*Being Yinka Odumakin’s Tuesday column in Vanguard Newspaper in 2018. Judith Ufford was his editor then. May his soul rest in peace.

“Where is our own humanity ?We have become so insensate that human lives mean nothing to us anymore .If these had been 100 cows rustled, we would have seen government officials at the highest levels making strong statements as if the world was coming to an end.”

The bloodiest attack ever by the “degraded” Boko Haram terror group against our military took place on Monday, November 19, 2018, when the evil sect stormed a military base in Metele village, Guzamala local government area of Borno State and left in their trail sorrow, tears and blood.

The late Yinka Odumakin

“The attack came at about 6 pm on Monday evening”, one soldier who managed to escape the onslaught from the terrorists, told Premium Times.

“When the soldier on top of the observation post alerted that a large number of Boko Haram fighters were advancing, we all got alarmed as we took cover and waited within the base in Metele”.

The soldier said the terrorists levelled the military base in “One of the drivers of the gun trucks decided to push through the barbed wire so that other vehicles could follow and escape, but the truck got stuck, that was how many of our soldiers in other vehicles and those on foot were massacred.

“Those that managed to escape with injuries made it on foot through Cross-Kauwa to Monguno where they boarded commercial vehicles, some even sat in the booth of the Golf cars to get to Maiduguri.

“Boko Haram made away with about seven gun trucks of the Nigeria army”.

Another unnamed soldier told Reuters that “the insurgents took us unawares. The base was burned with arms and we lost about 100 soldiers. It is a huge loss.”

Other sources told Reuters that many troops are still missing. One soldier disclosed that more troops were killed on Tuesday when an attempt to recover bodies from the initial attack was ambushed.

“We all fled because we didn’t know where the bullets were coming from,” Reuters quotes the soldier as saying. “They killed some of us who went to evacuate the bodies of the dead soldiers.
“We left our amour, tanks and weapons. They were all there. The village is still under their control.”

“Our troops were completely routed and the terrorists captured the base after heavy fighting,”one senior army officer told AFP, adding that the base commander and three officers were among the dead.

A local vigilante told AFP that the Boko Haram terrorists arrived the army base with around 20 trucks and army air support did not arrive until after they had “invaded the base and looted the weapons”.

This definitely cannot be happy moment for our troops and one can only pray that God the comforter should take away the pains of bereaved families and colleagues in deep pains as they see all around them the specter of preventable casualties if we were running a country and not organized confusion .

The truth however is that in the kind of insurgency that we currently face in Nigeria you cannot rule out episodic successful operations by terrorists. What has made the humiliating attack on our troops more heart wrenching is that our response to it as a polity has been more disastrous than the very act itself.

It took our government six days after the bloody attack to find its voice. And when it did speak, it could not find the right words in the circumstance.

A statement by Presidential Spokesman Garba Shehu lacked the compassion and empathy expected after the long official silence following such a monumental tragedy .It was all the usual blandness:
“No responsible Commander-in-Chief would rest on his oars or fold his hands to allow terrorists to endanger the lives of its military personnel and other citizens. Our loyal forces have proved their strength over the terrorists and we are ready to give them all the needed support in terms of equipment and manpower to succeed in ending the renewed threat. In the coming days, I am engaging the Military and Intelligence Chiefs in extensive discussions on the next steps we shall be taking.”

Meaningless words that provoke serious questions. And the first being what happened to the $1b unbudgeted funds that was paid for arms by this government months back. Where are the arms for our troops to repel the Boko Haram terrorists ?

But more fundamental is the report by Wall Street Journal in 2017, that the Federal Government paid Boko Haram €3m to secure the release of some Chibok girls. According to the report : “The plan called for two exchanges. In the first one, Boko Haram would free 20 Chibok hostages in exchange for €1m.
“If both sides were satisfied with the outcome, the rest of the girls who wanted to come home would be swapped in a second exchange in return for €2 and five imprisoned Boko Haram commanders.”

“As Mustapha worked through the details and tried to maintain the confidence of both sides, the Nigerian government began the delicate process of finding prisoners Shekau would deem acceptable.

“Salkida was the man picked for the task. He began to crisscross Nigeria combing jails and interviewing inmates, looking for militants who fit the profile.”

The report added that while the deal began coming together, there were fears that President Muhammdu Buhari might not approve of it.

“The President was eager for a victory. He also loathed the idea of paying Boko Haram. No one knew if he would sign off,” it said.

“In the end, he approved the deal, with a condition: He insisted that any money that reached Boko Haram would be a step toward a comprehensive peace agreement.

“Since the insurgents collected their €3m, some Nigerian officials say an army that had struggled to feed itself seems replenished,”

Information Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed denied cash payment but admitted some five Boko Haram commanders were set free. The release of the killer kingpins was an unwitting capacity building project for Boko Haram just as the cash payment, if true, this could not have been anything else but “Tradermoni” for Boko Haram to expand their killing business!

The Nigerian Army has been very disappointing on this tragedy in its public outings. We have not seen the kind of statement that mourn this loss and could lift the morale of troops alive. Rather, it has been threatening court action against those making information available on the social media in the absence of official statements to an anguished people .”The Nigerian Army ( NA) would henceforth report these infractions and file cases against individuals or groups who deliberately spread fake news that aim to undermine national security, in courts of competent jurisdictions,” the army said.

According to the army, its decision to pursue legal action against those spreading fake news about its activities is also based on “the fact that spreading of fake news is an offense and violates the provisions of Section 24(1)(a),(b) and (2)(a),(b),(c)(i),(ii) of the Cybercrimes (Prohibition & Prevention etc) Act, 2015”.

It, however, lamented that many people on social media have continued to redistribute such video clips and photos.

It said: “The NA has continued to observe with great dismay the myriads of photos and video clips being recklessly distributed on various social media platforms by different calibre of persons. It is indeed shocking to see how these well-doctored propaganda materials from enemies of the State has succeeded in creating fear and unrest in the polity.

“These doctored materials are obviously serving the purposes intended by the terrorists to misinform the populace, spread panic, hatred, religious intolerance and above all to undermine national security.”

The Government and the Army should read how Gov. Jay Insee and the Washington National Guard reacted after learning about the death of U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Matthew McClintock, 30, of Des Moines.

McClintock was a soldier in the Washington National Guard, and was killed during combat actions in the Helmand Province in South Afghanistan.

“The death of any service member is tragic,” Inslee said. “The death of one of our own is especially difficult to grasp. My thoughts and prayers are with Sergeant First Class McClintock’s friends and family, including his young wife and infant son. He is a true American hero who stood up to protect his state and nation. Trudi and I are deeply grateful for his service.”

“Sergeant First Class McClintock was one of the best of the best,” Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty, commander of the Washington National Guard, said. “He was a Green Beret who sacrificed time away from his loved ones to train for and carry out these dangerous missions. This is a tough loss for our organization, and a harsh reminder that ensuring freedom is not free. We stand with Staff Sergeant McClintock’s family, and will provide ongoing support during the grieving and healing process.”

Where is our own humanity ?We have become so insensate that human lives mean nothing to us anymore .If these had been 100 cows rustled, we would have seen government officials at the highest levels making strong statements as if the world was coming to an end .

And for the media ,the cautionary approach in reporting this tragedy was a bit worrisome and a signal there may be subconscious submission to the culture of fear spreading over the country .

The initial reports on this massacre of our troops was largely social media before some sections of the mainstream media picked up the story .

In moments like this come the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
The official silence on the casualties could have partly been responsible for this but independent media should not behave like government organs watching the body language of its owner.
Thomas Jefferson talked about the press and safety when he declared :
“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be. The functionaries of every government have propensities to command at will the liberty and property of their constituents. There is no safe deposit for these but with the people themselves; nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe.”
― Thomas Jefferson, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Retirement Series, Volume 9: 1 September 1815 to 30 April 1816