“…An attempt on COAS is akin to an attempt on a sitting President. So, in the cause of doing our work we make no apology to any group…” – Major General Adeniyi Oyebade, General Officer Commanding, One Mechanised Division, Kaduna.
Dear General Buratai,
I write to you today as a Nigerian who has participated passionately in the political evolution of Nigeria. It is with this sense of historical burden and responsibility that I am forced to write this public letter to you. I hope you and the Nigerian government will listen and introspect on this.
Given the persistence of the army under you in taking over the role, duty and responsibility of Nigerian civil authorities, contrary to the law, and propriety, I am compelled to put the following to you, and as a Nigerian I demand answers, either directly or through official statements, whenever you are permitted to respond.
- The event. At worst, the event, which led to the massacre of Nigerians by the army in Zaria last year, under your watch, was a civil offence; on that day it was a civil traffic offence. The Shiites were said to have blocked a Zaria highway. If this is true, the Shiites’ action was wrong, and they must take responsibility for their infraction and apologise to their fellow Zaria residents. That is the civilised thing to do.
- The response of the Nigerian army. However the response of the Nigerian army to the civil infraction by the Shiites has become an issue.
- The army claims the Shiites tried to assassinate you as the Chief of Army Staff. General Buratai, you are a soldier and you are trained to kill your opponents in war. So, by the army’s pronouncements, you and your soldiers have interpreted the event between you and the Shiites on December 12-14, 2015 as a “war”. And if this was a “war”, your foes, must have been fully armed like you. But you and the Nigerian army have not shown Nigerians a single gun, bomb, ammunition or any means of war the Shiites had on them on that day.
- The army massacred these Nigerians, but you have not shown us a single soldier who was wounded in the incident you declared was a “war”. This has raised two serious questions about you and the army. It has raised serious question about your professional judgment. It has also raised the question, which suggests that you were on a pre-planned, well-rehearsed vengeance mission against the Shiites on the days of this sad event. General Buratai, you cannot have it both ways – it has to be one of these two possibilities that played out.
- Since you and the army have described what happened between December 12-14, 2015, in Zaria as “war” against the Shiites, you must show the Nigerian people the legal document signed by the president of this country – President Buhari – that empowered you and the army to go to war against Nigerians.
- Nigeria is a democracy and not a theocracy – either of the Sunni or Shiite type, and Nigeria is not under a military dictatorship either. Nigerian people must see that legal document which you, Buratai relied on to declare a “war” against Nigerians who happen to be Shiites.
- Video and visual representations of the “war”. In a war there must be casualties, no matter how few. The army under your watch has shown visual representations of the “war” you declared. You have shown pictures and video clips ‘revealing’ that the Shiites were the “aggressors” in the “war”. Your opponents in the “war”, the Shiites, have also shown their own video clips to depict that you and the army massacred them. We do not know which visual representation to believe.
- So, General Buratai, you have to say something here. We know pictures, video clips; visual representations can be manipulated in “war” situations because they are part of the propaganda of “war”. But tell us something General: How many people died? Did any Nigerian soldier die in this “war”? Did any Shiite die in this “war?” Even when the Shiites were your opponents in this “war”, they were Nigerians still, so you must tell us how many of the Shiites you and your army massacred in the “war”. Rape has become an issue in this “war”. Since rape is also an “instrument” of “war”, did your soldiers rape any of the female Shiites as they have claimed? Have you tried to find out if your soldiers used rape as an instrument of “war” in this instance?
- Secret mass burial. There are reports from civil authorities at the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Zaria about corpses being brought in and out by the army. So my questions are: Which hospitals did the army under your watch take the Shiite corpses to? How many corpses did the army take in and out of these hospitals? Did you bury the dead Shiites secretly? The Shiites are Muslims. So did the army perform final religious rites on those killed before they were buried as required by their religion – Islam? Did you perform mass burials of the corpses? If so, under which Nigerian law did you do all these? Did the “war” you declared allow you to violate fellow Nigerians this way?
- The secrecy with which the army buried the Shiites is disturbing. Perhaps out of fear of public outcry against the conduct of the army you have refused to be transparent and accountable to the Nigerian people on how the army buried the dead in this “war”. Fortunately, one of the victims has spoken up. He is Dr. Waziri Gwantu, a lecturer at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. According to reports, Dr. Waziri Gwantu lost four children to the “war” between you and the Shiites. General Buratai have you heard about Dr. Waziri Gwantu and his case? Where did the army bury his four children? You are a parent, put yourself in the position of his family and tell us how you feel about the loss of four children to the guns of an army that ought to have protected them. So the least that Nigerians demand from you is that we need to know where you buried the children of Dr. Waziri Gwantu. General Buratai, say something and tell us as someone akin to a sitting Nigerian president, as your officer General Adeniyi Oyebade claimed publicly.
- There are many Nigerians – dead and living – who have paid the ultimate sacrifices for the survival of this country and who unlike Nigerian civilian and military politicians have not looted this country. In this regard, it is not funny when you and the army hypocritically talk about how you “sacrificed” for the protection, peace and unity of the country – as if others have not – and you forget how your officers looted the Nigerian treasury in the past and present.
- General Buratai, why don’t you allude to this looting by your superiors in the army who have retired and are living immorally on their loot? Is the looting of the Nigerian treasury by a legion of Nigerian army officers, some of who are billionaires today, “akin” (to use your officer’s word) to fighting for Nigerian unity and peace, as the army is blackmailing us with these “protection”, “peace’ and “unity” things? Why do you and the army claim all the time that you fought for Nigerian unity, as if other Nigerians and Nigerian institutions have not paid invaluable prices fighting for Nigeria and Nigerian unity? You and the army use guns. Other Nigerians use other things and means in working for Nigeria. Please stop lecturing us about unity, peace, when you and the army are part of the problem.
- General Buratai, please note that you are not the president of this country. Do not hide under the military uniform and pretend to be “akin” to a “sitting president”. Put plainly, it is arrogance and insubordination for Major General Adeniyi Oyebade to claim that “An attempt on COAS is akin to an attempt on a sitting President” – It is an insult on the democratic history and sensibilities of we Nigerians. General Burutai, you must withdraw that statement and apologise to Nigerians.
- You and the army are wrong to define values such as peace, unity etc. for us. As individual soldiers, you can join other Nigerians in this conversation. But as an institution you cannot monopolise the Nigerian account of peace and unity because Nigerian values are not military values. If this is a democracy, you and the army take orders from Nigerian people through our president and Commander-In-Chief, and that is President Buhari. We Nigerians do not take orders from the army through the president. This is simple and straightforward in a democracy. A dog must wag its tail. It is absurd, as you and the army want the tail to wag the dog.
- Finally, it is insensitive, immoral and unprofessional on the part of the Nigerian army to claim, as General Adeniyi Oyebade has done, that you and the army have no apology for the massacre of Nigerians – the Shiites killed in Zaria between December 12-14, 2015.
General Burutai, in decent societies, an army commands respect, it does not demand it as you and the Nigerian army are doing. You cannot get what you do not have, give or command. You are demanding respect from Nigerians – respect which is not due to you as a result of your unethical, and unprofessional conduct in massacring Nigerians, and in not disclosing how you buried those killed.
Nigerians do not want an army whose Chief of staff claims that he is “akin” to a sitting president. Nigerians want an ethically sound and professional army that will not turn its guns on Nigerians and claim a false “rule of engagement’ as an immoral and unprofessional justification.
General Tukur Buratai, on behalf of Nigerians, and the millions Nigerians dead and alive who have paid inestimable sacrifices for Nigeria, I put it to you that it is unprofessional, unethical, and therefore unpatriotic for you to liken yourself to a sitting president. It is rude.
Mr. Tukur Buratai, you crossed the line, you are not the president. You do what Nigerians want you to do by taking orders from the president and Commander-In-Chief they elected. And that president is President Buhari. And, he is alive.
Stop behaving like a military president through the unjust, immoral and sectarian “war” you declared against Nigerians who are Muslims and Shiites. Stop making yourself “akin” to a sitting president through the flawed justification of the “war” you declared and through the unprofessional pronouncements of your officers on this sad event.
If you want to be president, please resign from the army and join politics properly. Do not hide behind the army to promote personal views at the expense of peace, love, sisterhood and brotherhood of all Nigerian people, irrespective of their beliefs.
Buratai, Listen and Introspect.
Adeolu Ademoyo, [email protected] is of the Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.