By David Onmeje
“I hereby second the motion by General Buratai that the media plays the role of key stakeholders in the protection of our national security interest,” –Emmanuel Onwubiko, Head, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA)
I believe, the name Emmanuel Onwubiko has a household flavour in Nigeria. He prides himself as a media practitioner, social commentator, human rights critic and campaigner for social justice. From his vintage position as Head, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), Onwubiko has churned out a dozen articles in the exposition of the human rights dilemma in our country, especially as it relates to the security agents burdened with ensuring public law and order as well as protection of lives.
This critic’s pen is acerbic and flows with a bile ink. His ink is particularly dripping “crazily” on the Nigerian Army’s (NA) handling of counter-insurgency operations and other violent insurrections in the country. And I think, this is not bad, because if leaders must be reminded of their obligations, the media must not shrink on its constitutional responsibility of acting as the conscience of the nation.
But I have no doubt and like echoed by Onwubiko a few days back, on national security threats, the media and its practitioners’ proclivities in practice should be amplified more in safeguarding the corporate unity and sanctity of national security. I have realized that often times, the knack and persuasions to scoop news or be deeply critical of every situation unconsciously dumps us into some damaging compromise of national security.
In my estimation, Onwubiko has been “guilty” on this score several times. It is evident in his ceaseless pen engagements of the Nigerian Army under the leadership of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and helmsman of the counter-insurgency operations, Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusufu Buratai over military’s operations, especially in the Northeast in the last four years.
And most times, his analyses in the media on Army’s confrontations with insurgents and insurrectionists leaves a bitter taste in the mouth and elevates the tendency to embolden these criminals and compromise national security. Onwubiko has authored scathing and persecutory articles against the operations of the Army such as; “Trump as ‘Poster Boy’ of Nigerian Army;” “ How Torture Diminishes Nigeria Army;” “Unresolved Atrocities of Python Dance;” and “The martyrs of Rivers polls;” among a motley of others. They are usually, very virulent in contents against the Army.
Quite discomfortingly, Onwubiko has been a strong, baseless critic of the Nigerian Army. And the snag many noticed in some of his outings was that in repeated instances, he resorted to defending certain positions considered inimical to public security interests or against the interest of Nigeria, as a nation.
His claims to human rights expertise sometimes compel him to re-write extant laws according to his feelings and not necessarily the spirit of the letter, which passes as defending armed criminals terrorizing Nigeria with violence and bloodbath. I might not be wrong by accusing him of being an ethnic bigot or a critic horned and incensed to defend the aberrations of ethnic cum religious warlords.
And he was dangerous, dragging his image and self-esteem into the mud by the senseless or illogical criticisms of the Army’s leadership by Gen. Buratai. His somewhat vindictive obsession with Gen. Buratai reminded me of former British Prime Minister, Margret Thatcher, who said sarcastically that; “If my critics saw me walking over the Thames, they would say it was because I couldn’t swim.”
At such times of Onwubiko’s absurd umbrage against the Army, I would only be consoled by the words of the American scientist, K Eric Drexler’s wit that “I’ve encountered a lot of people who sound like critics but very few who have substantive criticisms. There is a lot of scepticism, but it seems to be more a matter of inertia than it is of people having some real reason for thinking something else.”
Therefore, it was not a misplaced conception that many Nigerians who followed Onwubiko’s criticisms of the Army before now thought or believed he is easily available for hire to hit at anyone since he had the viable platform of HURIWA. I could sometimes be perplexed on how he derived some arguments and obstinately clung unto to it over non-existing issues.
And excitingly, one virtue anyone could never fault in Onwubiko is the tendency to lace his prose with quotes of great writers when he wants to be on the absurd track. And this unique prose style held his audience spellbound to the issues he espoused and convictions.
But the good news is that Emmanuel Onwubiko has repossessed his lost senses on national security and confessed the much the Army is professionally doing to ensure peace and security in Nigeria. I want to believe he has genuinely encountered Jesus Christ, as reflected in his recent write-ups about the COAS, Gen. Buratai. He can be pardoned even though it took him four years to see the leadership qualities in Gen. Buratai to venerate and fete him with enduring accolades today.
So, it has gladdened my heart that Onwubiko has become a strong crusader of support for the Army by the media. He is also backing, extolling or endorsing the sound leadership initiatives of Gen. Buratai as I quoted at the beginning of this article, which I lifted from his latest article titled, “Terrorists, Army and Media Glamour,” (published on September 17, 2019). For Onwubiko to concede to the same policies and actions of Gen. Buratai he had previously and virulently criticized can be likened to the Biblical story of Saul on the road to Damascus.
I am least in doubt that my esteemed colleague in the media, Mr Onwubiko has encountered the ideal light and his sane wisdom restored. And even if belatedly, I still congratulate him because there is no time that is too late to stand, recognize and defend the truth.
I invite you into Onwubiko’s changed mindset on the Nigerian Army with brief excerpts from another article titled, “General Buratai And His Chinua Achebe’s Card.” It has this submissive connotation and bows to the repressed truth on Gen. Buratai’s leadership of the Army these past years;
Therefore, Onwubiko wrote in the piece, “General Buratai And His Chinua Achebe’s Card;” that “Buratai played the Chinua Achebe’s card by calling a spade by its name and stating the obvious that the Army needs to carry out systematic re-orientation of the operatives and officer corps of the Nigerian Army so as to achieve service discipline and rid the institution of professional misconduct.”
He expatiated; “I call the leadership courage exhibited by the current Chief of Army Staff the Chinua Achebe’s card because the illustrious professor had in a very clear format stated the trouble with Nigeria and recommended that for Nigeria to get it right, we need to look at the leadership crisis.”
Like others, I am no less excited that Onwubiko has purged himself of his prejudiced and malicious criticisms of the operations of the Nigerian Army to embrace caution and truth, by canvassing the support of other Nigerians, especially the media to bolster the morale of Nigerian Army in safeguarding the ethos of national security. It has invoked in me the Biblical story of Saul on the road to Damascus as reflected in Acts 9: 1-4.
Nonetheless, I admire Gen. Buratai’s comportment throughout the period of the induced persecution. He never bothered about the distractions of a thousand Onwubikos because like the American businessman, Jeff Bezos said; “If you can’t tolerate critics, don’t do anything new or interesting.”
So, the leader of the counter-insurgency operations in Nigeria was rather stimulated into more determined actions’, exploring and breaking new grounds, with fresh war strategies and tactics in combating insurgencies. Buratai imbibed the wisdom of an English writer; Ella Woodward, who underscored that “Stay true to yourself, engage with your followers, and ignore the critics.”
Interestingly, with Gen. Buratai’s endurance and tolerance of bile criticisms from adversaries with malicious intents, he has been able to win the hearts of his adversaries. And this is what I know happens to a focused and truthful leader. Gen. Buratai’s fate is akin to that of King Solomon in the scriptures.
King Solomon faced similar persecutions; but when the time was ripe, angels and even his enemies all came together to accept Solomon as the wisest king. It is good tidings that Onwubiko has shamed his sponsors to now lauding the leadership qualities of Gen Buratai. It’s a sign of genuine repentance which is instructive and should not be taken for granted, particularly by our colleagues’ in the media he touchingly advised in his latest piece-, “Terrorists, Army and Media Glamour.”
Onmeje is a columnist based in the United Kingdom.