Right now, the insecurity situation is so intense that not a few are calling for the removal of the service chiefs.
Below is an interview we had with Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, the Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff, and published on 3 July 2017, entitled:
Why We Now Have Upper Hand on Boko Haram– Buratai
Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, the Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff, was appointed to the position by President Muhammadu Buhari in July 2015. At the time he came in, the Boko Haram menace had become a monster, difficult to control. In this interview with ADEMOLA ADEGBAMIGBE, DEJO ADEBISI, YOMI OSOBA, AYORINDE OLUOKUN and FEMI IPAYE, Buratai appraises the war so far. He explained also the rationale behind the establishment of the Army University and other issues.
How will you appraise the campaign against Boko Haram so far since July 2015 when you were appointed Chief of Army Staff?
Thank you so much and welcome to my office at the Military Command and Control Centre, Maiduguri. I must say that we give gratitude to God, because of the significant successes recorded in our fight against terrorism and insurgency to the point that I can confidently state that we have succeeded in defeating the Boko Haram terrorists. They no longer constitute danger to the corporate existence of this country as was the case before my assumption of office as Chief of Army Staff on 16th July 2015. We have chased away the terrorists and recaptured all the hitherto held territories, rescued over twenty thousands of persons abducted by them including some of the Chibok school girls. We have opened roads that were closed for over 3-5 years. Gradually life is returning to normal here in the North East and much more. Invariably, if you compare what was obtainable two years ago and now, I would say, so far, so good.
In recent times, you have met with different stakeholders in the education sector in pursuit of establishment of an Army University. Why is it important for the Army to have its own University?
We are still in the process of establishing the Army University. It has not been approved yet and once it is approved, we hope that it will take off successfully and that is why we have been making the necessary contacts with all the stakeholders who will facilitate the establishment. When you look at it, the need for this university as a sort of solution centre where different challenges confronting the Army will be tackled is long overdue.
You know that the development of our military industrial complex is very low now and this is not because we lack the capability or the resources to, but because we don’t have a structure to drive it to attract challenges and become a solution centre. So, the University will provide a platform where you can throw such a challenge. Once you have the idea, the research will be done, solutions will emerge – how do you achieve this? How do you realize this? It is then that we now move into the military industrial complex where you can have the eventual production as the case may be. There are other areas also- what we are doing now. As it is, we don’t seem to have the strategy to start from the conception up to the production of any military hardware, or any challenge to the military in terms of strategy, even in our operations, logistics and indeed, general administration and this also informed the need to establish the Nigerian Army University.
It’s a specific solution centre for the Army on science and technology and there are other universities of similar concepts around the world. So, we must keep pace with modern trends so that we don’t lag behind. Though the University will specifically be for the Army, we will also look at the wider society, especially on challenges that have direct bearing to the Army or to the military on which we can collaborate. We can also find solutions, do research and in that perspective, we can now open the University to the general public because the academic environment will not be restricted to the Army. That is the concept. And you see, every year, we sponsor officers and soldiers with huge amount of money to study in similar institutions at home and abroad, so this University can help us to conserve funds, since it is our own, and we will even have more resources to sponsor our officers, to do research on our challenges and requirements.
But do you plan to have collaborations with similar institutions inside and outside the country?
We will definitely collaborate with institutions inside and outside the country. There are many institutions that we can collaborate with. There are also other government institutions that we can also collaborate with. We will collaborate with the other Universities, even the Space Agency, we will collaborate with them. National Institute for Technology Research and Development is one of those institutions that we will collaborate with. Before we arrived at this decision, we set up a committee that went to other similar universities and institutions abroad and we have a very good paper on that on some of the requirements and we have forwarded it to the National Universities Commission.
What will be the place of the Defence Industry Corporation?
Definitely, while we do the research, we will be able to develop at whatever level that we can, but we must link up with the Defence Industry Corpoation Nigeria to further test such products, particularly when they have to do with arms and ammunition, explosives and the rest. We will collaborate with them, using the facilities that they have. DICON was established in 1964, virtually at the same time with other similar institutions in other countries like in Brazil. I was in Brazil recently and saw the great strides they have made in the development of their military industrial complex. It is so amazing- they are producing missiles, rockets even aircraft and so on. So, we can ginger the military-industrial complex to really pick up in Nigeria through the establishment of such a university.
Are you considering private partnership, even though we know that you operate in a very sensitive area?
Even in Brazil, they don’t produce everything on their own, they are into partnership even in their industrial complex. So, definitely, we will do the same thing here. And we are already doing that in other areas and we will explore other areas. One of the major challenges will be in terms of funding which is very critical. So, if we are able to get the government support with the funding, you can be rest assured that we will go far. So, these are issues that we need to sort out.
Talking about funding, how well would you say the government has done in meeting your needs since you became the Chief of Army of Staff?
You can relate that to our success in the war against Boko Haram. If we have succeeded, you should know that our needs are being met. We have been able to manage the resources given to us effectively to ensure that our needs are met, that the needs of our troops in the field are met. But funding will never be enough, because the needs are so much. And you can never cater hundred per cent to the needs of the troops on the field because of competing demands in the field and in the barracks. But by and large, I think, if we achieve 75 per cent, 80 per cent in terms of meeting our needs, it is a pass mark. We’ve been doing our best to see that the troops’ requirement are met and the government is also doing a lot to help us to procure equipment, to take care of our troops.
If you were here about two years ago, you would see six of us here in different uniforms, different boots. But you can see that we have been able to change that now. We have not been able to achieve 100 per cent. But we have been able to solve it about 90 per cent. And it also depends on how we even use some of the equipment and the resources that we have. We have to prioritize based on our needs and this has been a major strong point in our success. We have been prioritizing based on what we have on ground. Government’s revenue now is not the same with what we used to have. We know we have recession and it is affecting everybody and the military is not an exception. But by and large, I think we have been able to manage and be satisfied with what the government is giving to us.
What makes General Buratai different from the others before him?
This question is a very difficult one and that’s the truth. I cannot know what others think of me. I think I am a normal human being. I know things were difficult. There was a time we were even trying to hide ourselves from the public because of the challenging situation that troops faced even in moving here and there! Just like I said, the kitting, how bad it was, the mobility and so on. And it reflected in their operations, and conduct with many causalities, setbacks and so on. So, when I came in, I took on the challenge of applying what we have been taught about warfare.
I never shy away from the principles we were taught in warfare in academies, in our staff colleges, defence colleges, in war colleges because they are all the same. Just apply the principles and you will discover that you will do well, make a great change. But when you deviate from the principles is when we have problems. Even administration, as simple as it is, is a major principle of warfare. You must administer your troops, provide for them, see to their various challenges and come up with solutions to address them. So, if you serve them (troops) well, you don’t have problem. You must have an aim- it is one of the principles of war- selection and maintenance of the aim.
So, I have a focus- I say, okay, Boko Haram must be defeated and that was the task given to us by Mr. President. That’s the focus. What do you do to defeat Boko Haram? We must boost the troops’ morale- their morale had been dampened for years. We must make sure that we get the right equipment and so on and you have to prioritize, you have to plan and so on. Keeping up the troops’ morale is also a vital principle in warfare. If you allow their morale to go down, you won’t be able to achieve the desired result. And definitely, you know that the troop’s morale was very, very low- they were never visited, even when they came, it was just for a few hours and they hardly spent a day with them. They didn’t go to the field to see what the challenges of the troops were.
But when I came, I went down to the field, the various trenches to see the troops , I even slept there with them and all these turned around our perception by the troops. When my advance convoy was ambushed, I didn’t turn around and say ‘because Boko Haram is along the road, I will go back.’ If I had turned back, it would have been a different story. But we went to together to clear the ambush and to even arrest those criminals. So, these are the issues. There are so many other principles that when they are applied, you will be successful.
I think overall, it has to do with the leadership. I have been placed in a position of leadership and as such, must show that leadership, you must apply that knowledge that have been gained over the years. And luckily, I have responsive commanders- from the Theatre Commander, down to the Brigade Commanders, the Commanding Officers. They are very responsive. And I envisioned that we must be responsive. I told them that these are the challenges on the ground and I discovered that we have not been responsive to our needs, the challenges, the needs of the troops, even to the focus and desire of Nigerians. So, I say we must be responsive; we must have a responsive Nigerian Army in the discharge of its constitutional responsibilities. This is a vision that I kept faith with and have continued to pursue to make sure that we achieve our objectives and the result today is the success we have.
What has changed between when soldiers used to run away from terrorists and now?
A lot has changed. These changes ranged from operational, administration and logistics aspects. In those days, Boko Haram often attacked Army barracks and chased away soldiers, but today the story is different. I was able to reignite and reinvigorate the resilience and bravery of the Nigerian soldier in line with my vision to have a professionally responsive Army that the nation can be proud of to defeat Boko Haram terrorists. This again was based on sound administration and welfare. On the very day I took over command of the Army from my predecessor, I did not waste time. I came over to the Theatre of Operation and had one-on-one interactions with most of the troops and their commanders at various levels. This made me to have first-hand information on their requirements.
Being with them and proffering solution to some of the problems, gave them more courage, confidence and great sense of belonging. All their entitlements were timely paid. I also introduced electronic payment to units’ and soldiers’ account. This was followed up with proper equipping with arms, ammunition, kitting and other logistics. For instance, I created one more Logistic Base in Damaturu and also readjusted most of the deployments. We further enhanced that with the creation of more formations and units to bridge gaps and boost the fighting efficiency of the troops. These formations include 8 Task Force Division, 29 Task Force Brigade and the Motorbike Battalion. Training is also key to the transformation process and fighting skills of troops hence we created the Nigerian Army Special Forces Training School at Buni Yadi, at the heart of the Theatre of Operation.
How equipped is the Army now?
I will say that the Nigerian Army is to a large extent well equipped to meet up with its assigned tasks.
In the last dispensation, procuring arms from the international community, especially from the US, was difficult. What is the situation now?
The situation has improved remarkably.
You have been visiting Sambisa and the soldiers at the war front. Are you not afraid and what effects has this on the men?
Not at all. I am not afraid. My presence and being with the troops right in their trenches in the frontline has really boosted their morale, confidence and trust in the authority. They are more courageous and daring which is the essence of military profession.
On a lighter mood, we can see that most officers we see nowadays do not have pot bellies. Is this a deliberate campaign now?
The military profession is about being physically and mentally fit to be able to discharge our constitutional responsibilities. Therefore, we encourage officers and soldiers to be medically and physically fit (no pot bellies). That is why I deliberately came up with policies in that regard. I also revived physical fitness trainings such as routine route marches and other sporting activities to the point that we had the Nigerian Army Sports Festival last year in Abuja. The result is what you are seeing among our troops; officers and soldiers who are fit.
Your dad was a soldier, was that the reason you joined the Army. And are your children following suit?
The answer is yes and no. Although I had blessing, support and encouragement from my father, my love for soldiering profession started when I was in high school. I love the discipline, courage and confidence in the military profession. I first expressed my mind to be a soldier to one Captain Manzo Garkawa, now retired.
What has been the effect of your relocation to the North East?
The effect is unquantifiable. The directive by the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces for the Military Command and Control Centre as well as Service Chiefs to relocate to the North East was one of the strategic directives that prodded us into action.
You were appointed Force Commander of Multinational Joint Task Force under the auspices of the Lake Chad Basin Commission and Benin Republic, before you became Chief of Army Staff. How did that impact on your war against terror?
My brief stint as the Force Commander of the renewed and reinvigorated Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) came in handy on my appointment as Chief of Army Staff and as I tackled the Boko Haram terrorists in our country. Being the pioneer Force Commander, I was the one who established its headquarters in N’djamena, Chad. I was the one that literarily put the Joint Task Force together and made most of the deployments. Therefore, the experience came in handy.
Despite the claim by the military that Boko Haram has been defeated, there are still some pockets of suicide attacks. What is the Army doing about this?
A lot of people are having erroneous impressions or misconceptions about the fight against terrorism and insurgency especially as it relates to Nigeria. You need to understand that the fight against terrorism and insurgency is a collective responsibility in which every Nigerian has a role to play.Therefore, it is not just about what the Army is doing. Secondly, one needs to reflect where we were coming from. Let’s say two years ago and now, this makes you appreciate the great job done in securing the country and then understand that these isolated acts of suicide bombings are manifestations or signs of the dying embers of the terrorists group. To answer you directly, a lot is being done in conjunction with other security agencies and well-meaning citizens of this country to the point of where we are today in which you hardly hear such attempts.
Are the Nigerian Army and the intelligence community synergizing on preventing such attacks in villages?
Yes of course we do. Beyond that, we enjoy the benefit of such cooperation with other friendly nations that provide us with Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance products.
How effective are the civilian JTF men in the fight against terror?
I must tell you that they are very effective in providing information. And being far more familiar with the environment, they proved very effective in assisting our troops during operations. I must commend them for their selflessness.
Shekau has died many times. How, in an unconventional war situation, can this phenomenon be explained?
I believe since we came on board, you have not heard me or anyone stating that Shekau is dead. We give timely and verifiable information to the public. Therefore, you should ask those that told you that he is dead. Although leadership is very important, I must tell you that he is inconsequential as we are determined in our clearance of the remnants of the Boko Haram terrorists wherever they might be hiding and this includes their leadership. There is absolutely nothing special about him except for the fact that he is a common criminal.
Your own area in Borno State was attacked many times. What will you advise the citizens of the state and the government to do in terms of security infrastructure?
You are quite right about the attacks on my hometown and my personal country home. It was attacked three times. There was a time when they attacked and killed over 30 persons in my home town. But thank God, these insecurities are becoming history. Again, in its wisdom, Borno State Government has decided to include my residence in its rehabilitation and reconstruction programme, of which I am indeed very grateful. Actually, there is nothing to advise because they have seen the worst. However, I would like to enjoin them to be patient, more vigilant and security conscious.
Since you came to office, you have launched many operations with different code names. What have been the effects?
The effects have been quite obvious if you look at the successes recorded by each of these operations starting from Operation SHARAN DAJI in the north west geo-political region which we dealt with persistent cattle rustling, abduction and other criminal activities in Zamfara, Sokoto, Kebbi, Katsina and Kaduna States. The subsequent Field Training Exercises that followed such as Exercises SHIRIN HARBI and Exercise HARBIN KUNAMA, yielded tremendous results. Through it, we were able to clear most of the armed bandits and cattle rustlers’ camps in Alkaleri and Dansadau forests in Bauchi and Zamfara States.
Similarly, with Exercises CROCODILE SMILE and PYTHON DANCE in the riverine areas, particularly in the Niger Delta and South East respectively, we were able to clear various kidnappers and illegal oil refineries. We were able to checkmate the pipeline bombings and vandalism with improved security in the region to the point that some states’ revenue had a 3.5% increase from the Federation account.
In the South East, people celebrated the 2016 Christmas with their two eyes closed. We have just concluded Operation HARBIN KUNAMA II in some parts of Bauchi, Kaduna, Kano and Plateau States which to a large extent degraded the activities of armed bandits, kidnappers and marauding herdsmen in the area.
Despite heavy military presence in the Niger Delta, there are still some pockets of militancy and cult gang clashes. Even in some riverine sections of Lagos, militants have attacked some communities. Are there mechanisms in place to prevent these?
Yes there are. Efforts are ongoing. We are embarking on similar Field Training Exercises just like last year in those areas to further complement the effort of the joint task force.
There is massive involvement of military in civil security operations which many critics said expose soldiers to the public too much. What is your response to this?
Well, there is no doubt that there were security challenges in many parts of the country that warranted the deployment of troops in 32 out of the 36 States that made up this country including the Federal Capital Territory. However, we have continued to do our best to ensure that we discharge our duties in line with the laws of the Federation.
There was the warning that many officers were romancing politicians, an issue which many regarded as planning a coup! Kindly speak on this…
As we earlier stated, there were observed unnecessary fraternization among our officers and soldiers with some members of the public which is unethical and unprofessional, therefore, the warning became necessary. Unfortunately, some people with fertile imaginations decided to give it various and needless interpretations. It is the duty of every commander to ensure that his subordinates do the right thing always. Therefore, it is a command responsibility to ensure that both officers and soldiers conduct themselves within the ambits of the law.
We learnt that some officers were arrested and questioned…
We have been open and transparent with information dissemination since I came on board. As stated in that release, anyone not interested in the job, should leave honourably, otherwise, anyone found wanting, would have himself or herself to blame. We would not tolerate acts of indiscipline or unprofessional conduct. Therefore, if there were any arrest, we will definitely let the public know.
Some even said the recent change of command had to do with that…
Not at all. Postings were routine things. The posting you were referring to was purely done to rejig the fight against terrorism and insurgency and to fill in vacancies of appointments in view of retirement of some personnel, while others going on courses.
What are the mechanisms in place to make sure that the military respect civil authority?
A lot is being done in that regard. First you have to look at the Constitutional provision which provides for that. In addition to that, we have been doing a lot by educating and enlightening our troops to be professionally responsive in the discharge of their constitutional roles which entail subordination and respect for constituted civil authority. If you recall, on our appointment, we had to appear before the two chambers of the National Assembly for screening and approval. Similarly, we appear before the National Assembly for budget defence, apart from their routine oversight functions. And as I said earlier, we have been doing a lot in this regard.
Realizing that respect for human rights is fundamental, we established the human rights desk and also partner with governmental and non-governmental organizations such as the National Human Rights Commission, the Nigerian Bar Association, the International Committee of Red Cross, Global Amnesty Watch and others for seminars and training of our troops. This is in addition to training of officers and soldiers in our respective training schools and abroad. Our Rules of Engagement and Code of Conduct is also quite clear in this respect. Our job is to remain absolutely loyal to the President, Commander-in-Chief, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and guarantee democratic governance in this country. This could not be achieved without subjecting ourselves to constituted civil authority.
How are you tackling the issue of welfare in the Army?
Welfare is essential to troops morale and fighting spirit. It is in recognition of this fact that throughout my service in the Army, I give it utmost priority wherever I served. I can tell you that we have been doing a lot to enhance troops welfare; I made sure all entitlements are paid or given as at when due. I also introduced the electronic pay system in which soldiers’ pay and allowances are paid directly into their account, constructed new living accommodations in some barracks and rehabilitated dilapidated ones. The kitting of our troops where we impacted seriously, now our troops are well kitted and dressed uniformly. I ordered the downward review of school fees in all our Command and Children Schools. We are also repositioning both the medical and education corps for effective service delivery. Our troops no longer pay for their medications. Above all, we have been sponsoring children of our fallen colleagues in schools from tertiary to university and polytechnics. Our casualty evacuation system has greatly improved. We have ensured a very conducive atmosphere of service for our troops.
How easy is it for families of dead soldiers to receive their entitlements?
Very easy, we have improved on the process of documentation both at the Department of Administration at the Army Headquarters and at the Central Army Records in Lokoja. The Next-of-Kins of our fallen colleagues no longer have to spend days in Abuja for collection of entitlements. Although it should be noted that at the Service level we only document and process while payment is done by the Military Pensions Board. We nevertheless, promptly pay all those entitlements such as Burial Expenses, Benevolent Funds and Nigerian Army Welfare Insurance, almost immediately.
Are there some international best practices that you are planning for the soldiers’ welfare?
Yes, we do the best we could. We have group life assurance that is being coordinated at the Ministry of Defence level.
How will you describe the post-war resettlement efforts in the North East?
I believe this question is better answered by the Federal and State Governments and other agencies involved in the rehabilitation and resettlement. However, a lot is being done by both of them. You need to go out of the city to see the massive rehabilitation and reconstruction of infrastructures in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States.
What are you doing to make sure there is law and order in these resettled villages?
The maintenance of Law and order is police responsibilities and we do assist them in any way possible by making the environment secure.
Generally speaking, what will you like to leave as a legacy?
I would like to bequeath the legacy of a professionally responsive Nigerian Army in the discharge of its constitutional role.