TY BURATAI: A LESSON IN RESILIENCE? By Samson Aboh

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By my estimation, patience is not merely one of life’s fusillade of virtues. It means much more than such simplistic conclusions to me. And maturing with each passing day, I devout considerable time to gauge the actions and postures of others before sketching conclusions or pinning down judgements from informed perspectives. Therefore, patience is an enabler of so many things to me as a person, like it does for some other deep philosophical thinkers.

I am one person who restrains comments on anything until the end is seen. I am never in a hurry because time illuminates more profoundly, the mysteries of life than the undependable euphoria or gains of ephemeral quick-actions, largely susceptible to errors in verdict.

Days have gradually rolled into weeks now. So, its good time to reflect on the erstwhile Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and foreman of Nigeria’s anti-insurgency operations, retired Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai, whom I fondly relish his acronym of TYB. He gloriously bowed out of active service of the Nigerian Military and specifically, the Nigerian Army in 2021.

I can boldly assert that TYB ended his years of active service to his fatherland at Nigeria’s most tormenting time of consuming national insecurity threats. But I believe, together with his able lieutenants, TYB gave his heart and soul to this national assignment until the last day he bowed out gracefully.

Whilst he served us, there were differing perspectives from a wide spectrum of Nigerians or even foreigners on their perception of his contribution to the global anti-terrorism wars. Some outrightly dismissed and belittled his efforts; others extolled and commended him glowingly.

But also observed to date, a clan of others who were simply apathetic, aloof or neutral to whatever transpired in the warfront when TYB supervised the counter-terrorism operations. They never burdened themselves with the horrors, perfections or imperfections in the frontlines. I see it as normal.

But I belong to a different league of Nigerians on this score. That is, those who preferred to see the end of TYB’s actions to the last blast of the whistle to better be armed and positioned to deduce valuable interpretations or postulate informed public commentary.

Therefore, I deliberately refused to comment on the stewardship of TYB when the stakes were high and the field actions still very explosive against Nigeria’s enemy forces in the battlefield. My preferred time and hour have come. It is now safe to discuss him without any fear of contradictions.

In 2015, I was fascinated by the unusual chants of accolades and cheers, which welcomed TYB as Nigeria’s fresh warlord against the obstinate and resilient Boko Haram insurgents and Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) terrorists in the Northeast region. TYB, an infantry combatant was relatively unpopular among Nigerians at the time of his appointment as COAS.

He had spent the best part of his military career in the trenches, fighting wars within Nigeria or in the assignments of UN Peace Keeping Missions in Angola and elsewhere. In the later years, TYB buried himself in the creeks of Niger Delta fighting incendiary militants, vandals, and economic saboteurs bred by the region in order to exculpate Nigeria from their foothold.

He was the Field Commander of the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF), the multi-nation military outfit conceptualized by Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroun and later on, Benin republic to battle terrorism in the sub-region. In all these assignments, TYB bagged medals and awards for his exemplary and excellent performances. It also earned him accelerated promotions in recognition of his exceptional military exploits and results.

I am aware, it was from the MNJTF assignment that TYB earned another promotion to the rank of Lieutenant General and President Muhammadu Buhari deemed him fit to head the Nigerian Army as the numero uno soldier and chief armour bearer of the country’s war against terrorism. This was when I started to silently monitor his leadership of both the Nigerian Army and the counter-insurgency operations.

Boko Haram terrorism was a nagging national nightmare to us at the time TYB was mandated to take charge of the war. The irrational, bizarre and bloodthirsty jihadists absolutely enslaved and caged Nigeria by its confounding atrocities. We moaned and grieved endlessly. The might and hold of the terrorists group on Nigeria was choking, something, I decoded as a breathless hold on the country, a metaphor akin to the fabled tale of the Afro-American, George Floyd.

The dire situation of the country’s security at that time created excitement in the Boko Haram insurgents’ ranks and their foreign sponsors in the Middle East were also elated. Boko Haram’s internal agents and sympathizers in Nigeria also jubilantly and publicly scoffed at Nigerians. We were at the cusp of surrendering the sovereignty of Nigeria to terrorists.

The overwhelming insecurity challenges in Nigeria were complicated by a weak, docile and unwilling Army which flinched at the battlefront in the face of enemy forces. TYB’s predecessor, Gen. Ihejirika confessed this much on the day of his formal handover to Gen. Buratai (rtd).

Meanwhile, we became a bleeding country; a nation which demonstrated by the actions of its Army that it was incompetent to battle Boko Haram insurgents and the other variegated sects of terrorism feasting on Nigeria. In truth, we shamefully genuflected before terrorists unapologetically.

We endlessly screamed in blood, pains, and sorrows each time terrorists struck us. No part of Northern Nigeria was safe either for habitation or conduct of legitimate business. Nigerians dreaded traversing the North on journeys, as the phobia of terrorists engulfed the land.

Our most agonizing moments was when they turned Abuja, the nation’s capital into a chamber of serial deaths. Scared Nigerians who took refuge in Abuja eventually discovered, the notion of security in the Federal capital was merely an illusion. Frequent bombings of public buildings, security formations, the UN office, motor parks, shopping malls, and churches in the suburbs of Abuja clearly defined our most terrorizing and agonizing existential times as a nation.

We whined uncontrollably and overtly. We were helpless, ostensibly, waiting for another sound of bomb explosion, the resultant casualties and destructions to kick another round of wailing. The jihadi campaigners terribly compromised national security.

In the Northeast region where Boko Haram controlled the five states of Borno, Adamawa, Yobe, Bauchi and Gombe, it was hell for Nigerians. No fewer than 21 LGAs were coercively seized and occupied by the terrorists in their quest for territorial expansion. The jihadists established their main Caliphate administrative center in Gwoza and other areas served as its subsidiaries. Emirs and other community leaders were either deposed or killed by the insurgents, who anointed their own leaders as replacements in the places they captured.

And over 20, 000 Nigerian hostages, including the Chibok schoolgirls were scattered in different locations of Boko Haram secret camps. I boldly admit now that the Northeast region was substantially closed to public or social life for dread of the atrocities of Boko Haram insurgents. We experienced insurgents gruesomely murder hundreds of Nigerians virtually every week in different locations.

Elsewhere in the Northwest, armed bandits, cattle rustlers and other armed criminal gangs unleashed a reign of terror on Nigerians and reigned like untouchable demigods. Whole villages were sacked; farmers were forced out of farm plantations; public markets, federal highways, schools and all which defined a meaningful life to the natives were shut down by the activities of bandits.

In the Southeast, incensed and armed IPOB criminal gangs, who camouflaged in the guise of secession agitations also imposed a reign of terror on people of the region. Arbitrary arrests and extra-judicial killings of innocent Nigerians; mass looting of public businesses and other criminalities committed by IPOB members ignited excessive conflagrations and wailings.

The Niger Delta militants were also a pain in the neck. They violently howled agitations for an independent “Niger Delta republic.” They blew up oil pipelines and other facilities, massively engaged in crude oil theft among other heinous crimes like kidnapping of foreigners. In Kaduna, ethno-religious crisis resonated in loud drums of war; just like in some states in the Middle Belt, where herdsmen/farmers skirmishes as well as communal clashes snatched peace and security, as hired mercenaries and ethnic militias became overlords.

TYB was faced with these daunting security challenges, with an Army with its internal problems which dampened morale. It stimulated rampant mutinies in the frontlines, “tactical withdrawal” at the battlefront; poor weaponry base, indiscipline, unprofessional conduct, disloyalty and unpatriotic posture of soldiers towards the counter-insurgency war.

It amazed me that TYB resolved the problems of soldiers within a short time and repositioned the Nigerian Army into a responsive and responsible institution alive to its constitutional responsibilities. Soldiers begun to face squarely the counter-insurgency operations; reclaiming all territories previously under the control of Boko Haram and halted the regime of bomb explosions in Abuja and other Northern cities and towns. Almost all the five states under Boko Haram have been rescued; thousands of Boko Haram captives have regained freedom.

TYB gallantly fought insurgents, bandits, terrorists, violent secessionists, armed militants, ethnic militias and other criminal gangs unflinchingly and to a standstill until the day, he bowed out of active military service.

More pleasurable to me were the TYB’s rare initiatives which transformed the Nigerian Army into an entirely new institution with his reforms and innovations. Nigerian Army today has new specialized Army schools; old and abandoned Army institutions have been revamped.

TYB returned Nigerian Army to its past glorious days of self-dependence where it manufactured some of its warfare equipment. The indigenous MRAP “Ezeugwu” war machine stands out distinctly as the conqueror of terrorists and protector of soldiers in the theatre of war in the Northeast. He visibly changed the narratives of the anti-insurgency combats in Nigeria progressively.

In fighting terrorism in Nigeria, TYB also established far reaching synergies with the Armies of other countries of the world both in the West African sub-region and foreign nations like India, Brazil, Bangladesh, Pakistan and so forth. Sensitive knowledge sharing and exchange of experiences on combating terrorism became a regular feature of his leadership. It accounted for his success in the anti-insurgency war.

I have no scintilla of doubt that TYB bowed out of military service, leaving Nigeria on a better anti-terrorism rating than he met it. His encounters and relationships with foreign countries, especially in the Francophone bloc would assist tremendously in his new assignment as Nigeria’s non-career ambassador.

It is my utmost conviction that Nigeria can better resolve its internal problems of insurgency, if the country strikes a strong diplomatic synergy with France and the francophone countries, most of which are our neighbours. Lt. Gen. TY Buratai (rtd) stands in good stead to anchor these diplomatic relations between Nigeria and these francophone countries.

I am convinced that in the fullness of time, we will all agree that TYB was a man of the people. He really and whole heartedly fought terrorism while in active military service and poised to do it even better in retirement while on the diplomatic scene as an Ambassador.

Aboh wrote this piece from Federal University Lafia.