When he was appointed Chief of Army Staff by President Muhammadu Buhari in July 2015, the one thing that did not cross the mind of then Major-General Tukur Yusufu Buratai was his tenure of office becoming somewhat controversial.
Those who knew him way back then said the man was down to earth and humble, and he was a man of few words who would rather allow his action, or his achievements, to speak for him. He was also never on record to have craved publicity in spite of all the major things he had achieved for Nigeria in the course of his well-decorated career. With all these attributes, Buratai must have thought that his tenure was going to be a quiet one full of positive action without the accompanying fanfare. But he was mistaken.
Though he was apolitical, Buratai did not know that, soon after his appointment, politicians who had an axe to grind with the then new President were going to seek to politicize his tenure, reading his actions in the subjective context of politics, even when the military he led was a professional body that has since 1999 been insulating itself from politics. Buratai was contented with attaining the exalted rank of an army general, and had never lobbied for a post or promotion.
But the stakes were very high politically. A political party that had been ruling for almost two decades at a stretch had just been uprooted through an election and some of its members were determined to discredit anything good the government that took over from them was doing. Sadly for Buratai, these people did not care to make a distinction between politics and national security. And they played a key role in making him, perhaps, the main issue in Nigeria almost throughout his five-year tenure as Army chief.
Buratai was appointed to command the Nigerian Army at a critical time in the history of the country, at a time when Boko Haram was threatening to take over many parts of northern Nigeria, including, to some extent, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
By 2015, when Muhammadu Buhari became President of the Nigerian federation and appointed Buratai as Army chief, Boko Haram was governing a sizeable chunk of Nigerian territorial space, said to be the size of Belgium. The security situation in the country was very dicey, and for sure the nation needed truly tested hands to manage the situation and prevent it from taking a turn for the worse.
The President called for the curriculum vitae of all the senior generals serving at the time, and wasted no time in picking Buratai as the Chief of Army Staff. It was one appointment that was hailed nationally, as the man chosen was fully deserving, having made a name in fearlessness and diligent delivery of set goals.
Buratai did not disappoint, even if some are likely to argue to the contrary. By December 2015, he had led from the front and ensured the initiative was seized from the Boko Haram insurgents. Barely five months into that appointment, attacks on soft and hard targets had reduced by 75 per cent; by June 2016, there was no attack outside the North East, unlike before when attacks were regular occurrences in Jos, Kano, Kaduna, Sokoto, Suleja and Abuja, among others.
By July 2017, the incessant suicide bomb attacks had reduced by 90 per cent. The years 2017 and 2018 saw the virtual defeat of the terrorists. What brought about the intermittent setbacks were mainly inter-service competition (not conflict), lack of establishment of civil authorities in the recovered local government areas, low deployment of the Nigerian police in the North East, uncoordinated government efforts and, of course, the resilience of the terrorists in regrouping, recruiting and re-arming. The evolution of new tactics, techniques and procedures in the counterinsurgency operations are major achievements. The Super Camp maneuver concept of operation, the mobile strike teams, the production of the Ezugwu MRAP, the motorcycle battalion, the revival and operationalisation of the Special Forces Command, etcetera, are all initiatives borne out of the challenges of the counterinsurgency operations of that era.
In spite of these landmark achievements, if you ask Buratai what were his major achievements as Army chief, chances are he will mention extensive training of army personnel and human capacity building, which are the defining factors in true military professionalism. Courses were regularly conducted. Officers and soldiers were exposed in large numbers to foreign courses. The Nigerian Army will never be the same in terms of the quality of its officers and soldiers. They can compete and excel in all international military engagements. The Nigerian Army Resource Centre is one institution that transformed the Army landscape in terms of human capacity building. It has since become a major source of pride for the Army and the country as a whole. Then came the Nigerian Army University located in Biu, as one of the foremost legacies of Buratai and indeed the Buhari administration.
The five-year stewardship of General Buratai as Army chief saw to many exercises being established. An exercise is the best form of military professional training. The introduction of realistic training exercises was among the visionary legacies of Buratai The exercises conducted during that time included HARBIN KUNAMA, CRICODILE SMILE, AYAM AKPATUMA, PYTHON DANCE-and SAHEL SANITY, all of which were both visionary and strategic. With the conduct of the exercises, two major objectives were achieved. One was training of the Nigerian Army officers and soldiers in tactics, techniques and procedures in internal security operations. Second, it also contributed to national security improvement, where security challenges across the geopolitical zones of the country were addressed decisively. During the tenure of General Buratai, the IPOB, IMN and MEND, among others, were checkmated. This is in addition to several counterinsurgency operations. Bandits, kidnappers and violent separatists were also decisively dealt with and operating at best on the fringes.
Other achievements recorded during that period included medical evacuation abroad, upgrade of all Army Level 4 hospitals, general improvement of educational standard, increase in troop morale (though a few cases were politicized), massive barracks renovations, massive infrastructural development, massive lift capabilities, improved procurement for the Army, as well as standardisation of Army uniforms.
New institutions were also established, including the Nigerian Army Cyber Warfare Command, Women Corps, Land Forces Simulation Centre, ST Foods, Nigerian Army Farms and Ranches and others that are too numerous to mention here.
Though toughness has become his defining feature right from childhood, General Buratai managed to balance it with diplomacy even when he was in active service. Under his stewardship, the Human Rights Desk was established, and incidences of military brutality were reduced to barest minimum. Many civilians attested to the fact that they always forgot the man was the Army Chief when in his presence. He exuded simplicity and humility at their very best.
Little wonder therefore, that now as an ambassador, General Tukur Buratai has been breaking new grounds in diplomacy, reducing cross border crimes from his duty post that used to be regarded as take-off point where contrabands are packaged for delivery to Nigeria. At the moment, there is closer interaction and deeper cooperation between Nigeria and Benin Republic, its next door neighbour, where Buratai is serving as Nigeria’s ambassador.
One year after retiring in a blaze of glory, Tukur Buratai is still a major issue in Nigeria. When reference is made to the service chiefs that served alongside him, whether in the traditional or social media, the only name that gets mentioned has almost always been his, though General Olonisakin, the then Chief of Defence Staff was his senior by position and rank.
It is to the credit of this officer and gentleman that he has continued to render excellent service to Nigeria. He has refused to get deterred by criticisms, and uses it rather as a fuel to achieve more for this great country. The Tukur Buratai Research Centre that he established late last year is poised to become one of the best institutions that will make pursuit of excellence as its mantra, in this part of the globe. It is an institution that will serve Nigeria optimally and save our academics and researchers the burden of having to always travel abroad whenever they want to engage in research for development.
Posterity will record Buratai’s major achievement as perhaps ensuring the stability and sustainable of democracy in Nigeria. He not only gallantly fought the nation’s enemies, he also ensured ambitious military officers never got the chance to torpedo our democracy, in the false name of fixing our fault lines.
Brass Tacks wishes this patriot-extraordinaire the very best, in his dream for a Nigeria that will serve all of its people justly and fairly.