What Buratai told BBC about Boko Haram, Dubai property, others

Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai for Chief of Army Staff

Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai: Chief of Army Staff

Stephen Sackur of BBC put Nigeria’s Army Chief, Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai on the hot seat to speak about Nigeria’s war against Boko Haram. The program, Hard Talk, was recorded in 2017


Watch the video below:



A couple of years ago, your President sent you a clear mission to eradicate Boko Haram, he said it could be done in months. Will it be fair to say that you have failed in that mission?

We’ve not failed, we’ve achieved that particular mandate as at that time. We were appointed on the 13th of July and on the day of our decoration, we were given that mandate to end Boko Haram by the end of December, 2015, and we set out to work…

I’m going to stop you to make this as simple as possible…by the end of December, 2015, there were claims from both the military and the presidency that Boko Haram had been eliminated…

You’re right, but, I don’t think anybody has said Boko Haram has been eliminated.

President Muhammadu Buhari in December 2015, said Boko Haram has been technically defeated. The insurgency has been completely defeated.
Yeah, technically defeated, it doesn’t mean it has been eliminated. Let’s look at it in this perspective: terrorism is resilient,  but, tremendous success has been achieved.
Take for example, as at the time we were appointed, Borno where was the seat of the terrorists, how many local government areas were under their control? There was no presence of any government authority in the state.But, it’s not just a question of how many square miles of territory you have recovered. The question is whether the people of that particular region of your country are still being terrorized. Just a couple of months ago, 18 girls were abducted close to Cameroon boarder in a village called Puka. In the first six months of the year (2017), there were about 48 Boko Haram attacks. You may take all the territories back, but you haven’t ended their reign of terror.Look at what we have on the ground before May 2015, the Boko Haram were even in Abuja,they were in Kano, they were in Kaduna. They were penetrating down to the south, we had to stop them. And for the past one and half years, we’ve not had any attack in Jos, neither in Abuja, in Kano, or in many other places, even as close as in Gombe. They have been confined to certain places in Borno state and parts of Yobe state. UN agency says the scale of insecurity is such that displaced people cannot come back, malnutrition and famine exist and insecurity is a huge part of that. So, you as the head of the army still surely have to accept that you’re far from completing your mission.That is why we have to look at the reconstruction aspect and we have to see the return of civil administration, the return of civil power and other agencies like the police, This is something that we were working at.
If you talk in terms of military action, militarily, Boko Haram has been defeated. But, in terms of restoring peace and stability to the regions, how can the local people win the confidence, whereas the most recent report by the Amnesty International says that the military arbitrarily is arresting thousands of young men and women and children, simply on profiling them, but are being put into detention facilities, like the Giwa Barracks near Maiduguri, where the cells are overcrowded, disease starvation was rife. At least 240 detainees died during the last year, but these were secretly buried in the Maiduguri cemetery by the Borno state environmental protection agency. That is a scandal and it is shocking! How can you possibly defend that?

Well, it is interesting, but, let me tell you, we’ve been vindicated, the special board of enquiry that was set up by the army , headed by independent personality, A.T Jubrin (Rtd), clearly stated that there were no any arbitrary arrests, no arbitrary killings, whatever comes within that detention facility, these are things that are bound to happen anywhere, there was an outbreak of disease.

 Your board of inquiry was headed by a retired general, President Buhari promised many months ago that there would be an independent investigation. There has been no independent investigation.

This is still in the process, it’s a promise I believe will be kept.

Why has there not been an independent investigation?

Well, I cannot give that reason.

 But if you want the confidence of the people of Borno state and other parts of your country, surely, the most basic thing is to hold your own forces to account

Well, we are holding them accountable. As far as military operation is concerned, we have a standing military court marshal which is responsible for trying any of our officers who has been found wanting in following justice system. And of recent, some of them have been convicted of violation of crimes.

Amnesty named nine individual officers who they say should face the most serious investigation and criminal indictment. How many of those nine are still serving till date in your forces?

I don’t know of any of those nine precisely, whether they are serving, as far as we are concerned, we’ve investigated and the board of inquiry has done its work and found out that those things were not directly linked to them.

That is your internal investigation, but the external investigation has not happened

Those allegations have not been substantiated, those are mere allegations and they couldn’t substantiate them, they were made and they were told to substantiate those allegations against these officers.

Let me ask you your reaction to a report by the United States government on trafficking in persons report, which says that there is evidence that Nigerian Army has been using children as young as 12 years in support role, is that true?

Well, it’s not true. If you ask me directly in my personal capacity as the head of the army, there are complexity in such issues; how do you determine a child who is 12 years? I am not saying we are employing a child to be used in Civilian JTF. We are not employing children.

 The Nigerian security forces have continued to detain children for alleged association with Boko Haram, not only you’re employing children in support role, which the US says is wrong, you’re also consistently and systematically arresting and detaining children.

We have what we refer to as international humanitarian laws and law of armed conflict, we very much know these rules, the international best practices. There is no way the Nigerian army will pick a child and get him employed to serve anywhere, this is just an allegation.

Yes, the United States is an ally, but during a past administration,it  stopped selling you weapons because of all of these allegations of abuses by your security forces.

It’s the same Amnesty International reports they are relying on and it’s the same Amnesty International that forwarded that recommendation to the Obama administration, that certain weapons should not be sold to Nigerian government. But, when you talk of terrorism, it’s a responsibility at global level, every nation should be responsible to see that terrorism is defeated globally.

 Among allegations of abuses against your forces, there his one story which grabbed a huge attention in 2013 when the Chibok school girls were raided by Boko Haram militants and they took away more than 200 girls. Ever since, there has been huge focus on getting those girls back. Now, I think about 82 were free. What deal did you do to get those 82 girls back?

As far as the release of those 82 Chibok girls is concerned, we performed our role where we provided safe passage for those that have been released.

 Did you release Boko Haram in return?

I did not release, that is a government decision, it’s not an army responsibility.

 The report was that five senior Boko Haram fighters were released from prison in return.

That is the report.

 As a military man,what message do you believe that should will send to Boko Haram and other militants?

Buratai: That decision is not a military decision, it’s a political decision and it’s in the best interest of the nation, it’s in the best interest of the circumstances. I think the government felt that is the best course to be taken
It has its own advantage, although, it may have some disadvantages, but it has its advantages.

Niger Delta: Over the years, we’ve seen militants by the name MEND, attacking oil installations, demanding money and has caused real instability. There was a government programme to buy off those militants and I think is costing government well over a $100 million in various forms of financial recompense, has it worked?

I believe it has worked

Why then did oil production fall

Those are criminal activities. That is why you still have lots of criminal activities by certain individuals, not only in the Niger Delta, but in other parts of the country.

 But all the attack was supposed to have ended with the compensation of money, and your assurances as a military man and that of the President as the political leader of the country, that you’re on top of the security situation in all these different regions of your country, the truth on the ground is that you are not.

We are in firm control. When you look at security globally, it is something you continue to tackle as they arise. You cannot just wake up overnight and wish all security challenges are gone. Even here in UK and other parts of the world, we’ll continue to have these challenges. Go to the Middle East and other parts of Europe, you have those challenges. So, as we continue to face these threats, we continue to address them as they arise.

One of the problems facing Nigeria, is corruption. Reports from Transparency International says military officials as well as politicians have been enriching themselves by diverting money that was supposed to go for security fight against terror

Well, you know very well, some cases are already in court and some are still being investigated. The courts will handle them appropriately and the investigating agencies will go further to investigate as much as possible.

 According to Amnesty International, fictitious soldiers on your payroll, and senior officers pocketing their salaries…

 It’s not true. Since the advent of this administration, they’ve introduced what they called Integrated Personnel Pay Scheme, which has made our payroll computerized, and everybody with his biometrics. We did that long ago, around 2013, and there is nothing like ghost workers in the army.

 The military officer’s pay in Nigeria is not high, isn’t it?

It’s relative, but we are paid by the government,so the question should go to the government.

But how can a public officer yourself and members of your family own two properties in Dubai worth over a million US dollars?

It’s not true, it is just an investment just like any other person.

Anti corruption campaign in your country, Femi Falana said it is an outrage that you’ve got these properties because there is no way you can buy these properties from your saved salary, so where did you get the money from?

My family is into other businesses and they do their own private businesses, they invest.

According to an independent investigation, there are soldiers working for you, as the commander of Nigerian army and they are on a very pitiful wages, and they are poorly resourced and poorly armed in the fight against Boko Haram. I wonder how they will feel learning that you and your family own these properties in Dubai

Which type of property, just tell me which type of property

According to the  Conduct Bureau they investigated them and they said they were okay because you declared the assets, so don’t tell me you don’t know the properties

 The type of properties they are talking of is not the one you think most people are saying, it’s not a house, it’s a time-shared property that you invest into.

 But the question still remains, how do you think your guys in the front line who are poorly resourced feel?

When were those properties bought into? As far back as in 2013 before I was not even Chief of Army Staff, I never even dreamt of becoming Chief of Army Staff and people are using it as if it is today or when I was appointed

 So it is clear that when the Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana wrote that you should resign because you have no explanation for where you got the money from, he said it was a cock and bull story…

I said it is not mine’s, it is for my family.

Final question for you… We have catalogude the different challenges your security forces face and indeed your political  leadership. One of the problems is that your President is seriously sick, I believe he is still here in London and Nigerians are very confused about where he is and what his condition is. Can you, as head of the army, tell me what is going on?

No, this is a private issue that concerns Mr. President and I don’t have any comment on that.

 But earlier this year, you did won anyone, either in the military or anywhere else who was thinking of using this period of instability to launch leadership bid or play politics in the military, you warned them off it. So, you’re clearly worried that there is at the moment a bit of vacuum at the top

There is no vacuum, it’s just a preemptive warning in terms of what transpired before this administration came on board.

 Why did you issue that warning, did you sense that there were some in the army who might be pursuing political ambitions?

Based on our own knowledge, based on our experiences, it is good once in a while to tell officers that there are bounds that we must remain within the constitutional boundaries.

 How long can this situation continue, when Nigeria’s President is not able to be in the country and certainly is unable to offer the leadership, he is physically unable…

There are constitutional provisions, there is never a vacuum. We have an acting President there . I think whatever is happening, we should allow Mr. President to recuperate, get stronger and go back home. There’s never a vacuum and there should not be any cause for concern or alarm