How not to motivate our soldiers

This administration seems to put the wrong foot forward all the time. If the pomp and pageantry that accompanied the wasteful centenary celebration a few days after the gruesome murder of about 50 school children and the abduction of 20 others was beyond government, because it was an event designed to round up what some saw as our year-long celebration of an absurdity, the junketing around the country with about three presidential aircrafts at public expense by the president, vice president and senate president to mobilize PDP members for the president’s 2015 ambition while the siege by insurgents that has claimed over 300 lives in three weeks lingers, is indefensible.

There is undoubtedly a sense of revulsion all over the country against our bungling politicians who are divided over Boko Haram’s unending mindless killings of innocent Nigerians but united when it comes to confiscating disproportionate share of our resources by the ruling elite. Dr Obiageli Ezekwesili, former minister of education, as keynote speaker at the recent presentation of APC manifesto captured the mood of frustrated Nigerians when she pointedly told her hosts which included many repentant former PDP members that politicians of all hue who don’t often talk of ethnic group when sharing our national patrimony but haggle only over sharing formula are the problem of the nation.

For an administration that sees going to church to mobilize Christians for more prayers each time fresh tragedy befalls us, the sickening events of last week was the height of insensitivity. It was ill-timed and ill-conceived and couldn’t have come at more inauspicious of times for the nation. It came at a time the nation was still mourning, at a time when thousands of Nigerians motorists and those who depend on gasoline to power their small generators were marooned for hours on long queues at filling stations due to what the minister of petroleum attributed to ‘diversion by major oil marketers’, and at a time of an on-going probe of an illegal daily expenditure of US$8 million on kerosene subsidy, a product used more by the lowest class to which 80 percent of the military belong.

The obscene scenes of the president’s campaign team of who-is-who in PDP and all its elected governors round the country for 2015 is not how best to mobilise Nigerians in the face of the tragedy that has befallen our nation, or motivate our embattled armed forces that the politicians have, through acts of omission or commission, put in the harm’s way. A few weeks back, a tearful Governor Kashim Shettima on account of the relative ease with which Kauri, Idzge and Konduga villages in Borno State were sacked by Boko Haram, had pointed out that “what we are being confronted with is that we are in a state of war and that the sooner we stop playing the ostrich and rise up to the challenges of the day and marshal all resources towards stopping the antics of a better armed and a better motivated Boko Haram that is withstanding the fire power of our security apparatus”. He was accused of undermining the fighting spirit of our soldiers by Doyin Okupe, the president publicly paid crisis manager. And from the president came a scornful threat about, “if I should withdraw the military from Borno, we will see what will happen. He won’t be able to stay in his government house”.

The governor has since become the issue. On television and social media, government apologists insist the governor’s continuous stay in a state under emergency does not give enough motivation to our fighting forces. Instead of taking a critical look at the reasons behind our soldiers’ inability to respond to five hours insurgents’ attack on their targets, or why there was no immediate help from the commander of the Tank Battalion in Bama whom Alhaji Kyari Ibn E, l Kanemi, the Emir of Bama claimed to have contacted before escaping from a palace under a siege by insurgents who ended up killing over 70 residents of the town, all government apologists who are probably benefitting from our collective tragedy want is the head of the governor. They forget that even Afghanistan with its on-going 13 years war against insurgency has an elected president and state governors.

Besides the lack of training in guerrilla warfare recently raised by a retired senior air force officer and inadequate equipment, (Okupe recently told Channel TV’s Sunrise crew that the N30 billion Nigerian satellite only captures vehicular movements and not objects below four feet), massive corruption and politicians’ obscene display of waste at a period of war, this administration has done far more damage to the fighting spirit of our soldiers. I don’t think just because one chooses to be a soldier is enough motivation to die for one’s country if we continue to treat those who have made the supreme sacrifice as ‘unknown soldiers’ or are treated as mere numbers.

It has for instance been claimed by families of those who lost loved ones during the suicide attack in St. Andrews Anglican Church inside Jaji army barracks that many senior officers who ran into the church to help victims after the first bomb blast died along with many of the congregation following the detonation of the second bomb. Nigerians were never told the names and ranks of these national heroes who deserve the highest honour that our nation can bestow .The recent attack on Maiduguiri airport left about 20 military officers dead according to some credible local newspaper. Many more according to foreign media died in other various ambushes by Boko Haram insurgents on many of the undefined battle fronts. They all remain anonymous or unknown soldiers.

There is equally a web of secrecy surrounding hundreds of policemen and other members of the security forces that have paid the supreme sacrifice. Only last week, Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) Comptroller General, David Parradang revealed to Nigerians for the first time that there were “about 37 officers in the immigration service that died in the course of Boko Haram attacks with many who sustained serious injuries located in various hospitals across the country”. But like many others, they remain anonymous entities.

Unlike other societies where victims of national tragedies are documented for posterity, where ordinary foot soldiers who died in the service of their nations are celebrated, here, not even senior officers that received advanced training from all over the world are mentioned when they fall in the service of our nation. Three weeks after the brutal murder of about 50 secondary pupils, the victims just like our fallen soldiers remain just numbers.

Even if the claim by some surviving victims of Boko Haram assault that some of our soldiers often disappeared from their posts shortly before each attack is launched is untrue, even if government is right that our soldiers are well trained, adequately equipped, indifferent to the obscene scenes of wastefulness daily on display by politicians and are well motivated to want to die for Nigeria, it must not be lost on us that they are also rational beings who, in the first place, joined the military either because they were poor and propelled by a dream of climbing the social ladder or of cultivating heroism. For many a soldier, the greatest impetus is dream of heroism and when they pay the supreme price, even for a cause they don’t understand or believe in, they want to be remembered for their heroic exploits.

This is why in other climes, soldiers are treated as heroes. Their heroic exploits are celebrated in life as in death. In Britain, France and US, appreciative compatriots line the streets to herald the arrival of their caskets and their burial command national attention. The media focus on their parents, siblings, wives and the children they left behind. Even where they die young and unmarried, there will be focus on their girl-friends, the schools they attended, and their dreams which studies have shown is in most cases about dying as heroes.

For many of our fallen heroes like their counterparts elsewhere in the world, heroism is the motivation. Tragically, this is what our nation has consistently denied her fallen heroes. One would have expected the names of the likes of Okigbo, Isaac Boro, Nzeogwu, Adekunle Fajuyi and a host of others that died during the civil war in President Jonathan centenary award list. But as it was in the past, so it is today.

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