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Published On: Tue, Aug 12th, 2014

If not the army, who then?

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COAS-Gen-Kenneth-MinimahWednesday Column by Garba Shehu

The terror groups in the North-east who now have a territory of their own on the Nigerian soil, as confirmed by various reports, added another woeful chapter to this country’s history when, on July 3, they destroyed the national grid power-line supplying electricity to Borno state. But listen, that is not even the whole story.ThisDay newspaper, which amazingly tucked this important report titled “Terror Attacks Plunge Borno into Blackout”, deep inside its edition of Friday August 8th, said that the state had been without power for more than a month because the army said it was unsafe for engineers to venture out to carry out the repairs. Said the paper, “… an official of the Yola Electricity Distribution Company, who spoke anonymously in Maiduguri as he was not authorized to officially speak, said: ‘we had made some attempts to go there and fix it, as it will take not more than five hours to replace and fix the destroyed power-line from the National Grid.’ The soldiers however warned that it is very dangerous and suicidal for engineers and other facility support team to go to the site for repairs and fixing of destroyed power lines near the village.” As a consequence, the state continues to be in darkness and the company left to lament their continued loss of revenue. This is a good article and I hope someone in the Ministry of Defence will read and react to it.

When I read it myself, what came to the mind was ‘am I reading this correctly? That the army cannot defend engineers and technicians for five hours so that the repairs can be made?’ This is incredible. This country has Africa’s best army by reputation. The army is the glue that held, and still holds Nigeria as one. Today, the army is fighting an international conspiracy against Nigeria and it is not an easy war. But never you forget that we fixed Liberia and Sierra-Leone and before then, Congo. The West African sub-region has remained more stable than the others because of what the Nigerian army could do. If this Borno story is true, the question then to ask is: where are all the billions of Naira going into funding of the army that won’t fix this problem? The Chief of Army Staff, General Paul Minimah, a month ago decried cowardice leading to desertion by soldiers. There is no better evidence of what he spoke about than this incident. This is cowardice or abysmal lack of leadership or both.

Many have said it and it bears repeating that the Nigerian government needs to put the lives of our citizens in the North-East on top of its priorities. This single incident is illustrative of the worrisome indifference with which that sub-region is being treated. Indeed the public and the world at large need no further evidence of how below the radar we have kept our countrymen and women in Borno, Yobe and the North-East generally. The problem, as I can see it is that we don’t even have a clear policy in the country in dealing with these challenges coming from security. This is worsened by the fact that the perspectives of the administration differ markedly in favour of those who live in Abuja and the South.

When an incident, say a bomb explosion, happens in Abuja, everyone in government – the Presidency, the National Assembly, the Police all rush to the scene and thereafter, the hospitals to console the victims. Even the media are complicit. This incident gets massive attention in the newspapers, radio and TV.

By contrast, the horrors of the people of Borno and Yobe merely elicit sighs and condemnations in statements issued by press secretaries. They are treated like cattle and often crushed like ants by one, and sometimes both sides of the conflict. This is wrong. Government should not treat any section of the citizens as aliens or a forgotten people.

Speaking to the paper on the hardship and effect of the continuing blackout on the more than three million people affected by it, a Professor of Economics at the University of Maiduguri, Dahiru Balami lamented that “all socio-economic activities, including cold chain stores for fruits and vegetables will come to a halt, with increasing losses of goods and sales revenues of marketers and traders, including the over 15,000 butchers in Maiduguri Monday market alone… (the outage) has not only destroyed the means of livelihood of three million residents, but the economic situation of vulcanisers and welders that constitutes about 40 per cent of labour force will be made worse”.

This is odd and unacceptable. The government of Nigeria, which needs the support of all citizens to combat groups that continue to carry out extreme acts of terror     must change from their indifferent attitude towards the people of the affected areas. In addition to addressing the root causes that fuel crimes and insurgency such as poverty and inequality, they must equip the army and the police very well and have the security services look inwards for cowards in their midst. Those that can be helped, through counselling and psychological prop ups should be saved. Those that can’t be helped should be flushed from their ranks.

Jobs in the army and police should be reserved for out brave men and women, not cowards.

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