There is something intriguing about the way some Nigerians spare no efforts and go to all lengths to seek to destroy their true heroes. And though such negative tendencies represent no more than sabre – rattling that most often signify nothing, some in our midst relish running down some of our best, those whose sacrifices have continued to ensure our very survival.
So, when President Muhammadu Buhari shook up the military high command on July 13, 2015, a development that led to the appointment of then Major General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, a distinguished soldier as Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS), and the man hit the ground running, sparing no efforts in seeing to the defeat of the dreaded Boko Haram blood thirsty insurgents and retaking all territory they had brazenly seized in the country, and all within just one year of being the nation’s army boss, we all knew that the beneficiaries and sponsors of the terrorists would also dig deeper in their trenches to run the man down. Just last week, an online medium, Sahara Reporters, wrongly alleged on its website that this ant-terrorism hero, General Buratai and his two wives, are joint owners of a Dubai property that was paid for in one transaction.
In a specific, unambiguous response, the Nigerian Army, through its Acting Director Army Public Relations, Colonel Sani Kukasheka Usman, brought clarity to what is clearly a contrived controversy scripted to serve a specific political agenda. In Colonel Usman’s words: “It is a fact that the Buratai family has two properties in Dubai that were paid for in instalments through personal savings three years ago. These, along with other personal assets have consistently been declared by General Buratai in his Assets Declaration Form as Commander Multinational Joint Task Force and as Chief of Army Staff.” Even General Buratai himself has personally accepted he owns the houses in question and paid for them with his personal savings.
Debunking other components of the media allegation, the Nigerian Army dismissed the Skye Bank angle of the spin. “It is pertinent to state that the Chief of Army Staff does not have any account with Skye Bank as alleged, let alone making deposits in the imaginary bank account to the tune of the amount stated in the write up. Similarly, he has not been involved in any form of shady or dishonest transaction, not to talk of “contract scam”.
It also stated that “General Buratai was never near either Defence Headquarters or Army Headquarters in 2013. It is pertinent to also note that he was never a Director of Procurement in Army Headquarters as alleged. As a matter of fact, the Nigerian Army never had a Directorate of Procurement till he established one last year when he became Chief of Army Staff.”
By immediately conceding what was fact and dismissal of trash, the forthrightness of this reaction ought to have rested the matter. But because a well-funded agenda was afoot, which may also be targeting a bigger political calculation, other regional political voices are being drawn into the din. And strangely, these personalities and organizations are willingly coming aboard and stoking the fire.
Saraharreporters reference to the nation’s army boss as “Buhari’s Chief of Army Staff, General Buratai,” diminishes that national office and was suggestive of mischief dressed up as journalism. The unfolding saga clearly validates the theory that when corruption is confronted, it fights back. The high-intensity, single – minded focus with which President Buhari is combating corruption is obviously forcing a coalition of very corrupt tendencies to gather to fight back.
The speed and efficiency with which General Buratai has dealt with issues touching on national security is indicative of the faith the President reposes in him. As at press time, we are not aware that President Buhari has indicated displeasure with General Buratai over the latter’s professionalism or morality. Recently on the home front, rights activist Barrister Femi Falana and the Yoruba socio-cultural platform, Afenifere, joined the bandwagon calling for the head of the COAS over the Saharareporters hatchet job.
This curious development flies in the face of the fact that the so-called Dubai properties, along with other personal assets of General Buratai, have consistently been declared by him in his Assets Declaration Form as Commander Multinational Joint Task Force and as Chief of Army Staff. They are not secrets. The whole thing makes one think: is our system designed to make public servants perpetually poor, even when they make the extra effort to save their legitimate earnings to prepare for the rainy day? The civil service rules, which also cover the Nigerian military, allow workers to own and operate the business of farming. This, also, is one business General Buratai is known to be engaged in, for years now. He has a snake farm that fetches him reasonable income from the sale of venoms used by the medical and pharmaceutical industry. Obviously, because we have allowed corruption to so deeply permeate our national life, there is the tendency to think that any rich or well-to-do public servant must simply be corrupt.
From what is unfolding, it is clear that a well-coordinated plot by some forces opposed to the highly successful counter-terrorism war in the North East region, to impugn the character of General Buratai is in the offing and is generously funded to sponsor false media stories. It will be recalled that recently, some faceless individuals under the aegis of Concerned Citizens, tried to drag the name and reputation of General Buratai into the fray of the controversial arms procurement deal. That effort failed. They then came up with the current quirky smear campaign of ownership of Dubai properties which has now been clarified both by the COAS himself and the military establishment.
General Buratai, a focused and principled soldier clearly has nothing to hide and leads by personal example which he encourages his subordinates to emulate. He was the first military service chief to declare his assets and asked all officers to do so. This is unprecedented and has no doubt given credence to the government’s anti-corruption crusade. Obviously, this and several other accomplishments are some of the reasons why these faceless detractors want to drag his name to the mud. If ongoing attempts to derail General Buratai’s anti-terror campaign as well as his interventions in widening theatres of ethnic-nationalistic agitations succeeds, it will spell disaster for the nation.
Before his appointment as the Chief of Army Staff, he was the Force Commander of the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF). He had earlier served as Director at the Defence Headquarters, Abuja and also served as the Brigade Commander at 2 Brigade, Nigerian Army Port Harcourt as well as Commander, Joint Task Force, Operation PULO SHIELD. Maj-Gen. Buratai has also served as Commander of the Nigerian Army School of Infantry in Jaji, Kaduna State.
In climes such as ours, there is the natural tendency for Buratai’s record of service and accomplishments to spark deep-seated envy, especially in military circles. But those who are desperate to head the Nigerian army need not destroy the incumbent to get what they want.
And whereas we all have a responsibility to hold to account those of us in positions of responsibility, we equally have a duty to defend them when they are being unduly targeted and persecuted.
— Gaya, Vice President, Nigerian Guild of Editors, wrote from Abuja