2015 was a turning point in Nigeria for several reasons. President Buhari won elections as an opposition candidate, which is a very rare occurrence in this part of the world. He thereafter made what I call one of the best appointments ever. In changing the service chiefs, the President appointed core professionals and battle tested soldiers to head the military.
Before then, it had been a case of woes and calamities for security in the country. Boko Haram attacks ravaging most parts of the North East region of the country. Barracks attacked and soldiers fleeing, morale within the Army was definitely low. Allegations of massive corruption in defence spending yet troops at the battle field were not provided adequate tools to prosecute the war against the terrorist group Boko Haram. Then came Lt Gen Tukur Yusuf Buratai, as chief of army staff COAS.
Before his appointment Lt Gen Buratai headed the multinational joint task force as commander of a multinational effort to tackle the menace of terrorism in the sub region. So settling into the task ahead as Chief of Army Staff COAS of the Nigeria army was seamless for him. No one could be more suited for the job at that time than him. No wonder his appointment as COAS then was hailed by most of the stakeholders in the security circle as a brilliant master stroke by the President.
Not only that he was at the time deep into the operations at the main theatre of the battle as commander of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) , He is also from Borno State , which at the time was also the epicentre of the insurgency. Analysts and observers opined that the two attachments placed him in the best position to lead the battle to restore peace to Borno and indeed the North East region.
The reason for the successes recorded at the battle field against the insurgents cannot be divorced from the appointment of this great soldier to lead the army at that crucial period. At some point in 2014 about 14 Local government areas were under the capture and control of Boko Haram terrorists. They hoisted flags, made laws and even held courts.
By end of 2016 about a year and a few months after Lt Gen Buratai took over as COAS, all the territories occupied by the terrorist had been retaken by the gallant troops of the Nigerian Army. Same Army that fled initially, returned to take back the territories lost and even take out the terrorists. What changed? Leadership! That is it!
So it is one thing to have a strong Army, it is entirely a different ball game to have a leader and a good commander with the dexterity and courage required to be at the helms of affairs. That is the game changer. As they say “leadership is everything”.
It is my belief that had we handled the Boko Haram issue the way we are handling the issue of bandits in the North West region now with utmost attention and dedication, perhaps Boko Haram would not have seen 2015. With the amount of vigour and commitment on display by the current leadership of the Army, had this quality of attention and resources been deployed way back, Boko Haram would have long been history.
As soon as the Army started making progress in the North East region of the country against Boko Haram terrorists, many of those that escaped fled to the North West region which has exacerbated the security situation in that region. Many of the fleeing terrorists joined up with the bandits in their camps in the forest to fight their “common enemy” the Nigerian Army.
With this discovery, the Chief of Army Staff moved swiftly to tackle the banditry issue with speed and a good strategy. Immediate deployments were made, the 8 division of the Nigeria army was established in Sokoto, North west Nigeria to help serve as a base to launch the many operations for the battle against banditry in the North West Region.
Today, the chief of army staff is in the North West again on operational visits to the troops. He is on ground to ensure that the recent successes recorded by troops of the operation Sahel Sanity are consolidated upon and where any lapses exist, the army will rejig and fire on.
The operation Sahel Sanity launched about 3 months ago has already yielded several positive results. Many bandits’ camps have been cleared and bandits neutralized. Especially in Zamfara and Sokoto states. Ongoing operations around Kastina state are yielding positive results, especially since the establishment of the Nigerian Army Super Camp 4, was established in Faskari kastina State.
Lt Gen Buratai’s constant operation visit to troops at the core of these operations is a working strategy anywhere in the world, part of the essence of these operational visits is to ensure that the troops continue to operate within the rules of engagement. This is one of the key reasons why there have not been cases of human rights abuses by troops taking part in these operations.
Before now, Allowances due to troops on the battlefield were paid over the table through their various commanders. This gave room to some under cutting of the troops allowances by some of these commanders but Buratai has changed all of that . He has ensured that all allowances due to troops at the theatre of operations go straight into their bank accounts. This has really boosted troops morale, which has improved their commitment resulting in better results at the battle field.
COAS as part of ongoing operational reforms has ensured that postings in and out of battle areas are as regular as possible so as to avoid soldiers staying on one assignment for too long. This has been yielding positive results as well. Prior to now there were complaints within the army especially amongst troops on the battlefield about postings and deployments. This has been tackled and adequately resolved by Buratai. For those who are outside the army they may not understand how crucial this is but those within understand the importance of a fair and just posting/deployment regime.
Lt Gen Buratai has always made clear his desire to build a truly professional army, an army to defend and protect the nation from any security threat. There is no doubt that he is clearly on the right part. He has invested heavily in the welfare of the men and women of the Army. Renovation of several barracks across the country, the Army reference hospital in Abakaliki is a testament to his commitment to the welfare of his soldiers. The establishment of the Army university in Bui, a legacy project that some may not appreciate fully now but will do so when their children need to seek quality university education, at that point I am sure the significance of the university will be clear.
All that Lt Gen Buratai has done whether in welfare of his soldiers, provision of amenities, prompt payment of due allowances, promotions, deployments etc. are to make sure he leaves behind a truly professional Army that can secure the country against external and internal aggressors. He leaves me with no doubt that he is more than capable of doing that.
He has deployed all the strategies above to ensure that according to the directive of the president, banditry is eliminated from the North West region as soon as possible.
Nigeria is undoubtedly proud of the COAS and can only wish him well in his stride to rid the North West region of bandits in the shortest time possible.
Abu is a member of the Socialist Liberation Movement (SLM) and wrote from FUT, Minna.