The death of Lt Col. Muhammed Abu Ali and six other troops cast a pall on the nation, opening the month of November on a sad note. Those deaths were preceded in September and October by some other casualties in the war theatre. Before them other gallant soldiers had paid the supreme price in the war to rid Nigeria of Boko Haram terrorists. And before that there have been thousand others that died securing the fatherland.
One's thoughts are often with the bereaved families considering the state of our socio-cultural evolution and the fracture that the death of breadwinners can inflict on families – oftentimes young families with the older children barely out of primary school. The fallen soldiers could have opted for less risky and more lucrative careers – lifting crude, padding budgets, inflating contracts and other vices that have all but received national absolution, rather they opted for the noble choice of serving the nation with their lives.
This why the raving frenzy around the death of the troops in Boko Haram ambush leaves a nauseating feeling. On the surface it appeared to be a nation united in grief as people take to the social media to share the photos of Lt Col Abu Ali – sadly that created the impression that only one officer has died in the half decade insurgency.
The sad reality beneath the impassioned sense of national mourning is that the greater part of the population were acting out in a zombie-like manner – they hit the share button because that is the way they have become conditioned, think of a cyber crow that click like on photos of mutilated bodies at accident scene, the mindless horde that type 'lol' (laugh out loud) in response to an update of someone losing their loved one or a robotic gang that share links without reading.
The installed capacity of the crowd in question is further understood if one recalled that they are the same ones that trended the Je Suis Charlie hashtag when terrorists struck in France yet they had prior to that never declared their Nigerian patriotism. It is the assemblage of people that have changed their profile pictures to the national flags of other nations undergoing crisis but barely know what just transpired in their neighbouring such that asking them to understand what happened nationally would be an unfair task. The population represents folks who do not know the name of the chairman of their local government area council but yet are obsessed with voting against Donald Trump as US president, a country to which some of them would never get visas to visit in ten lifetimes.
The negligible percentage – a vocal minority with agenda, found useful fodder in this mindless online mass. They simply convoluted the story of the military casualty and the automatons became readily available to amplify the distortions.
Suddenly the story has shifted from the tragedy of human loss to that of political posturing. The mass opinion has moved from thinking of that uncertain moment of the soldiers being on the threshold of death and knowing they are dying. The focus is now using these great lives for advancing perverted political goals. No one is pondering how the loved ones left behind by these gallant troops would survive knowing that offers of extended support are drying up in a world suffering the fallouts of declining economies.
Instead, the sacrifices of these souls is being leveraged as the entry point to reopen attacks on the military leadership, especially Lt Gen Tukur Buratai, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), who is now being pitted against President Muhammadu Buhari. The lies are rolling out faster than Boko Haram insurgents are being defeated. As would be expected the online drones are replicating the lies without the knowledge to process and appreciate that they have become unwitting fighters against the state in the new phase of the anti-terror war and that their misdirected posts in essence constitute fighting the late soldiers they thought they were revering.
In our various national cultures and beliefs, the tenet is not to speak evil of the dead. Why then must we use the deaths of people that died in service of the nation as rags to mop up the mess of failed political louts?
Those who are truly touched by the sacrifices of these soldiers would at this point be interested in using crowd funding for setting up a foundation that will cater to the needs of the vulnerable persons soldiers leave behind when they die in the line of duty – aged parents, wives and children. This will be a more productive approach than moaning in cyber space while ignorantly spreading the propaganda of those that have sustained the terrorists for their own selfish reasons.
By all means there should be outrage over the deaths and a good suggestion for expressing that outrage is to make contributions and suggestions on how to continue the fight against terrorism at a time when the economic situation is making the funding of anything possible. Since Boko Haram constitute a greater threat to the collective, the suggestion will include asking the handlers of the Niger Delta militants to call their boys to order while the threat of extremism is dealt with since the government is looking into their 16 points demand.
Those backing the Boko Haram terror group must not be spared a dose of the national outrage. For as long as they are there to sponsor, recruit, radicalise and deploy more youths as terrorists it is becoming apparent that the insurgents will continue to get regenerated after every wave of defeat. The military will take out the terrorists but only the stakeholders in the north east and clamping down on the sponsors would turn off the tap at the source in this instance.
Pending when any of these happens, Nigerians must take lesson. Social media sites are shutting down accounts connected with terrorism but the everyday user is dumbly becoming the channel for spreading the message and propaganda of the terrorists with each like, share and comments that further terrorism in the most innocent form conceivable. This kind of behaviour is nothing short of dancing on the graves of hour fallen heroes and could not have been what we have in mind when we prayed that they continue to rest in piece.
So before joining the bandwagon in sharing stories concerning troops in the Boko Haram theatre of war it is prudent to ask "when I share this story, on whose side am I?".
Ola writes from CotBus, Germany.
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