state. It took just one person in the name of Malam Ibrahim Shekarau, who became Governor of the State in 2003 for all that to change. He embarked on a massive societal re-orientation that changed the psyche of the people, making them see every Nigerian, irrespective of background or religion, as a partner in the development of the state.
From that time till today, the Kanawas (as Kano people are called), have imbibed a culture of tolerance that makes the state one of the most peaceful in the country. Kano has witnessed unprecedented development since then, just as I am sure Borno would do, with the renewed positive attitude from Governor Zulum.
In January this year, I wrote on these pages that Borno is lucky to have as Governor, Professor Zulum, who is known to be a man of intense integrity and uncommon foresight. In an earlier article, I called-out outgoing governors for always imposing their lackeys as their successors, showing why doing so is dangerous and futile. The only exception I made in that write up was Professor Zulum who was handpicked by his predecessor, Senator Kashim Shettima. It was one “imposition” that has since turned to a huge blessing for the people of Borno.
So deep is the level of cooperation with the military that when Colonel Bako died earlier in the week, the Borno Governor wasted no time in pledging the sum of twenty million naira and a house for the family he left behind. And pronto! The man of his words fulfilled the promise.
Speaking at the burial of of the late Commander, Governor Zulum described Bako’s death as a loss to the entire nation. “It is indeed a very sad moment. It is a loss to Borno and indeed Nigeria,” Zulum said, adding that the late officer “ was humble and committed in discharging his duties. He is part of the success recorded in degrading Boko Haram insurgency in Borno State. He has been one of the greatest in trying to stabilize not only Borno but even neighboring Yobe State. We will remember his contributions forever. The Borno Governor also condoles with the Nigerian Army in particular and the military in general, as well as the immediate family members of the fallen hero.
In redeeming his cash donation to the family of Colonel Bako, Governor Zulum made a remark that will forever remain etched in their memory. “I am reliably informed,” the deeply-saddened Governor said, “that Colonel Bako does not have a house of his own. We cannot ignore the family he left behind. We share in their grief and nothing can equal his life. I am pleased to announce that Borno State Government will build a befitting house for the family of late Colonel Bako.”
A man’s word, it is said, is his bond. I have no doubt that the hardworking Governor will soon redeem this promise. And God willing, the days of Boko Haram and all criminal elements in Borno and elsewhere are numbered. As Governor Zulum rallies his people to raise their level of cooperation with the military, we should expect a richer intelligence gathering, without which even the most sophisticated military in the world can achieve nothing.
Bash the military, become a millionaire
These days, an easy way to become a multi-millionaire is to gather a few elders (so-called), set up an unregistered group of “concerned elders” in a rush and bash the Nigerian military, or call for the removal of the service chiefs.
From February this year when the Islamic State for West Africa Province (ISWAP) set up a Shura Council and formed a strong media committee, which it saddled with the task of discrediting the Nigerian military and embarking on all sorts of propaganda, Nigeria has seen a spike in the number of “groups” calling for the removal of service chiefs or denouncing the military on the slightest pretext.
One such “group of elders” was formed last week, and its members tried to resurrect the over-flogged calls for the removal of service chiefs, as if they are commanders-in-chief of the armed forces. It was a case of pointing the finger at someone, without knowing that four other fingers are being pointed at you. These so-called elders, said to be from the North-East, did not tell us even one thing that they have done to rally their people, especially in Maiduguri, to stop giving sanctuary to urgently wanted Boko Haram commanders.
They also did not tell us who their true sponsors are, since almost all of them are retirees that are known to be broke. It would also have been interesting to hear from them where they individually or collectively were when some politicians in the North-East, probably inclusive of some of them, gave birth to Boko Haram. The group has also never been known to have condemned former President Goodluck Jonathan, even when, as former UK Prime Minister David Cameron said, the then government rejected assistance from his country to free the Chibok girls within a few moments after they were abducted by terrorists.
If these so-called North-East elders were students of Robert Green, author of the 48 Laws of Power, he surely will have scored them zero, as one of his most important sermons in that classic book is for people to master the art of timing. Their call was coming at a time the Nigerian military has recorded unprecedented strides in the war against terror, which those people, unless they are blind, could have seen in that thousands of displaced persons are being returned to their homes that they long abandoned owing to the war. It also came after even Abubakar Shekau, the terrorist-in-chief that they are inadvertently supporting, cried for help from God owing to relentless firepower from the military. And this happened at a time the Chief of Army Staff personally staked it all to lead the war from the front, spending months in the trenches, where he remained even when his beloved mother died.
God so kind, nobody paid any attention to them. Nigerians can no longer be fooled by an assemblage of some spent forces desperately looking for patronage. One is of course, not saying that the military should not be criticized. But as I have always maintained, it remains the one and only military institution that Nigeria has. Unless we have another military, we owe it a duty to support this one, even if, as a human institution, they are prone to making some mistakes.
BBNaija 2020: Why I support Laycon
I once wrote on these pages about the danger of too much negative propaganda. I only got to start paying attention to this year’s season of the Big Brother Naija Reality Show after the Minister of Communications Lai Mohammed called on the National Broadcasting Commission to abruptly stop the programme, a call that was reinforced by the respected Ooni of Ife, who wondered why 170 million Nigerians voted in last year’s version of the programme, while in the same year, only less than 30 million Nigerians voted in the presidential election.
I have always believed in forming my own opinion. I do not allow myself to be dragged by the crowd, and don’t mind being a lone ranger, once I believe in a cause. As a journalist, I also like seeing things for myself before forming an opinion or passing judgement. I am sure Big Brother would never have drawn my attention if those criticisms were not trenchant at a time.
Though some Nigerians see the reality show as an advertisement of immorality, I respectfully choose to differ. First, no one compels anyone to watch it. The organisers themselves every day remind us that you can totally block the show from your TV screens, if that is what you want. They also tell us how that can be achieved. Secondly, this year’s edition started at the tail-end of the COVID-19 lockdown, when most people were still at home, with very little to do, and with fewer resources at their disposal. What our leaders don’t know is that the Big Brother programme has helped in taking away the attention of millions of young Nigerians from sundry crimes, which some of them might have engaged in, with little or nothing to do at home, and with no money at hand. It instantly became a means of relieving their tension. An idle mind, it is said, is the Devil’s workshop. The programme somehow kept them engaged.
Now I watch the Big Brother programme almost every day, and one of the housemates I have fallen in love with is Olamilekan Agbeleshe, otherwise known as Laycon, a 26-year-old rapper from Lagos State. As a reality show, I believe that Big Brother housemates should be genuine and original in their general conduct. These are qualities I saw most in Laycon, and as the programme winds up in two days’ time after 71 days, my prayer is for the young man to win the grand prize of N85 million, as an encouragement for the first-class entertainment he has provided millions of viewers.