January 14, 2019

Of Buratai, SERAP and FOI request



By David Onmeje

On a daily basis, I am delighted by the exploits of the Nigerian Army under Lt Gen Tukur Buratai in the fight against terrorism in Nigeria. I must add that I have been a great fan of his from the very day he was appointed the Chief of Army Staff by President Muhammadu Buhari. My fondness of Gen Buratai ignited when President Muhammadu Buhari stated that he didn’t know any of the service chiefs personally, but he relied on records in making the appointments. That was the catch for me, and it has continued till date.



Gen Buratai is a soldier any day and anytime. He looks it, he breathes it, and he eats it. I recall an occasion I stumbled on a picture of him in the trenches somewhere in the North East with soldiers fighting Boko Haram terrorist, I said to myself, who would do such if not General Buratai. He has a way of warming his way into the heart of troops and people around him. That is just the mien whenever you encounter him.

The latest display by Gen Buratai that has made me go to town is the way the Nigerian Army granted the request by some civil society organizations that includes the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), Enough is Enough (EiE), and BudgIT requesting him to use his “good offices and leadership position to provide information on spending on military operations across the country, particularly in the Northeast.”

When the request was made, I said to myself that something was wrong because, in the world over, military budgets and spending are not subject to public debates. But for SERAP and others to deem it necessary to make such a request meant that they meant business. And guess what? Gen Buratai didn’t disappoint. He indeed granted the request.

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This much was confirmed by SERAP senior legal adviser Bamisope Adeyanju. According to her, “the bulky photographic and textual documentation with a cover letter was delivered to SERAP’s office by a military officer at around 11:40 am.” The letter with reference number AHQDCMA/G4/100/4 and signed on Mr. Buratai’s behalf by Brigadier-General S.B. Kumapayi read in part: “The Nigerian Army (NA) has in recent time come under unrelenting public scrutiny by both private individuals and Non-governmental organizations over issues of appropriation of funds. The most recent being a call from your organization for the Nigerian Army to explain how funds appropriated for the NA under the administration of the Chief of Army Staff were utilized.”

I was excited beyond words for this rare display by the Chief of Army Staff in granting the request. I think this is a first in the annals of the country. It goes a long way to state the obvious fact that under Gen Buratai, the Nigerian Army has fared well. And not just that, for him to put the budget and spendings of the Nigerian Army in the public domain is an indication that accountability is the watchword, and a departure of the norm in times past where former army chiefs helped themselves at the detriment of the lives of the officers and soldiers fighting Boko Haram terrorists in North-East Nigeria.

I would tell all that cares to listen that Gen Buratai is a rare breed and a super patriot. One who has devoted his life to the cause of the country in his capacity as the Chief of Army Staff through his displays and conduct. It takes strength and character to be a soldier in this dispensation due to the numerous distractions flying around. It also takes a high level of discipline to be able to lead the prestigious Nigerian Army and still maintain public decorum. Yes, all of these criteria have been fulfilled by Gen Buratai since he assumed headship of the Nigerian Army in 2015.

From the little I was able to glean from his personal life, his father, a world war II veteran played a considerable role in his life in moulding his strength and character. I recall an interview he granted where he stated that his father admonished him many years ago on the dangers of some vices that includes drinking and smoking and why he should never engage in them. And he indeed never engaged in them. I think Gen Buratai should be a topic of academic research because there are so many unique things about him that would be helpful to students of Military history in the future.

Lest I forget, Gen. Buratai is a historian himself, I am sure as a historian, he must have learned a lot from great military strategists such as Napoleon, Zhuge Liang, Sun Tzu, Subatai, Hannibal, Alexander the Great, Shivaji Maharaj, Gonzalo Fernandez de Cordoba, and Admiral Lord Nelson to mention but a few. A documentary on him will compete with these legends in cinemas and museums. Gen Buratai would indeed go down history lane as one of Nigeria’s most exceptional war strategist, and not just that, one that displayed a very high moral standing in his conduct both in public and private life as a true nationalist.

Gen Buratai is a strategic visionary who thinks, acts, leads and strategically develop others. He is also decisive, courageous, accountable and a man of integrity. This much he has exhibited since he assumed the leadership of the Nigerian Army. He proved many wrong with his actions even though some have gone to town already with tales by moonlight on how the Army would not be able to account for its actions and inactions. But they were wrong as the gist in town is that the Nigerian Army has indeed thrown a challenge to other government institutions on how to be accountable to the people.

The buzz around is the example set by the Nigerian Army. This is indeed a big challenge that would open a flood gate of inquiries on government accountability. I urge SERAP to extend such request to other critical government organisations and let’s see how it goes. The Buratai example won’t go away anytime soon. This is indeed a challenge, the Buratai challenge.

Onmeje is a UK based public affairs analyst