WANTED: A BURATAI IN EVERY SOLDIER

There is no command without leadership
-AVM Umaru rtd

By Jibrin Baba Ndace

Wars and battles have been an integral part of the formation, transformation and evolution of states, empires and kingdoms. From ancient to modern times, wars and battles have been fought, won and lost by outstanding commanders. And either in victory or defeat, their courageous exploits are never diminished by whatever the outcome of operations.

While each battle or war is defined by the milieu or era and technological advancement in which it is fought, the role played by men in leading their empires to victory is indisputable.

From the ancient period, when warriors befriended swords and proved their worth with masterful skills in deploying it as the main weapon of protection or destruction as the case may be, through various
epochs, some individuals have shown uncommon courage, bravery, and earned timeless honour in the service of their nations. These ‘stand outs’ defined each era just as the era defined them.

And each of these eras, from ancient to medieval through the period regarded by military historians as ‘age of professional armies and navies, to the Napoleonic wars, to the period of ‘conquerors and freedom fighters’, to the industrial age and early modern age to World War I, World War II to modern era; have produced ‘stand outs’ who mobilised men and resources in prosecuting various battles.

Each of them, by their conduct, show the centrality of leadership and the intertwining relationship between command and leadership and how
each has come to reinforce the other, invariably distinguishing these timeless heroes from their peers as courageous commanders.

The Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusufu Buratai, is one officer who combines the traits of ancient warriors and modern generals. Even though he is a general commanding in an era when operating in the frontline is a matter of choice, Buratai is leading the battle charge like the ancient generals who led the infantry fighting on horses, camels or elephants with swords, spears, bows and arrows.

Like ancient generals such as Julius Ceasar, Leonidas, Pyrrhus, Alexander the Great and Marcellus, Buratai has no reserve getting involved in the fray of battle. He could sit back in the grandiose of headquarters and dish out bureaucratic orders like a typical Nigerian ‘aristo’ general. But he opted for the trenches regardless of the attendant risks — including flying mortars and bullets.

Buratai proved from the onset of his appointment in 2015 that he had no fears leading the frontline. Given the hopeless situation subsisting in the theatre of War and the lachrymose disposition to the insurgency, before his assumption of duty, he needed to strengthen the resolve and commitment of officers and men against the terrorists.

As one of the pioneer embedded defence correspondents in his convoy, (Mohammed Abdulkadri, NTA Defence Correspondent and his Câmeraman were the other journalists), I was a witness to his style and approach to confronting Boko Haram, which was a well thought-out and deliberate strategy to change what had become a shameful narrative against Nigerian Armed Forces.

He was the last to take over as the service chief, (being on duty in N’Djamena, as commander of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) but the first to hit the frontier of battle in the north-east.
Immediately after taking over as army chief, on Thursday, 16th July, 2015, he left Army Headquarters straight to the airport and flew out to Maiduguri. His first move, was like saying ‘first cut is the deepest’ — he infused courage and military valour which changed magically what had become fleeing troops back to a fighting force.

It is instructive that all far-reaching decisions he took in the early stage as army chief were in the theatre of operation. It was in the north east that he unveiled his vision and mission, which is “to have a professionally responsive Nigerian Army in the discharge of its constitutional roles”. It was in the operational area that he renamed Operation Zaman Lafiya to Operation Lafiya Dole in Konduga. It was in the north east that he announced establishment of Theatre Command of Operation Lafiya Dole among other overt and covert operational strategies. All these decisions were enough ‘excuses’ for any army chief to sit tight at headquarters; but not Buratai.

From the onset, having taken cognizance of the intricate nature of terrorism and insurgency as ‘war among the people’ he adopted a tripartite strategy of being a soldier, diplomat and humanitarian all
rolled into one — by boosting morale of officers and men, wining the trust of the people, and being a caregiver to the victims of the Boko Haram in IDP camps in the combat zone.

The style and the urgency he brought to the operation won him accolades and brought renewed hope among Nigerians. In a letter of commendation entitled ‘Reversal into Triumph’, to Gen. Buratai, dated 23rd September, 2015, former Chief of Army Staff, Major General Mohammed Chris Alli (rtd) wrote: “Without undue eulogy, you pulled the Nigerian Army out of the Boko Haram quagmire…your men have done the nation proud and restored our flagging dignity and integrity. With generals like you, and they are few, you have demonstrated that Nigerian men of arms are capable of achieving great heights, not only globally but also at home”.

While he imbibed the qualities of the ancient generals, he embraced the wisdom of modern commanders — knowing when to lead from the front and when to issue orders from the strategic headquarters. Gen. Buratai’s style fits into William Mclaughlin’s take on best generals: “the best generals were those who know when to lead from an informed and safe position, and when it was time to show the troops that you could fight with them”.

The recent relocation to the north east by the army chief fits into the style he has adopted since 2015, of going to the frontline to boost morale of the troops when the need arises; allowing him to ‘stay on top of situation and rapidly adjusting to any changes that happen in the midst of battle, rather than proceed with old plans that have been overcome by events’.

What is evident since Buratai was appointed army chief is his seasoned, precise, calm and exemplary leadership expected of a general. Indeed, he doesn’t wait for orders. He doesn’t play to the
gallery.

While he allows the strategic commanders and operational leaders to take charge of the operations in the north-east, he visits the combat
zone from time to time to boost the morale of the troops and to close the gap between the strategic headquarters and operational area.

What is obvious is that being a historian, he understands both ancient and modern military strategies and, therefore, taking cognizance of
his challenge, he adopted a hybrid approach which is a combination of ancient and modern military tactics.

This is expected, because unlike the generals of old, who fought conventional battles with limited technological advancement where there were rules of engagement and known enemies, Buratai is fighting unconventional warfare where the enemy is unknown. He is engaged in a conflict military experts call ‘three block war’, where commanders are expected to fight among the people and play the role of fighters, humanitarian providers and peacekeepers all at the same time.

Enamoured by his style, I asked him on one of the trips why he likes to be in the frontline. He told me having studied and taught war himself, he knew when a commander should lead from the front.

He said: “When I took over as Chief of Army Staff, the morale of the troops was at its lowest. I needed to be in the frontline to boost their morale especially in a challenging battle such as the one we are confronted with”.

Unlike the ancient generals and those of the First, Second World Wars and other wars, Buratai is also fighting in the age of social media where there are many battlefronts. While the troops confront criminal non-states actors on the frontline, the army is also confronted with battle on the virtual space which is fuelled by social media insurgents through fake news, misinformation, disinformation all intended to distract commanders as well as troops and entire officers and men.

Buratai has shown in the last four years that he has imbibed values of professional and ethical military leadership, expected of military commander, especially at strategic levels, as espoused by AVM MN Umaru (rtd) in The Journal of Army War College, Nigeria—“values of personal courage, sincerity, wisdom (int), integrity, sacrifice, humaneness, trustworthiness, strictness, and willingness to take difficult decisions and a clear sense of personal responsibility.”

Thus, Buratai has, as necessary, combined ingredients required of commanders — “will power, flexibility of mind, judgment, knowledge and
integrity.

As a philosopher, historian, teacher and practitioner, Buratai has combined the role of tactical commander and ‘combat enabler with policy advisor’. He has also from the onset of his appointment gone beyond the call of duty and presidential directive to move the command and control centre to Maiduguri. This is an order that didn’t include fighting with troops in the
trenches.

Buratai has shown his understanding of military strategy of both Von Clausewitz and Su Tzu in execution of the battle against terrorists and insurgents in the north-east by continuous adaptation to changing environment in the operation.

As one who had the privilege of reporting from the frontline and following the operations from the rear, the battle against Boko Haram has been won many times by our gallant troops, what is left is wining the war. Achieving this requires a holistic approach on the part of the government. As the military embarks on final onslaught on Boko Haram/ISWAP, it is pertinent that lessons learnt from efforts at defeating the group comes to play. It is time to ask the right questions and take appropriate steps.

Above all, Nigeria needs a Buratai in every soldier if not for anything, for the sake of the profession itself. For, before his emergence on the scene, cowardice defined the average Nigerian soldier as the insurgents put the troops on the back foot. But today, the reverse is the case. Winning the war is certainly a matter of time.

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