Nigeria’s senior public officials never seem to learn. They keep accepting invitations to face inquisitions on BBC Hardtalk from the relentless and always well prepared Stephen Sackur.
Chief of Army Staff Tukur Buratai joined the roll call of those shamed by Sackur’s forensic questioning and it looked like he had gone to a gunfight armed with just a penknife. The Nigerian military has form when it comes to human rights abuse, but this encounter looked like it was Buratai whose human rights were being violated, especially his right to dignity. He was completely embarrassed by questions that he couldn’t answer adequately.
Watch it here:
Sackur fired the first shot with the official claim that Boko Haram had been defeated. President Buhari claimed that the insurgents will be defeated by the end of December 2015. Sackur said that claim was “completely wrong”. To Sackur’s exasperation, Buratai tried to explain away Boko Haram still being able to carry out attacks even after Buhari and his regime’s officials declared “technical victory”. The army chief said unconvincingly that “terrorism was resilient”, but there has been “tremendous success” in the fight against Boko Haram.
Sackur was having none of it, stating there were 48 different attacks in the first six months of this year. Displaced people can’t return to their homes and “far from being completed”, Buratai’s “mission has barely begun”. As Buratai reeled from that attack, he got hit by further salvos on arbitrary arrests by the army, the deaths of over 240 detainees at Giwa Barracks. Buratai tried in vain to defend the indefensible with a feeble comment about an inquiry dismissing the claims – but that inquiry was by the army and headed by a retired general, so clearly not independent, despite the president promising an independent inquiry. Sackur hit back with the claim that nine officers implicated in human rights abuses were still serving.
On the alleged deal to free the kidnapped Chibok girls in which it was claimed that some Boko Haram commanders were freed in exchange for the freed girls, Burutai wasn’t quite sure what his defensive tactic would be. He first refused to confirm or deny the claim about freeing Boko Haram terrorists, and then resorted to suggesting the merits of such hostage exchanges.
But Sackur was just warming up for the kill. He switched to corruption and allegations of ghost soldiers in the army and commanders pocketing their salaries. He then asked Buratai how much he earned in dollars, but the general fudged the answer. This led to him being questioned about his properties in Dubai and how this would affect his troops on low pay. At this point, the floundering and out of his depth general should have just waved the white flag, but he chose to lose all sense of decorum, opening his mouth but nothing but nonsense kept tumbling out.
If this were a boxing contest, Buratai’s corner-men and/or the referee would have stepped in and put their man out of his misery. But there was no one to stop Sackur, so he kept dropping bombs. He asked Buratai where Buhari was, adding that the president was likely somewhere “here in London”, but clearly not fit to continue. Buhari has been incapacitated in London for 60 days and not been seen in public since. As Buratai tried to suggest everything was under control because there was an acting president, Sackur reminded him of his earlier warning to any officers thinking of taking advantage of the sense of instability arising from the president’s absence.
The inquisitor then asked how long the uncertainty over Buhari can be allowed to continue. Buratai didn’t know, but he was glad that time was up on the interview and his own suffering in the hands of Sackur could no longer continue.