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OPINION

Buratai: Tweaking The Army, Caging The Foe

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According to the US Chief of Army Staff, General William C. Westmoreland (1968 to 1972), “The military don’t start wars. Politicians start wars.” Going forward, when the army inevitably weighs in, perseverance through adversity is the key to succeeding in battle. It’s the ability to push forward that matters most.

Little wonder, another US General George C. Marshall, former American Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense wryly noted that,“The truly great leader overcomes all difficulties. Campaigns and battles are nothing but a long series of difficulties to be overcome. The lack of equipment, the lack of food, the lack of this or that are only excuses. The real leader displays his quality in his triumphs over adversity, however great it may be.”

For Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff, COAS, Lt. General Tukur Buratai, Generals Westmoreland and Marshall couldn’t have delivered better, timelier counsel, on the way to go. Beset by significant deficits in funding, equipment, logistics, updated combat doctrine in a new-to-the-nation conflict, Buratai has moved unrelentingly to change the narrative and reposition the Nigerian Army to better confront and defeat the foe, on multiple fronts.

Significantly, in the heat of conflict, Buratai has also ensured that the Nigerian Army continues to remain apolitical, professional and commendably responsive in the discharge of its constitutional roles. Moving into specifics to validate the essence of this analysis, it would be germane to look at the grounds covered by the army-led Buratai.

In the light of the fight against Boko Haram terrorists, the most critical threat to Nigeria, in the North East zone, the Nigerian Army, in conjunction with other Services and security agencies have dominated the area and continue to carry out sustained operations against the insurgents. In terms of protecting the nation’s territorial integrity, the nation’s land borders have not been breached as the army continually maintains a posture to defend Nigeria’s territorial rights and interests. Security relations with neighbors like Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger Republic has remained relatively calm, except for increased trafficking of small arms and light weapons across the borders among other cross border criminality.

Since Buratai’s appointment in 2015 as COAS, the Nigerian Army has witnessed a lot of reorganization and redeployment in a bid to improve its overall operational responsiveness and professionalism. Recently, he approved the redeployment of some field and operational commanders in order to inject new ideas in the command and control structure in various Army operations across the country. The Army is also reorganizing to align with some current realities. The COAS also ordered a change from a wholly defensive posture to one where the force defends in numbers and conducts offensive operations in smaller packets but simultaneously in different fronts.

In the critical arena of training, the Army has expanded its in-theater training for troops in the frontlines to afford them the required capabilities to conduct effective operations. Special attention was also given to providing local and foreign training opportunities for all cadre of officers and soldiers. Last year alone, a total of 156 personnel have attended foreign courses while 2,390 have attended local courses and training programmes, ranging from masters’ degree programmes to workshops and conferences. The NA has also hosted over 300 local and international conferences, seminars or summits either solely or in-conjunction with other bodies.

Also, last year (2018), the Buratai-led Nigerian Army encouraged and supported all its officers and soldiers who have innovative ideas and competencies. The force also resumed full collaboration with the Defence Industries Coorporation (DICON) for needed parts and small arms and ammunition. Similarly, it is partnering with several companies in Nigeria including Innoson Motors, Proforce Limited and Nigeria Machine Tools, among others, towards the production of light and heavy armoured vehicles, critical equipment as well as protective clothing for NA troops.

These collaborations have led to the development of the TYB Rover, Infantry Patrol Vehicle (IPV) and the Bionbion Helicopter, amongst several other equipment. The army is also engaging some foreign technical companies and Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) to help repair and refurbish some of the army’s heavier and more delicate platforms.

The Nigerian Army established the Nigerian Army Women Corps (NAWC) to develop female officers and soldiers that can be employed in all operational engagements of the force. The Nigerian Army University Biu (NAUB) has been approved, established and has commenced its academic programmes. The Nigerian Army Vehicle Manufacturing Company (NAVMC) was also established to support strides in vehicle manufacturing.

The Army also commenced direct training for personnel to acquire sufficient knowledge and communication skills in three major Nigerian languages to better fit in anywhere they may be deployed. It also established the first ever Cyber Command which will effectively tackle the fake news against the force, the country and also secure its cyber domain from hostile elements.

Meanwhile, provision of adequate healthcare to Army personnel and their families continues to remain a priority for Buratai. It’s on record that from January 18 to date, 36 officers, 144 soldiers and 7 family members of personnel have benefited in the NA Medical Evacuation both within and outside the country. Currently, there are twelve patients and twelve escorts in India receiving treatment. He has equally established Human Rights Desk offices in all Nigerian Army formations for speedy attention to human rights allegations.

Interestingly, the Nigerian Army has taken the initiative to constructively engage the media to facilitate a more informed reportage of crisis, especially insurgency-related stories. In this connection, it has organized several interface dialogues to examine/resolve potential friction with the media in carrying out both institution’s constitutional roles. Not surprisingly, this strategic approach, though not yet perfected, is paying off. 

In the Army-Media summits, a humorous Buratai may have been at least once tempted to quote the famous General Douglas MacArthur, to rein in the more exuberant pen pushers. MacArthur once held that, “Whoever said the pen is mightier than the sword obviously never encountered automatic weapons.” But he wisely refrained. Rather, he had better gratitude to express to his Commander-in-Chief and Mr. President, Muhammadu Buhari, for his support to the Nigerian Armed Forces in general and to the Nigerian Army in particular and appropriately pledged a total commitment to the defense of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Going forward, it’s clear that the vision of the COAS to fundamentally change the insurgency story in Nigeria and ensure that citizens live their lives in a safe, stable environment is being noted by the top echelon of the nation’s political leadership. 

– Gaya, Deputy President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, wrote from Abuja

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