Esther Okpabi writes that the popularity rating of the Nigerian Army has kept soaring since Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusufu Buratai took over the reins of power as Nigeriaâ€™s Chief of Army Staff
Aphorisms have enormous powers and timelessly interpret life and its vagaries. â€œA good deed is never forgotten. If it is not remembered now, it will be remembered later; if not today, certainly tomorrow.â€ An anonymous author once echoed that “Keep putting good out and it will return in unexpected ways.”
This has been the sacred philosophy of the Nigerian Army since Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusufu Buratai took over the reins of power as Nigeriaâ€™s Chief of Army Staff (COAS). For two years at a stretch, the popularity rating of the Nigerian Army has kept soaring, virtually at every instance Nigerians have had cause to assess the Army since President Muhammadu Buhari became President of Nigeria.
And as President Buhari unveils his mid-term scorecard, Nigeriansâ€™ assessment of institutions under Buhariâ€™s Presidency, particularly security agencies has for the umpteenth time, placed the Nigerian Army uppermost in excellent execution of its assignments of defending the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Nigeria.
Nigerians are not just biased or exaggerative or even extending undue favours to Nigerian soldiers. The high rating of the Nigerian Army is motivated by the results of a repackaged Nigerian Army by Gen. Buratai. He brought reforms and innovations in military professionalism hitherto unknown in Nigeria.
The Army Chief preached and ensured the entrenchment of the ideals of professionalism, discipline, hard work, transparency, accountability, and respect for civil authority and the safeguarding of the human rights of Nigerians. These attributes were the second uniforms of Nigerian soldiers anywhere they were deployed for assignments in the country.
Overwhelmingly, the presence of soldiers deployed on special assignments is registered in 32 out of the 36 states of the federation. Put differently by this record, it means the Nigerian Army is providing critical support to the civil security agencies because of the severity, intensity and frequency of security breaches which sustained its choking grip on Nigeria. Yet, there is a near zero level of acts of indiscipline or violations of human rights of Nigerians by soldiers. They are not the usual brutish and brash professionals of the past, but kind, amiable, humane and humble military personnel.
Therefore, when Nigerians wholeheartedly acknowledged a refined army under Buratai, the voices thundered in unison in vouching for their splendour. Nigerians remembered the pains and sorrows Boko Haram Terrorism (BHT) imposed on many families and the nation. But the Nigerian Army courageously, determinedly and gallantly led the counter-insurgency that has ended terrorism in the North-east and Nigeria. Soldiers paid the supreme price in many instances, but remained undeterred until terrorists were subdued and conquered.
Soldiers imposition of peace in the troubled South-east, where mindless rebels in the guise of secession agitators masked in MASSOB or IPOB garments had the reign of infamy terminated by Nigerian soldiers. These violent groups, which gruesomely murdered, harassed law-abiding citizens and disrupted commercial activities in the region, overpowered the Police and Civil Defence, but crumbled before the might of soldiers. The lyrics of Nigerian Armyâ€™s â€œOperation Python Dance,â€ quieted their demented souls and peace has berthed in the once dreaded region.
Militancy in the Niger Delta became a torn in the flesh, manifesting in vandalism and bombing of oil pipelines or facilities by aggrieved groups in the region unlawfully bargaining for resource control. National revenue accruing from the exploration and exportation of crude oil dropped drastically as a consequence of nefarious activities of militants. The region was gradually being deserted, as people took flight to safer locations.
It climaxed into the threats by some militant groups like the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) to declare a â€œrepublic â€œof the Niger Delta. The threats were ominous and pregnable with violence. Kidnapping and other allied crimes became thriving businesses and Nigerians in the region could no longer breathe fresh air. But the various operations launched by the Nigerian Army such as â€œOperation Delta Safe,â€ or â€œOperation Crocodile Smile,â€ and each, guided by a philosophy, effectively ended the criminal siege on the region.
The Armyâ€™s â€œOperation Harbin Kunamaâ€ I and II has or is performing wonders in the North-west region and the Middle Belt assailed by the menace of armed banditry and cattle rustling; ethno-religious crisis and the herders/farmers violent confrontations. These criminals did not only challenge the power of the state to dare them, but operated with impunity and moved about unscathed. But soldiers ended the madness in weeks. Normalcy is gradually returning to the places that were once like the hottest parts of hellfire.
The return of the Boko Haram terrorists induced Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to their ruined homes in the North-east is actively facilitated by the Nigerian Army under Gen. Buratai. They have embarked on the provision of social amenities and infrastructures such as roads and electricity to communities in the region ravaged by terrorism as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Soldiers became voluntary teachers to pupils in IDP camps. These are realities never linked to the Nigerian Army in the past. It is reason Nigerians are celebrating them in high spirits.
The Nigerian Army also embarked on intermittent free medical treatment of ailing Nigerians in communities hosting them while on special assignments. At every point, hundreds of sick Nigerians would troop out to benefit from the free medical services, solely funded by the Nigeria Army. It has been the experience in the South-south, North-west, Northeast and North-central regions among others.
The abduction of 271 Chibok schoolgirls in Borno by Boko Haram terrorists caused more than a stir. It provoked national and international outrage, with activists, world leaders, prominent Nigerians and feminist campaigners insisting on their release. Soldiers initially secured the release of about five of them. Within the period, the Nigerian troops mounted ceaseless battles against the defeat of BHTs, which result in the release of another 21 Chibok schoolgirls. Only last week, another batch of 82 Chibok girls have regained freedom through negotiations.
In the past, their captors rejected pleas for their release, but have yielded because terrorism has been quenched courtesy of Burataiâ€™s headship of the anti-terrorism campaigns. Insurgents realised it was needless keeping the girls in a battle they have already lost irrecoverably. Aside the Chibok Schoolgirls, the Army has secured the release of over 20, 000 other Nigerians held hostage by terrorists; de-militarised and re-united them with their families. Had terrorism continued to fester, insurgents would have still been obstinate about negotiations and the release of the Chibok Schoolgirls and other hostages. In the history of the Nigerian Army, Gen. Buratai became the first Army boss to orient Nigerian soldiers on the need to cultivate and sustain a healthy civil/military relations. It snowballed into the establishment of the Human Rights Desk at the Nigerian Army Headquarters in Abuja to handle any of such breaches or human rights abuses incidental to their operations anywhere in the country. But the unit has been lying idle because there are no such cases anywhere soldiers are deployed on special assignmentsâ€™.
It explains why cynics and the most ardent critics of the President Buhariâ€™s administration agree, even if grudgingly that he has performed splendidly on security. The Nigerian Army under the COAS Gen. Buratai railroaded this accomplishment by reforming the Nigerian Army to act and behave in conformity with professionalism and discipline that the â€œChangeâ€ mantra of the President Buhari administration sermonises.
It is no surprise that analysing an online opinion poll, Nigerians reaffirmed the excellence of the Nigerian Army as the best security agency in the country which gave its heart and soul in the defence of Nigerians, as President Buhari clocks two years in office. More grease to their elbow for their continued support of the administration, as they bask in the euphoria of this public endorsement and approval.
No doubt, Gen. Buratai, remains the hero of heroes and fits into what author Joseph Campbell surmises in these words; “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” That is the portrait of Buratai and with this favourable public rating by Nigerians, it will not be surprising if another country fetes Gen. Buratai with its national military award and honour like Brazil did two weeks ago.
Okpabi, a peace and conflict resolution expert writes from New Nigeria University, Abuja