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Buhari’s Absence At Late Army Chief’s Burial Rattles Security Community

“Nigeria is not worth dying for,” “we will rather resign” are some of the common statements from military officers sighted by HumAngle.

Nigeria’s President and Commander-in-Chief, Muhammadu Buhari, has rocked the boat by failing to show up at the burial of military personnel who died in an air crash, including former Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Ibrahim Attahiru.

Lt. Gen. Attahiru and 10 other officers lost their lives on Friday evening during a crash in Kaduna State involving a Nigerian Air Force (NAF) aircraft.

In a statement released that evening, Buhari said he was “deeply saddened” by the news, describing the victims as “heroes who paid the ultimate price for peace and security in the land.”

“The deaths of these officers will not be in vain!” he declared after sending condolences to the officer’s families and the military.

But when the burial rites were performed the following day at the National Military Cemetery in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, about 15 minutes drive from the statehouse, the president was nowhere to be found.

Rather, he was represented by Defence Minister, Bashir Magashi.

The absence of Buhari, who returned from a trip to France on Thursday, May 20, drew outrage from Nigerians, with many describing it as inhumane and irresponsible.

HumAngle has monitored several WhatsApp groups where senior security officials share personal and official views of the nation’s security situation. In the past 24 hours, these social media groups have been inundated with expressions of dissatisfaction. 

A general consensus is noticeable that the president has “no excuse whatsoever for staying away from a funeral of his own Chief of Army Staff.”

“This is a bad body language at a time of low morale in the army and loss of faith in the country,” one officer said. 

According to another member of the Nigerian military: “Our sacrifices mean nothing to these politicians and it is time we get this into our head.” 

Yet another officer wrote without further explanation that “there will be consequence.”

“Nigeria is not worth dying for,” “we will rather resign,” are some of the other common remarks sighted by HumAngle.

On the other hand, there are officers who have justified Buhari’s decision on the grounds that the time between the air crash and the burial was too short to make adequate security arrangements to ensure his safety.

It has been pointed out that what happened was not an isolated case but part of a long history of non-attendance at such occasions to honour the country’s fallen troops.

Buhari was similarly absent from the burial of “over 100” soldiers killed in Metele, Borno State, Northeast Nigeria in Nov. 2018 and that of five NAF officers killed in a helicopter crash in Damasak, Borno, in Jan. 2019.

On Monday, Nov. 7, 2016, seven military officers killed by Boko Haram terrorists were buried in Abuja, including Lt. Col. Muhammad Abu-Ali, who had been nicknamed Sarkin Yakin (war king) for his “remarkable courage” in battle.

But rather than attend the funeral service, Buhari sent his former Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari (whose burial he later skipped in April 2020), and embarked on a “working visit” to Edo State the same day.

Likewise, it has been close to two months since two pilots, Flight Lieutenant John Abolarinwa and Flight Lieutenant Ebiakpo Chapele, went missing after their fighter jet crashed during a routine mission in the Sambisa forest area, Borno. Buhari has, however, not released a statement acknowledging the tragic incident or sending condolences to the victims’ families.

In contrast, there are several examples of past and foreign heads of states attending the funeral ceremonies of military personnel who died in the course of duty or visiting the deceased’s families.

In Sept. 2006, for instance, former President Olusegun Obasanjo was noted to have hurried back to Nigeria from an International Monetary Fund (IMF) meeting in Singapore following the death of 10 military generals in an aircraft crash.

Meanwhile, there is still room left for damage control.

“The President [Buhari] should visit the bereaved families of the late COAS and other deceased officers, in order to make up for that unconscionable absence at the internment,” suggested former senator, Shehu Sani in a tweet posted on Sunday, May 23, 2021.

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'Kunle Adebajo

Head of Investigations at HumAngle. ‘Kunle covers conflict alongside its many intricacies and fallouts. He also writes about disinformation, the environment, and human rights. He's won a couple of journalism awards, including the 2021 Wole Soyinka Award for Investigative Journalism, the 2022 African Fact-checking Award, and the 2023 Michael Elliott Award for Excellence in African Storytelling.

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