The year was 1973. Thirteen year old Tukur Yusufu went hunting for birds in the bushes of Buratai, his hometown located in the southern fringes of Borno State. Then all of a sudden, in the middle of nowhere, a large snake appeared and blocked the only bush path. He tried frightening the snake, but it got defensive. Not one to give up easily, young Tukur found a way out, in what became his first major lesson about the behavior of this dangerous reptile.
The next encounter with snakes took place in Angola in 1994, and another one in 1996. This time around, he suddenly saw a snake right inside his staff car while being driven. In 2006, it was the turn of his bedroom. These became part of several other encounters with this dangerous creature that is estimated to cause the death of at least ninety thousand people every year, across the globe.
Years later, as a young officer in the Nigerian Army, Tukur would set up a snake farm in the outskirts of Keffi, Nasarawa State, and built a farmhouse with only snakes as his neighbours. Rather than a posh part of Abuja, it was to this house that he retired with his family years later, after a glorious career in the army. Only a military officer whose second name could well be audacity could dare do such a thing.
Barely hours after being appointed Army Chief in 2015, Tukur Buratai decided to go on operational visit to the northeast, and he was ambushed by an audacious battalion of Boko Haram special forces who were assigned to kill him. Rather than running, the General directed the convoy to stop. He led a chase of the terrorists deep inside the bush, until many of the attackers were either neutralized or captured alive.
Now, how did Tukur Yusufu Buratai, trained as a teacher decide to join the Nigerian Army? In November 1975, the military governor of Nigeria’s North-East State (now defunct) named Lietenant Colonel Muhammadu Buhari was on a visit to Borno Teachers College in Maiduguri. While watching students of the college play sports, a ball flew off the volleyball court, and a young student named Tukur Yusufu Buratai went to retrieve the ball. Applying all the force he could muster, and because even as early as then he valued the importance of time, the young student threw the ball from some distance back to the court, so that play could resume immediately.
Seeing the way 15-year old Tukur threw the ball, the military governor who became head of State eight years later called Tukur and asked him to join the Nigerian Army for what he rightly saw as his toughness and sheer strength. The rest, as they say, is history. Forty years later, the same Buhari became the democratically elected president of Nigeria, and he appointed Tukur Buratai, by then a well-decorated major-general in the Nigerian Army, as Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff.
It was sheer Providence at work because from the age of eight, seven years before that fateful meeting with Buhari, Tukur Buratai has had very many close shaves with death. He had escorted his elder brother to a pond, where young boys were fond of swimming, and without anyone noticing, he decided to take a plunge into the water that was reputed to have killed quite a number of children who could not swim well. Predictably, since Tukur didn’t know how to swim, he sank into the bottom of the pond and sat there like a stone. After what seemed like an eternity, one of the good swimmers sensed there was a human being at that particular spot, and he dived deep into the water and grabbed a hapless Tukur out of it. Amazingly, the boy did not even drown.
And what does one say about a man whose course mates had done a send off party for, as he was enlisted among politically-exposed military officers billed for compulsory retirement by the Obasanjo Administration? He was then a major in the Nigerian Army. But then wise counsel prevailed. It emerged that Tukur only served in the State House, not as ADC to anyone, or holder of any position defined at that time as political. He was left to continue in service, only to attain the exalted post of Army Chief, the major dream of every military officer. He was reputed to be the best Army Chief in terms of engaging his course mates and seeking their advice throughout the course of his stewardship.
By 2015 when Muhammadu Buhari became president of the Nigerian federation and appointed General Tukur Yusufu Buratai as Army Chief, Boko Haram was governing a sizeable chunk of Nigerian territorial space, said to be the size of Belgium. But by December 2015, the new Army Chief 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 percent, By June 2016, there was no attacks outside the northeast, unlike before when attacks were regular occurrences in Jos, Kano, Kaduna, Sokoto, Suleja, Abuja amongst others.
By July 2017 the incessant suicide bomb attacks had reduced by 90 percent. 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 northeast, uncoordinated government efforts and of course the resilience of the terrorists in regrouping, recruitment 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 Mobule Strike Teams, the production of the EXUGWU MRAP, the Motorcycle Battalion, the revival and operationalisation of the Special Forces Command, etc are all initiatives borne out of the challenges of the counterinsurgency operations of that era.
Inspite of these landmark achievements, if you ask General Tukur 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 became 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 years stewardship of General Buratai as Army Chief saw to many exercises being established. Exercise is the best form of military professional training. The introduction of realistic training exercises were among the visionary legacies of General 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. Secondly, 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 Tukur Buratai, the IPOB, IMN and MEND amongst others were checkmated. This is in addition to several counter-insurgency operations. Bandits, kidnappers and violent separatists were also decisively dealt with and operating at best in 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 troops 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.
As this selfless patriot turns 61 two days ago, BRASS TACKS felicitates with him and join millions of other compatriots in wishing him happier returns in good health, so that he could continue delivering excellent selfless service to the only country we can truly call our own.