The Nigerian Army has in the past 10 years, fought to protect the country against the Boko Haram Terrorist group, once rated as the most deadly terrorist group in the world at its peak in 2014. However, the group has been in decline since 2015 and has since splintered into different groups. A recent report shows that there has been a fall in terrorist deaths in recent years, which points to the efforts of the country’s security forces, assisted by international allies towards riding the country of terrorism. The War is far from over, but, the Nigerian Army alongside other security agencies are making concerted efforts towards securing the country’s territorial integrity and flushing out terrorism, banditry, and other forms of violent groups in the country. In this recent interview with African Leadership Magazine UK, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. TY Buratai, talks about the Army’s role in the fight against terrorism, the innovations in the Nigerian Army, amongst other issues.
You have led one of the most ambitious reform processes in the Nigerian Army in recent times. Under your leadership, the Army has recorded many firsts. Tell us more about these reforms and what inspired your choices?
Let me say that we operate in an increasingly complex and ever-changing environment that has brought about many issues that are dynamic and which requires the Nigerian Army to adapt and respond to these challenges. Many of these issues are security-related as have been exemplified by happenings around us. Consequently, I have undertaken a number of sweeping reforms that include the reorganization of the Army and the incorporation of several initiatives. Some of these include the establishment of the 8 Division, NARC, NACWC, AWCN, NAWC, NASFC and Schools among others that are too numerous to mention here.
Under your leadership the Nigerian Army launched the Army Women Corps, which is the first of its kind in West Africa, can you share with us the idea behind the corps?
The NAWC was conceived as an idea to plan, manage and address the challenges associated with the career of the female soldier. The Corps is meant to maximize the benefit of having females and mainstreaming them into Nigerian Army operations and other related activities.
In the long run, I believe it will add value to the constitutional roles of the Nigerian Army now and in the future.
We are also aware of the Nigerian Army’s launch of the Farms and Ranches; can you tell us more about this Unit?
Yes, the NAFRL was established as a commercial entity to run and manage a viable cattle ranch and other agricultural ventures. This is the practice in some other Armies like Bangladesh, China, India, etc. The Army should possess the capacity to contribute its quota to agricultural development in Nigeria just as it is done in other countries.
There have been remarkable achievements in the war against insurgency, which is as a result of the combined efforts of the Army and other security agencies in the country; despite these successes, we still have reported cases of bombing in some areas in the Northeast. How do we find a lasting solution to this issue?
There have been reported cases of isolated bombings in the North East. The lasting solution to this requires an all-inclusive and all society approach to addressing insecurity. The issue of fighting insurgency is not for the Nigerian Army alone or left to other security agencies. Every citizen has an obligation to provide information and be security conscious in order to report and prevent such unusual occurrences from happening.
Some analysts have maintained that sustainable peace in the country can only be achieved through a blend of military and civic engagement; how has the Army thrived in blending these two critical components?
The Nigerian Army has done a lot in terms of creating an avenue to engage with the civil populace. The Nigerian Army has the DCMA that regularly interface with members of the civil society, NGOs, media practitioners and other well-meaning citizens that wish to partner with us. I can say to a very large extent that we have been able to build trust, public confidence and opened our doors to enable military and civil engagement to be enhanced.
Some international organizations and NGOs have repeatedly accused the Nigerian Army of unprofessional conduct and human rights violations in the Country: can you share with us the position of the Nigerian Army regarding these accusations?
The Nigerian Army has zero-tolerance for any unprofessional conduct as well as human rights abuse. The Nigerian Army has the human rights desk under the DCMA, code of conduct for various operations and Rules of Engagements during such operations. These measures are in place to guide NA personnel and regulate their conduct during IS operations. In addition, we have incorporated the teaching of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC) in all our training schools. However, we sometimes get some reported cases of unprofessional conduct which are promptly investigated and any individual found wanting is sanctioned accordingly.
The Nigerian Army has often been accused of covering up casualty figures and presenting half-truths in the war against insurgency, thereby losing the confidence of the masses; how would you react to this?
This is absolutely untrue. Often times when operational engagements occur, it takes some time before results of such engagements can be accurately obtained. For instance, an attack may occur at night and some casualties are recorded, while certain individuals may be MIA. It’s not until first light after exploitation or pursuit before you can accurately account for all personnel in that particular location. Most times, when attacks occur, information filters out and certain sections of the media begin to brandish figures based on false or unconfirmed sources with a view to sensationalizing the story. In addition, we have administrative processes in place to handle such information especially when some personnel have become KIA. We need to inform their NOK and families. A lot of care and circumspection are employed due to the sensitive nature of the information.
We have seen a new wave of commitment towards security studies in conventional universities, with two major universities, naming their centers for security studies after you; how would this help in enriching Nigeria’s security architecture in the long run?
This is indeed a very welcome development and an increasing realization that security is a dedicated field of study to which academic knowledge and research needs to be accorded more attention. These centers would help build capacity and practical experiences of the Nigerian Army as well as enlighten some experts that will be in a position to develop a new generation of scholars with a dedicated bias for understanding and possessing the requisite knowledge of security and its management. I am of the view that this will assist the country in tackling most of the current and emerging security challenges in the long run.
Terrorism has become a major security issue across the continent, how best can we tackle this issue collectively as a continent?
Terrorism is a global and regional menace that has challenged our lives and challenged the security of most nations in the world and Africa in particular. I believe collectively, we can address the challenges posed by domestic and global terrorism by sharing of information, forming of regional alliances, monitoring of our common borders and checking the flow of illicit arms and ammunition; as well as tracking and blocking terrorists financing across the globe. These measures are by no means exhaustive but they require cooperation among countries in Africa to implement in order to check the threat of terrorism on the continent.
In the light of the development in Sudan, what do you see as the role of the Army in the continent’s political space?
The role of the Nigerian Army has not changed and it is to protect the country’s territorial integrity and come in aid of civil authority when the need arises. For Sudan and Nigeria, we have had a long history of military involvement in politics. What I will say is that the Nigerian Army will continue to do everything possible to provide an enabling and secure environment for democracy to grow and thrive in Nigeria. This was professionally demonstrated during the 2019 General elections and the role played by the Nigerian Army was commended by both local and international media and observers.