COAS, Lt. Gen. Buratai
By David Onmeje
When I stumbled on the news report by Daily Trust Newspaper for Sunday 6th January 2018, I screamed to myself that this was too much information for public consumption. I could not come to terms as to why such sensitive items should be on display by a paper like Daily Trust, whose readership is domiciled in Northern Nigeria. To me, it was like an attempt to undermine the operations of the military in North East Nigeria because it revealed all the operational strategies of the military on combating the sudden resurgence of Boko Haram scourge.
It was indeed a mouthful that I wondered who sat and approved of such a story to go to the public domain without thinking of the implication for National Security. I also saw that story as a means to send a warning signal to the Boko Haram terrorists on the need for them to strategize for the military onslaught against them. I stand to be corrected. While all of these still dwell in the realm of speculations as regards the motive(s) for the publication of the story, if the truth be told, Daily Trust went above bar and their actions have caused monumental damage to the operational strategies of the Nigeria Army in North East Nigeria and had indeed put the lives of officers and soldiers on the line.
I must extend my empathy to the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai who has been in the North East strategizing with his men on how to keep the situation under control and all of a sudden there was a loud bang. I could imagine his anger and disappointment. I could also sense him gnashing his teeth wondering how such sensitive information leaked to the press. Two things could suffice in the whole drama. One is that there might be some informants leaking out sensitive military operational strategies to Boko Haram, and two, is that Boko Haram might have compromised some media houses. And if that was the case, Daily Trust newspapers has a responsibility to question sources and share such sensitive information with the relevant authorities for vetting before hitting the headlines.
While it is not in my place to comment freely on the insider conspiracy within the Nigeria Army, I would dwell extensively on the media which in my opinion has a critical role to play in National Security. The power of the press to decide what the people should read, see or hear has never been in doubt. What has been in the centre of the controversy is the capacity of those in whose hands reside such enormous powers to use that power judiciously and in public interest. Media professionals have the options to use the power of media instruments in their hands either to serve the nation or indulge in self-propelled interest. And in this case, Daily Trust Newspaper decided to indulge in self-propelled interest and at the detriment of National Security. Let us call a spade a spade.
It was quite unfair and somewhat a disserve to all the efforts the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai has put in to ensure a robust relationship between the military and civilians. So much so that the COAS has in numerous forays courted as one of the most media-friendly personality in the country who has exhibited a high sense of decency in his relationship with members of the civilian populace and the media and also one who understands that the Army has a responsibility to protect the civilian populace and not intimidate them.
Take the example of the Civil-Military relations; the Army hierarchy indeed observed that a significant weapon in the war on terror is improving its relationship with the civilian populace in these communities. And this has yielded excellent results according to those in the know of the events surrounding the success recorded by the Nigeria Army.
I recall in one of the forums of improving Civilian-Military relations in Nigeria; I left with an impression that fighting a war is not only about tanks and bullets. But also winning the hearts and minds. And this much the Nigeria Army has done with the activities of the Directorate of Civil-Military relations through its numerous outreaches and stakeholders interactions. I am also aware that the directorate has embarked on quite a number of initiatives such as the provision of essential amenities in these communities, rendering of free medical services, construction of roads and bridges, identifying and felicitating with them in times of need and in times of joy, constantly getting feedback on ways the Nigeria Army can continue to make advances in the war against terrorism and many more.
Having stated the above, it is my considered opinion that the management of Daily Trust Newspapers owes the Chief of Army staff and by extension the Nigeria Army an unreserved apology for the shameful story it published. This is important so as not send a message to members of the unsuspecting public that it is not sympathetic to the Boko Haram sect, and two, also not to ruin the relationship it has built with the Nigeria Army over the years.
While the above should happen, the Nigeria Army also has a role to play too. Not minding the great damage, the exposure must have cost it, there is always a learning curve that entails that we forgive and move on in the spirit of national interest. Though tough for the Nigeria Army especially with the public perception that Boko Haram terrorists have regained grounds, we must look at the larger picture regardless of our hurt and realize that national interest should always supersede personal interest.
The deed has been done, yes, but it might not be intentional. We should also look at things from such perspective because so doing allows us the strength to forgive and move on. The Nigerian project requires all working together in harmony and not at cross-purposes. National interest should always supersede personal interest. That is just the way to go.
Onmeje wrote from the United Kingdom
COAS, Lt. Gen. Buratai