Whether it is a fact or farce, in time past, Nigerians came to believe every Army personnel is brute, cruel, inhuman, and sadistic and almost like a beast. In Nigeria, they are stereotyped as permeated with the mentality of demigods of this world, who are very ferocious and hardly relate, with civilians on a template of civility and dignity as fellow human beings.
Much of the hatred some Nigerians extended to soldiers before the emergence of the current Chief of Army of Staff (COAS) Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusufu Buratai stemmed from this generalized and thorough misjudgment of Army personnel. But cruelty and inhumanity is not the exclusive reserve of soldiers alone. It is innate in every being and neither is any tribe nor profession most guilty.
Nonetheless, the general exemption to this notion, as applicable to Nigerian Army does not obviate the fact that among soldiers, one is not likely to find some flawed characters.
The COAS, Gen. Buratai resumed duties in 2015 in high spirits. But knew that public image of the Army was unimpressive. He understood that civil/military relations were at its poorest ebb. He stressed the urgency of professionally restructuring and repositioning the Nigerian Army as a disciplined, responsible and responsive institution.
And it takes the kind heart of boss, aligned to such virtues in any system to think of such innovations and reforms of the institution under his purview.
Any boss averse to it, would simply ignore the overt lapses in the system, and further mummify it with his official stamp of recognition and approval. But not with Gen. Buratai because he knew those who populate any institution are their first ambassadors anywhere. And they must be refined and attuned to the positive virtues of humanity.
So, Gen. Buratai did not only wish, but worked to implant his personal positive disposition in the Army. First, as a human being and secondly, as a soldier, whose shadows should reflect in every Army personnel, so long as he remains the Army Chief.
Those who know Gen. Buratai right from his teenage age loudly attests to his open-minded and compassionate nature. They know the Army Chief as humane and passionate about the afflictions and plight of the less privileged.
Anyone can easily touch his soft spot irreversibly, when he extends assistance to the needy or come to the rescue of anyone in a consuming dilemma. He is kind to a fault, humble and amiable. He has grown up with these attributes into his chosen profession, the Army and exhibits it everywhere he has served his country to reach the peak of his career as COAS.
Therefore, in redirecting and refocusing the Nigerian Army along these lines, Gen. Buratai sought to smoothen ties of relationship between civilians and soldiers along his humanism. His preachments to soldiers have always centered on their roles as servants, as against bossy masters to Nigerians.
One can confidently say, the labour of Gen. Buratai these three years in reforming and re-orientating the Nigerian Arm have not been in vain and very beneficial to Nigerians. A few days ago, somewhere in Northeastern Borno state, something striking happened to again confirm the new face of soldiers under Gen. Buratai.
A video which went viral on social media, pictured soldiers assisting returning IDPs with domestic chores to resettle in home they have abandoned for years. The Soldiers in full official regalia were caught on camera by a surprised Nigerian, as they assisted the returnees erect burnt and demolished homes.
These kind and patriotic soldiers also, backed the returnees to secure their lost farmlands. The soldiers were seen helping farmers weed grasses on farmlands for cropping to share in their insurgency afflictions and recovery from terrorism.
Uncommonly, the video showed a lot of love and care to these traumatized Nigerians, who survived the Boko Haram onslaught in the region. The countenance on the faces of the IDP returnees clearly returned affection and a feeling of relief, in obstinate disproval of any other Nigerian who would cast the Nigerian Army negatively.
No doubt, the Army Chief made soldiers to believe they are the protectors of Nigerians; their human rights and dignity as well as the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the nation against aggressors.
He succeeded in creating the consciousness in Army personnel about the necessity to dust their toga of superiority and the near senseless or illegal use of power on civilians.
This mindset informed his establishment of the Human Rights Desk (HRD) at the Army Headquarters (AHQs) Abuja and replicated it in almost all Nigerian Army Divisions. The intention of this functional HRD is to bring closer to the people, avenues to lodge complaints against the excesses of soldiers anywhere in the country.
But aside the HRD, the Army Chief has ensured the enforcement of zero tolerance and professional misconduct from Army personnel, and acts on them, even when they are not officially reported. It was just a matter of days, for the Nigerian Army to identify and arrest two soldiers who allegedly, physically assaulted and brutalized a cripple at New Market Road, Ontisha, in Anambra State in for wearing a military camouflage.
When the video of this despicable act went viral on social media, the suspected soldiers were arrested by their commanding officer on orders of the COAS, charged and disciplined.
And from the first day he began leading the Nigerian Army; Gen. Buratai realized most of their operations on counter-insurgency would involve civilians, who are Nigerians, fraternal kith and kin. He knew they deserved courtesy and honour. With it came the need to revamp and enliven a peoples friendly civil/military department.
Accordingly, he ensured, soldiers deployed to any part of the country on special assignments of peace keeping in troubled areas did not invade villages or communities like thieves at night to cause panic. Leaders of troops were under strict directives to first pay homage to both the traditional and political leaderships of the areas of operations.
Sometimes, he would lead the Army delegation himself and the doors of mutual understanding, trust and confidence will be opened between soldiers and host communities.
Beyond it and for the first time in the history of the Nigerian Army, Gen. Buratai implemented Army’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policy, with projects to host communities of the Army. They came in droves in the areas of water, electricity, roads construction/rehabilitation and free Medicare among others.
Most communities which benefitted from these projects were just temporary hosts of the Army. But the Army Chief discovered they were pathetically assailed by one or several of these basic amenities. Sambisa forest area as well as other parts of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states can boast of Army’s CSR projects in communities even their state governments ignored.
It is same experience in Enugu, Taraba, Benue, Ogun and several other states or regions in Nigeria. Only a humane Army boss, can devout its paltry security votes to service the needs of humanity, which hosts them. It’s indicative of good conscience and compassion from a leader for the less privileged communities in his country.
Nigerians who have observed Gen. Buratai closely over time, have confessed that the COAS is usually disarmed and can forget or even pardon the misdemeanor of a soldier, if he sights him the next minute assisting a needy Nigerian.
His “monitoring spirits” have admitted, this gesture of kindness from his personnel, excites him endlessly. And each time he sights it, he draws nearer to whisper words of encouragement into the ears of the soldier(s). But what Buratai does not condone is professional misconduct or indolence.
By every yardstick, Gen. Buratai passes as a good example of a leader who lives and functions for others. The smiles of everyone around him, gladdens his heart inestimably. It explains why, the Army Chief does not joke with the welfare of troops or Army Personnel by instant payment of salaries and allowances.
Battlefield warfare for troops is his number one agenda. His milk of human or leadership kindness flows from his troops to the people. Soldiers yet to attune to the personage in him, should align fast, because Gen. Buratai is a soldier and leader with many sides.
Ifure, PhD is Director, Research and Documentaion, Centre for Law, Media and Conflict Communication, Abuja.