President Muhammadu Buhari was absent at the burial ceremony of his Chief of Army Staff, Ibrahim Attahiru, drawing condemnation from Nigerians who questioned his absence from critical national occasions and his perceived lack of empathy.
Mr Attahiru, a lieutenant general, and 10 other officers were laid to rest at the National Military Cemetery, Abuja on Saturday, a day after they died in a military plane crash.
They died in the crash that occurred in Kaduna on Friday while on official assignment to Zaria in Kaduna State.
They were travelling to the Depot Nigerian Army, Zaria for the passing out parade of regular recruits slated for Saturday.
It was the third military air disaster this year and the army posted videos on social networks of the service attended by top political and military leaders at the national mosque.
The religious services for the deceased were organised by the military.
The Islamic funeral service was held at the National Mosque, Abuja for the late army chief and five others who were Muslims while the Christian funeral services burial rites were held at the Nigerian Air Force Protestant Church, Abuja for the officers who were Christians.
After the religious services, the bodies of the dead officers were taken to the National Military Cemetery along Airport Road for internment.
Tears, anguish. Buhari missing
Family members, friends, colleagues and sympathisers wept uncontrollably as their remains were lowered into the graves.
In attendance were the Chief of Defence Staff, Lucky Irabor, a general; Chief of Air Staff, Isiaka Amao; and Chief of Naval Staff, Gambo Awwal, all of whom were appointed on January 26 as Mr Attahiru by Mr Buhari.
Among government officials present were the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha; Chief of Staff to the President, Ibrahim Gambari; Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed and Minister of Communications and Digital Strategy, Isa Pantami.
Others were the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar; Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, governors of Borno, Kaduna, Yobe and Kebbi.
But conspicuously missing at the sombre event was the president of the republic. No one has explained to the nation why he stayed away.
In the address read on his behalf by Mr Magashi, Mr Buhari said the death of the officers would not be in vain.
He described Mr Attahiru as a dedicated and committed officer.
He said, “Today is indeed a trying moment for the Nigerian Army and indeed the armed forces of our country, a period that witnessed the death of 11 brave officers and men of the armed forces in an ill-fated crash in Kaduna.
“These fine gentlemen had a glorious career in the armed forces in the course of which they served gallantly in several capacities.”
Mr Buhari said Mr Attahiru “inspired courage and confidence in the Nigerian Army which informed successes recorded during his watch”.
“He led the Nigerian Army from the front and was a source of inspiration worthy of emulation by all officers and men of the armed forces of Nigeria,” the president said, promising to ensure that the contribution of the deceased officer to the unity, peace and security would be remembered
Efforts to reach the president’s media aides, Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu, to comment on why the president did not personally attend such a high-profile funeral as sometimes done by other world leaders, were not successful.
However, criticisms against the president intensified with the news that he just returned to Abuja from France where he attended the African Finance Summit but did not deem it fit to attend the burial of his top military chief and other military personnel who died on duty.
Mr Buhari left Abuja on Sunday and returned on Thursday, two days before the burial.
Buhari: Lacking empathy
Reno Omokri, a former aide to former President Goodluck, said the absence of the president from the funeral ceremonies showed that the country was ‘leaderless’.
“Sad that President Muhammadu Buhari did not attend the burial of the late Chief of Army Staff, (Lieutenant) General Attahiru. He was represented by his Defence Minister… Attahiru died serving Nigeria. Buhari, who went to Paris for four days, could not go to Attahiru’s funeral for 30 minutes,” the ex-aide to former President Goodluck Jonathan and staunch Buhari critic, tweeted.
“I ask again, where is the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria? When the occupant of the highest office in the land becomes so redundant to the point that he cannot attend the funeral of his Chief of Army Staff and other officers who died in a plane crash while on official assignment, it is an indication that the country is leaderless. Buhari has become a mere mannequin. He is neither useful to the country nor to humanity,” Lagos-based human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, wrote on Facebook.
In another tweet, Mr Omokri recalled that when the nation was thrown into mourning following the death of a former Chief of Defence Staff, Owoye Azazi, in 2012, Mr Jonathan attended the burial ceremony.
Another popular blogger, Japhet Omojuwa, tweeted, “If you can go to France, you can attend the burial of your COAS + others and use that platform as an opportunity to reassure your troops whilst celebrating the loss of our gallant men. But I shouldn’t tweet this. I shouldn’t attract unnecessary negative energy to my timeline.”
Abiola Sanni, a twitter user said, “I’m very disappointed and heartbroken This is the least the President could have done.”
Not the first time
This is not the first time the president is being condemned for failing to attend significant national burials and not visiting victims of monumental tragedies.
Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president had in 2018 described the absence of President Buhari at the burial of soldiers killed by Boko Haram in Metele, Borno State, as ‘totally unacceptable’.
Mr Abubakar also criticised Buhari in 2019 for not attending the burial of the five Nigerian Air Force officers, who died while prosecuting the war on terror.
Other popular burials Mr Buhari did not attend was that of his late Chief of Army Staff, Abba Kyari, who died from COVID-19 last year.
In similar fashion, Mr Buhari had in December sparked outrage over his failure to visit Kankara after over 300 schoolboys were abducted while he was on vacation at his country home in Katsina, which was not far from the scene of abductions.
He, instead, detailed a delegation led by the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno, to travel from far away Abuja to Katsina, where he was, to comfort the grieving families.
Many commentators say Mr Buhari has proven again and again that he is a man bereft of empathy for the the people he governs.
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