A minute silence heralded the day. Lamentations and sighs followed. On their faces stood, visibly, a string of regrets just as fury sat atop the chamber. This may not be the first time an eerie silence would envelope the chamber. But this is definitely the first time a tragedy of such a gargantuan proportion, in a no war situation, would be hitting the nation to elicit a bipartisan, tirade of reactions from parliamentarians. In one fell swoop, life was snuffed out of scores of soldiers in Metele, Borno State. Yes, it was a national tragedy but then unacceptable. To the lawmakers, it is one death too many. And it must not be allowed to go on unabatedly. So, as they stood in honour of the fallen heroes and many other victims of similar circumstances in Nigeria, thoughts, unarguably, ran amok in their subconscious.
How long would this madness last? How long would the Nigeria nation continue to lose people, civilian or military? For how long would senseless, gruesome killings be tolerated? Has government really failed the people? A flurry and slurry of thoughts! That was obviously the mood in the House of Representatives on Tuesday when lawmakers resumed plenary. As expected, the members, who had been undaunted to speak since the incident occurred on November 18, finally broke their silence upon the presentation of a motion by the Deputy Minority Leader of the House, Hon. Chukwuka Onyema.
To them, the gory details of the attack, which have, in no small degree, instilled palpable fear in the citizens of the country, couldn’t have been received with some mumbled equanimity. Chronology Onyema was detailed. He laced the motion with a chronology of previous attacks that somewhat exposed government failures to properly secure the land. Lamenting the lingering incidences of fatalities on many a Nigerian soldier in and out of military formations, camps and war theatres, the motion, however, called for lasting solutions to the ugly development. Said the motion sponsor:
“The House notes that reports from credible news mediums indicated that no fewer than 118 Nigerian soldiers of the 157 Battalion were massacred by Boko Haram insurgents who now call themselves Islamic State of West Africa on November 18, 2018 at the village of Melete, Borno State. “Also notes that initial figures of casualty put the deaths at 44 but, as more details emerged, it is now confirmed that 118 soldiers and officers were killed together with their Commanding Officer, Lt Col. Ibrahim Sakaba, while about 150 more soldiers and officers are still missing. “Further notes that, according to reports, the insurgents carted away a large consignment of weapons from the Melete army base which security experts say would embolden them and pose great danger.
“Observed that while the news of the attack and death toll continued to increase, neither the President and Commander-in-Chief nor the Minister of Defence or the army authorities said anything about the reports as there was silence for more than five days. *Notes that President and C-in-C, finally broke his silence six days after the attack in a statement issued on his behalf. “House regrets that in the last one year, no fewer than 600 Nigerian soldiers have been killed by insurgents mostly in Borno State around the fringes of the Lake Chad. “Recalls that, on June 18, 2018, a Boko Haram attack in Gajiram, Borno State led to the death of civilians and soldiers.
“On July 13, 2018, Boko Haram ambushed and killed soldiers at Alagaye Village near Bama, Borno State and carted away nine gun trucks. “On July 14, 2018, Boko Haram attack at the 81 Division Forward Brigade at Jilli Village in Geidam Local Government Area of Yobe State killed scores of soldiers. “On August 30, 2018, Boko Haram attacked an army formation at Zari village also in Borno State killing no less than 48 soldiers and many others still missing aside equipment losses. “On September 8, 2018, the 82 Division Task Force in Gudumbali, Borno State was attacked, many soldiers killed and equipment carted away.
“Also observes with regrets that while the executive said and continue to insist that Boko Haram terrorists have been ‘technically defeated’ or ‘technically degraded’, the insurgents seem to be waxing stronger and stronger such that they attacked a community just 20 kilometres from Maiduguri. “Also recalls that twice in three years, the Commander-in-Chief gave directives to Service Chiefs to relocate to the Theatre Command centre in Maiduguri until Boko Haram is defeated. “Regrets that with recent happenings in the North, all the successes and gains made against Boko Haram have been reversed”. Members’ reactions Expectedly, the debate on the motion was a no-holds-barred. The issue at stake was of utmost national importance and concern. Members, therefore, took turns to bare their minds but there was a subtlety of self censorship as the reactions later tilted towards partisanship. The motion emanated from a member of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, from Anambra State and there was, apparently,
that natural inclination on the part of the opposition members to make full use of the opportunity and lash at the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, which rode to power on the mantra of change and security. While PDP members in the House spoke frankly on the goings-on in the security apparatus, their APC counterparts spoke tongue-in-cheek, knowing that an all-out free speech can be inimical to their government led by President Muhammadu Buhari. Hon. Shehu Shagari from Sokoto State, a former member of the APC who, before the primary elections of political parties jilted the party for the PDP, said that he was disappointed in the government. According to him, he had anticipated an all-out-war against the insurgents since that was the reason Nigerians chose APC against the PDP in the 2015 elections, moreso, that the person in the saddle is a retired army general. Hon. Edwards Pwajok from Plateau State, in his contribution, decried the lack of synergy between security agencies, accusing Service Chiefs of diverting money meant for operations into private pockets.
Hon. Zakari Mohammed from Kwara State asked Buhari to live up to his campaign promises.” Also speaking, the Chairman of the House Committee on Navy, Dasuki Abdulsamad, from Sokoto said the President, as the nation’s chief security chief, has failed the people. “I can authoritatively tell you that, in the last three years, the manpower of the security agencies is nothing to write home about. In the last three years, not a single person has been sacked for not doing his job. Our colleagues have spoken that the Service Chiefs are not living up to expectation. Let’s not also forget that the President is the Commander-in- Chief. He has also failed us. He has not lived up to expectations”, he said. On his part, Hon. Gabriel Onyeweri from Anambra State expressed fear that the elections in Borno villages may not be free and fair going by the security lapses in the area. For Hon. Aliyu Magaji from Jigawa, the Service Chiefs should immediately resign their appointments. Hon. Beni Lar from Plateau State said that the ugly trend would continue as long as the present Service Chiefs were in the saddle. For Hon. Hassan Saleh, the people were reaping the fruit of incompetence. Hon. Istafanus Gyang told his colleagues, “We cannot continue to reinforce failure”, therefore calling for setting up of an ad hoc committee to check the lapses that led to the killing of soldiers.
In his remarks before ruling on the motion, Speaker Yakubu Dogara expressed shock that Cameroon, a neighbouring country, had adopted more virile measures to decimate insurgency than Nigeria with more human and material resources, asking why the country could not police its borders effectively. Some members of the APC, such as Hon. Nasir Ahmed, who argued along party lines, reminded the House of where Buhari picked up the pieces. “There has been some level of achievements from where we were. We should bring the Service Chiefs here and talk to them directly”, he said. Resolutions The House eventually resolved to set up an ad hoc committee to probe the utilization of all funds appropriated for security operations in the North-East. The committee was also assigned the task of unravelling the circumstances that led to the massacre of the soldiers at Metele just as the House called on the Nigerian Army authorities to publish the names of the slain soldiers after securing the consent of their families. The House also urged the President to immediately relieve the Service Chiefs of their duties. To them, the Service Chiefs have completely run out of ideas, a perception Hon. Mohammed Mongonu, a lawmaker from the theatre of war of Jere federal constituency of Borno State, vehemently objected to when he spoke to Sunday Vanguard on the heels of the resolutions. Reps’ first indictment of Service Chiefs Tuesday’s indictment of Service Chiefs was not the first time members of the House would be ventilating their anger on the security pontiffs.
In April this year, the members had also vexed with them following the stream of blood in Benue State. The House, at the time, passed a vote of no confidence on them and resolved to boycott sittings for three days to protest the killings. On another plank, they resolved to summon Buhari to appear before them and give account of his security stewardship. But that was not to happen as they eventually backed down for reasons the House leadership is yet to make known.