BusinessDay

Atiku expresses outrage over alleged secret graveyards of killed soldiers in North-East

…military dismisses report

Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar on Thursday expressed shock and sadness over the alleged secret burial of 1,000 Nigerian soldiers killed by Boko Haram/ISWAP as reported by the Wall Street Journal, stressing that Nigerians are entitled to know the truth from President Muhammadu Buhari.

In a statement personally signed by him, the presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2019 general elections said he read “with a sense of heartbreak and shock” the report by the Wall Street Journal that over 1,000 Nigerian soldiers have been secretly buried at night by the Buhari-led administration “in order to hide the true state of the war on terror”.

Atiku said he felt heartbreak for the families and friends of those soldiers who, if the report is true, have lost their loved ones without being allowed to bury them or even to have any sense of closure as regards their fate.

He said further it was unfortunate that such a thing could happen under a democracy, even as he accused President Buhari’s government of cover-up.

“I shudder to think that the cover-up of such an event of epic proportions can be true. The men and women of our armed forces are our first, second and last defence against our domestic and foreign enemies and should be treated with love, respect, dignity and appreciation for the invaluable service they render to Nigeria,” Atiku said.

“I cannot fathom that in the space of a year, 1,000 of these great patriots were killed and buried secretly without their families being told. I hesitate to believe that deceit on such a grand scale is even possible,” he said.

But the Defence Headquarters dismissed the Wall Street Journal report that the military maintained secret graveyards in Maimalari town, Borno State, north-east of the country, where soldiers killed by Boko Haram/ISWAP were buried.

Onyema Nwachukwu, acting director of Defence Information (DDI), in a statement on Thursday said the military has a solemn tradition for the interment of its fallen heroes and would not indulge in such acts, which he described as “sacrilegious”.

“The Defence Headquarters has noted with dismay an online article by Wall Street Journal purporting that the Nigerian Military maintains secret graveyards in the North East theatre of operation,” Nwachukwu said in the statement.

“This insinuation can only emanate from an uninformed position of the author of the said publication. It therefore becomes necessary to inform the public that the Armed Forces of Nigeria has a rich and solemn tradition for the interment of our fallen heroes,” he said.

Nwachukwu said it was pertinent to “unambiguously” clarify that the Nigerian Armed Forces “does not indulge in secret burials, as it is sacrilegious and a profanity to extant ethos and traditions of the Nigerian military”.

“In tandem with the traditions of the Armed Forces, fallen heroes are duly honoured and paid the last respect in befitting military funeral of international standard, featuring funeral parade, gravesite oration, solemn prayers for the repose of departed souls by Islamic and Christian clerics, as well as gun salutes, aside other military funeral rites,” he said.

“The cemetery described in the publication, which is situated in Maimalari Military Cantonment, is an officially designated military cemetery for the Armed Forces of Nigeria in the North East theatre, with a cenotaph erected in honour of our fallen heroes,” he further said.

Nwachukwu said the official cemetery has played host to several national and international dignitaries, where wreaths were laid in honour of the fallen heroes and that it was, therefore, a far cry from the sacrilegious impression being painted by Wall Street Journal.

“The Defence Headquarters, therefore, urges members of the Armed Forces and the general public to disregard such a misinformed publication and see it as a figment of the imagination of the writer, whose knowledge of military valued ethos and traditions is grossly misplaced,” he said.

Atiku had in his statement said that to get to the bottom of the allegation of existence of secret graveyards in the North-East, a judicial commission of inquiry headed by a non-partisan and reputable jurist should be inaugurated to investigate the findings of the Wall Street Journal. He also called for another strong panel of inquiry comprising distinguished former military officers to be set up to investigate and report to Nigerians the true state of the war on terror and what must be done to ensure Nigeria brings a speedy end to the ongoing insurgency.

“Nigeria must ensure prudent use of finances, so we can redistribute national resources in such a way that ensures that our military and security forces are well armed and well remunerated,” Atiku said.

“Even the death of one soldier affects me. But the alleged cover-up of the deaths of one thousand soldiers is a national emergency that should shock all statesmen and leaders of thoughts into action to save Nigeria,” he said.

 

INNOCENT ODOH & STELLA ENENCHE

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