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When propaganda serves as alibi for bad governance

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[FILES] The Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Buratai Photo:NAN

Until it began to take a daily toll in Zamfara, Kaduna and Katsina, the killings in the country were being dismissed as attempts to diminish the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari and All Progressives Congress (APC) after they displaced the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as the ruling party.

While opposition APC had created the impression that former President Goodluck Jonathan’s ‘cluelessness’ and lack of military training were major drawbacks in the fight against insurgency and criminality in the northeast region of the country, they resent any attempt by today’s opposition to issue similar queries.

At a critical point when the Jonathan administration wanted to make a decisive push and crush the Boko Haram insurgents, the ruling party was accused of plans to reduce the youthful population in the north.

Based on the fact of his desire for a second term in office, the former president succumbed to adopting a policy of appeasement towards the North for its acclaimed demographic advantages, such that Jonathan had to replace his National Security Adviser and Chief of Army Staff to heed calls for their removal.

Later, the issue of lack of modern equipment was touted as militating against the fight against insurgency, even as allegations of misappropriation of funds meant for the purchase of military hardware were muted.

On its part the government of the day lamented that the Boko Haram challenge was a creation of the opposition to distract the Jonathan administration to the extent that the then president at one time cried out that the insurgents have infiltrated his government.

The Army later followed the development up with their exasperation that Boko Haram had moles in the security apparatus of the country, which leak strategic information, including troop movement and timelines for ‘coordinated operations’ to the insurgents.

Amid the claims and counter claims of sabotage, the menace of cattle rustlers in some parts of the North gained in stature and rapidity. On several occasions, innocent citizens were massacred by matchete-wielding criminals who attacked and sacked remote villages at night.

It was as if the bandits were taking advantage of the thin line between genuine complaints of villagers and the divisive posturing of politicians to entrench themselves in the pillaging of the entire north.

Slush Funds/Propaganda
In the current democratic dispensation, much has been said about how state governors manage security votes allocated to them. Recently, the acting chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu, alleged that state governors stoke crisis in their states to justify their security vote.

Similar accusations have been leveled against military chiefs even as they maintain that security spending and appropriation belong to a range of classified information that is not open for public debate or scrutiny.

Immediately the current administration of President Buhari mounted the saddle, one of the first assignments it embarked on was the investigation it launched into how about $2.1billion meant for the purchase of military equipment was spent.

Former National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dasuki, from whose office the money were said to have been disbursed has remained in detention as the trial lasts in various courts.

The former NSA has maintained that no such amount of money was missing, arguing that the allegation was part of the off cuff claims by politicians for electoral advantage.

Ten years ago, General Mamman Vatsa told the Nigeria Army “when you start to insult yourself, you will not lack people willing to join you.” Also, four years ago, when he was being screened by the Senate for the confirmation of his appointment as a minister-designate, Alhaji Lai Mohammed was literally commended by even members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the Senate for doing a yeoman’s job as a propagandist.

Immediate past Senate minority leader, Godswill Akpabio, actually teased Mohammed “to drop us one propaganda before he takes a bow” and the entire Senate chamber laughed it off as a joke.

From its dictionary meaning, propaganda is a euphemism for lies. The Collins English Dictionary defines propaganda as “information, often inaccurate information, which a political organisation publishes or broadcasts in order to influence people.”

When he was nominated as minister, many commentators concluded that Lai Mohammed was being compensated for his proficiency in using propaganda as the spokesman of the opposition to make the then ruling PDP look bad and lose respect in the eyes of Nigerians.

Also the British society of Public Relations describes it as “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view.”

Around May 4, 2019 the Nigeria Army said “it has noted with great concern the efforts by some unpatriotic individuals, groups and foreign interests determined to cause mischief and exacerbate the security situation in this country in particular and the West African sub-region.”

Prior to that statement by the spokesman of the Army, Colonel Sagir Musa, which also claimed that “persons and groups are making concerted efforts to further induce ISWAP/Boko Haram terrorists and bandits with funds and other logistic support,’ the military had said time without number that politicians are behind insurgency.

Experts in military studies assert that propaganda is employed by an Army during war to achieve a range of objectives, including raising the morale of its fighting men and extracting psychological advantage over the enemies.

The Nigeria military came into the centre of the nation’s partisan political competition at the buildup to the 2015 divisive election, when it denied that the school certificate of President Muhammadu Buhari was not in its custody.

Most of those in the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC), including Buhari expressed apprehension that the ruling PDP was planning to latch on the missing school certificate to exclude him from the presidential election.

However, after winning the 2015 presidential election, Buhari hired some senior lawyers to defend him at the law court over the allegation of not presenting his school certificate.

While the matter was in court, the Army did not speak again on the matter, but most Nigerians believed that what the military high command said about the missing certificate was factual.

Perhaps, having deployed propaganda to defeat a sitting president, the impression has been sustained that propaganda has become a useful tool to cover ineptitude and manipulate public opinion.

Limits Of Propaganda
Mixing the issue of insecurity and partisan disagreement seems to be at the root of the challenges of containing the Boko Haram insurgency, because even without tangible evidence the Minister of Information has continued to associate the prevailing security situation in the country with opposition politics.

Shortly after the 2019 general elections, calls were made to the presidential candidate of PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, to reconsider his decision to challenge the result announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which gave victory to President Buhari.

Not long after the PDP presidential candidate filed his petition at the Presidential Elections Tribunal claiming that he actually defeated President Buhari, a series of treasonable allegations have been thrown into the public space.

First, the Director of Publicity of President Buhari’s Campaign Organisation, Mr. Festus Keyamo, alleged that Atiku and his party, PDP, hacked into the INEC computer servers.

If not that some young professionals from Zamfara State brought the gory massacre going on in their state to public knowledge, the killings would have continued going from bad to worse while politicians wallowed in making outrageous claims so as to divert attention from the nation’s failings.

Two weeks ago, some angry youths from Batsari local government council of Katsina State ferried about 20 corpses of their kith and kin, who were massacred by well-armed bandits to the Emir’s place to show their discomfort and pain at the unremitting killings.

The youths also decided to take the corpses to the Government House, after the police tried to cover up the killings by evacuating the corpses to their station. That brazen display was the protesters way of not only putting a lie to the series of cheap propaganda being weaved by those in authority to distort reality, but also rouse the government into taking action.

Spokesman of the protesters, Aminu Rumah, told journalists that similar attacks by the bandits left many dead in Jibia, Danmusa and Faskari, regretting that they invited security agents they could not show up on time.

The protesters disclosed that the civilian Joint Task Force (JTF) perform better than the security men in Katsina State, pointing out that farming and other agrarian activities in their villages have crumbled.

The development in Katsina State has shown the limit of propaganda. The people have become aware that highly placed individuals are playing pranks at the expense of citizens’ welfare and national interest.

But, the allegation of attempts to scuttle Buhari’s inauguration came at a time when the security agencies should be showing proof of what they have done to avert the ongoing bloodletting in country.

How many people have been arrested in connection with the plot? Where was the plot hatched and what was the modus operandi adopted by the planners to execute their nefarious plot?

However, instead of facts and figures, the Army said: it “has noted with great concern the efforts by some unpatriotic individuals, groups and foreign interests determined to cause mischief and exacerbate the security situation in this country in particular and West African sub-region.

“Their body language and unguarded utterances seem to be in tandem with above and imply tacit support for the criminals. For example, credible source has shown that some individuals are hobnobbing with Boko Haram terrorists, while others are deliberately churning falsehood against the security agencies with a view to set the military against the people and the government.”

It is as though the fight against insurgency has affected the moral stamina of the military and disposed it to peacetime propaganda to cover its tiredness.

Some military officers say they are not happy that President Buhari did not ascertain why the chief of army staff should own a building in a foreign country, saying that that could be interpreted as evidence of lack of patriotism and pressure other officers to emulate him.

Could be that the Army and Lai Mohammed have come to the conclusion that nothing could make a penny pinching president release money, except the spinning of imaginary plots by anonymous politicians for regime change?


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