Lai Mohammed: Between the Truth and Propaganda, By Teinye Akobo

By Teinye Akobo January 1, 2016 05:00

Lai Mohammed: Between the Truth and Propaganda, By Teinye Akobo

The Minister of Information and Tourism, Lai Mohammed needs to be more responsible in his utterances as it pertains to the war on terror. To begin with, setting a deadline for the prosecution of any war is reckless. It could lead to the following possible outcomes: misguide the military, encourage the insurgents, or dishonour the sacrifices of the fighting forces.

Wars are not won or lost; wars are managed. Our military needs to be guided professionally and not to be contrived to suit any political agenda.

So, for the information minister in a desperate attempt to honour the ill conceived deadline given by President Muhammadu Buhari of 31st December 2015 to end Boko Haram, to say Nigeria has technically won the war against was highly disingenuous.

Since his statement, the insurgents have responded with brazen strikes on civilians and the military, and the resulting political backlash has become a distraction from the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform. For almost 7 years, our troops have been involved in a prolonged mission to address the menace of insurgency.

In 2008, the military started its battle in Maiduguri, the Borno state Capital with the use of massive force to exterminate Boko Haram.

The resulting effect of that military escapade was widespread international condemnation, and Boko Haram consequently metamorphosed into what has become a deadly group with extensive attacks on soft targets, government facilities, and military installations.

As Boko Haram became a national concern, Nigerians demanded more action. This led to a very active debate on government responses and the true intention of the group.

As this debate has continued over the years and after a very consequential election where the opposition won, our troops have remained committed to their oath: to defend the nation’s integrity and sovereignty. This sacrifice by our men and women in uniform should not be dishonoured by political hacks seeking to score cheap political points.

What was most amusing about Mohammed’s incongruous statement was his follow up suggestion that the media was giving life to the insurgents with its reportage of events in the country. If the war has been won, why then is Mohammed concerned about the coverage in the media?

Let us not forget that as opposition spokesman leading up to the elections, Mohammed commended the media for exposing government ineptitude in the fight against insurgency. All of a sudden, the same media, doing the same thing now that the opposition is now in government, has become an enabler of terrorism.

However, what is most distressing of Mohammed’s desperate attempt to revise reality is that he doesn’t seem to understand the implications of his conduct. Lacking in military experience, he has evaluated an ongoing military plan that may have far reaching effects on the morale of the troops.

In a sense, the problem lies with Mohammed’s boss, Buhari, for setting a deadline for the military, against widespread counsel. Having a military background as a retired general, he should have known that war planning and management are fluid in nature.

They are adjustable to prevailing situations and shouldn’t be subjected to simple talking points, political theatrics, or become a subject of political manifestos. By setting a deadline, the president has inadvertently politicized the war and the sacrifices of our troops.

And by his comments, Mohammed has dishonoured our troops especially as we have witnessed retaliatory attacks from the insurgents by way of deadly attacks on military and civilian targets.

As the corresponding cost of the presidential deadline and the minister’s careless statement is being assessed, we should remember the equivalent American war blunder under the Bush administration 12 years ago with his “Mission Accomplished” speech.

On May 1, 2003, just about two months after the commencement of combat operations in Iraq, President George W. Bush speaking in front of a banner inscribed “Mission Accomplished” declared that “major combat operations in Iraq have ended” and that the United States and its allies have prevailed over its enemies.

That speech stood out in its mendacity as the war continued for more than a decade with additional deployment of tens of thousands of US troops, some 190,000 Iraqi acivilian deaths, and about 8,000 American military and contractors’ deaths. On the financial end, after that speech, the US spent upward of $800 billion managing an “accomplished mission”.

What seemed at the time, like a perfect campaign prop and political victory, quickly turned into a national tragedy. Later, the Bush presidency denied putting up the banner and said it was the Navy that put it up.

However, in 2009, at his final press conference, Bush acknowledged that the banner and speech was a mistake “It sent the wrong message. We were trying to say something differently, but nevertheless, it conveyed a different message”.

While, I hope the cost of both the president’s and the minister’s statements would not be so high, I sincerely pray Buhari and Mohammed don’t get to, in retrospect, regret their actions and words as they abandon professionalism in favour of political expediency.

I encourage our political leaders to be more mindful of their utterances, especially has it concerns our military and the war against insurgency and terrorism. We must learn to honour the sacrifices of our troops, and avoid endangering our citizens. There is simply no gain in trying to score cheap political points with our national security.