President Jonathan in Maiduguri
PRESIDENT Goodluck Jonathan’s surprise visit to Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, to commemorate the Armed Forces Remembrance Day the other day was very appropriate. But it was also appropriately questioned in intent, merit and purpose by Nigerians. Besides his inexplicable inability to visit Borno and two contiguous others – Yobe and Adamawa – ordinarily, as the President and Commander in Chief, a visit to any state in the country ought to be routine. But those three states, having in the past five years been under intense and sustained attacks from insurgents who have been decimating the population there, displacing survivors from towns and villages, and freely gaining territorial space to establish a supposed caliphate, ought to have been ports of call for Jonathan several times before that remembrance day visit.
President Jonathan’s visit, therefore, did him little credit because the timing was not too edifying, having for long resisted intense pressure to go there especially since the April 14, 2014 abduction of about 276 secondary school girls from Chibok by the rampaging Boko Haram sect members. Almost a year after, the girls are still in the custody of the insurgents who once derisively proclaimed sale of their victims in the open market.
It may be alright that the president finally seized upon the anniversary of the Armed Forces Remembrance Day to check on the toiling soldiers at the Maimalari Cantonment in Maiduguri (to express appreciation for their courageous and patriotic service) and their wounded colleagues in hospital and also to empathise with some of the displaced persons in camps.
But the foot-dragging by the president was an unnecessary own goal, as he missed the opportunity of paying himself a lot of compliments as a caring leader.
However, it is noteworthy that Jonathan used the occasion to touch on the much-criticised lapses in the operations of the troops. He assured them that the Federal Government would do everything to ensure that they get the weapons and other equipment needed while also promising improvement in welfare and logistics support, as the troops seek to completely rout the insurgents and restore full security to the affected areas. By promising to address all operational challenges confronting the troops against the dreaded, inhuman sect members, Jonathan certainly struck the right chord. That tacit admission from the president of a shortage of firepower and logistic support for the troops, a claim the authorities have time and over vehemently denied is, however, not enough.
It is not enough to make public commitments on equipping the troops, supporting the injured and the hundreds of thousands of displaced and traumatised persons. There must be visible, verifiable actions taken to alleviate the assault on their bodies and psyche. The affected persons have suffered untold hardship just as the states have been ruined economically and the Federal Government must, therefore, begin to rebuild lives.
While a number of observations and insinuations have been rightly or wrongly made about the President’s visit, coming as it were on the eve of the general elections, that he said the right things cannot be denied.
Tying the movement to a significant event on the calendar of the military can hardly be faulted, but this year’s was not the first of such remembrance days since terrorism gained ascendancy in the land. The message is simply that the visit has been diminished in value and the good promises rendered hollow. Certainly, the harm has been done in exposing the current capacity of the military. Accusations in some quarters of a poorly prosecuted war against insurgency which might not entirely be of the making of foot-soldiers are not only deemed correct, they call for a new approach to recruitment, training and motivation for the soldiers. The country’s military institution cannot continue to be the butt of jokes. The buck stops, therefore, on the desk of the commander in chief and he needs to act.
Paying due honours to the fallen ones and the injured like the president did during the visit was good but raises serious questions on how much a Nigerian soldier’s life is worth. Not much is seen to have been done by way of befitting burial for fallen soldiers and care for their families. The President certainly needs to do more to re-assure the troops that he is with them in the battle against the insurgents. He must not only act appropriately but also timely, especially with a keen eye on his own place in history.