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Published On: Fri, Sep 26th, 2014

Our folly, their Foley

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By Jaafar Jaafar.

Abubakar Umar was in regular contact with his family and friends before GSM service disruption in Borno and Yobe states in May 2013. But upon restoration of the telephone service, Umar’s wife, Asma’u, and mother, Fatima, never heard from him again. The family’s agony began when Umar’s mobile number became perpetually inaccessible. Concerned about his whereabouts, the distraught mother of one decided to embark on a journey in search of her husband. Asma’u first visited Enugu — her husband’s primary beat, and later Maiduguri — where he was later posted.

Piggybacking her five-months-old son, Umar’s grieving wife endured the tortuous journey from Kaduna to Enugu by road. In Enugu, she was told investigation was ongoing to ascertain her husband’s whereabouts. After returning home with deep sense of dejection, Asma’u tried her luck again. This time she went to Maiduguri.

Braving the turmoil of the hotbed of terrorism in search of her loving husband, the young mother stormed the city. In Maiduguri, a city that hitherto prides itself as “Home of Peace”, the perturbed mother was, again, unlucky. They were still unable to establish Umar’s whereabouts, she was told. When she returned home in tears, Umar’s heartbroken heartthrob and his mother decided to go back to Maiduguri again despite the mounting security risk on the thoroughfare leading to the terrorism-ravaged city. Arriving at the work place of her missing husband, Umar’s senior colleagues, this time, came up a new theory. “Umar deserted service after taking excuse to ease himself”, they said curtly, giving no further detail.

The family had already given up for the loss. Day and night, they cried and grieved. But they were still hopeful despite the fact that it was almost a year without hearing from Umar. Ahmad, the little baby he left at three months is now more than a year old.

About 14 months after Umar’s disappearance, a video clip was released on YouTube. In no time, the video, showing the beheading of a young Nigerian Air Force officer, went viral on social media. The footage showed Boko Haram decapitating a military personnel captured spying around their den.

Pleading for mercy in the video was Abubakar Umar. The clip was a pitiful watch. Think of what comes into human mind when one finds himself in the valley of death. Think of that mental sound of shattering dreams a dying person comes to term with. Think of that urgent desire to set eyes on your children, to kiss your wife goodbye and to bid your parents farewell before the final departure. Think of the thoughts of how painful decapitation will be. Umar wanted live, so he kept pleading. But Boko Haram jury had already handed down the sentence. The terrorists did not waste time to waste his life. Despite the personnel’s claim that he was also a Muslim, and that he was only there to purchase a fan for his boss, the terrorists slew their knife into Umar’s nape down his throat.

It saddened me to know that even after the release of the video, Nigerian military authorities never had the nous to contact the family and condole them. It was after the deceased wife, mother and some relatives went to the Air Force base in Kaduna to complain, that a nondescript delegation was sent to them.

On the day Islamic State (IS) released a video showing the beheading of American journalist James Foley, the whole world focused its attention on the issue. In a prompt reaction, the National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said, “We have seen a video that purports to be the murder of U.S. citizen James Foley by ISIS.” She added, “the intelligence community is working as quickly as possible to determine its authenticity. If genuine, we are appalled by the brutal murder of an innocent American journalist and we express our deepest condolences to his family and friends. We will provide more information when it is available.” Can you show me Marilyn Ogar’s reaction to Umar’s beheading? If you want to see Ogar’s reaction, do something against the interest of her political party.

White House also issued a statement on the same day, condemning the beheading of the American journalist. CNN quoted White House spokesman Eric Schultz telling Americans that Obama was briefed about the video, and that “he will continue to receive regular updates”.

Later on the very day, President Obama, who was on vacation, told Americans, “Earlier today, I spoke to the Foleys and told them that we are all heartbroken at their loss and join them in honoring Jim and all that he did…. All of us feel the ache of his absence. All of us morn his loss. We keep in our prayers those other Americans who are separated from their families. May God bless and keep Jim’s memory. And may God bless the United States of America”. Did you hear President Jonathan phoning the Umars to sympathize with them? Although Obama was also accused of playing golf after the address, the Nigerian equivalent of Obama’s tee off was a varying analogy. Jonathan danced at a political rally a day after about hundred people died in a bomb blast. Obama latter told Americans he regretted his action. Jonathan never expressed any regret for gyrating to the tune of Sani Danja’s ‘kayirawa, kai Malam kayirawa’ in Kano.

Even Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, had to release in a statement, saying “our hearts are broken for the Foley family. This barbaric and heinous act shocks the conscience and highlights the truly evil nature of the terrorists we confront, who must be defeated”. Did you hear the senator representing late Umar’s constituency reacting?

Also reacting to the Foley’s beheading on the day of its release, Foley’s employer Philip Balboni, the CEO of GlobalPost, said in a published statement, “On behalf of John and Diane Foley, and also GlobalPost, we deeply appreciate all of the messages of sympathy and support that have poured in since the news of Jim’s possible execution first broke”. On Umar’s beheading, neither Alex Badeh nor any other Air Force officer speak on the matter till date.

In places where lives of the citizens matter, presidents make schedule or surprise visits to their troops. Whether they are fighting within or outside their shores, or even fighting on a different continent, good leaders meet their armies at the battlefield to motivate and encourage them. American soldiers gave President Obama a resounding applause when he visited them in Afghanistan in May this year. “To all of you”, Obama said, “I’m here on a single mission and that is to thank you for your extraordinary service”. So far Obama visited Afghanistan four times. UK’s David Cameron also made similar visit to Afghanistan December last year. Russia’s Vladmir Putin visited his troops in Crimea. In May 2013, less than two weeks after a German soldier was killed and another wounded, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Afghanistan, where she inspected her troops and showed concern to them.

But our president, Goodluck Jonathan, has refused to make even a cameo appearance at the battle field. It would not cost Jonathan anything to visit our heroes in either Borno or Yobe State. The visit will give Jonathan opportunity for on-site briefing with the troops and their commanders. For heaven’s sake this won’t cost much as the president’s trip to Paris, US, UK, Germany!

Now, how do you expect a Nigerian soldier to fight with required determination and spirit without a regular payment, motivation and needed hardware? Any army that can work under the Nigerian condition, should be termed the most courageous and valiant in the world. Even those who scorn our soldiers for ‘tactical maneuver’ can not even honour a wedding invitation at Borno or Damaturu because of fear.

Nigerian government should learn to value the life of its citizen. Until our government defends our integrity, nobody will accord us respect. American government values the life of Americans. We don’t. America can go to war just tell the world how valuable and sacred the life of an American is.

But if I’m not mistaken, James Foley was not American soldier — Abubakar Umar was. Foley was not sent to defend America — Abubakar Umar was. But for the Nigerian folly, I dare say Umar’s life deserves more honour and tributes than Foley’s.


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