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Nigeria-Benin Relations in Ambassador Buratai’s era: An opportunity for economic boom

By Rotimi Johnson


When he served, as Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and leader of the counter-insurgency operations, His Excellency, Ambassador Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai (rtd) stretched his last energies, to save his country, from the twinges of insurgencies and insurrections. He donated his life and strength to the cause of liberating humanity to the best of his capacity and conscience for six years in leading the battle in the trenches.

But life has mixed experiences; some pleasant and others unpleasant. So, Amb. Buratai has been publicly arbitrated maliciously or accurately eulogized based on who holds the other end of the stick, as ennobled by his personal perceptions.

Nonetheless, he is not exhausted yet. There are still a lot of treasures embedded in Gen. Buratai (rtd) unknown to many Nigerians. He is a mystique of some sort, with multilayered ingeniousness. Its easy to describe him as a soldier of the trenches or a warmonger of the finest breed. And it’s also very appealing to denote Gen. Buratai as an administrator of rare configuration in military circles. His service records yawns with uncommon accomplishments.

But these are just the elementary understanding of Nigeria’s envoy to the Republic of Benin, His Excellency, Amb. Tukur Y. Buratai. He created wonderous impacts and made indelible imprints in Nigeria’s battles with Boko Haram terrorism. In just 5 years, he set unimaginable records in the anti-terrorism combats in the country. His shadows while he served his fatherland in the warfront were acknowledged by national and international bodies/ world leaders.

President Muhmmadu Buhari’s appointment of Gen. Buratai (rtd) and his posting to the Republic of Benin was for strategic reasons. Fighting and defeating terrorism requires more than just having a properly trained army and warfare weapons. It transcends such basic considerations. It needs international alliances, collaboration and partnership with other foreign nations.

Benin Republic is strategic to Nigeria for several reasons. As a nation which shares a major commercial border with Nigeria- the Seme border, the country has come with its enough blessings on the economic front; and much as the concomitant burden. Both legitimate and illicit trade transactions occur on the border. The Seme border’s most terrifying nightmare to Nigeria includes, trans-border crimes such as smuggling of firearms and contraband goods into the country.

While smuggled weapons have exacerbated insecurity in Nigeria; smuggled goods deny the Nigerian Government of its essential revenue or tax levies on imported goods. Importation of banned items also destroys the local economy and kills productivity. Nigeria has battled with these malaises for years.

Angered by the danger posed by such sabotaging acts, President Buhari closed Nigerian borders, including the Seme border in August 2019, to curb smuggling of goods and weapons by these economic criminals.

Nigeria’s greatest problem on insecurity is battling banditry and terrorism, which has lasted for over 10 years. Much as the country has attempted to weaken terrorists and bandits operations within, they resurge from time to time, exalting more powers through smuggled weapons into the country.

Through subtle talks and persuasions, Benin Republic joined the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF), a regional security outfit set up to confront the madness of terrorism in the West African sub-region. The original countries in this arrangement are Nigeria, Niger and Chad republics. But the needed cooperation for better gains has to be constantly activated or renewed by Nigeria.

And there is a bright hope to end these tribulations with Gen. Buratai (rtd), a soldier who demonstrated his zeal, passion and determination to see to the greater security and peace for humanity, especially in Nigeria, now serving as a bridge between Nigeria and Benin, one of the countries which greases the problem. It is therefore right to say, from the trenches, Gen. Buratai (rtd) has taken up the battle against terrorism and banditry on the diplomatic plane.

Considering that the international community is focal in the fight against armed gangs, in addressing the security challenges in Nigeria, the posting of Amb. Buratai to the Republic of Benin has countless blessings. He is in a better position and more experienced to search for diplomatic solutions to Nigeria’s porous borders which facilitate smuggled weapons from that axis by striking a mutual understanding with the country to checkmate the trend.

Not everything is achieved through brute force or laws. So, diplomacy and international relations on smooth template comes handy in resolving certain problems. Negotiations and dialogue between nations have solved knotty problems which years of wars or conflicts have failed to resolve.

Therefore, Lt. Gen Tukur Buratai’s (rtd) ambassadorial mission in Benin republic will harvest and sustain multilateral ties with the West African country. As attested by his impeccable credentials in public service, Buratai is trusted to galvanize international support from this country in the final defeat the Boko Haram insurgency and allied insurgencies in Nigeria.

Gen. Buratai is famed for his passion for multiple approaches in fighting terrorism. While in the service of the Nigerian Military, he was a consistent exponent of the adoption of non-kinetic weapons in fighting terrorism in the country. His service now as Nigeria’s ambassador to Benin republic is a good icing on the cake, hence a standard platform has been raised for him to utilize his competence on embalming the multi-dimensional security issues afflicting Nigeria for peace, progress and security of the country.

Nigerians who know the worth and treasures in Gen. Buratai, applauded his diplomatic sojourn to Benin Republic jubilantly. The timing is also auspicious. Due to sustained pressures, the Federal Government of Nigeria reopened its closed borders in December 2020, after it nearly broke international relations between the two countries. By implication, while Government is desirous to encourage legitimate or authentic trans-border trade and commerce, it must also necessarily confine the operations within the prisms of approved international laws.

Consequently, Amb. Buratai’s first duty or challenge in this direction is how to renew the broken trade relations between Nigeria and Benin in terms profitable to both countries, in accordance with prescriptions of the ECOWAS Protocols. No magic can work better, rather than diplomatic engagements, which Amb. Buratai is poised to vigorously pursue.

Again, Amb. Buratai has started working round the clock to promote national security through the Nigeria/Benin border. Topmost on his agenda is how to curb smuggling of arms and other dangerous weapons into Nigeria through the Benin border. It is a germane issue and uppermost on the minds of Nigerians. His initial steps are commendable in less than two months in office.

Amb. Buratai has also engaged the Government of Benin Republic on ways to curb the large scale smuggling of goods into the country. It is a practice orchestrated by economic wolves and saboteurs’ which has deprived Nigeria of critical revenue in billions of naira annually for the development of public infrastructure. With these loopholes blocked, it would open the sure path to a greater and more rapid development of Nigeria under the Buhari Presidency. Individuals engaged in the business of importation will also have robust transactions in a competitive and protected environment.

Gen. Buratai performed incredibly, as Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) in the very few months of his resumption of duty. He is again replicating the same feat in Benin. Nigerians are looking forward to more of such exploits in his mission in Benin Republic. And the quick wins have started trickling into Nigeria, evident in the curtailing of the flow of smuggled weapons into the country. The reduced tempo in acts of terror or banditry. The series of surrenders by terrorists and armed gangs to the Nigerian Army is an apt indication of their suffocation in various ways, including weapons supply.

Amb. Buratai has hit the ground running in his usual fashion. And as a friendly and likeable leader, the Nigerian Embassy staff in Benin Republic are in high spirits to work with him. They are excited with his vision of service and willing to actively assist him to re-energize his foreign mission in that country. Gen. Buratai’s (rtd) reign will definitely birth prosperity for both nations.

With Amb. Buratai at the helms of affairs, Nigeria is bound to see a new form of healthier bilateral engagements with Benin. He has already set modalities in motion to entrench a culture of mutual benefits of the trans-border trade between the two countries. Amb. Buratai is ensuring that not only Benin Republic’s Cotonou smiles in the long run; but Lagos and indeed, Nigeria count multiple gains from the business interactions.

Rotimi is a Nigerian development expert writing from Cotonou.

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A prolific writer of about two decades standing experience
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