By Oludayo Tade
I pledge to Nigeria my country, to be faithful, loyal and honest. To serve Nigeria with all my strength. To defend her Unity and uphold her Honour and Glory, So help me God.
(The Nigeria National Anthem)
There is no other way to describe the over 100 gallant men of the Nigerian Army who were deployed into the valley of death than honest, loyal and faithful heroes. In service of the fatherland, they were sent to the wilderness of Melete in Borno State, North-East Nigeria where forest-backed Boko Haram terrorists crept in, fully armed with state of the art modern weaponry. How else can one describe the signing of enlistment form in which it is boldly written that you can die in the course of duty and you still go ahead with it?
It was a sad day for the entirety of Nigeria, the Nigerian Army and the forces in the Northeastern part of the country when insurgents bombarded them into helpless condition. Watching the circulated video of the attack triggered anger within me. I was visibly shaken seeing how our gallant men fought and when death moved closer, they tried to evade death but were eventually cut down like a disturbing pole in the neighbourhood. Sadly enough, it was immaterial to the terrorists if a Nigerian soldier had fallen, the mad terrorists still had time to verify and to be certain callous shots for double confirmation. They were determined to wipe out their enemies totally and they did. This is the height of savagery.
As a result of the Melete massacre, we have made over 100 women widowed and over 400 persons who depended on these men for survival more vulnerable. What will happen to their children after their breadwinners have left? How do we take care of their parents who are witnessing the most sordid experience that good parents never pray to witness in their lifetime? We must honour these fallen heroes with a posthumous national honour and ensure proper victim compensation to the wives and children of the departed patriots. Perhaps, the greatest honour to them will be complete defeat of the terrorists and the punishment of the moles within the low and high layers of the military establishment.
The timing of the attack and the strategy deployed by the terrorists are reflective of an understanding of the routines at the Melete base by the terrorists. Criminological theory of routine activity has postulated that crime is a function of the convergence of a suitable target, motivated offender and the lack of capable guardianship. The Melete base was a suitable target which was attacked by a well-motivated offender who, having realised the limit of weaponry and their weakness, capitalised on this to wreak havoc, causing human and material losses.
But there is also another perspective which I call the Open Wall perspective. This perspective invites us into the role insiders play in inflicting harm on their own. We suffer harm from outsiders through the open wall, our trusted insider allies who work as collaborators with enemies. Open Wall perpetrators are traitors, sell-outs, greedy characters who care less about the impending calamity. Their only target is the benefit derivable from transacting with the enemy. Jesus Christ was a victim of insider conspiracy with outsiders. Samson, the powerful, was sold out by Delilah, an insider, who offered not only the weak point or the power point of Samson to the enemies but also collaborated with them to execute the plans.
This Open-wall perspective is a useful analytical frame for the Melete tragedy when situated within the narrative of the soldiers that was circulated in an online video. The soldiers complained about the way they were being (mal)-treated by those who were supposed to take care of them. The complaints indicated an allegation of possible profiteering from weapon procurement, deployment of troops and mis-direction of allocated funds to service personal utilities. Here, we see at least two layers of Open-wall: the top echelons and the low rung of the ladder of the security system. Even if the troops were sold out by one of them, having better equipment to ward off aggression would have kept some of them alive. In the video, the soldiers absolved the Federal Government of the happenings in the warfronts but called for intervention. They even alleged their “Ogas at the top” of using the money to buy SUVs!
The presence of insider conspiracy is the tragedy of the Nigerian system. Just like soldiers are expected to fight terrorists and yet do not have the requisite motivation (allowances and weapons), so are doctors and nurses in our ‘death’ health institutions across the country who are expected to perform miracles of fighting diseases, illnesses and treating patients with no equipment/facilities. Our educational institutions are expected to rank among the best in the world but our science laboratories still use kerosene stoves to conduct experiments. This is how our dysfunctional system kills its best.
The Bible preaches that it is better to go to where they are mourning than where they are celebrating birth. This is unconnected with the fact that we are more reflective with death, and fear that we may soon become victims ourselves. The Melete tragedy questions allocation and monitoring systems of our security budgets. If President Muhammadu Buhari is to claim any credit in anti-terrorism war, the Melete tragedy is a major blow to it. How do we ensure that those still at the battlefronts are motivated to want to die for their country? How do we hold the culpable accountable irrespective of whether they are loyal to the powers-that-be? We should take care of the living too who are still in the warfront. Their welfare, the ammunition and the numbers of troops that ought to be posted should not be less than budgeted and issues of corruption should be thoroughly thrashed. There may be a need to review the anti-terror strategy and punish moles within the rank and file.
This tragedy also brings to the fore the need to review our remuneration system. Why should those who do more by risking their lives for the country receive less and work under debilitating conditions while those who do less receive more? Why do those who die for the country receive paltry sums– if at all – while those serving as governors receive millions as severance allowances, reviewable after some years? Nigeria must review her lopsided compensation system which lowers the morale of people and inhibits their commitment to the country. Those who are de-motivated will sing “to serve Nigeria is not by force”. I salute the departed patriots but the living must block these systemic loopholes to prevent future tragedies.
Dr Tade, a sociologist, wrote in from Ibadan via firstname.lastname@example.org