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Is Nigeria worth dying for?

This query, in one form or another, was what dominated our social media on the weekend. For most of those raising it, the answer seemed…

This query, in one form or another, was what dominated our social media on the weekend. For most of those raising it, the answer seemed obvious: our country is not worth one iota of sacrifice. ‘Dying’ in this sense is usually meant metaphorically, not meaning the ultimate sacrifice, but giving one’s all for the sake of one’s country. It is a question consistently thrown by those who wish to pour cold water on those of us determined to give our very best to Nigeria. The skeptics ask rather rhetorically: Why would you stand for a country that won’t stand for you in your time of need? Why won’t you steal from a government that won’t pay your retirement benefits when you get old? Why would you die for a nation that would abandon your dependants even before you are placed in the grave?

This sadly played out at the national stage last week with the death of the Chief of Army Staff. President Buhari and Vice President Osibanjo’s unexplained no-show at the burial of COAS Ibrahim Attahiru and 10 other military officers, who died the previous day on national assignment outraged many Nigerians. That a president, who just returned from a four-day visit in Paris, couldn’t spare a few minutes to pay his final respects to national heroes is unconscionable. It is a demonstration of lack of empathy that has come to define a politician whose self-professed prime virtue is selflessness. From mass atrocities to national events to sombre occasions, Buhari had multiple opportunities to correct the impression that he does not care and each time has failed. The proverb ‘a leopard doesn’t change its spots’ couldn’t have found a better fit.

In the Buhari tradition, four governors from the North West and one from North East chose to shun the solemn occasion in Abuja for the wedding of the Attorney General of the Federation’s son in Kano. A nation sunk in grief saw viral pictures of Governors Bello Matawalle (Zamfara), Aminu Tambuwal (Sokoto), Inuwa Yahaya (Gombe), Abdullahi Ganduje (Kano) and Atiku Bagudu (Kebbi) in pomp and pageantry. Governors Babagana Zulum (Borno), Mai Mala Buni (Yobe) and Nasir El-Rufai (Kaduna) showed what leadership is like in choosing to honour our national heroes. The late COAS came from El-Rufai’s state and that is also where he died; Buni and Zulum, meanwhile, showed up because, having been hit by the Boko Haram crisis, they understand the extraordinary value of the victims of this tragedy. Why couldn’t the rest of their colleagues, who are from similar hotspots see that?

Yet it has never been more crucial to show to our national heroes – in our words and conduct – that they are not falling in vain. Our men and women in uniform are bearing the brunt of the insecurity across the country in their line of duty. Our soldiers, policemen and other security and law enforcement agents are dying every single day at the hands of repugnant groups. The least we can – and must – do is to honour them and take care of their families. But, instead, we treat them like nothing and abandon their families as soon as they are no more. The Presidency and the jubilant governors demonstrated this last week. They showed the country that even the most senior military officers in the land are not worth a couple of minutes and personal words of condolences. Lowering the national flag is good, but a presidential presence and a personal statement would have comforted the families and reassured those in the frontlines.

Well, if many of our politicians betrayed our heroes, the outpouring of support from Nigerians across the country should bring comfort. When COAS Attahiru was appointed last January, we witnessed the huge public support he received; the farewell his countrymen gave him was even greater. COAS Attahiru’s experience, resolve and grassroots goodwill are sadly gone. More broadly, with the COAS and his principal officers and key aides gone, the nerve centre of the Nigerian Army’s command structure has been taken down. This will make the war on terrorists and bandits much harder – at least and hopefully in the short term. One can only hope that the president will appoint someone of comparable experience, public goodwill and integrity and that he will do so without the customary dither and delay.

But the crash itself raises very serious questions to which we must hear answers. This is the third time that a Nigerian military plane has crashed in the past four months. On 21 February, King Air 350 crashed near Abuja killing all seven personnel onboard; NAF475 fell from the radar with two crew members aboard at the end of March and now this one. With 20 officers killed in these tragic incidents just this year, plane crashes have killed more senior military officers than Boko Haram, bandits and IPoB combined. This is an alarming trend that cannot be tolerated. We have got to leave no stone unturned on what on earth is causing Nigerian military planes to fall from the skies like ripe fruits.

Is it the age of the aircraft or lack of proper maintenance? Is it a failure to abide by airworthiness regulations and standards or poor training of the pilots and the crew? Who is at fault and what is being done to hold them to account? In the wake of each of the recent calamities, as with previous ones, bad weather is paddled as a possible explanation and an investigation promised. But blaming the weather sounds too convenient. If domestic commercial planes and even private jets can foresee bad weather and take appropriate decisions, why is the Nigerian Air Force unable to? Is it incompetence or sheer negligence?

As for investigations, they are all still-born. At no point have Nigerians ever been briefed on the findings or recommendations of such probes, nor the actions that flowed from them. A thorough investigation is key to preventing future occurrences and making the reports public, at least, in summary, is crucial to public confidence, accountability and transparency. The usual invocation of “sensitive state issues” to refuse transparency is simply untenable. A simple Google search reveals comprehensive reports of United States military plane crashes. Why is the same such a secret in Nigeria? Nigerians have a right to know what is causing these tragedies and what the government is doing to address them. The result of the official cover-up is that conspiracy theories and fake news are handed a free pass. False theories are already flying around that COAS Attahiru was killed by government and military officials who do not want Boko Haram to end.

Is Nigeria worth dying for? I for one think Nigeria is worth everything that its citizens can give. I trust that the Omnipotent, Omnipresent and Omniscient Creator had a reason for placing me in part of the world called Nigeria, with all its shocking challenges. After all, the Prophets were sent not to the most peaceful and most prosperous of places, but to the most daunting and dispiriting of them. The point about one’s country being worth dying for is not that it is the best it can be, nor that it gives you everything that you want – the point is that it is the people that make it what it is. We sacrifice ourselves for our country because we believe that it is by sacrifice – by selflessness – that it is made better for our children. We sacrifice in order to make things better, not to preserve what is great.