By David Onmeje
A South African adage says;” Even an ant can hurt an elephant.” So, on May 29, 2015, when President Muhammadu Buhari took the oath of office as Nigeria’s democratic leader, it was clear, his first, second and third immediate priorities centered on ending Boko Haram terrorism. It was not controvertable even to the blind that Boko Haram had repressed Nigeria and it’s security forces in conquerors might.
Buhari’s first official action was to order the Security Chiefs he inherited from the preceding administration to take the war to the doorsteps of the insurgents. He directed the instant relocation of the Command Theatre to Maiduguri, the epicenter of raging Boko Haram insurgency.
In his inaugural speech to the nation, President Buhari lamented how some small group of religious extremists who preached everything in negation to Islam amassed so much power and morphed from causing ” small fires, to big fires.” Apparently, President Buhari was pained that insurgents held the whole country to ransom, in anguish, sorrows, killings and other dehumanizing atrocious acts.
However, six weeks after he maintained the then Security Chiefs, they continued to exhibit the same and glaring incapacity to confront and subdue Boko Haram. A President, who somewhat concealed his indignation sacked all of them by mid July 2015 and calmly thanked them for service to fatherland.
He immediately announced a new set of Security Chiefs to commence the job of dislodging, decimating and defeating Boko Haram terrorists in order to free Nigeria from it’s pangs. The drastic change in the apex leadership of the military enthroned trusted and competent Military officers with proven track records of splendid service to the country.
Among the new arrivants on the leadership ladder of Security Chiefs was Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusufu Buratai. The hitherto unknown soldier, who hails from the obscure village of Buratai, in Biu LGA, Borno state, also ravaged by Boko Haram was named the Chief of Army Staff (COAS).
Perhaps, satisfied with his records of excellence and unblemish service over the years, President Buhari also crowned Gen. Buratai as leader of the counter- insurgency operations in Nigeria.
The choice of Gen. Buratai as COAS shocked many Nigerians because albeit, he had accomplished much in his military career, but was unnoticed. His lifestyle attuned more to the trenches than the urbanian display of sophistry as done by some military officers of his calibre.
Unknown to the hitherto “triumphant,” Boko Haram insurgents, in Gen. Buratai, President Buhari had silently packaged their nemesis and conqueror. Buratai’s colleagues in the military vouched for him as a dogged and relentless warmonger, military tactician and strategist in the famed shadows of Chinese war veteran, Gen. Sun Tzu.
Gen. Buratai’s first official conversation with Nigerians embodied the soothing message of decimating and defeating Boko Haram insurgents. And he gave time frames for reclaiming Nigeria from insurgents back to Nigerians. He was specific that by December 2015, Boko Haram would be completely decimated.
A Liberian proverb says; ” Good millet is known at the harvest.” And from Gen. Buratai’s initial actions, it was clear to discerning minds that this great soldier and chief armour bearer of counter- terrorism knows his briefs . It indicated he was quite familiar with the rudiments of battling insurgency having led the MNJTF as Field Commander.
Frighteningly, the tasks before Gen. Buratai and his troops were quite enormous. He was to lead troops to recover about 18 LGAs in the Northeast under the total control of insurgents with their headquarters at Gwoza and another seven others under the partial control of terrorists in the region.
Also, he was battling an insurgent sect which had spread horrendous atrocities to virtually every major city in the North, including Kano and Abuja, Nigeria’s FCT. Insurgents were also making incursions into the Southwest through Kogi state as transit camp.
Added to this burden, were the over 20, 000 Nigerians held hostage by Boko Haram in secret camps in the Northeast and the neighboring countries of Niger, Chad and the Cameroun republics, including the abducted Chibok schoolgirls. These Nigerian Boko Haram hostages yearned for freedom from captivity for reunification with their families.
Elsewhere in the Northeast, there was the problem of demystifying Sambisa forest, Boko Haram’s most fortified haven. It housed it’s most vicious leader Abubakar Shekau and other top commanders as well as some captives.
Boko Haram’s recruitment of innocently hypnotised youths as foot soldiers and charmed consecration of female suicide bombers was also rampant. These were the herculean tasks before Gen. Buratai and the Nigerian troops. Boko Haram regaled in destructive might each time it staged an onslaught on any community and often, for hours in gruesome killings, abductions and destructions. IDPs camps were filled to exhaustive limits of elasticity.
But Gen. Buratai convinced himself in the wisdom enunciated by a Ghanaian adage that says, “If there were no elephant in the jungle, the buffalo would be a great animal.” Thus, he personally led troops into the jungle of Boko Haram for the battles.
And sticking to his words, Gen. Buratai and the Nigerian troops effectively decimated Boko Haram by December 2015. The hard confrontations of terrorists marked the beginning of the reclamation of Nigerian territories under insurgents control at the dawn of Year 2016.
He achieved substantial progress, alongside rescue of hundreds of hostages in their gulags. By the twilight of December 2016, Gen. Buratai delivered a demystified and dismantled, dreaded Sambisa forest as Christmas gift to Nigerians. Troops encounter with insurgents was fierce, with Abubakar Shekau escaping narrowly, after abandoning his personal copy of Holy Koran and his Jihadi flag. He reportedly disguised as a woman and sneaked out of the region to nurture his wounds.
It is unquestionable that Gen. Buratai has presided over sustained winning streaks against terrorists. Presently, no Nigerian territory is under the annexation of Boko Haram. Insurgents are pained that despite their repeated attacks to regain control of lost territories, but none has afforded them such luxury because of the strong resistance by troops on the frontline.
And despite the multiplicity of terror sects operating in the region and with increased funding from foreign sponsors like the Republic of Iran, insurgents are still licking wounds of defeat as troops do not only repel their attacks, but most them have met their waterloos in gunbattle with soldiers.
Over 18, 000 Nigerian hostages have regained their freedom and reunited with families. Boko Haram has also lost scores of top commanders and foot soldiers to the Nigerian Army. Gen. Buratai has ended the scourge of female suicide bombers with the introduction of Army Female Corps. He battles both field and cyberspace terrorism with same vigour and in all dimensions.
Most strikingly, Gen. Buratai has not only been able to conveniently halt Boko Haram ingress into Southern Nigeria, but has effectively holed and confined their operations in the obscure parts or bushes of the Northeast, in occasional sneaky and isolated attacks.
Yet, sequel to Gen. Buratai’s leadership of counter-insurgency operations, Boko Haram had the generous liberty to bomb Kano, Kaduna, Gombe, Bauchi, Jos, Yobe, Adamawa, Borno and other parts of the Northern region very freely and recklessly, without hindrance.
The tears and sorrows of Abuja residents from terrorism has also ended, as no one has heard a bomb blast since the July 2015 date of the assumption of duty by Gen. Buratai. But it was a mega city, citizens were essentially driven by the phobia of Boko Haram which would sometimes bomb the city twice in a week or serially.
Nigerians have not experienced any detonated bombs in Nyanya bus station, Police Headquarters, UN building, Media Houses or Shopping Malls in the national capital city in the past four years.
Significantly too, the number of IDPs in the Northeast has also declined incredibly. And death toll from Boko Haram insurgency has reduced drastically under the Buhari Presidency despite the spirited battles launched by insurgents to regain control of rescued territories in Nigeria.
Evidently, in five years, former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan told the United Nations Security Council in New York on Boko Haram that, “The costs are high: over 13,000 people have been killed, whole communities razed, and hundreds of persons kidnapped.”
However, independent accounts from reputable organizations pegged casualty figures much higher.
For instance, the Nigerian Security Tracker (NST) a project run by Africa Program of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) estimates the death toll covering a shorter period from May 2011 to August 2014 at over 17,500.
And between January 3- 7, 2015 alone, Boko Haram serial attacks on Baga town reportedly massacred up to 2, 000 people in just four days.
And a report by the same NST & CFR stated that Boko Haram is responsible for the deaths of “only” about 5,598 people in the last four years of the Buhari Presidency. This is in spite of the intense pressures mounted against Nigeria by a conglomeration of terrorists sects competitively gunning to retake the country.
It is certified and indisputable that the appointment of Gen. Buratai as COAS was an ideal decision by President Buhari. It has changed the Boko Haram narrative in favour of Nigeria. His leadership of the counter-insurgency operations has really changed the terrorists’ perception of the Nigerian troops now, as a formidable Army which is ever ready to see to the complete routing out of insurgents from Nigeria.
Therefore, once a nation makes the right decision, seemingly unsolvable problems begin to ebb out gradually to the final end. With Gen. Buratai still on board, it’s a sure bet that Boko Haram must fizzle out of Nigeria in humiliating final defeat. He has vowed to supervise the reign of good over evil by terminating terrorism and uprooting every insurgency from it’s roots.
Onmeje writes from the United Kingdom