Nigerians hardly agree or indulge themselves in collective appreciation of the performance of any public officer. It is like a cherished culture of endless criticism, the people hate to relinquish. It is worse when the matter at stake concerns a national issue and the personality at the epicenter of the heat delights more in verbal justification job than action.
But there appears to be a unanimous consensus on how the current Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai has handled the ongoing war on Boko Haram insurgents in the North eastern part of Nigeria. The war on terror is a global phenomenon, but since terrorists took a firm, offensive grip on Nigerians, the country has known no peace, manifest in all facets of national life. It was like a puzzle that can never be solved. But Gen. Buratai has given Nigerians hope of survival and dignity in their darkest hour, much as he has vibrated deadly labyrinths.
Until his appointment July 13, 2015, by President Muhammadu Buhari, as Nigeria’s COAS, Gen. Buratai was the Commander of the Multinational Joint Task Force, headquartered in the Republic of Chad. He succeeded Gen. Kenneth Tobias Jacob Minimah as COAS, whose reign diminished the once proud army which regaled in excellence on foreign assignments, anywhere in the world. Under Minimah, Nigerian soldiers were re-classified and derogatively described as worse than ragtag militias, evident in troop’s sheepish retreat in the middle of battle. Boko Haram militants held the country on its jugular, recklessly killing, abducting, conquering and annexing territories of Nigeria with their insignia boldly mounted.
Credentials of the Borno-born Army General are replete with trappings of excellence anywhere he has served the country before now. As Commander 2 Brigade covering other parts of the Niger Delta region, where he doubled as the Sector Commander Joint Task Force Operation Pulo Shield, Buratai brought respite to Nigerians in the restive Niger Delta region by significantly curtailing oil theft, piracy, kidnapping and armed robbery through relentless security surveillance and operations.
But what appears to have shot him to limelight is his new job as COAS. Many attest that upon his appointment as the Army’s helmsman, Buratai deemed it a personal mission to rescue his people. But when he vowed to confront the insurgent’s headlong; the terrorists mistook his outbursts as the same empty bragging of his predecessors.
Administering their usual baptism of fire on whoever dares them, the insurgents immediately unleashed an attack on his home town in Biu LGA of Borno, killing and destroying houses. While the action of the Islamic sect members was meant to permanently silence Gen. Buratai, it surprisingly rather emboldened him.
And with President Muhammadu Buhari’s relocation of the military command structure to the epicenter of the Boko Haram war, Buratai perceived it a rare opportunity to again excel in his military career.
Son of Alhaji Yusuf Buratai, a World War II veteran, the COAS reminisced his father’s admonishments to him at a tender age, when opted for the military. He remembered that his father, now aged told him to strive to excel and always be loyal to his superiors and constituted authority and to distance himself from any form of vice. So, he considered failing Nigeria in the insurgency war as failing his own biological father.
Therefore, having climbed the ladder in his military career to get to the peak, Gen. Buratai dammed the coziness of his office in Abuja, laced his boots, cocked his guns and personally led troops to the battle field. It was a marked departure from the disposition of COAS before his arrival on the scene.
To demonstrate that he is an Army General with proper grasp and briefs of his new assignment, Buratai restructured the Nigerian Army hierarchy by deploying his subordinates to superintend on new commands stations or areas. He set out to task with a singular mission; firstly, to boost the very low morale of troops, which hitherto made them dread war and by extension, to also extract a commitment from soldiers that insurgency is a war that must be won in record time, to enable soldiers get back to their regular duties.
Thereafter, Buratai frequently toured the zone embattled by insurgency war, even to dreaded Boko Haram controlled zones. It was on one of such mission that his convoy was ambushed while travelling to Maiduguri-Gamboru-Ngala. No senior officer of his ranking or portfolio had rendered himself to be caught in the crossfire of insurgents in the past. But Buratai braved the odds and did not only deflate the potency of the terrorists who attacked his convoy, but also arrested some of them who later made useful confessions.
It is clear that the Nigerian Army under Buratai’s watch have stamped their statement that the dreaded Sambisa Forest, where Chibok girls abducted by Boko Haram terrorists were held captive for months, unchallenged, was not only demystified, but also demolished. He proceeded to belittle the once fortified haven of the insurgents by establishing a military presence in Sambisa Forest.
Explaining his tactics, Buratai said, having studied the insurgency war in the North East, he decided to adopt the same guerrilla approach used by the terrorists by introducing motorbike battalion to move swiftly against terrorists anytime. No innovation, that simple with such positive impact that cannot attract world acclaim in the comity of Army Generals anywhere in the world.
He simply explained it as, “We are using the same guerrilla strategy adopted by the terrorists. We are giving them back their own strategy. We have motorbike battalion which has added more capacity as well as the ability to move quickly to wherever the terrorists are.”
Also, Buratai’s foot soldiers were constantly assured by the Army Chief himself, whether in the rain and in cold, about their welfare. He availed himself at their doorstep to personally respond to the issues confronting them to give them a psychological impetus to face the insurgency battle and come out victorious. Soldiers no longer complained of owed allowances, delayed salaries or pushed to battle front, on empty stomach and without ammunitions.
While addressing troops of the 112 battalion at Mafa, Buratai touched on their patriotism and emotions as Nigerians reminding of their sacred duty to the country thus; “We all know we have a task to clear this general area of these criminal elements once and for all so that we all can go back to our normal soldiering business. It is the commitment of the President, government, the leadership of the military, the troops and the support of Nigerians that brought the successes. We have intensified efforts to enable the military get to the insurgents before they cause any havoc or even run away from their hideouts…the most important thing is to prevent them from having the capacity to launch attacks on innocent individuals and on our troops` locations.”
In effect, when Nigerians now witness isolated incidents of Boko Haram attacks in towns and villages of the troubled North East, the world is now convinced that the remnants of terrorists who have been chased out of the forests, alienated in towns and caged in their hideouts, who are still venting their last spleen, which would soon extinguish. Confessions from some arrested terrorists now indicate that they are tired of the “business”, as against the haughty posture of some of their arrested colleagues in the past.
Buratai assures, “Terrorism is a global phenomenon. It may seem unending, but I want to assure you that here in Nigeria, we are working hard to ensure that the Boko Haram terrorists are completely eliminated. We still have some remnants of them, but we are closing up and clearing them by the day.”
Therefore, when Nigerians generally, including hardcore critics like the Comrade Governor, Adams Oshiomhole and his Oyo state counterpart,Governor Abiola Ajimobi applaud Buratai, its not unexpected and about the least laurel still awaiting this General of the people.
Oshiomhole sums it all, “We in Edo State appreciate the leadership that you are providing for the Nigerian Armed Forces and the Nigerian Army in particular. We watch you on television and we see a very senior officer going to meet his officers and men right in the battle field, sharing the dust, the sun and all the deprivations, the sort of thing you sometime see in foreign countries. I think that you are leading by example in every sense of the word.”
So, with Buratai on stage, the Nigerian Army is back from a long “sabbatical” leave, hitting and biting. There is now hope that Nigerian Army would once again regain its pride and status in the comity of the military world-wide.
Orinya is an academic staff at FUW and contributed the piece from Wukari, Taraba State.