BY EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO
The earliest lesson I learnt at the prestigious Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ) as an already established media practitioner who enrolled in the academic training institute to embellish my skills, was that: “facts are sacred, but opinion is free”.
This has been my beacon in the practical realm of media practice that has spanned over two decades.
Whilst doing the Journalism career, I have come to realize that the media needs to set agenda and not necessarily follow the crowd in such a way that we often read that bad news is good news.
It is factually accurate to state without any fear of contradiction that bad news is good news because this category of sensational stories about individuals, institutions, governments or people are the ingredients that make marketing of newspapers a hot cake.
However, there is another deeper and much more professional angle to Journalism that is termed developmental Journalism in which the innate creative talents of the writer are deployed to record historical steps and epochs that should shape national and global conversations.
This is the essence of this obviously very brief reflection on an aspect of the rich leadership acumen of the recently retired Army Chief, the Borno State born military General in the person of lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai (rtd).
The immediate past Army head is such a man that understands the powers of the media to such a profound extent that he governed the largest military in Africa with an intellectual mindset conscious of what historians will say about him.
In that light, he told his own story in both the written and pragmatic form.
However, there is one aspect that he may not even know that it is worth documenting for the benefits of those who will pilot and build upon his legacies in the Nigerian Army which spanned over half a decade.
He was a no- nonsense professional soldier and military officer who took discipline to a frightening dimension thereby attracting all kinds of public commentaries with some believing that he went too far in using the instrument of legal discipline to ensure that his operatives and officers comply absolutely with laid down rules, regulations and the social contract governing military operation whether within or without.
Buratai remains one disciplinarian that was never afraid to wield the big stick to caution even some of his most trusted Generals who may have offended the traditions of the Army or may have gone beyond their briefs. By doing this, he made a lot of enemies for himself and there’s this external persona created about him by some debaters that General Buratai is brutal. Truth be told, he pursued discipline and professionalism with unwavering commitment misconceived as ‘brute force’ by some WRITERS. Others who are favourable to him think he is a CONSTITUTIONAL PURIST. A consensus on how best to situate his approach to professional development and discipline may take some time to evolve fully.
Permit me however to state without any fear of contradictions that he deployed the instrumentality of the law such as Court Marshals to deal with cases of indiscipline amongst and between the operatives and Officers.
A historian said the strength of the American Army is built on solid discipline thus: “A little over 237 years ago, Our Army was established as a result of a fierce start of the Revolutionary War between our fledging union (the United States as we know it) and the British Empire. Over the course of the Revolutionary War, led by the General of the Armies, George Washington, our Army fought in battles against a much larger and much more technically and tactically advanced Army. Our Army faced significant shortfalls and suffered many defeats at the hands of a seemingly superior force, at least in the initial stages of the war. As the revolution progressed, the Americans, as they became known were significantly challenged by the lack of funding, equipment, personnel, formal, training, and were literally considered to be “misfits” fighting against trained professionals.”
I will proceed to report him in his exact words and also recollect the exact words of his successor which were made for historical purposes during the official disengagement ceremony.
Beginning with the immediate past Army Chief, these are his words as reported in the media.
The media reported that the immediate past Chief of Army Staff, retired Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai, says he left the Nigerian Army better than he met.
Buratai stated this in his valedictory speech during the Pulling Out Parade by the Nigerian Army on Friday in Abuja.
He said that the army under his watch had achieved tremendous feat in the fight against insurgency and other security threats in the country.
He added that he ensured adequate training of personnel and enhancement of war fare capabilities of the army as well as prioritisation of personnel welfare.
“Today is a day of appreciation and not a stocktaking, but let me put on record that I left Nigerian Army better than I met it.
“The Nigerian Army under my leadership was able to achieve great feat in the fight against insurgency in the country.
“We have been experiencing pockets of threats here and there, but I can confidently say that no part of Nigeria is ceded to any terrorist group or criminals.
“The counter insurgency operation is a warfare new to Nigerian Army but over time, we have continued to device means of tackling the ever evolving dynamic nature of the threats in the country.
“The Nigerian Army has remained resolute in the discharge of its roles as enshrined in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“I urge you all to continue to rise to the occasion,” he said.
Buratai said that while it was always necessary to say goodbye at a point in life, he said it was not easy to find the right word to say goodbye to the courageous and dedicated team that worked with him.
He said that Nigerian Army also made giant strides in infrastructure development across the country.
Buratai commended the officers and soldiers of Nigerian Army for their dedication and loyalty, which he said assisted him to achieve so much in office.
The former COAS also thanked President Muhammadu Buhari for the opportunity to serve the country as well as providing an enabling environment for him to succeed.
He also commended the effort of the government of Borno in the war against insurgency, assuring that the war would soon be a thing of the past.
He urged politicians to always leave military out of politics, adding that the country needed politicians who are statesmen to support the military in addressing the prevailing security challenges.
According to him, there is no gain saying that there cannot be development without security and lack of development breeds insecurity.
He solicited support for the new Chief of Army Staff, Maj.-Gen. Ibrahim Attahiru, to be able to deliver on his mandate.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Buratai was officially pulled out of service in a parade held in his honour at Mogadishu Cantonment, Asokoro, Abuja.”
Former Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, handed over command to the new Army Chief, Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Attahiru.
Speaking at the handing over ceremony at the Nigerian Army Headquarters, Abuja, Buratai said he was nearly retired by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, 21 years ago at the rank of major.
He described his attainment of the rank of lieutenant general and Chief of Army Staff as historic.
He said the Army would never remain the same after his exit.
“Former President Olusegun Obasanjo almost retired me 21 years ago when I was a Major. My retirement after 40 years of service is historic, hence calls for gratitude,” he said.
He urged the new army chief to ensure that the Nigerian Army remained professionally responsive in the discharge of its constitutional duties.
Buratai said that the army under his watch ensured support for democratic rule while urging his successor to ensure that the army continued to be loyal and professional.
He also urged Attahiru to remember him for three things notably improved professionalism of the Nigerian army, improved responsiveness of the army in the area of training administration and logistics needs and responsiveness to Nigeria’s democratic imperatives.
“I am proud to say that the Nigerian army has transformed to become professionally responsive in the defence of democracy with utmost loyalty.
“Today we have a professionally responsive army and we have achieved a lot in many areas over the years as well as inter-agency cooperation”, he said.
He commended the principal staff officers, corps commanders, commandants and directors for their cooperation during his time as the army chief.
He also appreciated all the troops serving in all operations both home and abroad most especially the operation Lafiya Dole, Sahel Sanity, Delta Safe among others.
Buratai said as a COAS he was proud to have defended the nation’s democracy and called on officers and men of the Nigerian army to make it their duty to defend and to protect democracy.
In his response, the new COAS pledged to sustain the giant strides of the Nigerian Army under Buratai, adding that he considered himself lucky to have been given opportunity to succeed Buratai.
Earlier, the Chief of Policy and Plans, Lt. Gen. Lamidi Adeosun, said the Buratai came, saw and conquered, adding that working with Buratai was a rewarding experience.
Adeosun, while extolling the virtues of Buratai said he had achieved so much for Nigerian army in terms of operational efficiency, personnel welfare and establishment of new units and formations.
The new Chief of Army Staff, Major General Ibrahim Attahiru, solicited the support of soldiers and officers to reposition the Nigerian Army.
He thanked President Muhammadu Buhari for finding him worthy, adding he counted himself lucky to be chosen as army chief. Yesterday, the new Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt. Gen. Ibrahim Attahiru, vowed to rebuild the fighting skills, capacity, confidence and morale of troops to confront security challenges bedevilling the country.
He said under his leadership soldiers would be better equipped with the right competences and skills to effectively undertake daring missions in addition to developing special operations forces.
He also assured that threats of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), which are major impediments to military operations, especially in the North East, would soon be a thing of the past.
The COAS stated these at the opening of the combined Chief of Army Staff first quarter conference and Nigerian Army operations retreat in Abuja.
Attahiru, while noting that troops welfare remained his priority, said he would focus on provision of appropriate kitting and protective gears, weapons, equipment and platforms for troops.
He called on commanders of various army operations to glean from his ‘Command Philosophy’ to ensure that operational and administrative proficiencies of army formations and units are sustained and improved upon.
He said the retreat which was the first since he took over would afford the army the opportunity to reassess the threat environment and review its operations with a view to identifying gaps that could be addressed in the planning and conduct of future operations.
While congratulating officers and soldiers for their unrelenting sacrifices and efforts in ensuring that the army fulfiled its constitutional responsibilities, the COAS charged them to redouble their efforts and deal with adversaries threatening the peace of the country.
“I expect to see directives emanating from these events and subsequently from Army headquarters translate immediately into proactive courses of action that will find solutions and deal with our numerous security challenges.” This writer hereby recommends to the new Army Chief to dig out the book written by his predecessor about military operations and professionalism.
The then Army chief by getting this book published and hopefully distributed has adopted a key step towards restoring normalcy and professional conducts of internal security operations by the military.
Key amongst the components of this green book are the following guidelines that: a. All personnel of the NA comply with domestic and international laws to which Nigeria is a state party. Unless otherwise directed by the Appropriate Superior Authority (ASA), NA personnel will comply with the principles and spirit of the International Human Rights Law (IHRL) during all Internal Security (IS) operations and other Military Assistance to Civil Authorities (MACA) operations that the NA may be deployed to in accordance with Sections 217(2) a, b, c, d, and 218(3) of CFRN 1999 (as amended). b. An effective programme to prevent violations and ensure compliance with domestic and international law is implemented by the NA at all levels of command. c. All incidents of violations of domestic and international laws committed by or against NA personnel, enemy, or any other individual are reported promptly, investigated thoroughly, and, where appropriate, remedied by corrective action.
Others are that; the on-scene commander shall ensure that measures are taken to preserve evidence of incidents pending transfer to ASA. e. At all appropriate levels of command and during all stages of operational planning and execution of operations, NA Legal Advisers provide advice concerning domestic and international law as it relates to operations. And f. As much as possible, NA commanders are to use their appointment and provisions made by the military justice system and the AFA, to investigate and sanction violation of international laws which in certain cases are also offences against Nigerian Military Law.
Going by the fact that the current Army Chief of staff lieutenant General Attahiru Ibrahim appropriately acknowledged that his predecessor in office left GIANT STRIDES, it is only fitting that discipline and professionalism which were the pillars that governed most of his policy frameworks as the head of the Nigerian Army would be consolidated.
EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) and was a federal commissioner at the National Human Rights commission of Nigeria.