President Goodluck Jonathan, January 15, interrupted his campaign for re-election to visit Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state which is the epicenter of the 5-year Boko Haram insurgency. It was his first official visit to the state since June 2013. This second visit came on the 276th day of the captivity of over 200 Chibok schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram insurgents in April 2014.
The trip was carefully arranged to look like one by a commander-in-chief visiting his troops in battle. The president explained that he was in Maiduguri as part of the programme marking this year’s Armed Forces Remembrance Day and “identify with the military, particularly those in the war zone tackling Boko Haram.” Accompanying him were his military chiefs, security adviser and head of the national emergency agency, NEMA. Politics was kept out, so it seemed. No chieftain of the President’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) attended the airport reception even though the Minister of State for Power, Muhammed Wakil and other party top big shots had been in town since Monday.
Addressing officers and men of the 7 Division, Nigerian Army at the Maimalari Barracks, Maiduguri, the President praised their “gallantry and patriotism” as they confronted the insurgency. “I want to sincerely thank you, members of the Nigerian Armed Forces for your sustained effort in the fight against Boko Haram and other extremists in the country,” he said. “Day and night, you have been on the field to curtail this madness of Boko Haram. Some of you have paid the supreme price for your fatherland and we as government will do everything possible to support you and kit you in all ramifications.Your total commitment and dedication to duty to ensure peace and tranquility is much more appreciated and I want to assure you that your welfare will always be adequately taken care of by the Federal Government.”
From Maimalari barracks, President Jonathan went to the Teachers Village in Maiduguri that is accommodating tens of thousands of persons displaced by the insurgency in Baga, Kukawa, Mungunu and other towns. There, he told the IPDs that their plight was “an act of God”, but assured them that they were not forgotten.”Terrorism and insurgency have been very traumatic for all of us. I feel particularly disturbed when I hear of our people being displaced within their own country.I assure you and other displaced persons that Government is working very hard to ensure that you do not remain in these camps for too long,” he said.
We commend the President for finally finding the courage to visit his troops to boost their morale that has suffered as a result of one Boko Haram victory after the other. However, there is a contradiction here. It is only the President that is seeing the “gallantry and patriotism” of his troops; the army high command isn’t. In the past few months, hundreds of soldiers have been court-martialed and sentenced to death for alleged mutiny and desertion from battle fronts.
Secondly, much as Presidency officials would insist the visit had no political undertone, the majority of Nigerians believe it was a continuation of the President’s reelection campaign. Given the desperation and frustration of the Jonathan Campaign, the electoral value of the Borno visit couldn’t have been far from the thought of the campaign managers. More disturbing, however, is the fact that the President once again avoided going to Chibok community in the state. It was an opportunity for him to show he sympathized with the community over the loss of the girls, but the President failed to “seize the day.” Indeed, we have a President that cares!