June 25, (Blank NEWS Online) –
A few days ago, when information started trickling in that the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, may be considering bombing a supposed ex-militant and kidnappers’ hideout in Calabar, Cross River State, some of us did not believe it. Part of the reason why we questioned the veracity of the information, was the simple fact, that except for relocating the military command to Maiduguri, Borno State, the Nigerian military has done nothing substantial in curbing the antics of the terrorist group Boko Haram in the North Eastern part of the country. The unconfirmed fact that the so-called military high command have actually lodged in a billionaire’s compound, is not the issue right now. Also, we will defer to the President as to the reason for his failure to appoint Ministers to date, including not even the essential Secretary to the Government of the federation (SGF), almost four weeks after swearing-in and twelve weeks after his election victory. Those decisions are executive prerogatives.
The summary of the story reported by a few media houses was that the Nigerian Air Force bombed militants’ hideouts in the Cross River creeks on the orders of the Chief of Air Staff, Air Vice Marshall Adesola Amosu. The order followed supposed frequent attacks on vessels, police stations, and seafarers by gunmen suspected to be pirates and militants on the Calabar waterways. Allegedly, Amosu ordered deployment of the M17 gunship helicopter to survey and bomb all suspected hideouts of militants and sea robbers along the creeks of Calabar, according to the Commander of the 207 Special Mobility Group based in Calabar, Air Commodore Charles Ohwo. The air attack which lasted over one hour is expected to be a continuous exercise. They bombed suspected targets in the entire creeks of Calabar waterways up to Bakassi and environs, and that the raid may extend to creeks in Akwa Ibom State. The exercise was planned in conjunction with the Navy, Army and police, but led by the Air Force because of reach and air advantage.
What most of us will not be quiet about is bombing that could potentially cause the death of innocent civilians, when the basis for the attacks are probably specious at best. In late 2012, when the rift between the then President Goodluck Jonathan and former President, Chief (Gen.) Olusegun Obasanjo (rt.) started, over comments on Odi and Zaki Biam, I was quick to pen a piece titled “Obasanjo vs. Jonathan.” The problem as I stated then “was the statement by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (GCFR) a.k.a. GEJ at his press briefing on Sunday, November 25, 2012 … that the method utilized by OBJ in handling the Odi problem was not effective.”
Now that another retired military General has decided to bomb a section of the country that is not in the core North, it is important that we look at the similarities by revisiting Odi and Zaki Biam. In Odi, there were alleged militants that had attacked soldiers. In response, Gen. Chief Obasanjo ordered the annihilation of that village on November 20 1999. Essentially, every building in the town was razed to the ground. Our then Commander-in-Chief stated as the Commander in Chief of the armed forces, he could not just stand by and watch his soldiers be killed by civilians.
Two years later, between 22 to 24 October 2001, the people of Zaki Biam in Benue State were not any luckier. Under Obasanjo watch, soldiers murdered over 100 civilians based on alleged killing of peacekeeping soldiers, when a simple argument over the siting of local government headquarters could not be amicably settled.
It has always been postulated that retired military men do not make good civilian and democratic leaders because of their training and antecedents. I will hate to believe that a President that I have met and highly respect, is could add credence to the argument. In my comparative analysis of Obasanjo and Dr. Jonathan, I asked, “So, which do we prefer? A President that appears weak because he is seeking workable solutions to an ethno-religious terrorism problem, even if it may involve dialogue, or a President that will order the razing of a village because it potentially may harbor terrorists inside even if it results in killings of women, children and innocent civilians?” I also stated that” it could be that since GEJ is not a former soldier, he is not familiar with the rash methods of the military. Or is it that as a brilliant academician, the President may be restrained by intellectual analysis paralysis that the military is not prone to utilize?
Should we not be turning our attention to Boko Haram or are we using the recent military aid from America to fight the wrong battle? I understand the importance of Oil to the country and international community, but must oil wars that have claimed the lives of people like Ken Saro Wiwa continue? In light of the recent Amnesty International report of human rights violation allegedly perpetrated by Nigeria military personnel, including extra-judicial killings, one would have expected that our security forces will be more circumspect in their operations.
We are all waiting for un-doctored casualty figures from the Calabar Creeks raid. In the meantime, let us rise and speak up!
*Rev. Alex Osondu Atawa-Akpodiete, a public Affairs Analyst and media consultant, writes from Asaba.
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