- Criticism is misplaced, says presidency
Omololu Ogunmade and Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja
The presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, has described the absence of President Muhammadu Buhari and his deputy, Professor Yemi Osinbajo at the burial of soldiers killed by Boko Haram in Metele, Borno State as ‘totally unacceptable’.
In a statement he personally signed yesterday, Atiku said it was even more painful, when the federal government refused to send a delegation to represent it at the funeral.
He called on Buhari to learn from the French President, Emmanuel Macron, who on March 28, took a whole day off to attend the funeral of Lt. Col Arnaud Beltrame, who was killed by a terrorist after a March 24, 2018 terror attack on the South of France.
The statement read: “Today, I saw the pictures of the funeral of the officers and men of the 157 Task Force battalion of the Nigerian Army based in Metele and who were killed by Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorists and my heart went out to the men, their families and to our entire armed forces. May their souls rest in peace and may God grant their families fortitude at such a trying time.
“I am further pained that neither the president nor his deputy were in attendance at the funeral and that the federal government did not send a high-powered delegation to represent the government at the funeral.
“This is sad and totally unacceptable. This is beyond politics. This touches our shared humanity. What would it cost for the president to take a day and fulfill his role as head of state by attending the funeral of such men of honour and valour?
“The sad part of it is that a day before their funeral, President Muhammadu Buhari took time out of his busy schedule to host Nollywood stars at the Presidential Villa.
“I appreciate Nollywood and I have personally done a lot, both in my private capacity and when I was vice-president to promote that vitally important industry. However, it does not send a right message to the men and women, who are fighting for Nigeria if you can attend a get together of entertainers but, you cannot find the time to honour those who make the peace we are benefitting from possible.”
But a presidency source, who claimed he did not have the approval to respond to Atiku, accused the PDP candidate of hypocrisy for criticising Buhari’s failure to attend the burial of the soldiers.
The source dismissed the claim of insensitivity by Atiku, saying the accusation was misplaced, because the president had already reacted to the tragedy and equally visited surviving troops in Maiduguri to boost their morale.
He recalled a similar development in 2001, when 19 soldiers were killed at the time Atiku was the vice-president, saying neither Atiku nor his boss visited the troops to commiserate with them.
He alleged that instead, their government ordered reprisals, which he said claimed many lives of civilians.
“We have read the hypocritical press release signed by Mr. Atiku Abubakar, accusing the government of Muhammadu Buhari of insensitivity by the failure of the President or the Vice President to attend the burial of the 19 military victims of Boko Haram.
“The loss of the gallant soldiers, as President Buhari has said, is a national loss, on account of which he went to Maiduguri, where he condoled the government and people of Borno State, addressed the troops at Maimalari Barracks as well as visited convalescing gallant soldiers.
“This was a clear case of sensitive and responsible leadership. On the other hand however, when a similar number of troops (19 soldiers) were abducted and killed in October, 2001, neither he (Atiku Abubakar) nor his boss, President Olusegun Obasanjo paid any tributes, not to talk of visiting the grieving family members of the martyred soldiers. Instead, they sent additional troops, who rounded up the people of the town, and authorised an indiscriminate shooting as reprisals,” the source said.