The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, says Borno State is a military zone hence his reason for saying that the 43 slain rice farmers ought to have obtained clearance from the military before heading to the farmland where they were killed.
Shehu said this in a series of tweets while reacting to the outrage that his interview with the BBC had generated.
The President’s spokesman had in the interview stated, “Was there any clearance by the military which is in total control of those areas? Did anybody ask to resume activity? I have been told by the military leaders that they had not been so advised and certainly, therefore, it was a window that the terrorists exploited.”
However, Shehu’s comment attracted criticisms from a large section of Nigerians on social media who accused him of being insensitive to the plight of the victims.
He said he was only trying to explain how volatile Borno State was.
The President’s spokesman said, “Today, I found myself leading the trends in social media for the wrong reasons. The State of Borno is essentially a military zone up till now that we are talking and much of what people do; much of where they go are governed by the exigencies of security.
“Routinely, traders, administration officials and even UN agencies get the green light to go to many of the areas to avoid trouble. Information from security agencies says that the Zabarmari marshlands are infested with land mines and movements in around those areas subject to military oversight.
“No one is delighted with the massacre in Zabarmari and there is nothing anybody will gain by playing blame games. The question I tried to answer on BBC was: did the security sign off on the area as being free of mines and terrorists? The honest answer is, no.”
Shehu said he was only trying to explain what had happened and was not making excuses for the killings.
The President’s spokesman added, “I’m human with tons of compassion and empathy, and could not have said that the victims deserved their fate for ignoring security clearance. I was merely explaining the mode of military operations in the war zone of the North-East.
“There are areas that are still volatile that require security clearance which is intended to put people out of harm’s way. When tragedies occur, questions arise in terms of how something happened in order to avoid future recurrence.
“Informing the military of our movements in an area of volatility and uncertainty is intended to preserve public safety. Explaining why something happened doesn’t mean I have no sympathy for the victims. I was just explaining the military procedures on the safe movement of the people and not supporting the death of the victims.”
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