Greater love has no one than this, that one should lay down his life for his friends” –– John 15: 13
If you are a frequent flier within the United States territory, you may have flown in the same commercial jet with their servicemen and noticed how respectfully and heroically they are treated. Sometime in early 2000s, once the cabin crew of Delta Airline flying from Washington DC to Atlanta, announced the presence of some soldiers who just returned from somewhere in the Gulf Region, there was spontaneous ovation. “USA! USA! USA!” rent the air. Whether in sports or military, they deify those who have made them America proud.
Sadly, 12th August 2016 passed like any other day in Nigeria. No commentaries or commemorations. Yet, it was the day in 1989 that a Europe-based doctoral student in Law cum professional footballer, Sochukwuma Okwaraji, slumped and died in the line of duty at the National Stadium, Lagos. That was on 12th August 1989, a few minutes the end of the FIFA World Cup qualifying match between Nigeria and Angola.
Sam, as he was fondly called, never collected money to play for Nigeria. In fact, he paid for his trips to serve fatherland. Yet, but for the Okwaraji statue unveiled by former Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola, at the dilapidated National Stadium in Lagos in 2011 and phone call to his mother in 2015 by the NFF, 26 years after, Sam’s memory, his distraught mother and family are left in the cold.
Again, I wonder which young Nigerian would, seeing the shabby treatments and subsequent begger’s burials given to former Super Eagles coaches, Shuaibu Amodu Stephen Keshi (also former captain), want to die for Nigeria.
But the Nigerian soldier does not mind. I see them, especially those of them who have slugged it out with Boko Haram insurgents in the North East over the years as ‘abnormal’. They lay down their lives that you and I may live freely, and until the coming of President Mohammadu Buhari, they fought under all forms of sabotages and most disheartening conditions. Aba Saheed probably had them in mind when he wrote some years back that securing Nigeria “has become the most hazardous job on the face of the earth” and “like tying up a tiger and giving his tail to dogs to toy with”.
In the Dasukigate, former Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshal Alex Badeh (Rtd), was arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, for allegedly cornering a whooping N3.9 billion meant for the purchase of arms for the Nigerian military,while his country home and graves of his fathers in Vimtim, Adamawa State, was overran and occupied by insurgents.
It did not matter the likes of Badeh that for every Nigerian soldier shot by the insurgents, our national security, sovereignty and glory were compromised. They forgot that for every soldier shot, someone was rendered a widow and many more rendered fatherless, sonless,familyless and friendless. Yet, these gallant men and women warred on, laying down their lives for the country.
Thank God for today. With a new mentality inspired by committed leadership in the Nigerian Army, for instance, vide Operation Lafia Dole, initiated by the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General T.Y Buratai and now manned by Major-General Leo Irabor as the Theatre Commander, Boko Haram has been so thoroughly decapitated that they are now on the run. Even the IDPs are beginning to return. Why not? The Chief of Army Staff, the Theatre Commander, and military hierarchy lead them to the battlefield. They are not armchair generals.
That is why I get worried when I read some commentaries or news reports. I must express shock at the sub-topic “Abubakar Shekaraus” written by Simon Kolawole in his back page column in Thisday of Sunday 4th September 2016.
He wrote: “After claiming to have killed Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau at least four times — on one occasion comically asking to be paid the $7m bounty promised by the US — the Nigerian army will not let the matter die. Most recently, Shekau was declared ‘fatally wounded’ (meaning he DIED from his wounds). ‘I can confirm to you that the original Shekau was killed, the second Shekau was killed, and the man presenting himself as Shekau, I can also confirm to you that few days ago, he was wounded. We are yet to confirm whether he is dead or not’, Major General Irabor said on Thursday”.
By common sense, the main character in action movies, whom we referred to as ‘Actor’ in our childhood never dies. If the ‘Actor’ dies, then how can the movie go on? Likewise, Shekau is the face of Boko Haram. If he ‘dies’, that is the end of Boko Haram; hence once the Army kills one Shekau, Boko Haram creates another ‘Shekau’. Sadly, our media erroneously appear to believe the Boko Haram propaganda more than the official defence information. Succeeding Shekaus are reported to Nigerians without quotation marks as though he is the original and possibly invincible.
However, it is heartwarming that not everyone is fooled by the Boko Haram antics and propaganda. For instance, a journalist wrote on his Facebook last August: “In March this year, the group (Boko Haram) released a video, just to remind us that Shekau was still alive. After watching the video, I analysed it carefully and my conclusion at the time was that the video was far from being real. The video was a poor work of someone trying to mimic Shekau.
“Before then, September last year to be precise, the group released purported pictures of their Sallah celebration. After taking a second look at the pictures, especially the one where the Imam led the prayer, I noticed that the hand of the Imam looks like a computer work. The hands do not match with the body. Again, it wasn’t Shekau that led the prayer, yet at the time they claimed he was still alive. When they were in control of more than half of the Councils in Borno State, they didn’t show us pictures of their sallah celebration.
“Personally, I believe Shekau was first critically wounded during the Damaturu raid and was eventually killed during the Kondunga raid in 2014. And all the subsequent videos released by the group further reinforced my position. Since then however, the group’s media handlers have tried to impress it on Nigerians that Shekau was still alive.
“The truth is Boko Haram lasted this long because they made effective use of media propaganda. We are winning the war against Boko Haram and we must queue behind our soldiers in this latest and final onslaught against Boko Haram”.
Need I add more?
Also, Hon. Tom Marino of the US Congress recently wrote to the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, asking the American government to stop selling military hardware or giving support to the Nigerian government. He based his demand on alleged trampling of human rights and democratic freedoms by the Buhari Administration. But, he should have known that it our soldiers and harmless civilians that will bear the brunt of such action by the US government, not Buhari. Am sure Obama or his successor will not commit the same error he commited during Jonathan administration. Besides starving us military hardware, it was just in 2014 that U.S listed Boko Haram as a terrorist organisation.
Admittedly, there is a lot of work to be done. I do not think it is lost on the Chief of Army Staff and his gallant men. But we cannot be a nation without heroes who unwittingly do or say things that demoralise our soldiers and give oxygen to Boko Haram. I see no reason I would believe Boko Haram propaganda over the official position of our men in battlefront, laying down their lives for our safety.
By and large, the Nigerian Army has shown strength, courage, and professionalism. They have greatly restored the hitherto faded and demystified glory of our military.
All they need is the total support of the political elites, media, international community, and all Nigerians in this sacrifice to preserve our nationhood and dignity and restore peace and prosperity. It is not too much to ask for.
––Abiye lives in Lagos.