By David Omeje
Some years ago, something remarkable happened to Nigeria. On July 13, 2015, precisely, the Commander-In-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces , President Muhammadu Buhari appointed an unassuming, but patriotic and loyal Army officer, Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusufu Buratai as the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), with a mandate to reposition the Nigerian Army and a special focus in the termination of terrorism from our country.
Framed as a military strategist and tactician, a niche he carved for himself through dedicated service in his career, Gen. Buratai was unambiguously stepping into a spectacular rescue mission of Nigeria. The country had been demonized and tormented by Boko Haram terrorism insurrections and diverse armed conflicts to the extent that, its seat of power was no longer safe.
Gen. Buratai, as an ardent student of the famous Chinese Army General, philosopher and military strategist, Sun Tzu, was not oblivious of the enormity of the assignment placed on his shoulders in combating the multi- faceted terrorisms that engulfed the entire country. Like Sun Tzu, he understood that “What is essential in war is victory, not prolonged operations.”
Gen. Buratai’s psyche was constantly shuddered by this truism, hence a “…a clever fighter is one who not only wins, but excels in winning with ease.” In his first official interaction with Nigerians, the Army Chief so endearing, calmed the nerves of exasperated Nigerians by soothingly assuring the people that, he will make the difference by defeating Boko Haram insurgency alongside allied insurgencies. That was a promise which he also said must be kept.
And to this end, Gen. Buratai was determined to keep the promise, which was consistently greased by the wisdom of Sun Tzu’s Art of War that, “The General who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.”
He instantly mobilized his troops and took the counter-insurgency war to the tents, caves, camps, jungles, forests and other secret hideouts of the insurgents. Based on the severity of the consuming fire of terrorism on Nigerians and their peace of mind, the Army Chief never hedged in, personally leading his troops on some of the operations. Within three months, his troops had substantially decimated the terrorists and reclaimed several territories under the captivity and control of Boko Haram insurgents in Nigeria’s Northeast region. And refreshingly, Gen. Buratai’s troops significantly scaled down the tempo of reckless terrorists attacks, with superior fire power. Amazing though but difficult to believe.
The leader of the counter-insurgency operations knew and applied the philosophy of Sun Tzu that , “Speed is the essence of war.” With this mindset, Nigerian troops sustained strikes on insurgents at unexpected locations and hideouts, which rattled and shattered their coherence, making it impossible to recuperate from injuries and freely regroup to plot fresh atrocities.
At this stage, Gen. Buratai, a dynamic military strategist adopted Sun Tzu’s principle , which stipulated that “When the enemy is at ease, be able to weary him, when well fed, to starve him, when at rest, to make him move. Appear at places to which he must hasten, move swiftly where he does not expect you. Every action of the troop was revealing and was beyond terrorists’ comprehension.
The Army Chief shrewdly ensured sources of arms and ammunitions as well as food supplies to terrorists, were severed. The strategy unleashed the epidemic of hunger on insurgents and their families. Starvation became too severe, leading to the famed revolt of wives of insurgents against their husbands.
The wives loudly complained of children perishing under hunger, as they passionately appealed to their husbands to renounce terrorism. It was a heavy blow on the psyche of terrorists.
While the Army infested Boko Haram insurgents Indeed,tarved terrorists of arms and ammunitions replenishment, his troops intensified warfare pressure on these religious extremists sect. They were incapacitated and aside, they curtailed their liberty to freely attack targets, they kept retreating to the fringes, border communities and obscure remote areas in the Northeast.
He kept his troops on perpetual surveillance and red alert, as he formed and trained rapid response squads because he knew like Sun Tzu, that “The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him, not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.” The frequency of insurgents’ ambushes and attacks on security formations diminished impressively, as troops rubbished their guerilla antics. The once dreaded Boko Haram terrorists group that was a global threat was eventually depleted and unmasked. The Army Chief fetched from the pool of Sun Tzu’s strategies, who instructively echoed that “It is the rule in war, if ten times the enemy’s strength, surrounds them, if five times attack them, if double, be able to divide them, if equal, engage them, if fewer, defend against them, if weaker, be able to avoid them.”
Gen. Buratai consciously caused disarray in the Boko Haram camp, which was hitherto whole and under the unchallengeable leadership of Abubakar Shekau. The strategy led to break-ups in the rank of Boko Haram, as several splinter factions emerged; prominent among them, the Musab Al Barnewi faction. Al Barnawi was Shekau’s erstwhile publicity scribe, who pulled away a large chunk of Shekau’s foot soldiers and top commanders.
Both factional leaders most times, engaged themselves in the battle of supremacy, which weakened their struggle and exposed them to heavy repression by Nigerian troops, hence according to Sun Tzu, “The whole secret lies in confusing the enemy, so that he cannot fathom our real intent.”
Gen. Buratai was guided by Sun Tzu’s five essential ornaments for victory which determine when to pull the trigger against an enemy and when to retreat or dangle a carrot. It clearly spelt out that, “He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight, he will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces, he will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks, he will win who prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared, he will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign”
It was the genesis of the “stick and carrot” approach to counter-terrorism and the voluntary massive surrender of Boko Haram foot soldiers, including Shekau’s top commanders to the Nigerian Army. It pathetically deflated Shekau’s fighters and the Army Chief ensured avenues of fresh recruitment of Nigerians as fighters for the sect were blocked permanently.
Therefore, after the decimation of Boko Haram sect in December 2015, the reclamation of all Nigerian territories under Boko Haram captivity, Gen. Buratai knew time was ripe to defeat the sect. The invasion of the formerly dreadful Sambisa forest and Camp Zero, the most fortified fortress of Shekau and his evil lieutenants in December 2016, was a profound statement about the defeat of Boko Haram terrorists group that was globally applauded.
Today, the leadership of the Army by Gen. Buratai has been able to rescue over 20,000 abducted persons including some of the Chibok and Dapchi school girls
Nigerian troops are currently on clearance operations in communities and villages in the Northeast to cleanse them of the last vestiges of the remnants of terrorists. The recent launch of the Army Female Corps is a deliberate step to checkmate the flashes of female suicide bombers.
Boko Haram’s factional leader, Abubakar Shekau knows he has been caged, as the Army sights his capture soonest. He has been disabled to the extent that he no longer releases his boastful videos on successful raids and abductions of Nigerians.
Shekau piteously lamented his frustrations in continuing with the battle and wished death came his way. But Gen. Buratai has vowed to capture him. The seemingly invincible Shekau is now afraid of his shadows and whines faintly from the forests and caves of the neighbouring Cameroun.
Buratai, this iconic Army General has proven his mettle both on the battlefield and dexterity in leadership. Veteran Gen. Sun Tzu, effortlessly led his troops to several victories against hardboiled enemies, because he earned their loyalty and commitment, anchored on the conviction that “Treat your men as you would your own beloved sons. And they will follow you into the deepest valley.”
Similarly, Gen.Buratai has earned confidence, loyalty, patriotism and admiration from his troops, leading to the secured victories because he prioritized their welfare. Under his leadership, Nigerian Army personnel are promptly and timely paid their salaries and allowances; Army barracks and formations have undergone facelifts.
He has invested in the training of human resources through the establishment of the first ever Nigerian Army University and the Nigerian Army Aviation School among others. Civil/military relations has been smoothened with the establishment of the Human Rights Desks at the Army Headquarters (AHQs) and in all Divisions, several communities which play permanent or temporary host to the Nigerian Army can now boast of multiple Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) projects in different parts of the country, mostly in the areas of water, health care and education.
Indeed, in the last three years, Gen. Buratai has positively impacted on terrorism, insurrections and armed local conflicts. This charismatic leader has made the difference and kept his promise to Nigerians. It explains why he is celebrated home and abroard with distinctive honours and awards.
I wish other Nigerians in position of authority or leadership could borrow a leaf from this exceptional General. Indeed they could achieve this, if they change their perception of leadership and serve the people, rather than engage in personal puffery.
Onmeje is a public affairs analyst and wrote this piece from the United Kingdom.