General Buratai: A profile of the winner of the Colin Powell Meritorious Award for Soldiering of the Decade
“I was with them and my convoy was ambushed by Boko Haram. Instead of withdrawing back to Maiduguri, I said, ‘No! We are in this together, I can’t go back. We must all go together to clear the ambush…So I advanced with them and that was how we cleared the ambush. If the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) does not turn back, who would turn and run from such an ambush? I advanced with the troops and it paid off.”
Lieutenant General Tukur Yusufu Buratai MPhil ,NAM GSS psc(+) ndc (BD) BA (Hons) MA ,Chief of Army Staff of the Nigerian Army
General Buratai is among the few bravest and gallant Army Generals that are in the face of the world. He is in the category of Generals like Zakariya Maimalari, Mohammed Shuwa, Murtala Mohammed and Yakubu Danjuma. These are “standout” military commanders whose battlefield prowess, impact on the conduct of war in their respective eras, or significant contributions to the development of warfare helped create the Nigeria we live in today. Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, a world class Infantry officer assumed command as the 20th Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Nigerian Army on 16 July, 2015. He was born on 24th November 1960, at Buratai town, Biu Local Government Area of Borno State.
Contrary to what some people are peddling in the social media, General Buratai was able to ensure that troop morale is boosted when he decided to lead the war against Boko Haram from the front-line. He did not only relocate the army command center to Maiduguri but he also went there and stayed put. He moved about everywhere in the region: Buni Yadi, Gujba, Chibok, Bama, Ngala, Dikwa, Gaidam, everywhere. Another major thing he did was to ensure that equipment were made available to the army. The next thing that was done by the army high command was to identify and weed out fifth columnists from the army.
But the most important thing General Buratai did was to use guerilla tactics to defeat the terrorists. Hitherto the terrorists thought that the use of guerrilla tactics against the army was their monopoly and therefore their primary means of operation to defeat the army. The broad strategy underlying successful guerrilla warfare is that of protracted harassment accomplished by extremely subtle, flexible tactics designed to wear down the enemy. The time gained is necessary either to develop sufficient military strength to defeat the enemy forces in orthodox battle (as did Mao in China) or to subject the enemy to internal and external military and political pressures sufficient to cause him to seek peace favorable to the guerrillas (as the Algerian guerrillas did to France, the Angolan and Mozambican guerrillas to Portugal, and the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong to the United States). This strategy embodies political, social, economic, and psychological factors to which the military element is often subordinated—without, however, lessening the ultimate importance of the military role.
Perhaps the most important challenge confronting the military commander in fighting guerrillas is the need to modify orthodox battlefield thinking. This was as true in ancient, medieval, and colonial times as it is today. While most of General Buratai’s predecessors failed to take advantage of this counterguerilla warfare strategy, General Buratai made good use of refined and contextualized guerrilla warfare strategy to defeat Boko Haram.
During a courtesy visit to the Government of Oyo State, General Buratai said, “We are using the same guerrilla strategy adopted by the terrorists. We are giving them back their own strategy. We have motorbike battalion which has added more capacity as well as the ability to move quickly to wherever the terrorists are.
“We have intensified a number of actions that will help the troops get to the terrorists before they run out of their hideout or cause any havoc. To totally wipe out Boko Haram, we require the support of everybody. They live among us and are everywhere and we require very good intelligence to fish them out. But the most important thing is to prevent them from having the capacity to launch attacks on innocent individuals and on our troops’ location.”
Despite the successes achieved through gallant missions carried out in Borno and its environs, the Boko Haram terrorist group has retained or regenerated key elements of its capability, including top leadership, operational mid-level lieutenants, and de-facto safe haven in Niger’s border area with Nigeria. This is why they were able to carry out cowardly attacks on soft targets here and there and also make use of innocent girls as suicide bombers. The problem here is that some commentators consider these isolated cases as enough justification to say that Boko Haram is still potent as it used to be before. They go as far as committing the mistake of giving the now vanquished terrorists group some media coverage and attention. This is exactly what the terrorist group is looking for. We must not forget the fact that it takes a simple plan to execute most acts of terrorism especially like the ones conducted by the terrorists.
While it takes a significant population and a considerable industrial and technological base to wage modern conventional warfare, the resources needed for terrorism are paltry. The average Boko Haram terrorist attack or suicide bombing doesn’t cost more than 300,000 Naira to plan and execute. It may be true that Boko Haram is losing followers, but even a small core could still carry out unimaginable atrocities, especially if they managed to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Sooner or later, if the terrorists keep trying, they are likely to succeed. As the saying goes, we have to be lucky every time; they have to be lucky once.
To all this one might object that no matter how “lucky” Boko Haram gets, its ultimate objective—establishing a fundamentalist caliphate to rule over the historic lands of Islam, stretching from Nigeria to Chad, Cameroon and Niger republics—will remain a mad dream.
According to world acclaimed scholar on terrorism, Philip H. Gordon who is a Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution .In his latest book Winning the Right War: The Path to Security for America and the World (Times Books, 2007), Mr. Gordon argued that, “Victory in the war on terror will not mean the end of terrorism, the end of tyranny, or the end of evil, utopian goals that have all been articulated at one time or another. Terrorism, after all (to say nothing of tyranny and evil), has been around for a long time and will never go away entirely. From the Zealots in the first century add to the Red. Brigades, the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Irish Republican Army, the Tamil Tigers, and others in more recent times, terrorism has been a tactic used by the weak in an effort to produce political change. Like violent crime, deadly disease, and other scourges, it can be reduced and contained. But it cannot be totally eliminated.”
This is a critical point, because the goal of ending terrorism entirely is not only unrealistic but also counterproductive—just as is the pursuit of other utopian goals.
Gordon went on to further explain in his book that victory in the war against terrorism, “does not mean the complete elimination of any possible terrorist threat—pursuing that goal will almost certainly lead to more terrorism, not less—but rather the reduction of the risk of terrorism to such a level that it does not significantly affect average citizens’ daily lives, preoccupy their thoughts, or provoke overreaction. At that point, even the terrorists will realize their violence is futile.” Keeping this vision of victory in mind will not only avert considerable pain, expense, and trouble; it will also guide leaders toward the policies that will bring such a victory about.
General Buratai started his primary school in Kaduna and completed it at St Patrick Primary School Maiduguri, and thereafter, proceeded to Government Teachers’ College Potiskum, now in Yobe State, where he completed and subsequently obtained his Teachers’ Grade 2 certificate with flying colors, graduating with distinction. An iconic example of a citizen who places national interest above personal one, whose zeal to serve the nation with his life is inborn. It is this inalienable zeal to serve the nation with his life that made him apply and gain admission into the prestigious Nigerian Defense Academy Kaduna as a member of the 29th Regular Combatant Course (29 RC) on 3rd January 1981. On successful completion of his Officer Cadet training, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant on 17th December 1983 into the Infantry Corps.
He has, since his commission attended several courses and seminars both within and outside Nigeria, and also served in many Formations, Units and Training Institutions where he held Command, Staff and Instructional appointments. These include the mandatory Young Officers’ Course Infantry (YOC) and Anti-Tank Platoon Commanders’ Course both at the Nigerian Army School of Infantry, Jaji. He also attended Watermanship Course at Amphibious Training School, Calabar and Joint Operations Coaching Course, as well as Computer Appreciation Course. He attended the Armed Forces Command and Staff College (AFCSC) for his Junior and Senior Staff Courses in 1994 and 1999-2000 respectively. Similarly, Lieutenant General Buratai also attended Management Course at Ahmadu Bello University Zaria and International Conference for Directors of Planning, Research and Statistics. Others include Disarmament, Demobilization and Re-integration Course at Cornwallis Park, Nova Scotia, Canada in 2000 and National Defense Course in Bangaladesh and the United Nations Staff and Logistics Officers’ Course in India, among others.
Destined for greater heights, General Buratai who exemplifies hard work discipline and obedience, has always earned his promotions as at when due. He was promoted Lieutenant on 3 January 1985, Captain on 3 January 1989 and became a Major on 3 January 1994. He was promoted Lieutenant Colonel on 3 January 1998 and Colonel on 3 January 2004. He became a Brigadier General on 3 January 2009 and promoted Major General on 3 January 2012. The President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, approved his promotion to the rank of a Lieutenant General on Thursday 13th August 2015.
The Chief of Army Staff is a Member of the Historical Society of Nigeria and his hobbies include farming, squash racket and jogging. He is happily married and blessed with children.
General Buratai’s efforts in reinvigorating and revitalizing the Army into a unified potent war machine that was bale to defeat Boko Haram in 2016 and reclaim Nigerian territories from their grip is the reason why he was awarded the Colin Powel Meritorious Award for Soldiering of the Decade by the Northeast Star magazine in collaboration with the Arewa Journalists Forum.