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Azazi’s trumpet blowers

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Garba Shehu


Newswatch magazine’s cover story last week, “Boko Haram, Azazi’s Winning Strategy”, was a bad idea that should not be entertained at this time when the bombs are still exploding and the gunshots ringing out there.

At a time when the whole country is exercised or tensed up over the failure to contain the insurgent attacks on innocent citizens, on churches and mosques and their growing specialty in raiding police stations and prisons, it amounts to sheer travesty to seek to confer glory on officials at this time and stage of the war. From Borno state where it initially began, Boko Haram has actually continued to grow in its attacks, impunity, ferocity and territoriality, such that it is premature, if not ridiculous, to begin to enumerate anyone’s achievements at this stage. As I write, Gombe is under a total curfew and the Governor of Plateau state, Jonah David Jang, was barely lucky to escape a bomb attack targeted at his church.

The fact that these attacks happen in more and more areas, unnoticed and undetected by our security agencies, is an indication that we lack a strong intelligence and an encompassing strategy to stop them from happening. Is this the time to start putting garlands on the necks of officials?

In this country it is very easy to make a mountain out of a molehill. All you need do is to dump rubbish continuously on it. The new Newswatch had written the story to prove General Andrew Azazi’s credentials as an effective National Security Adviser (NSA). There is nothing in the story to suggest that Azazi himself asked for the story. Basically, the cover story had nothing in it to indicate that it was related to advertising. Given the media system we operate in this country, Newswatch is not bound to explain to anyone why they are celebrating war actors in a deteriorating security situation such as we have. But it is insensitive to ignore the emotions of the families of soldiers and policemen and other civilian victims who are being killed in increasing numbers to curry favour from a top government official.

Surely, there is something unethical in the scramble for publicity and glory-seeking in the middle of a war situation. Quite apart from the fact that this can distract attention and focus of the troops in the war, it is a stark comment on the moral compass of our society that we celebrate administrators on magazine covers when the war is not over yet and there are tens and hundreds of casualties of servicemen at the “war front”.

This stands in sharp contrast to the muted ceremonies that marked the recent disengagement of American troops from Iraq. U.S. President Barak Obama chose to pay tribute to the troops who have served in Iraq as the U.S. military presence there wound down “one of the most extraordinary chapters in the history of the American military”.

In May 2011, when the American specially trained commandos or the Naval Seals killed Osama Bin Laden, the founder of Al-Qaeda terror network, President Obama paid special tribute to these young men that put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of other Americans. He could have paid the tribute to the National Security Adviser, the Defence Secretary or the CIA Director. Instead, he extolled the virtues of those young but shadowy commandos.

It is instructive that Obama picked a lesson from his predecessor in office, George W. Bush who sought glory at the expense of the American troops. “I won”, said Bush against the backdrop of a raised banner on a ship to proclaim a victory against Saddam. Soon thereafter, it turned out to be a premature celebration when things took a turn for the worse in the war.

In the Battle of Britain or the “Operation Sea Lion” (August 1940), Hitler’s Germany launched the fiercest air battle against the people of Great Britain. Outgunned and outnumbered, the Royal Air Force, driven by sheer courage and patriotism, overwhelmed the Germans. Sir Winston Churchill, then as wartime British Prime Minister, paid tribute to the intrepidity of the British soldiers, describing them as “the finest fighting men”. He never isolated their commanders for glory.

When American politicians talk about Iraq, they praise the fact that they liberated the country from a mad despot and brought democracy to the Iraqis. Obama could have said “my strategies won” but he did not. When they called the celebrated Iraqi war Commander General Norman Schwarzkopf to take an honour for his command performance in bringing the first Iraqi war to an iconic ending he declined it. Instead, he asked that it be dedicated to victims of a strange infection among the troops, the “Gulf War Syndrome”.

General Azazi’s plain speak is often a welcome thing and this is where it comes into play. The NSA should tell Newswatch to withdraw the gratuitous and incestuous cover story that has done nothing but decrease him by painting him a seeker of cheap glory. No one disputes the necessity of garlanding professionals to encourage them to do more for their nation. The question is whether the war against Boko Haram has been won to warrant this ego trip.

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