President Muhammadu Buhari, the All Progressives Congress, APC presidential candidate and his Peoples Democratic Party, PDP rival, Atiku Abubakar, were yesterday locked in an exchange over the honour given to military personnel killed in the fight against insecurity.
The exchange came as the PDP candidate vowed to use job creation to fight the scourge of insecurity in the country. The tussle followed President Buhari’s absence at the burial of five air force officers who died in a helicopter crash while providing support for ground troops in the fight against Boko Haram.
Atiku said the President’s absence at the funeral and other engagements to honour dead military officers did not reflect the role of the commander-in-chief who he said should help to mobilise morale for men in arms. He as well cited an example with President Emmanuel Macron of France, who he said attended the funeral of a French policeman killed by terrorists.
However, Atiku’s claims were immediately dismissed by Buhari who flayed the immediate past PDP administration of providing the fodder for the killings through what he described as the corruption that prevailed during its time in office.
He said the money that should have been used to fight terrorism was embezzled by the PDP administration.
The five air force officers who died last week were buried at the national military cemetery in Abuja on Tuesday.
The former vice-president said Buhari’s failure to attend the funeral is “part of a pattern of unpatriotic behaviour demonstrated” by him.
He said: “At a time when the morale of our soldiers should be lifted up as they face the difficult task of defeating the terrorists who are threatening our national security, I find it most regrettable that President Muhammadu Buhari, despite being in Abuja, chose not to attend the funeral of the five airforce officers who died in a helicopter crash while prosecuting the war on terror.
“Last month, I had cause to advise the President to find time to attend the funerals of the hero soldiers of the 157 Taskforce Battalion in Metele, Borno state, who paid the supreme price for Nigeria in large numbers.
“Sadly, due to reasons best known to him, President Buhari chose not to attend their funeral, neither was he represented by the vice-president nor any federal delegation. This was despite the fact that the President had time to host Nollywood actors and actresses the previous day. Imagine celebrating just before such a solemn event.
“The most recent funeral held in Abuja, the President was in Abuja on the day of the funeral. The previous day, he had inaugurated his re-election campaign council. My question for Mr. President is this: is securing your second term, more important to you than securing Nigeria?”
Atiku Abubakar also urged Buhari to learn from French President Emmanuel Macron, who on March 28, 2018, attended the funeral of a French policeman killed by terrorists in Southern France.
“That single event boosted the morale of the French security forces, because it showed a commitment to their wellbeing and honour for their memory by the head of state. Very sadly, President Buhari missed another opportunity to demonstrate such commitment to our armed forces.
“Let me end this by commending our military for their sacrificial efforts to secure all of us. You have my full support and solidarity.”
Buhari responding through the Director of Strategic Communication of his campaign, Mr. Festus Keyamo, SAN, dismissed Atiku’s assertions.
He said: “The President has shown more concern for serving soldiers than can ever be imagined. They are just playing to the gallery. The major concern of the President is to take care of the welfare of soldiers and this the President is doing very well.
“This is a shameless party which stole money meant for the purchase of arms and during the Jonathan time used N1.2 billion to pay prayer contractors. The casualties that we are recording today are largely because the money that was meant to be used for arms was diverted and stolen.
“The President has stopped that kind of grand corruption and money meant to procure arms for the army are now being used to do that.
“It is very disingenuous of the PDP to latch unto the burial of our deceased soldiers. It is very important to honour our dead soldiers. Money meant for their widows are being promptly paid and this shows that they have run out of ideas.”