Buratai’s labour of love for Army By Emmanuel Onwubiko

OPINION

The current Chief of Army staff Lieutenant General Yusuf Tukur Buratai will for a very long time to come remain a major factor when the comprehensive history of the Nigeria Army is to be written.

My personal accounts of the person of General Buratai from a close proximity is that he outwardly looks like an officer who is one hundred percent dedicated to his duties even as he has shown indisputable evidence as an officer with 100 percent loyalty to the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria.

Whether for good or bad, the leadership of the current chief of Army staff has become a phenomenal case study. His roles in the war on terror still waging and in the unconstitutional quelling through brute force of the civilian led protests by members of the unarmed but lately proscribed Indigenous people of Biafra (IPOB) particular the circumstances surrounding the attacks on the Umuahia Abia State premises of the leader of IPOB Prince Nnamdi Kanu will for a long time to come remain debatable and highly explosive. The seemingly inefficient fight against armed Fulani herdsmen by soldiers is another source of considerable worry for historians.

From the positive point of view, the Army now has a full department that coordinates relations with the civil society even as the existence of this office has substantially and incrementally resulted in the disappearance of the derogative term in which most military operatives describes the rest of us not adorned with the military uniform: bloody civilian.

This is not to say that the different facets of gross indiscipline amongst the ranks and files within the military institutions have disappeared.

Indeed, there are too many bad eggs working as military operatives who still engage in the dastardly act of inflicting physical and emotional torture on unarmed civilians. In these days of information technology and the social media, there have been cases of clear breaches of Human Rights perpetrated by armed soldiers on entirely unarmed civilians without any form of provocation. A video is trending on Facebook of an armed soldier who violently attacked a commercial driver in a part of North East of Nigeria just because the driver refused to pay bribe demanded by the soldier. From the visuals and the audio that make up this recording the audience can hear a lady in Hausa language begging the soldiers to stop attacking the driver who all the while did or said nothing in return.

The creation of the human rights desk in the military has not done much in inculcating the virtue of respect for the fundamental human rights of Nigerians even though the awareness that defaulters stand extremely high chance of being dealt with if caught engaging in human right abuses may have been created in the media by the public relations departments of the military.

The creation of the department for civil/military relations which is inter-related with the establishment of human rights desks in all major military formations have also come with the increased challenge for the hierarchy of the military to deliberately fast track the period within which civilians or soldiers can initiate petitions and hopefully get these grievances sorted out. This is where the National Human Rights commission and civil society group such as Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria need to double up their oversight advocacy campaigns to sensitize Nigerians on their rights and how to protect them.

The frustration of the current bureaucratic bottlenecks in getting these institutions of opportunities for redress of grievances to function optimally is a major impediment. The army chief needs to match words with action because as they say, action speaks louder than words.

For instance, the recent high profile accusation of collusion with armed hoodlums made against serving soldiers by the erstwhile chief of Army Staff and former Defence Minister Lieutenant General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma (rtd) was not professionally addressed and investigated for weeks.

Against the backdrop of these allegations made by the former military General, the spokesperson of the Defence headquarters immediately rushed to the media to counter and deng without any superior arguments that such negative traits exist in the military. This is a show of shame.

However, few weeks after this hasty denial by the media Director of the Defence headquarters, the Chief of Army staff decided belatedly to set up a panel to investigate these allegations.

This show of passion for professional excellence by the current Chief of Army Staff has however been muddied by the obvious fact that the media spokesman of the Defence headquarters had already taken a position. The initial response by the Public Relations chief of the Defence Headquarters who is a Major General in the Nigeria Army is a gross dereliction of professional duty.

What are now the guarantees and safeguards to assure worried Nigerians in their millions that the internal board of investigators convoked by the chief of Army Staff would be objective and thorough in their search for answers to the accusations of collusion and conspiracy with mass killer herdsmen as made by General Danjuma and attested to by many of the actual survivors of some of these deadly violence?

The above scenario of hasty response followed by the choreographed and sponsored solidarity rally paid for allegedly by the Defence headquarters which brought together roughly one hundred hungry and jobless youth to stage solidarity rally to the Defence headquarters have demonstrated the weakening of professional discipline which the chief of Army staff should endeavor to address and respond to in a very comprehensive way.

If I may ask, what is the motivating factor for this sort of demonstration in support of the military by these civilians who apparently were paid pittance to participate?

Was this rally organized because the accusations made by Lieutenant General T.Y Danjuma are not factual? Can these civilian demonstrators claim to love the military institutions much more than General Danjuma who became who he is now because of the generous professional and career trainings he got from the military institutions in Nigeria?

Can I please seek the indulgence of the Chief of Army Staff to direct his operatives and officers to pick up copies of the book titled: “Issues in the mobilization of public support for military operations in Nigeria” written by erstwhile spokesman of the Defence headquarters, Major General Chris Olukolade (rtd).

From this well researched book, we can learn that the main triggers for public support to be built for the military institutions include but not limited to the human rights record of the country and the military personnel. As I write, both of these records are outrageous and abysmal. This is why serving soldiers must spare time to read this aforementioned book by one of them.

Major General Chris Olukolade also listed other strategic factors to include the state of the nation’s economy; nature of the threat and good governance. These factors as I write are incredibly poor and non-existent.

The economy is porous and ballooning poverty has become the other of the day just as bad governance and lack of accountability and transparency have assumed troubling dimensions in all facets of the governance structures.

Although the prejudicial statement by the current media Director of the Defence headquarters who immediately denied the allegations made by the former Chief of Army Staff will in a very far-reaching extent, harm the credibility of the ongoing investigation put in place by the Chief of Army Staff, it will still be better to capture the undelaying currents and dynamics that gave rise to these allegations.

The investigation by the internal panel should be followed by an entirely independent panel of investigators to be composed by statesmen and women whose have shown undying passion and commitments to the wellbeing of  the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Persons with links to the military who can be bribed must not be included in this investigative panel. This much I can say on this level just before progressing with the rest of this article.

The article about what I consider as labour of love for the military institution by the current Chief of Army Staff cannot be completed without dwelling on the emerging information that the Army Chief has started the implementation of medical tourism for critically wounded soldiers who are affected by the ongoing war on terror in the North East of Nigeria. Information also abound about many wounded soldiers who have been abandoned to face very cruel fate.

Commendable as these gestures are, the graphic picture of wounded soldiers being flown abroad for the much needed medical emergencies also raises certain national security issues of what constitutes sovereignty if the nation lacks facilities in Nigeria to treat wounded soldiers.

For example, how will South Africa look like in the eyes of international community if her wounded soldiers are to be flown to Britain or India for medical emergencies? Have we no sense of National pride?

My readers must appreciate the exact perspective from which my postulation on these medical matters are coming from. I for one, will be the first to applaud any effort put in place to save the precious lives of our gallant soldiers wounded by terrorists.

These immediate steps to fly the wounded soldiers abroad for emergency medical treatments are pragmatically correct; no doubts. But beyond the immediacy of this approach, I am for the sustainable process that would see my country building and maintaining world’s class military medical facilities across the six zones of the geopolitical entity of Nigeria.

A reading of this particular news item on the medical tourism being organized for the wounded soldiers, will provide the needed urgency for all hands to be on deck to ensure that in a very short period of time that Nigeria will establish state of the art military medical hospitals in the six geopolitical zones for Nigeria.

Media has reported that the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, is said to have approved the treatment abroad of wounded soldiers in the northeast counterinsurgency operations against terror group Boko Haram.

The revelation was made by the Acting Chief Medical Officer of 68 Nigerian Army Reference Hospital Yaba, Lagos, Brigadier General Adekola Dada, who explained that the welfare of soldiers fighting in Nigeria’s northeast is important to the authorities of the force.

He said that all personnel of the Nigerian Army wounded in the fight against Boko Haram in the northeast requiring treatment abroad will be quickly flown to India, Egypt or United Kingdom to be properly treated.

The force said it is on the verge of flying seven wounded personnel, who sustained injuries fighting in the northeast, to India for treatment.

Dada stated that General Buratai has approved their movement and that of their medical escorts to India to ensure they get the best treatment.

General Dada said that Army authorities had recently embarked on a remodeling and reconstruction of the 68 Nigerian Army Reference Hospital in Lagos and the 44 NARH in Kaduna to ensure that they get the necessary equipment and atmosphere conducive to treatment of personnel in future.

He said that two phases of the process in the remodeling of the hospital have been completed by the authorities, and that the third phase would soon commence with the remodeling of the administrative block.

He lamented the huge financial burden on the Nigerian Army for medical evacuations, explaining that an evacuation for each personnel could cost as much as $40,000, excluding estacode and funds for the escorts.

General Dada described as unfortunate a recent publication that the force does not cater to its wounded personnel, noting that the Army has engaged private hospitals in Abuja to ensure that personnel who are wounded in battle get the best treatment possible.

I repeat, there is pragmatic value and goodness in granting quick medical evacuations to our wounded soldiers to better and much more efficiently equipped hospitals abroad.

Good and excellent as that gesture of the Chief of Army Staff appears when put side-by-side with the recent mass promotions announced by General Buratai for the soldiers who are engaged in the war on terror, there is the need to adopt a holistic approach to the ways and manners that the war on terror is prosecuted.

However, let me repeat that Nigeria is ripe enough to build, maintain and operate functional reference military medical hospitals in all zones of Nigeria.

In conceptualizing a military budget frameworks, considerations must be given to the urgent need for the country to run efficient military medical facilities which should be upgraded to a level that they will become commercially viable and serve as one local remedy to the problems of capital flights associated with high incidences of foreign medical tourism by government officials and the rich elite. This point was expounded by global scholars such as Aristotle and lately Mr Adam Smith.

Adam Smith was a Scottish economist, philosopher and a moral philosopher who doubles as a pioneer of political economy and a significant figure during the Scottish enlightenment era.

As an accomplished economist, Adam Smith took time to carry out a writing research which also focused on how to effectively fund the military of a nation state.

In his view, “the first duty of the sovereign” is to provide adequate defence, and this should be done from the tax payers’ money.”

Olukolade observed that more recently, Jean Babel informs us that war has remained a persistent feature of human civilization. He notes that: “over the last 51/2 millennium, the planet lived in peace for a mere 292 years. In the long period, there have been 14,500 wars, big and small, that carried off an astronomical 3.64 billion people.”

Olukolade stated that wars, terrorism, insurgency, militancy, riots, and communal clashes today continue to deplete the earth of human beings.

“The end of the cold war in 1989 which was expected to douse the embers of war failed to achieve that hope. With nations still keeping their piles of nuclear war-heads, and more sinister terrorism wreaking havoc on the world, the fears of Kidron and Smith remain valid.

They had asserted that: “The global reach and destructiveness of modern armed forces are such that war and preparations for war have become a source of worldwide insecurity, and not merely its reflection. War, now has the potential not only to determine, but to terminate social and political organizations.”

My last words on this piece- General Buratai should consider delivering legacy projects of successfully completing the remodeling of military medical facilities all over Nigeria so we can treat our soldiers at home and end the shame of military evacuations of wounded soldiers to another nation for treatments which deplete our foreign reserves and increases capital flights and indeed make us look like a Banana Republic.

*Emmanuel Onwubiko is the Head of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and blogs@www.emmanuelonwubiko.comwww.huriwanigeria.com.

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