By Jerry Ochada Ajogwu
Very few great men in history inspire courage, bravery and excellence. When the military profession is pictured, it spurs limitless uncertainty because of the passion of men for distinctive valour. Unarguably, every man does not only admire greatness, but wishes to be remembered by history from generation to generations as having impacted very uniquely in influencing and reshaping history in his clime.
Much as this desire burns unquenchably like the flames of fire in all men, the wisdom, strength and courage to navigate this path of glorious history has eluded most potentially great men and women of promise.
As much as success is envied, the journey is not easy for most men. That is why people, who conquer the odds to ingrain their gold-plated names and portraits in history’s hall of fame, ironically live even after death.
The narrative of Nigeria is one one tale with many sides. Our history is replete with gory and haunting memories of a blessed, richly endowed nation, potentially great, but blighted by its own leaders. As if dragging the nation into the abyss of “debasing rape” is not enough punishment; the powerful and the mighty lords have proceeded to service their egomaniac flairs by lighting conflagrations all over the country, most times, for the fun of it or to destabilize interests they consider hostile.
Those interested in Nigeria’s history, would know that in the last six or so years, very vitriolic terror sects, with alien origins have reduced this once proud and prosperous nation to its shadowy self. From 2010 when Boko Haram terrorism berthed in Northeastern Nigeria, the country ceased to know peace. The wailings, the pains, sorrows and tears of Nigerians, flooded and filled deep tunnels for years. Countless Nigerians in thousands became refugees in their own country.
The powerlessness of government delighted Boko Haram insurgents and the sadists, intensified heinous crimes and atrocities against Nigerians. It also, simultaneously expanded incredible and unimaginable tentacles.
The Nigerian military were left on the tenterhooks battling insurgents or other armed local conflicts and for five years, insurgency rather gained more grounds by capturing 14 LGAs in the Northeast and gaining significant control on several others. Major cities in Nigeria, including the capital city, Abuja were at the mercy of terrorists, who struck recklessly and unimpeded.
Our troops drafted to fight the tormenting terrorists in the country rather bowed to the superiority of insurgents’ weaponry and sheer fire force. The most pungent and disturbing statement of protest from the Nigerian military was the attempted mutiny of soldiers against their commander in Maiduguri, a history quite strange to armies of the world or nations in recent times. But it happened in Nigeria.
Nigerians were under this spell until President Muhammadu Buhari took over the mantle of leadership in May 2015. Insecurity across the country was an issue that consistently invaded his mind and thoughts. Buhari searched inwards and gunned for the best of brains among his Generals in the military to head the different arms of the armed forces.
Thus, a rugged, determined, courageous, disciplined and patriotic soldier, Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusufu Buratai emerged as the Chief of Army Staff (COAS). The President also added another yoke to his duties as the leader of the counter-insurgency operations in Nigeria.
From the outset, Gen. Buratai demonstrated in words and actions that he is a soldier with dignity. He knew that he inherited an army which was deficient in several ways. After touring various military formations across the country and listened to the lamentations of his personnel, he came to the inevitable conclusion that a general overhaul of the Nigerian Army was urgent. Indeed, very urgent, if the war on terrorism must be won. He swung into action, launching far-reaching reforms in the Nigerian Army.
His reforms centered on professionalism, discipline, transparency, loyalty and patriotism in service of the nation. Properly inculcated and indoctrinated in soldiers, it paid off handsomely, who reciprocated in gallantry, as reflected in the decimation and eventual defeat of Boko Haram terrorism.
While General Buratai expected much from his troops, he also knew deep down his heart that there were sacred and inviolable obligations he also owed troops and, prominently, welfare.
A world-class military philosopher, strategist and tactician, knowledge he imbibed from years of silent historical tutelage of great war veterans like German Adolf Hitler and his ardent acolyte, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel of World War II fame. Both reputed for uncanny penetration of enemy camps with troops, Gen. Buratai personally and victoriously danced on the stage of war.
Confidently, Buratai know, quite like Adolf Hitler that “The art of leadership… consists in consolidating the attention of the people against a single adversary and taking care that nothing will split up that attention.”
Therefore, the hesitance of troops, the attempted mutiny on the warfront against terrorists, and the plots to continue and other allied acts of disobedience to military orders ceased. Instead, the spirit of loyalty and patriotism the Army Chief injected in troops through the vital ingredient of welfare dissolved everything and ensured a victorious war.
He applied the Field Marshal, Erwin Rommel’s principle. Rommel was successful in battles by applying the conviction that “Winning the men’s confidence requires much of a commander. He must exercise care and caution, look after his men, live under the same hardships, and-above all, apply self- discipline. But once he has their confidence, his men will follow him through hell and high waters.”
And in retrospect, the Army boss speedily resolved issues of pending and accumulated months of unpaid salaries and allowances of soldiers, especially, troops on the battlefield. He ensured these obligations were met promptly and timely. Food and other supplies which hitherto before his ascension of leadership, were treated like reserved privileges to troops, morphed overnight into the inalienable and respected rights of troops on the warfront.
Back home, the veteran enlisted every family of a soldier on his list of preferential treatment and assumed the status of “father figure” to all. He paid personal attention to all problems affecting families of soldiers and expeditiously resolved them.
Gen. Buratai adopted Rommel’s formula that “War makes extremely heavy demands on the soldier’s strength and nerves. For this reason, make heavy demands on your men in peacetime exercises.” It sounds paradoxical, but in Lieutenant General Buratai’s calculations, this principle worked in catering for families of soldiers and it worked for him.
He became the informal “father figure,” to families of soldiers all over Nigeria, expeditiously treating issues affecting them with disarming dispatch. It endeared and glued him to soldiers in immeasurable ways. So, they retained patriotism, loyalty, commitment and dedication to duty, roaring against Boko Haram terrorists with a supersonic and relentless rage.
By the guiding principle of Rommel, Gen. Buratai also stepped into the trenches with his foot soldiers and also, spared time to personally tutor the Special Strike Force Teams organized for the terrorism onslaught.
And at all instances, Gen. Buratai never distinguished himself as the haughty and class-conscious leader, known to Nigerian vocabulary. He humbled himself, ate the same food and drank the same water supplied to troops in the battlefield.
“Be an example to your men, in your duty and in private life. Never spare yourself, and let the troops see that you do endurance of fatigue and privation. Always be tactful and well-mannered and teach your subordinates to do the same. Avoid excessive sharpness or harshness of voice, which usually indicates the man who has shortcomings of his own to hide,” Rummel’s principle kept guiding his route to success.
Refreshingly, Gen. Buratai has demonstrated his prowess and dexterity in warfare, by justifying that in war situations, every component is vital. So, much as he wields enormous powers, the witty leadership qualities in him gives the same power back to his troops, who dictate the pace and he abides. It is responsible for the boosted morale of soldiers to skyline, ennobling immense appreciation through sustained battle against terrorists. It is his conviction that “the power of a commander’s appreciation of troops welfare, energizes morale, and troops reciprocate in appreciation, compelling the warrior to fights on in exhaustively, ” and like Rommel, echoed, right into the deepest of waters with the Commander. It’s being his coat of success.
Ajogwu is a public affairs commentator based in Abuja.