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Between Marshal Badeh and Marshal Zhukov

THIS is a difficult one. In researching for this article, I tried to talk to some of the closest people who knew the late Air Marshal Alex Badeh, former Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). I was greeted with a wall of fear. I tried to raise the topic with his former colleagues in the military; I was again greeted with stonewalling and furtive glances. I broached the subject discretely with some of his old schoolmates from Villanova Secondary School, Numan. Again, silence. It suddenly dawned on me that our country is gradually being overtaken by an atmosphere of fear, and, with it, an ominous culture of silence.

In late afternoon of Tuesday, 18 December, former Air Force Chief and immediate past Chief of Defence Staff, Alexander Sabundu Badeh, was gunned down near his farm in Gitata, a settlement about 20km on the Keffi-Bade road. He was age 61. His driver, who was also shot, is in the emergency ward of a Nigeria Air Force (NAF) military hospital. His farm manager was kidnapped, his whereabouts unknown. We understand the farm has been thoroughly ransacked and everything turned upside-down in the manner of a German military blitzkrieg.

Contrary to what was earlier reported, the late CDS did have some security details with him but they were overpowered by the assailants. We understand they have also been taken away to an unknown destination.

Three theories are being bandied about regarding the tragedy.

According to the popular explanation, it was just another sad episode of armed robbery, which is not uncommon on that route. The second explanation is that it is a case of “suicide” by a despairing man. The third is political assassination.

The robbery explanation, though plausible, does not seem to hold water on this particular case. It is true that the Keffi-Abuja road has had many unfortunate cases of robbery and kidnapping of late. But I have my doubts.

His assailants deployed “commando-like” tactics by driving between his security details and his vehicle. They first of all fired at the radiator and then the tyres; ensuring that the vehicle grounded to a halt before going to the front and pumping bullets into him. They were interested neither in money nor in his vehicle. Ironically, the spot where he died was located between two well fortified military checkpoints. There is also the nearby Shitu Alao Army Barracks. Armed robbers generally operate outside such vicinities.

The suicide theory can quickly be dispelled. It is true that the retired Air Marshal was in dire straits emotionally and financially. All his properties had been impounded and bank accounts frozen. Even his pension had been blocked. His pilot’s licence had been blacklisted. He was reduced to living on the generosity and forbearance of friends and well-wishers. His wife and family had fled abroad. He lived alone with a few household staff and security details. He was not known to be a socialite and spent most of his time between his home and his farm.

A few weeks earlier, some hooded men had attempted to scale the fence into his home but were repelled by his security guards. He had made a complaint to the Department of State Security (DSS). He had good reason to feel that his life was in mortal danger. He reportedly considered fleeing abroad but decided that doing so would amount to admission of his culpability. He chose to stay back to fight to salvage his name and honour.

Weaker men would probably have considered the option of suicide. But the late Alex Badeh was not known to be a man of weak spirit. A son of hardy peasants from the warrior mountain tribes of Adamawa; his type are not easily susceptible to suicide. But there are those who would insist that he was being “suicidal” by opting not to use one of his bullet-proof vehicles in doing the routine journey to his farm.

It was also “suicidal” of him to have told some “point men” to their face that they are “religious bigots.” But a person of suicidal disposition would not have been so passionate about his farm. Rather, he would have developed the sort of “withdrawal symptoms” that psychiatrists normally associate with people who have given up on life. He was only 61 and had everything to live for. And even if he had wanted to take his own life there would have been an easier and less gruesome solution than stage-managing a brutal assassination.

The third explanation — political assassination — merits careful consideration.

Without prejudice to the ongoing investigations, we cannot rule out foul play. As a former CDS, the late Badeh would have been privy to several top security information about Boko Haram and their collaborators within and outside government.

Those who push this theory also refer to the case of General Alkali whose body was purportedly found in the sleepy village of Du, outside Jos. He was a man who had substantial information about the complicities of some high-powered people in the ongoing insurgency.

His mysterious death may have been stage-managed so as to blame hapless Berom youths who were rounded up for something they never knew. The late Badeh was said to be in possession of evidence linking some prominent Nigerians with Boko Haram commanders. The opening of his trial in Abuja’s Federal High Court in January could have led to several astonishing revelations.

The way he was hounded and persecuted showed a level of personal vendetta that goes well beyond the case of an ordinary corruption trial. It seems somebody somewhere was hell-bent on financially and physically wiping him out.

For the records: I have never condoned corruption from any quarters. I have written elsewhere that the military high brass have not conducted the war effort in the North-East with the kind of commitment and patriotism that we would have expected of them.

In January 2014, we attended the funeral of a family friend at Abuja Military Cemetery. He was Director of Army Transport and Logistics who was reportedly set up to be killed because he insisted that officers and men received their appropriate rations and supplies at the war front.

Alex Badeh was at the funeral. He turned up in a well-starched khaki. He did not particularly impress me. I sat right behind himself and former NSA Sambo Dasuki. We exchanged pleasantries. I noticed that Badeh’s eyes were bloodshot with pathos. But Sambo kept fiddling with his iPhone, obviously engrossed in a chat with someone. He was giggling like the spoilt brat that he is. The mother of our late friend, a brilliant colonel, sat motionless like a statue. When the 21 guns went off and the body was being lowered to mother earth, his twin sister started shrieking. It was at that point that I broke down.

Whatever be the case, Alex Badeh did not deserve the level of persecution that he was made to suffer.

Without prejudice to the ongoing trial, I am led to believe that some of the alleged financial misappropriations that he has been accused of were standard practice by the military brass even before his time. It is also strange that a former CDS was being tried in a civilian court, given that we are in a state of war. He ought to have been tried by his peers in a military court. This would have been necessary to avoid anyone spilling the beans about high military secrets that could compromise our national security.

Badeh, from all indications, was an outstanding military officer. At some stage, he was commander of the Presidential Fleet and personally piloted a succession of Nigerian presidents. He even had security clearance from the American government to fly such personalities as President Bill Clinton, former President Jimmy Carter and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

As Air Chief and later CDS, he did more than anyone to modernise the Air Force and introduce high technology in our national defence system. His hometown of Vimtim was destroyed by Boko Haram, including his family home. But it was also the military under Badeh that succeeded in breaking the back of Boko Haram.

His fate reminds me of Field Marshal Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov, Chief of General Staff of the Soviet Armed Forces.

Following the victory over Nazi Germany in May 1945, Soviet strongman Joseph Stalin attempted to ride the white stallion during the victory parade in Moscow. Three times the horse threw him off. They had to summon Field Marshal Zhukov to take the victory salute. Immediately he got on the white horse, it majestically took the steps for the victory parade. The world watched in amazement. Following the ceremony, Stalin banished Zhukov to Siberia.

Marshal Badeh has been banished to heaven prematurely, but he will have the last laugh.

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