Ambassador TY Buratai at 61: An embodiment of a patriotic Nigerian, soldier, farmer, teacher, peacekeeper, and diplomat.
By Abubakar Sani
It has been less than a year since retired Lt. General TY Buratai left the Nigerian Army, a constituency he loved so much that he served with passion and loyalty to the Army and country.
His historic accomplishments are still visible to all: the various infrastructure upgrades he cited around the country, the Ezeugwu MRAP1 and 2 war machines, combat preparedness, novel tactics and exercises, and special attention to personnel welfare.
He may not have accomplished everything he hoped and planned to do as Army Chief, the most important of which was the absolute defeat and annihilation of all groups of Boko Haram terrorists. But it is undeniable that the Nigerian Army, headed by this valiant infantry general, defeated and annihilated Boko Haram terrorists in 2016, but the rebels, fearing danger, fled to meet the late Abu al Baghdadi and pledged their allegiance. That’s how the ISWAP faction got its start.
When the first Sandhurst-trained and most qualified officer in the Nigerian Army was assassinated in a coup, he was just five years old. It may not have meant anything to him at the time. But as he grew older, he learned about it – through fireside stories at home, history classes in secondary school, and then in greater depth in the Army, where he would have studied, compulsorily, how Brigadier Zakariya Maimalari, a Kanuri like him, influenced and shaped what would become the modern Nigerian Army.
Lt General Tukur Yusufu Buratai (Rtd) former Chief of Army Staff, has given the Nigerian Army a sense of direction in numerous ways since assuming service as the number one officer in 2015. Yes, there have been a few cases of soldiers deserting. It is to be expected, just as people quit organizations they no longer want to work for.
Furthermore, when such employees depart from their jobs, no one thinks about holding the CEOs accountable. And for every dissenter, there are millions more who pledge their allegiance, first to their general or leader, and then to the country itself. That is the scenario in the Nigerian Army when Buratai was leading.
Has he performed admirably as COAS during his tenure in office? The answer is a resounding yes.
He led by example, as befits a general worth his pips. Buratai has been observed doing push-ups and other workouts that would normally strain a man his age in a country where some of those who came before him could not touch their toes due to an excessive paunch.
He is military trim, with a controlled body that suggests a guy of modest living despite his large bank account – a man, you would think, not given to excess.
It comes as no surprise that President Muhammadu Buhari, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, has withstood all attempts by some sections of the Nigerian people to replace him and other military commanders. Of course, when Buhari appointed them, he never asked Nigerians’ approval.
He didn’t need to anyway. Such appointments are based on merit and skill. Buratai possesses both, which is why he is the longest-serving COAS in Nigerian military history, despite the ongoing effort to degrade the terrorist group Boko Haram.
True, the terror group has carried out rare strikes, primarily in the country’s northeast. However, according to reliable accounts, they are mostly “hit-and-run attacks under Buratai.”
“From the perspective of someone who was born and raised in the North-East and a media professional who has had the opportunity to interact with key stakeholders and the masses in the North-East,” a commentator recently wrote, “there is a consensus in the North-East that General Buratai’s leadership of the Army has been superb, though I understand that some people disagree.” And this minority is getting increasingly vociferous by the day, maybe as a result of the insurgents’ ability to carry out hit-and-run attacks.”
Before Buratai took over the leadership of the Nigerian Army, the North-East was essentially a playground for Boko Haram insurgents: 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. Today, though, is a different story. In what way?
Following the reactivation of the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) under Buratai, the army achieved gains by persuading the terror group to relinquish the held regions. There are numerous examples: 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 due to the insurgency; in the same year, public secondary schools in Borno State resumed on Monday, September 26, 2016, after two years of closure; and two emirs, of Askira and Uba, returned to their communities in May 2016 after being chased out by terrorists.
Arik Air, for example, has a breathing area in which to operate. Due to the insurgents’ regular strikes, the airline suspended flights to Maiduguri in 2014. Arik Air began operations in 2017 and remained operational until the Covid-19 outbreak grounded flights worldwide.
Furthermore, formerly impassable highways have been reopened by the Nigerian Army under Buratai’s supervision: the Maiduguri-Gubio and Maiduguri-Monguno Roads were reopened in December 2016 after being blocked for three years.
To top it all off, in December 2016, the Army took Boko Haram’s operational and spiritual headquarters, “Camp Zero,” in Sambisa Forest. Following that, the Army held its Small Arms Championship from March 26th to March 31st, 2017, with the goal of allowing the Armed Forces to dominate the area and prevent terrorists from regrouping.
Buratai’s command has been so successful that the Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Bornu State Chapter hailed the 2017 Easter Celebrations “the best and safest since 2009.”
What about the over a million people who have returned to their homes and towns in the Northeast since 2015? Or the thousands of captives liberated from the clutches of Boko Haram, including 106 of the Chibok Girls and 105 of the Dapchi Girls kidnapped in February 2018?
On other fronts, the war on terrorism, banditry, and cattle rustling is far from peaceful. Take, for example, the North-West. The COAS extended Exercise Sahel Sanity till the end of the year during a press conference on 14 September 2020 at Special Army Super Camp 4, Faskari in Katsina state. Exercise Sahel Sanity began in July and will continue through December to “guarantee that bandits, kidnappers, cattle rustlers, and other criminals are completely vanquished.”
His father, a noncommissioned officer who served in World War 11, was born on November 29, 1960, to Alhaji Yusufu and Shatu Buratai. After being demobilized from the Royal West African Frontier Force, he joined the Northern Region Government and later the Ministry of Information, where he worked with Alhaji Ibrahim Biu, then Minister of Information under Prime Minister Alhaji Tafawa Balewa.
According to local mythology, Tukur Buratai was born into a military family in a town that had been unchallenged by invaders for much of its history prior to the sixteenth century. Biu, for example, was known for archers who could guide their arrows to a specific target and never miss. Yamtarawala, a sixteenth-century king, was one of the strong soldiers of the town.
According to local legend, it was predicted in 1557 that another great warrior would be born four hundred years after Yamtarawala’s death. Yamtarawala passed away in 1560. Tukur Buratai was born four hundred years later, in 1960, according to The Legend of Buratai Volume 1.
Tukur began his primary education at Anguwar Sarkin Musuli Primary School in Kaduna, where he lived for a short time before moving to Borno with his father following the establishment of the North-Eastern State. He attended Lamisula Primary School before transferring to Kirkasama Primary School in Maiduguri. In 1975, after completing his basic school, he was enrolled at Teachers’ College Maiduguri.
While there, he met with then-Colonel Muhammadu Buhari, who was the military governor of the North-Eastern State at the time. Their first meeting occurred when the military governor went to the school to observe the children play football and volleyball, as he did on a regular basis. He observed Tukur’s violent and demanding style of play, and when Tukur attempted to retrieve the ball after it had been kicked out of the pitch and to a location near the governor’s car, he admonished him, “You this boy! It’s just the Army that suits you.”
But, as fate would have it, when General Olusegun Obasanjo’s military dictatorship implemented the Universal Primary Education policy, Tukur and other of his classmates were transferred to different schools outside of Maiduguri. Tukur ended up at Teacher’s College Potiskum as a result of this. While at TC Potiskum, he encountered an expatriate Indian teacher named Mr P.C Sylvester, who took a special interest in him.
It is correct to say that Tukur’s life was shaped by his time at TC Potiskum because Mr Sylvester began to show Tukur that he would be a wonderful man while he was there. Mr Sylvester used to inform Tukur’s classmates at TC Potiskum, Alhaji Lawan Maina and Mr Olabisi Atanda, in class that he would not begin teaching until the great man was present. They would have to go find for him to come and attend the class at such times because he was a prefect, which required him to discharge leadership.
It is correct to say that Tukur’s life was shaped by his time at TC Potiskum because Mr Sylvester began to show Tukur that he would be a wonderful man while he was there. Mr Sylvester used to inform Tukur’s classmates at TC Potiskum, Alhaji Lawan Maina and Mr Olabisi Atanda, in class that he would not begin teaching until the great man was present. They would have to go look for him to come and join the class at such times because he was a prefect, which required him to execute leadership obligations outside of the classroom. Tukur graduated from TC Potiskum with honours because all of his grades were A+.
He taught at the village’s lone primary school for a time before enrolling at Borno College of Basic Studies to prepare for university studies. While preparing for a scholarship to attend the University of Maiduguri, a friend dropped by and told him about the Nigerian Defense Academy aptitude test. The two buddies jumped into action right away to get all of the necessary documents, and the next day they went to sit for the examinations. Tukur was successful as a result of the outcome, but his friend who delivered the news to him was not.
Buratai joined the Nigerian Defence Academy Kaduna in January 1981 as a member of the 29 Regular Combatant Course (29 RC), where he was appointed Cadet Sergeant Major (CSM). On 17 December 1983, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant into the Nigerian Army’s Infantry Corps after successfully completing his Officer Cadet Course. Buratai holds a history degree from the University of Maiduguri and a philosophy degree from the Bangladesh University of Professionals in Dhaka. He also attended the National Defence College (NDC) in Mirpur, Bangladesh. He is a member of the NDC Hall of Fame, ranking fourth on the list.
He served in the 26 Amphibious Battalion Elele, Port Harcourt, as a Military Observer at the United Nations Verification Mission II in Angola, and afterwards in the 26 Guards Battalion, Lagos, as a member of the Lagos Garrison Command Camp. Lt Gen Buratai also worked as an administrative officer at the State House in Abuja, the 82nd Motorized Battalion, the 81st Bakassi Peninsular Battalion, and the Army Headquarters Garrison in Abuja before becoming a Directing Staff at the Armed Forces Command and Staff College in Jaji, where he earned the prestigious “Pass Staff College Dagger” (psc(+)) designation.
The COAS has also held positions at the AHQ Department of Army Policy and Plans in Abuja, as well as Assistant Chief of Staff Administrative Matters at HQ Infantry Centre Jaji. In addition, he returned to the Armed Forces Command and Staff College as Director Department of Land Warfare, from which he was appointed Commander 2 Brigade, Port Harcourt, as well as Sector 2 JTF Operation PULO SHIELD Commander. Following his promotion to Major General, he was appointed Commandant of the Nigerian Army School of Infantry, Jaji; he was then 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 the Benin Republic, a position he held until becoming Chief of Army Staff.
While working in this capacity, Buratai also pursued another career: farming. It is true that some retired generals from Nigeria’s northern region shift to farming. Buratai didn’t wait until he was retired to pursue his passion: snake farming. Tukur and Tukur Farm are solid evidence of Buratai’s years of dedication to farming, and he has been richly rewarded for his efforts.
For decades, businesspeople from Italy and Spain have made their way to the farm in search of fine snake skins, which European designers — Gucci, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, and Prada – make into exquisite bags and cool shoes. Pharmacists from respected companies quickly follow in their footsteps, purchasing snake venom for medical purposes. All of this would have made the COAS as wealthy as Croesus before he became COAS.
Given the ongoing war on terrorism, referring to Buratai as a peacekeeper is fairly oxymoronic. How can a soldier fighting a battle become a peacemaker? That is, after all, the nature of conflicts. Lincoln was forced to fight a civil war for the sake of an indivisible American nation. Similarly, during World War 11, the Allies fought Hitler and the Axis powers to bring peace to Europe and elsewhere.
Rotimi Johnson of the Vanguard Newspaper wrote an interesting piece on the 18th August 2021 of which I will share excerpts with the reader:
“Nigerians who know the worth and treasures in Gen. Buratai applauded his diplomatic sojourn to the Benin Republic jubilantly. The timing is also auspicious. Due to sustained pressures, the Federal Government of Nigeria reopened its closed borders in December 2020, after it nearly broke international relations between the two countries. By implication, while Government is desirous to encourage legitimate or authentic trans-border trade and commerce, it must also necessarily confine the operations within the prisms of approved international laws. Consequently, Amb. Buratai’s first duty or challenge in this direction is how to renew the broken trade relations between Nigeria and Benin in terms profitable to both countries, in accordance with prescriptions of the ECOWAS Protocols. No magic can work better, rather than diplomatic engagements, which Amb. Buratai is poised to vigorously pursue. Again, Amb. Buratai has started working round the clock to promote national security through the Nigeria/Benin border. Topmost on his agenda is how to curb the smuggling of arms and other dangerous weapons into Nigeria through the Benin border. It is a germane issue and uppermost on the minds of Nigerians. His initial steps are commendable in less than two months in office.
“Amb. Buratai has also engaged the Government of the Benin Republic on ways to curb the large scale smuggling of goods into the country. It is a practice orchestrated by economic wolves and saboteurs’ which has deprived Nigeria of critical revenue in billions of naira annually for the development of public infrastructure. With these loopholes blocked, it would open the sure path to a greater and more rapid development of Nigeria under the Buhari Presidency. Individuals engaged in the business of importation will also have robust transactions in a competitive and protected environment.”
Excellency, may God continue to guide and protect you on this special day of your 61st birthday. May Allah make His face shine on you so that you will never feel sorrow. May every day of this new year bring you joy and provide you with reasons to be thankful. You will continue to age gracefully and with strength.
Our dear General, happy birthday!