By Philip Agbese
Change is inevitable. But whenever it occurs, what comes to mind is how those exiting would be remembered.
For the outgoing Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen Tukur Yusuf Buratai (rtd), the answer is very simple; he would be remembered as the Army General who led his troops from the front.
That simple description sums up the difference between the outgoing Army Chief and others and in combat operations it means a lot.
It is akin to putting one’s life on the line to motivate others. Tales of military conquests are usually designed to fit the eppaulets of top commanders whether physically present at the action spot or through delegated orders.
But with Butatai, the courage is constant as he prefers to be in the trenches, feel the pulse of his fighting men and lead the battle from the front when the occasion demands.
He is known to have relocated to the Northeast and personally led various onslaught against the Boko Haram and ISWAP terrorists with great success.
It was through such processes that the outgoing Chief of Army Staff has been able to save the lives of no less than 30 million people directly and that of over 160 million people indirectly.
Before Butatai was appointed Army Chief, Adamawa State which has a population of 4,248,400 people, Borno State with 5,860,183 and Yobe with 3.4 million were all under threats of annihilation.
No less than 20 number of local governments within the three states which are bigger than some countries, were taken over by Boko Haram terrorists as people were constantly being killed, abducted, harassed and terrorised.
General problems of insecurity pervaded the landscape. In the Northeast, it is said that since 2009 when the Boko Haram started, the groups have killed tens of thousands of people and displaced about 2.5 million people and the zone was experiencing severe humanitarian crisis which left about 7.7 million people in need of humanitarian aid.
In the Northwest, problems of banditry escalated as communities were sacked and people abducted. It was almost the same in the Northcentral were abductions for ransom became the order of the day and attacks on communities increased.
Such criminal activities even extended to the southern parts of the country where cases of kidnap and other criminal activities including secessionist bids heightened.
But by the time General Buratai and his colleagues moved into action most of these acts of terrorism were curtailed reducing for instance, the number of Boko Haram attributed deaths in the Northeast from more than 5,000 in 2015 to hundreds in 2020.
The presence of the Chief of Army Staff, at the battlefield was of great positive effects to the troops.
It made them to push hard until they penetrated the fortresses of the insurgents and subdued them in their numbers within the first six months of his assuming office .
The army was able to sustain the pressure on the terrorists that the Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau was heard in an audio tape begging for mercy and since then Nigerian troops continued to dominate the fight foiling every attempt by the insurgents to launch attacks and capture territories.
The height of it was the release of the over 300 boys at a secondary school in Kankara, Katsina State.
Many did not know the antecedents of General Buratai and probably what made him to be chosen as the Chief of Army Staff.
General Buratai was the Commander of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), a military co-operation between Nigeria, Niger, Benin, Chad and Cameroon to fight Boko Haram terrorism.
He was specifically chosen to head the 5-Nation organisation because of an experience that almost ridiculed the combined efforts of these countries.
In January 2015, Boko Haram attacked the MNJTF headquarters in Baga in Borno State, overran the place and went ahead to massacre innocent civilians in the town.
That experience was one of the lowest points for the Nigerin Armed Forces as many claimed soldiers took to their heels in what was later described as tactical manoeuvre.
The incident led to the reorganisation of the outfit and General TY Buratai was appointed to head the restructured outfit as the first Nigerian to occupy that position.
From then, the five countries began to witness improvements in their security and Nigeria was able to hold an election in March of that year.
It was not surprising therefore that President Muhammadu Buhari would appoint General TY Buratai as the Army Chief shortly after inauguration as president of Nigeria.
Apart from combat operations, General Buratai during his tenure enhanced civilian military coperation in Nigeria that people no longer see the Army as a force of occupation but as partner in progress.
The army under him has built bridges, roads, hospital and schools for communities in line with the Army’s improved Civil-Military relations activities or Corporate Social Responsibility.
The Nigerian Army for instance set up an isolation centre at 32 Artillery Brigade, Owena Cantonment, Akure, in Ondo State to help put an end to Covid-19, established the Nigerian Army University Biu, and a 200 bed Nigerian Army Reference Hospital in Maiduguri, Borno State to cater for the health needs of soldiers who sustained injuries while fighting the counter-insurgency war and to serve people in the immediate communities among other things. The nation actually knew it had a General in Buratai who led from the front at all fronts!
Agbese wrote from Abuja.