By Thomas Uzah PhD
Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai came like a dunce on the hottest seat of battle some five years ago. Many were under the faulty illusion that he sneaked his way unto the path of death on the plains, forests, and mountains of the Northeast in the hands of the merciless and militant extremist Boko Haram sect. At incipience, the odd Islamist sect voiced to the world about their vicious mission to conquer Nigeria and restore an oppressive and alien Islamic Caliphate on the people.
But a patent snag with such discretionary action was that Boko Haram had an identity only its religious cannibals and proponents of the ideology discerned in precise terms and understood by themselves alone; and no one else. Boko Haram quaked meaningless noises to the undiscerning, and loudly, blew the trumpets war with might and energetic boastfulness.
For years, the entire Northeast terrains “were a dragons field”, enclaves dreaded by natives, strangers and even, the security agents. Boko Haram damnably invaded the communities and villages of a helpless people, captured and enforced cruel, ferocious and unorthodox cannons alien to the Islamic world and practices.
The people reaped bountifully in blood, gruesome murders, abductions and arsons. The fire of hell had less fury than the rampaging blades, swords and bombs of insurgents. The people groaned; while the state gazed effeminately at flames ignited by serial detonating bombs of insurgents; more horrified than victims of the butcheries.
But a nemesis awaited in the offing for insurgents unknowingly! By a stroke of misfortune for Boko Haram, it was the emergence of President Muhammadu Buhari as the democratic leader of Nigeria. And insurgents’ greatest regret was the enthronement of an anti-terrorism wizard, Gen. Buratai as the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and leader of the counter-insurgency operations as well as other Internal Security upheavals in Nigeria.
With decades of resourceful military training and enriching experiences as Infantry Combatant; Gen. Buratai, who last served as the Field Commander, Multi-National Joint Task Force (M-NJTF) rendered himself to this national assignment with all godly determination; while the Pharaohs of Nigeria erroneously perceived him a naivete of the trenches. His facial looks and even physique never betrayed his inside toughness, warfare astuteness and leadership treasures embedded in his tiny physiognomy. His looks are very receptively harmless to both enemies and friends.
And insurgents mistook him for some wishy-washy Army Chief and leader of the unconventional and complex insurgency war. Boko Haram in precise terms proudly underrated the capacity of Gen. Buratai, which was bolstered by their past experiences with Nigeria’s former Military Chiefs who prosecuted the counter-insurgency years unending.
Full of arrogance of fake might, like some characters in one of Nollywood’s thrilling titles “Fatal Mistake,” produced by Mr. Nwafor Anayo, Boko Haram insurgents never realized the warfare expertise in the new leader of the counter-insurgency operations. But beneath Gen. Buratai’s amiable looks, lies the strength of a roaring and devouring lion of the jungles.
Without a second thought, Gen. Buratai knew a formidable, responsible, responsive and adequately equipped Nigerian Army was the indispensable panacea to the Boko Haram challenge, which at that time, appeared to defy all solutions. By his calculations, a voyage of transformation with the overall objective to catapult the Nigerian Army into a modern people’s Army, versatile in fighting Nigeria’s enemies and also, contributing to the security and economic agenda of the government.
Therefore, Gen. Buratai fetched from his deep reservoir of knowledge to introduce resounding reforms and innovations in the Nigerian Army. It did not take long before these reforms begun to trickle in, bearing eatable fruits. There is no bargaining that the transformation has elevated the Nigerian Army into a strong, virile and modern institution worthy of reckoning in Africa.
First, with the approval of Mr. President, Gen. Buratai’s unsatisfactory method of salaries and allowances to troops on the frontlines, erased the culture of delayed or sometimes, denied payments. With this done, troops whose spirit was dampened in the warfront became automatically animated. Added to it were special incentives to embolden hard working soldiers at the battlefield in form of accelerated promotions, among others, Nigerian troops began to massively defeat insurgents on the warfront and seized territories reclaimed.
The Army Chief trained and retrained soldiers in batches. The training platforms provided them with the opportunity to refresh their knowledge on modern warfare trends with emphasis on combating terrorism. Gen. Buratai invigorated forsaken and dysfunctional Nigerian Army training institutions to facilitate the internal training of soldiers. The Army which is often described as an independent island anywhere, but which unfortunately lost its prestige in Nigeria for decades because of neglect, regained it smugly, with shiny performance outcomes in the frontlines.
So, the Army’s former institutions like the Nigerian Army Command Engineering Depot (CED) in Kaduna, with a vehicle-manufacturing unit was revitalized. Today, Nigerian Army is producing Nigeria’s indigenous and tropicalized war vehicle nicknamed MRAP – the EZUGWU MRAP from materials sourced locally.
The Nigerian Army School of Engineering, and Nigerian Army School of Artillery have come on stream, with capacities sourced locally to provide internal training to soldiers and also, manufacturing of some of the weapons used in the counter-insurgency operations in Nigeria. Through these efforts, Nigeria is saved vital and scarce foreign exchange troubles and exemplified all hands-on deck leadership of the Army.
Similarly, actively backed by President Buhari; himself, a leader very sensitive to the issue of security in Nigeria, Gen. Buratai engineered the establishment of special Army schools like the Nigerian Army Aviation School and the Nigerian Army University Biu (NAUB). With the Army Aviation school already training pilots and crew technicians, the Nigerian Army has sparked national attention as it looks forward to the launching of the Nigerian Army Aviation wing to battle Boko Haram insurgency and ISWAP terrorism; while NAUB is spearheading the training of soldiers on modern technological warfare.
Under Gen. Buratai’s leadership, gone are the days soldiers who served their country meritoriously agonize about shelter with their families after retirement. In partnership with some private organizations, the Nigerian Army is investing in the NA Post Service Housing Development Limited for soldiers, with first and special emphasis on soldiers who served in the counter-insurgency operations.
What’s more, even soldiers still in service are no longer constrained to inhabit ramshackle and dilapidated Barracks with their families. Almost all Army Barracks have undergone a facelift, with equipped schools, hospitals, water and other amenities for convenience of soldiers. The same awe attracted by improvements in Army facilities across the nation have also displayed imprints in office accommodation for soldiers in all Army Divisions, with modern state-of-art facilities.
The provision of tertiary or referral health centers have been the obsession of Gen. Buratai. Just within five years, the Nigerian Army is now the proud owners of two new and additional referral hospitals-one in Ebonyi and another in Maiduguri which have the mandate to serve both the Military and civilians.
But more interestingly and in tandem with global trends, the NA is developing its capacity to contribute to the economic development agenda of the present political leadership in Nigeria. Army investments have marketable identities such as the Nigeria Army Farm and Ranches, Command Engineering Depot, as well as NA Property Limited and NA Welfare Limited by Guarantee; which also offer some of its products and services to the Nigerian public.These Army agro-investments chain are contributing enormously to the challenge of food insecurity in the nation.
It is glaring that Gen. Buratai’s transformational leadership is so far yielding beautiful fruits, which are already consummated throughout the country. One good thing about it is that the Army Chief’s voyage to transform the Nigerian Army has positively rubbed on both Army personnel and the Nigerian public. It’s a reality of excitement that the Nigerian Army under the leadership of Gen. Buratai is no longer famed as the womanish, cowardly dependent and hopelessness institution which relied on outsiders to fight its battles or serve its needs.
Uzah PhD is head of mass communication department, Kwararafa University Wukari