When the military was accused (rather prematurely) of destroying the town of Baga in Borno State, the opposition in Nigeria went into over drive. They gave all kinds of figures of houses that were destroyed and blamed every destruction on the Nigerian military even though it was an established fact that the militant sect, Jama-’a Ahl al-sunnah li-da’wa wa al-jiha-d, commonly referred to as Boko Haram, were the ones that used rocket propelled grenades which have incendiary capacity and could destroy buildings.
Of all the voices that condemned the government and the military, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd)’s voice stood out. Not only did he condemn the Nigerian military forces that took part in the defence of Baga along with troops from neighboring nations, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) called for the President to resign because of the incident saying “Jonathan should vacate and give way to competent hand to govern the country”.
Lamenting the fate that befell Baga, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) said “In Bama and Baga towns, military personnel were reported to have been engaged in extortion and sometimes raping of women. And because a soldier was killed in Baga the whole town was sacked by military. This is not the best way military should have acted when they were sent to restore law and order in a town. How can a responsible government allow its people to be killed in this way?”
Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) further said “Government cannot kill all the Boko Haram members. Government should rather arrest and prosecute the Boko Haram members. They should only be killed when they said clearly they wage war against their country like what happened during the civil war. And even during civil war we that fought in the war were given a copy of code of conduct book which guided us against killing innocent people”.
Now, from his reactions to the attack by Jama-’a Ahl al-sunnah li-da’wa wa al-jiha-d, commonly referred to as Boko Haram on Baga and the counter attack by military forces to dispel them from Baga, it is clear that Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) considered the military action an overreaction.
But Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) has again given another interview to Daily Trust, published on the 2nd of June, 2013 and in this interview Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) complained about the military reaction to the attack by terrorists Daura, and the cultist attacks by Ombatse in Nasarawa last May. Buhari was particularly disturbed because he is from Daura and Nasarrawa is governed by his party, the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC).
This time around, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) is not happy with the reaction of the security forces complaining that their reaction was too soft and that it should have been harder. He said “Well, it affected me personally because the way I see it as a former military man, the attack was very efficiently planned and executed. It was the phase one of the agenda to destroy Nigeria. They attacked the security; the police stations in the town were destroyed, and I suspected they must have used incendiary bombs because you cannot repair the police stations. You have to demolish, bulldoze them and rebuild them. They stationed what in the military we call cut off group; they stationed their men on all roads leading to Daura. People approaching Daura were attacked and the soldiers that were coming from Katsina town to give a helping hand to the police were ambushed and shot. I visited the soldiers that survived the ambush at the Federal Medical Centre, Katsina”.
Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) further said “The SSS boss or whoever that said he has left everything to God has no right to do that. Constitutionally, Nigerians can practice any religion they want or they can be atheists or anything they want to be, that is constitutional. But nobody should hurt a citizen of Nigeria and then get away with it, not to talk of slaughtering 56 law enforcement agents and then somebody coming out from the system to say such a thing. It is either that person doesn’t know what he was talking about or he shouldn’t even be there”.
Finally, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) also said “those that killed the 56 security men must be hunted and prosecuted no matter how long it will take because this is the bottom line about law and order and security in the country. They can’t be forgiven; they can’t override the constitution; Nigerians are being hurt and killed in their duties and those that killed them must be brought before the law”.
My question to Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) is: Is it just now that he has become aware that the terrorists “must have used incendiary bombs” to burn down buildings and police stations? When the military was telling him that it was the terrorists that used the same incendiary bombs to burn houses in Baga and Bama, why did Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) not believe them until they attacked his own home town?
Has it not occurred to the highly respected former military Head of State that he is given mixed messages to the nation’s military and security officials and showing double standards to Nigerians?
If we keep criticizing our own forces and falsely accuse them of genocide, are we not going to make them hesitate when operating against the terrorists who do not have to hesitate when carrying out their nefarious activities? When facing a bullet, a bomb or a rocket propelled grenade, soldiers have split second to decide on what to do and if they are afraid of false accusations they will end up making the wrong choices and getting killed instead of taking down the enemy.
Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) should realize that Nigeria is at war with terrorists and in a war situation you need a steady hand- the sort of steady hand and leadership provided by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. You need somebody who will speak up in defence of our soldiers and security forces not somebody who will criticize them when they engage the enemy forcefully and then turn around and also criticize them when they temper justice with mercy because of the criticism they received for doing their jobs.
I remember that the opposition criticized the president when he said in Maiduguri that “These soldiers leave their families and sleep in the bush, and on the streets just so that you and I could have some sleep; and I would not want to hear that one of them is killed. I have given directive to that effect. We have warned the soldiers to conduct themselves, not to kill innocent civilians; but I will not celebrate the death of one soldier, and I repeat, I will not celebrate the death of one soldier.”
That is the way a Commander-in-Chief talks. His words must inspire and build morale amongst the military. A Commander-in-Chief stands up for the boys who are sacrificing their lives. He does not give mixed messages. He does not approbate and reprobate. He does not double speak. He gives a clear signal. He does not change his words depending on where the military operates. He says the same thing whether they operate in Kaura Namoda or in Modakeke. You should be able to count on a leader to have universal ethics and not situational ethics.
Perhaps Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) should remember this the next time he gives an interview. He should remember that he was once a soldier fighting secessionists and that the international community were regaled with stories of alleged atrocities committed by Nigerian soldiers during the civil war. These stories necessitated a visit to the war front by the then British Prime Minister, Mr. Harold Wilson, in 1969. I am sure that Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) remembers very well that General Yakubu Gowon, the then Commander-in-Chief, never prevaricated in the defence of the troops he led as Commander-in-Chief. At every stage of the war, he had their back, he protected their interests and made sure that their morale was up. They never worried about whether he would change his stance depending of the place where they operated.
For one who was once a military Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, I must say that it must be very disappointing for Nigeria’s military to have been savagely criticized by Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) even before an investigation had been carried out to ascertain who was behind the Baga incidence. But Nigeria’s military can find comfort in the fact that President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan would always have their best interests at heart!
Reno Omokri is Special Assistant to the President on New Media.