The Senior Special Assistant to the President of Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, has reacted after he trended on social media over his comment on the killing of farmers by Boko Haram terrorists in Borno State.
Okay.ng recalls that 43 farmers were killed around Marrabati and Hammayya villages, near Zabarmari in Jere Local Government Area of Borno State.
However, Garba Shehu during an interview with the BBC on Monday said the farmers did not get clearance from the military to go to their farms.
In his words: “The government is sad that this tragic incident has happened. 43 or thereabout of innocent farmworkers, most of them had their throats slit by a heartless band of terrorists. People need to know what it is like in the Lake Chad Basin area.
“Much of those areas have been liberated from Boko Haram terrorists but there are a number of spaces that have not been cleared for the return of villagers who have been displaced. So, ideally, all of these places ought to pass the test of military clearances before farmers or settlers resume activities on those fields.”
The presidential spokesman’s comment had since generated reactions from Nigerians saying he lacks sympathy for the victims.
Following this reaction from Nigerians, Shehu via his Twitter handle said: “routinely, traders, administration officials and even UN agencies get the green light to go to many of the areas to avoid trouble.”
He also maintained his stand that the farmers did not get a go-ahead from the military to visit their farms.
“Today, I found myself leading the trends in the 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.
“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 Northeast. 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,” he said.