I am very angry. And from the outset, I will have no hesitation in pointing out that it was with deep consternation that I read the points marshalled by Hon. Mohammed Tahir Monguno (APC, Borno) earlier in the week when he raised a matter of urgent public importance during plenary in the hallowed chambers of the House of Representatives.
Monguno is the Chief Whip of the lower chamber of the National Assembly, by virtue of which he is one of our national leaders. I am a firm believer in the Nigerian project. But my faith in our leadership, or some components of it, was rudely shaken when I saw this otherwise respected personality playing plainly to the gallery, more so on a matter involving life and death, and for which he knows all the real facts. One wonders what some of our leaders feel when they carelessly utter words just to impress some people.
I was also appalled that Monguno, said to be a lawyer, could indirectly support mutiny in the army by citing and somewhat supporting the case of a renegade Lance Corporal, a certain Martins Idakpini, who has irresponsibly breached all terms governing his employment by the army, and whose actions constitute clear threats to national security. It matters very little to the supporters of Martins that the army globally is an institution where discipline, in its strictest form, is the defining feature, and that the man was very likely sponsored by subversive elements who expectedly still cheer him on; or possibly even the terrorists who are desperate to remove from office the one man who has, against all odds, been making life a real hell for them. Let’s not forget that even recently the terrorists (ISWAP faction) set up a strong media team aimed at engaging in negative propaganda against the Nigerian state and the military in particular.
The “matter of urgent public importance” that Hon. Monguno took advantage of was about the request allegedly submitted by 356 soldiers to retire from the Nigerian Army. In his words: “On July 3, 2020, 356 soldiers, which are a battalion, serving in the North-East and other theatres of operation wrote to the Chief of Army Staff asking for voluntary retirement from the force and citing loss of interest as reason for their retirement.”
Monguno then attacked the Army Chief for approving the request, “instead of addressing the problems.” Can you beat that? One can now see why one of the greatest military generals of all time, George S. Paton of the United States Army, accused politicians of being behind all wars, and then hiding behind all silly excuses to blame the military whose personnel put their lives on the line to extinguish the fire started by the same politicians.
The military was not there when some desperate politicians from Hon. Monguno’s state of Borno deliberately gave birth to Boko Haram just to feather their nest and achieve selfish political ends. The military was also not there when a governor of Zamfara State created an adulterated political Sharia that emboldened all sorts of groups to become anti-establishment. We should as Nigerians also be interested in knowing whether the military was involved when a former governor of the same state was awarding contracts for drilling of boreholes at a ridiculous rate of N254 million per one. Banditry took its roots in Zamfara owing to unprecedented cases of social injustice and chronic misgovernance that has made the state consistently taking the back seat in all national and international examinations. We create the damage by ourselves and, when the military is called to quell it, we hang everything on their neck and blatantly refuse to appreciate their sacrifices.
It is openly known that one of the major causes of insecurity is hopelessness especially among our teeming youths (32 years and below) who constitute a whopping 72 per cent of our national population. Many a young man or woman will literally go through hell to pass out from university as a graduate. But getting a job in Nigeria has always presented the greatest challenge, especially among those not born with silver spoons in their mouths. This is mostly because many of our legislators have chosen to corner almost every job vacancy available. Though the military keeps killing the terrorists, Boko Haram and the bandits are finding it easy to replenish their fighting forces among our youths who are pushed into crime by hopelessness. This, of course, is no excuse for any crime. But it remains a major contributory factor.
Can Hon. Monguno tell us where he was when all this was happening, or if he played any role when dangerous politicians in his state of origin gave birth to, and nurtured Boko Haram, a monster once rated by the CIA as the deadliest terror group globally? Now, let me explain to Nigerians why I wrote that Monguno was playing to the gallery in the spurious claims he made.
Firstly, he, as a foremost leader in our federal legislature, has right in his backyard the solution to most, if not all, the problems he raised, especially addressing the issue of salary and allowances of our soldiers that he claimed was low. He, therefore, should have directed the questions to his colleagues, and also tell us the justification, if any, behind each of his colleagues earning more than 10 times the salary and allowances of a military general.
Surely funding is one of the major problems bedevilling the Nigerian military, which, in spite of best efforts by the Federal Government, has never truly been adequate. The irrepressible Senator Ali Ndume has told a shocked nation recently that not even one kobo had been released to the Nigerian Army for capital projects from January to the time in June this year that he was making the claim. The respected senator wondered whether Nigerians expect the army to perform magic in the face of strangulation by vested interests who have defied clear directives of President Buhari to have those funds released.
Apart from playing to the gallery and engaging in cheap politics, one wonders how anyone, more so someone in a privileged position like Hon. Monguno who is very much knowledgeable and is indeed a key player in the nation’s corridors of power, could make this outlandish claim. Where does he expect the Army Chief to get the money to increase the salaries and allowances of our troops, when most of our federal legislators are more interested in the perks of their respective offices, amounting to hundreds of millions of naira annually for each of them? C’mon!
It is possible that 356 soldiers have submitted an application seeking to disengage from the Nigerian Army. It is also possible that the reasons they stated for so doing has to do with “loss of interest,” as claimed by Hon. Monguno. But I know for a fact that many of our troops presently putting their lives on the line in defence of our country, extinguishing the fire started by some reckless politicians in Borno and Zamfara states, are not happy with all the negative stories flying about, often condemning their resilience and sacrifice. People writing all sorts of negative stuff against the military do not know the deep pain they are inflicting in the psyche of our troops, especially some countrymen and women who celebrate with glee casualty figures of troops killed in the line of duty.
In Nigeria today, it is safer to concoct a huge, fantastic figure of the nation’s troops killed, than to stake the same claim for the terrorists or bandits. There are some of our countrymen who ridiculously disbelieved the Army Chief when he said that over 1,400 terrorists were killed during his almost three months stay in the trenches in the North-East, but readily believed President Idris Deby of Chad when he claimed that his forces killed a thousand terrorists. Many even prefer believing Shekau than our military.
Some of us have, in all modesty, traveled around the world and have read a lot of literature on warfare and can say very authoritatively that Nigeria is the only country in the whole world where some citizens prefer spreading news of attacks on its military, to sharing news of the exploits of the same military.
We did not hear Hon. Monguno raising a point of public importance for the legislature to commend the Nigerian military when the Army resorted to local production of weapons, including Ezegu, the mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, or when Boko Haram leader Shekau was heard crying and bitterly complaining about the exploits of the army that has led to his key commanders getting killed in large numbers. And you know what? Shekau spoke mostly in Kanuri, a language Monguno is very much conversant with. What evidence proving the army has been inflicting heavy damage on the terrorists, is better than the one from Shekau, the chief terrorist himself? But then some people have simply made up their minds never to see anything good in our military. And for that class of people, it is condemnation and negative talks everyday.
Why should some of our troops not lose interest in the war against terror when many of the kinsmen of Hon Monguno in Borno are till today refusing to fully cooperate with the intelligence services on the war against terror? Till today in Maiduguri, there are thousands of people who will never disclose the whereabouts of these terrorists, simply because most of them are their children or relations. It is commonly known that some of the people even give them shelter and expose troops movements to the terrorists. These are facts that are hard to swallow. But they remain what they are: facts.
In any case, is it not more honourable to resign and leave the scene, rather than staying put and possibly serving as enemy within? If indeed the Army Chief has accepted the resignation of those soldiers, I want to believe the reason may not be far from that. The Washington Post, in its edition of May 10, 2015, published a story anchored by Kevin Siegfried of hundreds of Nigerian soldiers refusing to fight in the war against terror. That was at the twilight of the Jonathan Administration when billions of dollars earmarked for purchase of weapons were instead diverted and shared to politicians in desperate bid to have the President returned for a second term of office.
Was that the case Hon. Monguno was making reference to when he claimed that some soldiers are refusing to fight the war? The case of a soldier raising his rifle against his commanding officer happened last year when deductions were inadvertently made from salaries, with the introduction of IPISS salary structure by the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation. The soldier erroneously thought his commander was the one shortchanging him. But it later emerged that even the generals had their salaries mistakenly cut by tens of thousands of naira. But then refusal to pay soldiers their salary was the norm, rather than the exception before Buhari took over as President.
The Washington Post edition under reference published that “low-level soldiers complain about not having received their $100 per month salary for weeks. The troops legal cases feature numerous allegations of insufficient weaponry.” It added that “as the Nigerian military escalated its fight against Boko Haram, reported cases of mutiny appeared to surge.” All that was in the past, though one won’t be entirely surprised if there are isolated cases of it even today.
A senior security official recently made the claim that the air component of the military operation against the bandits in the northwest stopped operating from Katsina airport because some of the civilian staff on duty and neighbours around the airport will always call and warn the insurgents to stay away from danger. That accounted for why in most cases when the military receives distress calls, they will hardly get any target to hit. Some agents of the bandits in the villages will even deliberately place calls to the military just to deceive them. When, through intelligence, they got wind of what was happening, the military changed strategy and started operating from as far as Kano and Kaduna, thereby inadvertently giving the bandits allowance of more time to scamper to safety, and also shooting up operational cost in a terribly tight budget.
I have argued in a recent television interview on AIT that the entire budget of the Nigerian military is only a fraction of that of the New York Fire Service. At 38.9 billion dollars, this year’s budget of the University of California is far more than our entire national budget. The New York Police has eight operational helicopters, but the Nigerian police has only two. Yet, issues like that, which anyone in his senses knows will affect our ability to effective fight crime and criminalistics, are hardly of interest to some of our legislators obviously because it does not fall in line with the more appealing narrative to simply follow the crowd and condemn our security services.
A respondent to my article in this column last week wrote as follows: “A point to add is the need for a hypothetical breakdown of those “huge” budgetary allocations and its value in the world market since nearly all our military equipment are sourced from it. How many Main Battle Tanks can it buy assuming the whole sum is meant for that alone? What about the ammo? What about fueling the tanks? So what is left for other requirements to fight the war?”
At a time funding is a key issue, I wonder why Hon. Monguno could not rally his colleagues to devote the N37 billion earmarked for giving the National Assembly a facelift to the war against banditry and terror. That humongous amount could purchase quite a good number of the MQ-9 Reaper Drones that the American military used in killing Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani in January this year; an equipment that pursues and kills all criminals targeted, even if they are scattered in hundreds. So why should anyone be surprised if any soldier indicates interest to leave the military, knowing very well that some leaders of our legislature do not care about the equipment used in the fight against terror, or reducing their fat allowances – the highest in the whole world – and devoting same to shoring up the allowances of our troops, as a mark of encouragement and appreciation for all their sacrifices?
This is even more so as Monguno, in his high position, very much knows that what our military is fighting is no longer the Boko Haram that took up arms against the Nigerian state eleven years ago, but some foreign powers bent in destroying Nigeria to advance the politics of francophone against anglophone countries. Stories abound of helicopters dropping sophisticated arms for the terrorists in the forests of the northeast. Why didn’t Monguno raise a matter of urgent public importance to draw attention to the fact that a neighboring francophone country has for years been giving sanctuary to Boko Haram terrorists, to make sure our armed forces do not reach them and once and for all finish off the war?
The Buhari Administration has clearly been trying the best it possibly could to provide adequate funding to the military, as well as equipping the personnel in the onerous task of defending this nation. But abilities of the government have been severely limited owing to years of plundering of our national treasury by some selfish politicians since our return to democracy in 1999.
Even if the Buhari Administration has all the resources it needs, it cannot, because of international protocols, purchase weapons in the open market. It has to place order for them and wait for a minimum of some years before it gets them manufactured. Even at that, the congresses of some of the super powers producing these weapons have stopped their governments from selling arms to Nigeria, owing to intense falsehood and blackmail against the government of the day. One wonders why this very serious matter has not yet attracted the attention of our lawmakers?
Hon. Monguno is also said to be close to the National Security Adviser, who is from the same village as him. Doesn’t the Honourable know that all blame as to the failure of our military and security operations should be rested on the doorsteps of the NSA, who coordinates the entire security architecture of the country? In essence all the posers raised by him should have been directed to his illustrious kinsman and no one else.
As the respected human rights organisation HURIWA said last week, there is serious danger when we keep politicizing our security and thereby rushing the military to possibly make mistakes. These days, everybody in Nigeria is an expert on security matters. You hear all sorts of theories flying about, with all manner of people claiming solution to the raging security challenges bedeviling the country.
When prominent citizens, or our legislature in particular, continues pandering to the interests of subversive elements and keeps issuing careless statements about military operations, or issuing needless ultimatums to security chiefs, such as the one recently served to the Chief of Naval Staff by the House of Reps, it tends to create anxiety in the minds of those doing their best to secure us as a nation. With time, more so with everyone making spurious suggestions as to solution to these issues, the chiefs could be forced to abandon their well-defined strategy and take our own that will lead the nation to dead ends and expose us to more danger. It tells a lot about the strength of character of the serving security chiefs that they seem to have grown a thick skin against all the insults and criticisms being hurled at them on daily basis. But surely it is affecting a number of our troops very badly.
President Buhari is a war hero who retired from the military as a courageous general. We freely elected him to give the country a sense of direction and get us out of the woods. We should at least trust his judgement, knowing very well that more than everyone of us, he wants the terrorists and bandits to be totally wiped out, even if for the eternal glory that will come to his administration. There is definitely something the President knows that we do not know, especially the teeming millions of us who do not have any military or security experience.
But for the seriousness that the administration has given the matter of our national security, even though some of us prefer to believe otherwise, Boko Haram will have taken over many states of the federation, as they were at the verge of doing when Buhari took over power five years ago. The fact that we cannot remember the last time the terrorists attacked our markets or churches or mosques in such cities as Kano, Kaduna, Sokoto and even more so Abuja is indicative of the huge gains scored by the government, through the security services that some of us take pleasure in deriding and condemning.
Certainly God did not create us the same as human beings and compatriots. But He also did not make Americans one and the same. Whereas they have their differences politically and in some other areas, Americans are always united in their full support for their military, even when their army is making some mistakes. Whereas we complain about the length of time it is taking our military to defeat the terrorists and bandits, American military has thus far spent over twenty years fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. The war is still ongoing, though there are efforts currently ongoing to end the war by reaching a truce with the terrorists. Whereas we always complain about billions of naira said to be allocated to our military to wage the war against terror, a lot of us do not know that America has thus far spent over three trillion dollars fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, with very limited success.
Of course it is understandable when those who lost loved ones to raise their voices. Sadly however, doing so will not return those that we have lost. And there is no better revenge for those who lost their loved ones than to support the military to decisively deal with the enemy As the best military generals globally have agreed, one of the best weapons of war is patience. While we can pick our smartphones and computers and other gadgets to write critical pieces about our military, we have to remember that we are doing so from the comfort of our homes and offices, while the soldiers and their commanders are operating from the trenches, in dangerous bushes and deadly valleys, with the torrential rains, deadly snakes and harsh weather as their daily companions.
We also have to remember that except for all the sacrifices of our troops, even operating from our comfortable homes and offices will not have been possible. If you are still living in denial of these facts, ask the people of Rwanda when the genocide was ongoing. Or the people of Somalia, a country taken over by Al-Shabab terrorists for well over twenty years. In giving all the glory for these blessings to our Creator, we have to be kind and magnanimous to remember our compatriots that have made it possible, and learn to say positive things about their commitment and sacrifice.
If highly placed individuals like our legislators have to talk about our security situation – and indeed I concede they should talk about it, they have to make efforts to pass their comments directly to the leadership of the military, especially when those comments are negative. There is no denying the fact that some gaps exist in our national war against terror and banditry. But then no human institution or effort is ever perfect. Mistakes make us humans. And military personnel are members of the human race who cannot extinguish terrorism or banditry from our shores until we all stop emboldening the criminals by according prominence to their activities. History has shown that there are countries who have won the war against terror by giving complete blackout to the exploits of terrorists in their traditional and social media. Turkey is one such example.
When in 2018 President Trump was visiting American troops in Iraq, none of the vibrant media houses in America broke the news until he returned home safely. Yet we all know he is their Enemy Number One. Could our media accord the same privilege to our President, with our penchant to rush and break the news first?
To defeat the terrorists who collectively are the enemies of each and everyone of us, we have to learn from the example of the respected Senator Ameh Ebute, former President of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He recently wrote a letter commending the Nigerian Army and hailing them for all that they have achieved on our collective behalf. He did not play to the gallery by engaging in sabre-rattling or merely following the crowd. He believes the military is our institution of national pride, and that those manning it are not spirits. They are our sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and friends.
If the former Senate President had any critical observation, I am certain he has routed it to the appropriate channels because he did not believe the aim is to ridicule the armed forces or their leadership, but to make needed corrections towards the attainment of noble goals. There are a lot of lessons the Mongunos of this world should learn from this illustrious Nigerian and many like him who are certain that sooner than later, our troops are going to prevail. Nigeria is full of good people. So the Living God will not forsake us.
Make no mistake about it: sooner than later, we are going to have in our hands the Nigeria of our dream, and Shekau as well as all his sponsors will go the same ignominious way Osama Bin Ladin, Abubakar Baghdadi and other terrorists the world over have gone.
And as for my last word for Honourable Mohammed Tahir Monguno? You are a man of honour. Don’t allow anyone to use you in fighting a proxy war against the armed forces, irrespective of whether you come from the same village as the person or not. Also criticize the military for as long and as much as you possibly can. But get your facts right and don’t confuse issues. Of course as a leader you should as much as possible do that directly to the commanders, except if the aim is just to ridicule the armed forces. Also be decent enough to take the blame, alongside some of your colleagues in the federal legislature, for most of the problems bedeviling the Nigerian nation. There is shred of doubt that without our military, the hallowed chambers of ourNational Assembly will by now have been converted to the secretariat of the Shura Council of Boko Haram. That, however, will now never happen, and it is all courtesy of our galant troops.
Pantami: Why virtuous persons are reluctant to serve in government
A clearly defining feature of our brand of politics in Nigeria is the pull-him-down syndrome that has been scaring away some of our best from partaking in politics, or accepting any political appointment in government. Doing so is not for the faint-hearted, except one is going to join the bandwagon and work in cahoots with the clique working for decades to destroy Nigeria from one administration to the other. You must be ready to be called out in the most negative manner once your agenda is about making positive difference in the lives of the people.
A clear example of this is Dr. Isa Ali Pantami, Honourable Minister of Communications and Digital Economy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He has right from childhood been of selfless service to humanity, and even though he is an Islamic scholar of distinction, Pantami has for decades been at the vanguard of fostering understanding and peaceful coexistence between Muslims and Christians. It was bad news for the agents of darkness when such a person, whose reputation as a man of unimpeachable integrity is all well known to them, accepted to serve Nigeria first as director-general of NITDA and now on a higher calling as minister.
These blackmailers come in all shapes and sizes, using mostly the social media in cooking a dose of shameless falsehood against a man whose only offense is his refusal to allow a few rapacious individuals to continue shortchanging Nigeria, and also his avowed determination to serve this country to the best of his ability.
And, what is more, most of the agents of darkness sponsoring negative writeups and all sorts of falsehood against the man are shadowy figures who clearly do not have the courage of their conviction. As once written by my friend, Malam Shu’aibu Gara-Gombe, some of these sponsoring dastardly campaigns of calumny against Pantami are a few political figures from his native Gombe State, who are afraid of his rising towering political figure, arising from the unprecedented achievements the man has thus far recorded for our country in his quest for Nigeria to grab a good share of the trillion dollar global digital economy.
There are also others in government who are not happy that the digital economy portfolio was rightly added to the Communications Ministry. They were taking it as their own baby, even when they were adding no value, not even in the least, with it. And yet, there are a few whose hatred for Pantami’s guts stems from his trademark decency and integrity, and his well-known determination to help advance the cause of the Buhari administration that they so much love to hate. Many of them cannot forgive Pantami because, courtesy of him, the years of the locust have gone forever.
The fear of many informed Nigerians in all these is that people with excellent character and solid reputation like Dr. Pantami may in future be apprehensive about accepting to serve in government, especially at such a high level. They would think that, if a man of unimpeachable integrity like Dr. Pantami could be made a subject of ceaseless attacks and irresponsible blackmail, what more of them who may not posses as much a sterling record as the Communications Minister?
But then, if there is anything beyond his solid education and uncommon integrity and intellect that have given Pantami, then in his early 40s, the high post of DG of the National Information Technology Development Agency, the position he held before getting promoted to the post of minister by President Muhammadu Buhari, it is his ability not to look back when he has made up his mind to achieve anything positive. He must have grown a thick skin that makes him immune to the kind of shit being smeared on his person almost on daily basis.
So, for the promoters of the anti-Pantami agenda, this is bad news for you. The man you are working hard to bring down will not be cowed. And the President that you want to pitch against him has an implicit trust and confidence in Pantami and knows more than we all do that all the shenanigans and orchestrated hysteria are aimed at casting the minister in bad light.
Carry on with the excellent work, Dr. Pantami, and be assured of the solid support of the majority of Nigerians who are already benefitting from your deep insight, forthrightness and selflessness.
NITDA and advancement of Nigeria’s IT infrastructure
The National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) has the statutory mandate to serve as the clearing house for all IT projects and infrastructure in the public sector of the Nigerian economy. It is also the prime agency for e-government implementation, and for Internet governance and general IT development in Nigeria.
This is one of the organisations that are very critical to Nigeria reaping maximum benefits from the trillion dollar global digital economy, and it was blessed to be recently headed by a goal-getter in the person of Dr. Isa Ali Pantami, a man of deep vision and intellect who, about a year ago, was appointed as Minister of Communications and Digital Economy by President Muhammadu Buhari.
When Dr. Pantami left NITDA last year, the fear among many stakeholders in the IT industry was about who his successor was going to be. Luckily, the President approved the appointment of one of the sharpest brains in the industry, in the person of Mr. Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, as the director-general of the agency. Like his boss before him, Kashifu also possesses integrity of deep hue and is a man given to squeezing water out of stone to achieve solid results.
For those who are concerned about the ability of the present administration to enlist Nigeria among the world’s most competitive states, the fact that NITDA and its supervising Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy are in safe hands surely elicits great hope and confidence that the future will be bright, especially for the 72 per cent of our active population who are 32 years and under. NITDA is without doubt one of the luckiest federal establishments that has been blessed with excellent leaders in its recent history. The good story continues.