By: Okanga Agila
The dead from the latest Boko Haram ambush on Nigerian troops have been buried. Emotions spilled over and tears flowed freely at that burial. Even the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt Gen Tukur Buratai teared up remarkably when one would have expected that years of being battle hardened would have made him incapable of such expression.
Tears from the generals’ general have been decoded from different perspectives. Top among the insight offered was the pains of losing gallant soldiers like Lt. Col. Muhammed Abu Ali with other troops that died with him.
But in Buratai’s tears I see the pains of serving a nation where appreciation is the last thing that will come the way of those that give their all – including the ultimate of giving up one’s life so that fellow compatriots can live secured.
True, a few people are asking for posthumous promotions, honours, awards and all other forms of our usual pontification that were forgotten within hours once the results of the US Presidential Election, won by Donald Trump, started pouring in. This shows on hand that the seeming kind outpouring of grief might have been a mere show off by people who merely went through an expected motion for the sake of keeping up appearances.
The real mind of these detractors was revealed in the efforts to immediately manipulate the troops deaths in a way that fit into a long running campaign to undermine what has been achieved in the anti-terror war. Suddenly, the plague of short memory that has always afflicted Nigerians took root as few now remember that the terrorists used to take their attacks to military barracks and armory, which they are no longer capable of.
Someone must also do the tally. Human life, especially one committed to the service of the nation and humanity is precious and can never be quantified in terms of loss neither should it be reduced to mere statistics for that would be making us lose what sets us apart as a specie. But the current casualty rate is nothing compared to the previous years’ casualties.
Someone in the service once let slip at a private gathering that right thinking Nigerians would demand for the execution of officials of the previous administration if the casualties figures for 2013, 2014 and early 2015 were released.
It is thus amazing that minions that answer to these former administration officials are now crowing and making all manners of unenlightened analyses to massage the failings of the past into insignificance. This is in spite of the fact that since the coming of President Muhammadu Buhari’s government and the strategic military appointments he made, efforts had been in the right direction reducing the casualty rate in operations against Boko Haram over 500 per cent.
Something else changed. This government has been more open and transparent while military operations have been responsive to the best of my knowledge judging by media reports. This appreciation is instructive because the distortion around casualty from the war theatre risk politicizing the military to a point where top brass would be pressured into lying like politicians. That certainly is not what we want.
The recent practice whereby the army became forthcoming with information under the present leadership could also be negatively affected if those in charge begin to have concerns that facts supplied in good faith are twisted to suit political posturing. Again, this is not something Nigerians want.
The COAS must dry up his tears. There are those who would not appreciate even if their immediate families get killed in the course of fighting Boko Haram insurgents. We must not allow such people define who we are and definitely the army must not allow them to influence how it relates with Nigerians as an institution. He should take pride in the fact that through him, President Buhari has kept his promise to degrade Boko Haram and if it is the only thing that has been achieved in the last one year then we have every reason to sing praises to God.
One’s expectation is that the troops’ deaths that people want to use as the latest arsenal against him are actually a basis to renew appeal for more funding to buy equipment and compelling argument to international partners to lessen the restrictions on arms deals with Nigeria.
Nigerians on their part must realize that we did not give Buratai any chance that he could win this fight against insurgency and terrorism, but now he has basically won. Let us be charitable enough to appreciate the much he has done. Even if his efforts would not be appreciated, to attempt using this recent tragedy as an opportunity to castigate the COAS or the Buhari administration is nothing short of spitting on the graves of the departed. That is sick.
Okanga writes from Benue