Lt General Tukur Yusufu Buratai: soldier, farmer, teacher & peace keeper.
He was only five years old when the first Sandhurst-trained and most qualified officer in the Nigerian Army was killed in a coup. At that age, it may not have meant anything to him. But as he grew older, he got to know of it – from fireside stories at home, history classes in secondary school, then in fuller details in the Army where he would have studied, compulsorily, how Brigadier Zakariya Maimalari, a Kanuri like him, influenced and shaped what would become modern Nigerian Army.
In many ways Lt General Tukur Yusufu Buratai, Chief of Army Staff, has been giving a sense of direction to the Nigerian Army ever since he assumed duty as the number one man in 2015. Yes, there have been a few desertion by soldiers. It is to be expected, just as employees resign from companies they are not keen on anymore.
Besides, when such people resign from their places of work, no one thinks of holding the CEOs responsible. And then, for a dozen deserters, there are millions more pledging their allegiance, first to their general or commander, and then to the country itself. That is the situation today in the Nigerian Army with Buratai as leader.
Has he acquitted himself well as COAS these past five years? A resounding yes is the answer.
Like a general worth his pips, he leads by example. In a country where some of those who preceded him can barely touch their toes because of an ample paunch, Buratai has been seen doing push-ups and other exercises that should otherwise strain a man of his age. He is military trim with a disciplined physique suggesting a man of moderate lifestyle despite his deep pocket – a man, you would imagine, not given to excess.
It is no surprise President Muhammadu Buhari, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, has resisted all efforts by some section of the Nigerian people to replace him and other service chiefs. Of course, when Buhari appointed them, he never sought the opinion of Nigerians to do so. Not that he needed to anyway. Such appointments come with merit and competence. Buratai has both which is why today, in the history of the Nigerian military, he is the longest serving COAS even in the ongoing campaign to degrade Boko Haram terrorist group.
True, there have been sporadic attacks by the terror group, mostly in the North-Eastern part of the country. But, according to verifiable reports, they are, in the main, “hit-and-run attacks.”
“From the perspective of someone who was born and raised in the North-East and a media professional who has been able to interact with key stakeholders and the masses in the North-East,” a commentator wrote recently, “there is a consensus in the North-East that General Buratai’s leadership of the Army has been superb although I understand that some people disagree with that. And this minority is gradually becoming very vocal by the day possibly because of the hit-and-run attacks the insurgents were able to carry out.”
The North-East was virtually a playground for Boko Haram insurgents before Buratai took over leadership of the Nigerian Army,: the year before, in 2014, they abducted over 200 female students from Chibok; sacked countless communities and occupied their land; roamed free and made life unlivable in the entire region. But today, it is a different story. How so?
After the revitalization of the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) under Buratai, the army recorded victories by compelling the terror group to cede the occupied territories. Examples abound: The most popular football club in Maiduguri, El-Kanemi Warriors Football Club, returned to their home base in Maiduguri in April 2016, two years after relocating to Katsina State because of the insurgency; in the same year, public secondary schools resumed in Borno State on Monday September 26, 2016, after two years of closure; two emirs, of Askira and Uba, returned to their communities in May 2016 after being chased out of their communities by the terrorists.
Even businesses had a breathing space to operate, namely Arik Air. The airline stopped flights to Maiduguri in 2014 due to the insurgent’s frequent attacks. Arik Air commenced operations in 2017 and they were still on until Covid-19 pandemic halted flights all around the world.
In addition, previously unpassable roads have been reopened by the Nigerian Army under Buratai’s watch: Maiduguri-Gubio and Maiduguri-Monguno Roads reopened in December 2016, after being closed for three years.
And to cap it all, the Army captured Boko Haram’s operational and spiritual headquarters, “Camp Zero,” in Sambisa Forest in December 2016. Following that, the Army conducted its Small Arms Championship from 26th – 31st March 2017, a measure aimed at enabling the Armed forces to dominate the area, and avoid regrouping by the terrorists.
Such has been the successes under Buratai’s command that the Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Bornu State Chapter declared the 2017 Easter Celebrations “as the best and safest since 2009.”
What about more than a million displaced persons who have returned to their homes and communities across the Northeast since 2015? Or the thousands of hostages freed from Boko Haram captivity, including 106 of the Chibok Girls, and 105 of the Dapchi Girls abducted in February 2018?
Nor is the war on terrorism, banditry and cattle-rustling quiet on other fronts. Take the North-West, for instance. In a media chat on 14 September 2020 at Special Army Super Camp 4, Faskari in Katsina state, the COAS extended Exercise Sahel Sanity to the end of the year. Exercise Sahel Sanity began in July and is now to operate till December “to ensure that bandits, kidnappers, cattle rustlers and other criminals are totally defeated.”
At the meeting, Buratai also disclosed that the Nigerian Army has been provided with more equipment and personnel to quickly dispense with the menace of “bandits and their accomplices.”
Born on 29 November 1960 to the family of Alhaji Yusufu and Shatu Buratai, his father was a noncommissioned officer who fought in World War 11. Upon demobilization from the Royal West African Frontier Force, he joined the services of the Northern Region Government and subsequently Ministry of Information where he worked with Alhaji Ibrahim Biu, then Minister of Information under Prime Minister Alhaji Tafawa Balewa.
Local legend has it that Tukur Buratai was born into a lineage of warriors in a town that was undefeated by invaders for much of their existence before the sixteenth century. Biu, for instance, was famous for archers who could direct their arrows to a specific target and not miss. Yamtarawala, a sixteenth century ruler, was one of the town’s brave warriors.
Local lore also has it that it was predicted round about 1557 that another great warrior would be born four hundred years after the death of Yamtarawala. Yamtarawala died in 1560. Exactly four hundred years later in 1960, Tukur Buratai was born, according to Dr. Abubakar Mohammed in his book The Legend of Buratai Volume 1.
Tukur started his primary education at Anguwar Sarkin Musuli Primary School, Kaduna where he stayed for a brief period before relocating to Borno with his father after the creation of the North-Eastern State. He was enrolled into Lamisula Primary School, and later moved to Kirkasama Primary School, all in Maiduguri. Upon the successful completion of his elementary education, he was admitted into Teachers’ College Maiduguri in 1975.
It was while there that he first met with then Colonel Muhammadu Buhari who was at that time the military governor of the North-Eastern State. Their first encounter happened when the military governor went to the school as he usually did to watch the children play football and volleyball. He saw how Tukur was aggressive and domineering in how he played football, and when Tukur went to get the ball after it was kicked out of the pitch to a place near the governor’s car, he told him, “You this boy! What suits you is just the Army.”
But as fate will have it, when the military regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo introduced the Universal Primary Education policy, Tukur and some of his schoolmates were transferred to other schools outside Maiduguri. That was how Tukur found himself in Teacher’s College Potiskum. It was while at TC Potiskum that he met an expatriate teacher from India known as Mr. P.C Sylvester who developed a special interest in him.
It can rightly be said that TC Potiskum was the major defining moment of Tukur’s life for it was while there that Mr. Sylvester began to make it known that Tukur would be a great man. Two of Tukur’s classmates at TC Potiskum, Alhaji Lawan Maina, and Mr. Olabisi Atanda said that Mr. Sylvester used to tell them in class that he would not commence teaching until the great man is present. At such times, they would have to go and look for him to come and join the class because he was a prefect which made him discharge leadership duties out of the class. Tukur graduated from TC Potiskum with flying colors because all his grades were excellent.
He taught for a while in Buratai at the only primary school in the village before joining Borno College of Basic Studies to prepare himself for university education. It was while preparing himself to get a scholarship to join the University of Maiduguri that a friend visited him and told him about the Nigerian Defense Academy aptitude test. There and then, the two friends swung into action to get all the required documents needed, and the following day went to sit for the exams. The result came out, and Tukur was successful but his friend who brought the news to him didn’t.
In January 1981, Buratai attended the Nigerian Defence Academy Kaduna as a member of the 29 Regular Combatant Course (29 RC) where he was given the prestigious appointment of Cadet Sergeant Major (CSM). On successful completion of his Officer Cadet training, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant on 17 December 1983 into the Infantry Corps of the Nigerian Army. Buratai has a degree in History from the University of Maiduguri and a degree in Philosophy from Bangladesh University of Professionals, Dhaka. He is also a graduate of National Defence College (NDC), Mirpur, Bangladesh. He is among the NDC’s Hall of Fame, to be precise, he is fourth on the list.
He served in 26 Amphibious Battalion Elele, Port Harcourt, Military Observer at the United Nations Verification Mission II in Angola; later 26 Guards Battalion, Lagos; Lagos Garrison Command Camp. Lt Gen Buratai also served as administrative officer at the State House, Abuja; 82 Motorized Battalion; 81 Battalion, Bakassi Peninsular; Army Headquarters Garrison, Abuja before he became a Directing Staff at the Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Jaji, earning the prestigious “Pass Staff College Dagger” (psc(+)) appellation.
The COAS also served at AHQ Department of Army Policy and Plans, Abuja; Assistant Chief of Staff Administrative Matters, HQ Infantry Centre Jaji. Additionally, he was again at the Armed Forces Command and Staff College as Director Department of Land Warfare from where he was appointed Commander 2 Brigade, Port Harcourt, doubling as Commander, Sector 2 JTF Operation PULO SHIELD. Upon promotion to the rank of Major General, he was appointed Commandant, Nigerian Army School of Infantry, Jaji; thereafter he was appointed Director of Procurement DHQ before being appointed Force Commander of the newly reconstituted Multinational Joint Task Force (MJTNF) under the auspices of the Lake Chad Basin Commission and Benin Republic, an appointment he held till he became Chief of Army Staff.
While thus engaged, Buratai also took up another profession: farming. It is true that, in retirement, some generals from the northern part of Nigeria turn to farming. Buratai did not wait for retirement to pursue his passion – snake farming. Tukur and Tukur Farm is a solid evidence of years of commitment by Buratai to farming, and he has been handsomely rewarded for his effort.
For decades now, businessmen from Italy and Spain have found their way to the farm for choice snake skins which designers in Europe – Gucci, Hermes, Louis Vuitton and Prada – turn into fancy bags and nifty shoes. Pharmacists from reputable companies follow in their wake to buy snake venom for medical purposes. All of that would make the COAS as rich as Croesus long before he became COAS.
To refer to Buratai as a peace keeper, considering the current war against terrorism, is somewhat oxymoronic. How can a soldier fighting a war become a maker of peace? But then, that is the nature of wars. Lincoln had to fight a civil war for an indivisible American nation. So did the Allied Forces during World War 11 battle Hitler and the Axis powers to make peace in Europe and elsewhere.
Closer home, General Yakubu Gowon prosecuted the Nigeria/ Biafra civil war for peace to reign, at least for the period it lasted. Similarly, the current COAS, by virtue of his position and sworn oath to protect Nigeria, is carrying out a justifiable mission to make the country an indivisible nation.
For that, Buratai has been in the crosshairs of assassins and, perhaps, still is. Thankfully, most of the attempts have failed. Just this week, he recalled an incident when he was first ambushed in the North-East published in Punch newspaper of Tuesday 15 September.
Speaking at Kuta in Osun state where a bridge built by the Nigerian Army Construct Regiment, Ede, was named after him, Buratai recalled that on 18 September 2015, his deputy at the time, Lieutenant General Lamidi Adeosun, saved him in one failed attempt on his life.
“When I had the first ambush, he was with me in the vehicle,” Buratai said. “It was September 18, 2015 and I can see the courage he exhibited…He was able to mobilise the troops to counter the bandits, the terrorists out of the way.”
It takes a certain amount of humility for a superior officer to acknowledge how a subordinate played a crucial role in saving his life. Declaring it in public and not confining it to military records takes a largeness of heart. COAS Buratai has both.