Editorial: Gen. Attahiru et al, Buhari, Osinbajo And The Optics Of Absence

President Buhari (right) and Vice President Osinbajo (left)
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The remains of Nigeria’s 21st Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Ibrahim Attahiru, Bri-Gen. Ahmed Kuliya, Brig.Gen O. Olayinka, Brig-Gen. MI Abdulkadir, Maj. N Hamza, Maj. LA Hayat; Flt Lt TO Asaniyi, Flt Lt AA Olufade, Sgt. O Adesina, and Sgt. Umar and Aircraftman OM Oyedepo, were interred at the National Military Cemetery, Abuja on Saturday, May 22, 2021 following their death in a plane crash in Kaduna the previous day while on national duties.

 According to the programme of events at the burial, the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari, a retired general himself, was scheduled to deliver special remarks as the interment.

 However, President Buhari did not make the event. He was represented by the Minister of Defence, Maj. Gen. Bashir Magashi (retd.). Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was also absent from the burial ceremonies. Same for majority of governors, ministers, the full complement of the National Assembly leadership and that of the Judiciary.

  Following such tragic national events, the norm in most civilized countries of the world, especially in leading democracies, is to seize on them to rally patriotism, nationalism and national unity in various ways, including a solemn interment attended by the President, his cabinet, National Assembly leaders and members across party lines, etc. A national mourning period with flags flying at half-mast, etc is often declared as symbolic demonstration of mourning and appreciation of services rendered by the departed. And other state functions are often suspended so that the top echelon of government, including the president, can attend such funerals in person.

   It is unthinkable, for instance, that President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris would be absent from the event if a similar tragedy – God forbids –  hits the United States (U.S.), no matter where the burial takes places, not to talk of if the events holds in Washington, the U. S. capital, as this event which took place in Abuja and a stone throw from Aso Rock where President Buhari and Vice President Osinbajo work.

 Even of both President Biden and Vice President Harris suffer incurable dysentery and diarrhea respectively, we can bet our top dollar that multiple mobile loos for their personal use will be provisioned on the interment ground– just to make sure that they are there. Save for slipping into coma, both of them would attend. Same for Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain.

 We are not aware that any debilitating illness ails either President Buhari or Vice President Osinbajo. To be sure, the nation saw a hale and hearty President Buhari with President Emmanuel Macron in France over four or five days prior to the tragic crash in Kaduna.

  President Buhari has also been seen on national television attending to state matters after returning from that France trip. Ditto Vice President Osinbajo.

  The optics of President Buhari, Vice President Osinbajo and all other absentees attending the burial of the nation’s No.1 soldier and his comrades who perished in an air mishap is priceless.

  Conversely, their absence at such a significant national gathering, albeit a tragic one, has wrought incalculable damage on nation-building.

 Did anyone of these absentees put themselves in the position of the officers and men of the Nigerian Armed forces currently putting up a valiant fight to extinguish multiple flares of insecurity which threaten the corporate existence of Nigeria, especially ongoing acts of terrorism with a view to territorial acquisition by terrorists in the North East?

  Did any of these absentees contemplate the quantum of damage their shocking nonappearance at the burial does to the morale of our troops on the frontline? If the Commander-In-Chief of the country’s Armed Forces, his deputy and many governors can’t be bothered to accord the last respect to the nation’s chief of army staff who died with his boots on, why should that private soldier in Sambissa Forest, Gwoza, Damboa, Maiduguri, Geidam, Potiskum, etc stand his or her ground against Boko Haram and Islamic State of West African Province (ISWAP)?   

 Does that private soldier have a higher stake in Nigeria more than President Buhari, Vice President Osinbajo and all other high-ranking absentees?

 Have these high-profile absentees not provide effective propaganda materials for these terrorists to taunt our soldiers on the value, or to be more accurate, the disvalue the country’s leadership appears to allot to their lives on the battlefields?  

Civilian or military, young or old, who will want to die willingly for Nigeria now following this public sneer at the ultimate price payable in the course of patriotism to our country?

  What message does this conspicuous dissociation by the President et al from this tragic national event send to Nigerians living in our territories occupied by Boko Haram and ISWAP? In whose hands should these terrorized citizens place their lives and allegiance now? In terrorists who assure them of safety if they continue to obey them or in a Nigerian leadership that won’t deign to honour the ultimate sacrifices of its generals and servicemen with their personal presence and highest delegation possible right in the backyard of the Commander-In-Chief?

 Agitations for self-determination are gathering pace in the South East and the South West regions of the country, threatening the very existence of the nation as a corporate entity. The Armed Forces have been deployed to rein in these separationist movements. Do the governors of the affected states who absented themselves from the Abuja interment of the late chief of army staff think they would still have the same states to govern if the deployed troops lose their fighting morale on account of the shabby treatment meted out to their superiors and mates on their final parade on earth?

 Now, this newspaper has seen prurient, un-official narratives being pushed around, especially on social media, as excuses for the President and Vice President absences at the Abuja burial. The purveyors of these inane pretexts adduce military tradition, insecurity, protocol diktats, religious and cultural constraints for the absence of President Buhari and Vice President Osinbajo at the National Military Cemetery, Abuja for the burial.

 These unintelligent narratives mock the sacrifices of the departed. 

 We insist that President Buhari, Vice President Osinbajo ought to have damned any military tradition, damned insecurity, damned protocols, damned religious and cultural limitations to be at the National Military Cemetery in person to bury Lt.-Gen. Ibrahim Attahiru, an officer they both decorated with the insignia of his new post just weeks ago in Aso Rock, as well as others officers and men interred on the occassion.

The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Muhammed, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Ali Pantami, Governor Nasiru el-Rufai of Kaduna State and the Speaker of the Kaduna House of Assembly, to list but a few civilians in government, were all at the burial. When did they join the Nigerian Army, the Nigeria Air Force or the Nigerian Navy as to qualify to attend a “strictly military affair” which the interment is spuriously purport to be as a reason for President Buhari and Vice President Osinbajo to excuse themselves from it on this ridiculous grounds?

 If a purported 48-hour security sweep is needed a priori for a sitting Nigerian President and Vice President to appear in person anywhere in the nation’s capital, can we still claim to have a country?

  What jail-like protocol is there in this country which stops the President from attending the burial ceremony of his own chief of army staff and still stop him from delegating the vice president from representing him at the event too, a hop from the seat of power?

 Were any of his beloved parents alive and one of them passes on in Daura on Friday, May 21, 2021 would President Buhari stay back in Aso Rock for a 48-hour security clearance to go bury them at home or he would order them buried in his absence and within 24 hours to fulfil a religious observance?

 Hasn’t Vice President Osinbajo visited some bereaved citizens within 24 hours of such events in the past and very recently too? Would he also stay put in Aso Rock if this tragedy has struck – God forbids – closer home?                  

The physical absence of President Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and other absentee high-ranking officials at the burial of Lt.-Gen. Ibrahim Attahiru and other patriots who lost their lives in the service of our country in the Kaduna plane crash sends a very bad optical message to hitherto friendly and enemy quarters.

 May God save Nigeria from the possible consequences of this official faux pas.       

 We commend all government functionaries, traditional rulers, current and ex-servicemen, civilian citizens and foreign friends of Nigeria who attended the event as officially required of them and those who did so in breach of protocols, in damnation of danger and against the limitations of culture and religion.

 You all did your patriotic duties to the nation’s departed patriots.

 You are all appreciated.

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