The recent recant by the Director of Defence Information, Chris Olukolade, on the number of rescued female students that were abducted from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State has further cast ugly glare at the reliability of the information from the security authorities over the sectarian insurgency in the Northeast of Nigeria. There is no gainsaying that the country looks up to the Nigerian armed forces that is contending with the insurgents directly to provide authentic information about matters arising from their efforts at repelling and disarming the insurgents and bringing the insurgency to an end. It is therefore worrisome that frequently the information from the defence authorities turn out not to be factual. This has resulted in creating room for wild speculations, guesses and rumours.
It is inconceivable that the Nigerian military Joint Task Force (JTF) is not actively contending with the insurgents that are causing very serious altercations to the peace and security of lives and property in the Northeast zone. But for now, probably for security reasons, Nigerians are let into little or nothing about the execution of the fight and the success of the JTF in the war. We feel that a regular briefing to Nigerians on how the Nigerian military is faring in the war will in no small way gladden the hearts of many, while reassuring them there is hope of restoring the breached peace and security in the troubled zone. That will be a more soothing turn from the present system of our reliance on faceless “sources” for information in so important a war. Politicians could distort information to suit their political purposes. The same also goes for the organs of mass media. In such a circumstance, we feel that the hope of Nigerians for authentic, undiluted information should rightly lie with the office of defence information. That is why it becomes confusing and disturbing whenever the information released by the military turn fallacious. We feel that the military will do well to verify and authenticate thoroughly all information intended for public consumption.
When, for instance, sometime in the not too distant past the security authorities informed Nigerians that Abubakar Shekau, leader of the sectarian insurgency, Boko Haram, had been fatally injured in a gun battle and killed, not a few Nigerians heaved a well deserved deep sigh of relief at that turn of event which signaled a real end in sight to the insurgency. But shortly after that information, Shekau surfaced and declared that he is alive! Again, not a few Nigerians were stupefied and confused at the contradiction of the defence information. That was then. But just few days after the insurgents abducted over 100 Chibok schoolgirls, the military authorities released information that all the abducted girls have been rescued. But the next day both the Principal of the school and the parents of the captured girls denounced the information by the military, insisting that the girls have not been found. This is perplexing to say the least. We feel the contradicting information would not have arisen had the military information been more thoroughly verified before disseminating. It is clear that nothing short of the facts about that war should be fed to the public if the credibility of government in fighting the war will be ensured.
It is on the strength of this conflicting information regime that Nigerians are at a crossroads about which, between the JTF and the insurgents, is winning the war. That also is probably why it is not verifiable whether or not the insurgents, as suggested by Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State that is directly affected by the war, are better equipped and better funded than the JTF.
We strongly demand that adequate provision of equipment and funding should be provided for the JTF to enable it execute the war diligently and conscientiously, selflessly and sacrificially on to success. Their salaries and allowances must be regularly paid as and when due. Their welfare must never be overlooked. Beside the financial remunerations, the morale of the combatants contending with the insurgency must be steadily boosted. Key government officials to keep reassuring them of the support of Nigerians should regularly visit them. For instance, we see nothing wrong with President Goodluck Jonathan taking out time once in a while adorned in his military gear, as the country’s Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, to pay a visit to the fighting JTF. Such humane gestures certainly will go a long way in motivating and inspiring the JTF operatives from exhibiting more patriotism and marksmanship in their operations.
Therefore, while not pre-empting whatever security and intelligence gathering and information management and disseminating profile of the JTF may be at all times, it is of our view that it will serve better if the defence information office lives up to expectation in serving as the authentic depository of verified and reliable information about the war against insurgency in the Northeast.