By Nkechi Odoma
The office of the Chief of Army Staff ( COAS) is powerful anywhere by every yardstick of perception. The occupant of the exalted office, and in the case of Nigeria now, Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusufu Buratai who wears a second heavier badge as leader, counter-insurgency operations is an influential personality by all standards.
As Nigeria’s number one soldier, the COAS wields enormous powers both within and outside military circles. And in the age of perennial and festering insurgency in Nigeria, Gen. Buratai ought to have been egoistic as Nigeria’s most priced warrior or man of valour.
Others in his position would have been prancing the Nigerian space with panache, haughtiness and magisterial aura for decimating and significantly crumbling Boko Haram insurgents. It is an uncommon feat.
And it is the experience of Nigerians with most previous occupants of the esteemed office of COAS, even when they have nothing to show as positive results for the war against terrorism. But such officers usually have enough pride and prompting for showmanship.
But Gen. Buratai’s humility, discipline, and simplicity are remarkably unparalleled with some of his professional colleagues, including those of lesser status. He is always in control of himself in decency; he does not allow the aura of his exalted position usurp and suspend his senses as evident in his public outings and interactions with soldiers, and Nigerian public consistently.
He is grandiose in thoughts and calculative in actions. For ages, the people knew, an average Nigerian soldier is traditionally brash, brutish, fastidious, beast-like and permanently callous. But even as the leader of the Nigerian Army, Gen Buratai is the direct opposite of the aforementioned traits.
Although a crack soldier, rugged and rough in the trenches, the Army General and leader of counter-insurgency operations in Nigeria is unassuming, amiable, honest, blunt and a level-headed team player. He walks into a public place and departs unannounced, unlike other high-profile personalities.
And right from childhood, Gen Buratai imbibed the virtues of discipline, self-esteem, hard work, truthfulness, and perseverance. He has nurtured and grown up with these qualities. A strict soldier to a fault, Gen. Buratai is a stickler to excellence, timeliness, and obligations he covenants with people.
These personal principles have endured in Buratai throughout his military career. They have been his source of nourishment especially when he began holding leadership positions in the Army. For years, he commanded the several special operations launched against militants in the Niger Delta. And thereafter, he participated in United Nations Observer Missions/assignments in Angola and elsewhere in the world, emerging with worthy medals in virtually all instances.
Therefore, upon his appointment as the COAS, by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015, Gen. Buratai met an Army that was unprofessional, undisciplined, disloyal, unpatriotic and frustratingly weak. It is a mild statement to say, he inherited an Army was in complete disarray.
Many may hate to recount, but it was a national shame and disgrace that Nigeria had an army that faltered before Boko Haram insurgents or shirked womanishly in the frontline of battles with terrorists. Buratai knew an effeminate Army was the worse thing that could ever happen to a country.
Instantly, Gen. Buratai realized at once that a burden has been placed on his head to rebrand the Nigerian Army into a professionally responsible and responsive institution worthy of a great nation like Nigeria. He had the daunting task of remolding Army personnel to align with it’s core constitutional mandate of preserving, safeguarding and protecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Nigeria.
Gen. Buratai hit the ground running, by immediately touring Army Divisions and Formations throughout the country. The visits afforded him a platform of personal interactions with officers and personnel. He gathered firsthand information about their problems and afflictions.
There was no time to waste, as the fire of a raging Boko Haram needs to be urgently extinguished. The Army Chief instantly solved interim problems afflicting the Army such as poor or lack of fighting equipment, unpaid or delayed salaries and allowances which dampened the spirit of soldiers in confronting terrorism.
Going forward, he introduced welfare schemes such as ownership of personal houses by soldiers in retirement, expansion of office and barracks accommodations, alongside the renovation of existing Army establishments across the federation.
Gen. Buratai introduced reforms and innovations in the Army which were strictly anchored on discipline, loyalty, patriotism, hard work, transparency, and honesty, as pathfinders, which morally, psychologically and physically prepared the Army for excellence in the performance of its constitutional responsibilities.
These were achieved via training and retraining of Army personnel through workshops, seminars and scholarly courses in specialised military institutions. Gen. Buratai’s creed which is popularised and has become a singsong in the Army is strict adherence to an oath of office, professional ethics and Rules of Engagement ( ROE) at all times, whether on Internal Security (IS) special assignments or battling the religious extremist sect, Boko Haram.
It is to Gen. Buratai’s credit that a reformed Nigerian Army is substantially complying with the defined operational creeds, as soldiers are aware of Buratai’s zero tolerance for professional misconduct. And soldiers also knows, he does not fail to punish erring soldiers each time one is found culpable.
The Army Chief’s aversion to soldiers human rights violations of Nigerians is infectious. Apart from ensuring a smooth Army/ civil relations, Gen. Buratai has established a Human Rights Desk at the Army Headquarters ( DHQs) and replicated same in all major Army Divisions for ease of access to members of the public with such complaints against soldiers.
Today, and through the perfect reorientation of the Army by Gen. Buratai, soldiers are now served court summons by civilians who have disputes with them. And they appear in court to defend their actions in accordance with laws of the land. This was impossible in the immediate past history of the Nigerian Army and alien in civil/ military interactions.
But notwithstanding the stiff discipline imposed on the Army by Gen. Buratai, there are a few bad eggs who deviate from the norms by violating the code of conduct or creed of professionalism as persistently trumpeted. It’s not in doubt that every institution or system has its share of deviants.
However, Gen. Buratai spares no one caught in the ring over any professional misconduct. He has been consistent in punishing every established infraction by any soldier, no matter his rank. Those who have tested and relished Gen. Buratai’s affection for his personnel, but rewarded it with engaging in professional misconduct usually encounter him at a sour point.
Recent examples would suffice and for instance, by end of 2018, the General Court Martial (GCM) sitting in Maimalari Cantonment Maiduguri, Borno State handed down different punishments to
five personnel of the Nigerian Army for various offenses.
President of the Court Martial, Brig. Gen. Olusegun Adesina revealed that the offenses hinged on cowardice, negligence, abduction, and indiscipline.
So, Captain Alhamdu Kwasau was found guilty of cowardly behaviour and negligence while on military duty. He had his rank of Captain reduced to a Lieutenant with two years lost of seniority.
The second and third accused officers, Captain Jimen Babangida and Lieutenant Sanusi Bello were also found guilty of conduct prejudiced to service discipline and were punished variously by the GCM.
Also, Sergeant Aliyu Hassan and Lance Corporal Bello Nasiru were found guilty by the GCM on offences bordering on abduction or attempts to commit abduction and extortions. They were sentenced to as much as five years imprisonment on different counts, aside demotion in ranks.
Similarly, last week, the Nigerian Army arrested a soldier, Ajayi Johnson who allegedly shot dead a commercial motorcyclist Chimaobi Nwaorgu of Umuokereke-Ngwa community in Obingwa Local Government Area, of Abia State.
The accused soldier has not only been arrested but detained and the disciplinary procedure of trial is in progress in accordance with extant military laws. And if found guilty, he will be dismissed and handed over to the police for civil prosecution.
Additionally and in some instances, Gen. Buratai has had cause ton dismiss soldiers who indulged in professional misconduct and compromised the integrity and tainted the reputation of the Army as an institution.
In 2016, at least 38 Army personnel deployed on election duty were dismissed from the Nigerian Army for professional misconduct, as a disciplinary measure to serve as deterrence to others. And when Nigerians saw the vehemence Senior Army officers resisted alleged financial inducements by the Rivers State Gov. Nyesom Wike to compromise the 2019 general elections in the state, it was a loud testimony of Gen. Buratai’s reformation and rebranding of the Army.
Therefore, there is no doubt that Gen. Buratai is the Nigerian Army’s shining portrait of discipline and mirror of excellence. His dream and efforts at making the Nigerian Army one of the best in the world is gradually coming to fruition with a drastic reduction in incidents of professional misconducts by Army personnel generally.
Nigerians must necessarily spot the thin dividing line between an individual bad soldier and the institution of the revered Nigerian Army. Much as they are intertwined, but there are slight differences.
Odoma writes this piece from Garki, Abuja