God, professionalism ,devotion to Nigeria helped my military career – Ambassador Buratai

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Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, rtd, .Ambassador of Nigeria to Benin Republic speaks extensively on some aspects of his private life, how he found himself in the Nigerian army.

His Z a been a life of passionate service , laced with sacrifice for the common good of Nigeria .

His dreams from childhood had always woven around the drive to add value to his environment. This explains why as a young boy on the streets of Buratai village in his Biu local government area, Borno state his first job ever was mentoring young children in a primary school

He said before the opportunity came to join the army he had settled for the classroom as a primary school teacher . Buratai bares it all in this personality interview.

As he spoke, occasionally he would wink at this reporter with a bright smile on his face, an unconscious act revealing the gold like nature of his innermost being.

Our path crossed when he was Brigade Commander of the former 2 Brigade , Port Harcourt , now in Uyo, Akwa Ibom state. And since then we have maintained a very robust relationship, even while he was Chief of Army Staff.

When I initiated move for a personality interview, I had expected he would ask me to meet him in Abuja but , the order, in the usual military manner came, ” come to the Embassy in Cotonou on Sunday”.

I fetched my passport and saw that I could make it on that Sunday. Quickly I left my Warri base in Delta state ahead of the Sunday to Lagos to tidy up things. By noon hours of that Sunday I was at the Nigeria Embassy house in Cotonou, Benin Republic.

One of his aides who had been briefed on my coming later arranged for me to be chauffeur driven to a hotel barely a kilometer from the Embassy. I gathered a former President of the country lives in the same hood.

Language barrier

The hotel in their tradition demanded for my valid identity card before I was checked into a room. Minutes after I settled down, I wanted a cup of coffee and lunch. I dialed the numbers provided beside the intercom and language barrier started. I spoke English and the receiver responded in french language. I had to drop the call.It dawned on me that I will depend on google for communication in the hotel.

To save me from loosing so much of my data to roaming the hotel had connected all my device to WiFi so I hit google. I typed French word for lunch and coffee, they came up..And I called back, read all I saw on google. At least we started talking. She noticed my accent was poor but she understood me . Most of what she said after confirming I wanted coffee and lunch, I didn’t get.

Minutes later coffee was delivered to my room. The only English word the guy who came to deliver it could mutter was , “finish”. Whenever he came to my room before leaving , he would raise his two hands up and say “finish”. And I would say merci. Whenever I did , the guy would just smile before walking out. It was fun, google was really helpful in most of our interactions..

Meeting with the Ambassador

At about 7pm.the same vehicle came to pick me to the Embassy to meet the Ambassador. Decked in a well tailored traditional Hausa outfit and a cap to match he motioned me to a seat in his office.

In his usual hospitable manner, he asked ” hope you enjoyed your meal. Am sure rice may be the few things on the menu you will be relaxed with “, I nodded. He called for coffee. And another special tea made in northern part of Nigeria was added to the tray ” You will like this when mixed with your coffee. It’s a product that will soon hit the market in Nigeria “,.he said..As we did coffee , his aide took some snap shots. He knew I would need them .

Finally, we settled down for the business of the day.
At the end, we.delved into a review of a statement he had released some days before, advising Nigerian youths to shun temptations to indulge in acts of violence before and during the coming general elections .

He said he chose Benin Republic for the interview and on a Sunday because he wanted a relaxed atmosphere.

Excerpt:

You occupy a very prominent space in the story of Nigeria Army. Let’s see how it started.

ANSWER: As a Muslim who believes in destiny and the power of the Almighty to decide the fate of anyone, I will start by saying Alhamdulillahi (Thanks and glory be to Allah). I remember with nostalgia how a friend of mine came to meet me and informed me about the Nigerian Defense Academy (NDA) in 1980. It was a day to the entrance exams so I was among the last batch of applicants to hear and apply for the NDA.

To cut a long story short, my friend who brought the news to me couldn’t make it when the results were released but I was lucky I got shortlisted, attended the Academy and commissioned in December 1983.

If there was anything that helped me in the Army, I would say it is my absolute faith in God, diligence, professionalism, training, personal development and devotion to Nigeria.

The Army was more than just a profession to me; it was my family and I gave it all my best. I took everyone in the Army regardless of where the soldier or officer hailed from as my family. I put in every effort to build a track record characterized by courage, honesty, loyalty, professionalism and patriotism. Wherever I served I tried to put in my best. I also tried to identify people with prospects, people who were diligent and highly skillful in what they did.

I gave such kind of people responsibilities and as they delivered; I gave them more responsibilities. I don’t like mediocrity or slackness in duty. It was in the course of performing my duties as I know best that President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR identified and appointed me as the 20th Chief of Army Staff of the Nigerian Army. Not only that, God gave me the opportunity to serve for sixty-months which is roughly about six years or so. I think it is natural for one to become an authority in a profession that he or she served for about forty years.

You said I occupy a very prominent space in the Nigerian Army, and you’re right. A lot of people also said so. I think it is because of my inherent ability to mentor others and give them the opportunity to excel. Before I joined the Army I was a teacher and you know what that means.

What influenced you to join the army as a young youth?

ANSWER: It’s public knowledge that my late father, Baba Yusufu Buratai was a World War veteran so I am not new to the army. The fact that my father was a soldier influenced me to join the army although there was never a time my father told me to join the army. In fact, it was after my name was shortlisted after the entrance exams that I informed him about my decision to join the army.

Nevertheless I believe that the kind of discipline, orderliness and courage I saw in him made me to respect the army. But I think, naturally, I am a person who likes challenges, adventure and taking risks. I also wanted to identify with Nigeria, to do something great for Nigeria. The army provided me with that opportunity.

What else was your alternative if you had not joined the army and why?

ANSWER: I was a teacher; I got trained at the Teachers’ College, Potiskum. I taught for a while in Buratai before I joined Borno College of Basic Studies as a gateway to get admitted into the university. So, who knows, I could have ended up as a teacher or a university lecturer. Life is like a journey to a country that one has never been to before, so you keep on moving no matter what, and God will be bringing surprises to you.

I had several encouraging encounters with my teachers .

Teaching is a noble profession, you impact knowledge to better citizens. . I felt it was a profession I should pursue.

Interestingly while in the army, I found myself teaching at some point. One of the assessment criteria of officers in the military , is that you are expected to be exposed to various areas of command, instructional and staff .I found myself as a directing staff in the Armed Forces Command and Staff College JaJi.

You cannot go back to teach or instruct in the military institution if your performance is not above average. Through hard work I got the very good scores that got me to be invited back to the college to teach at the armed forces.

And that really helped me. That period I stayed as a directing staff, almost three years, I came to know so many officers . And some I really worked with as Chief of Army Staff .

I came back as a Director at a time again to the Department of Land warfare in the armed forces command and staff college, there I met a lot of officers in the army. And when I became Chief of Army Staff, it was easy to relate with them in that category.

Many of them are still in service . I look forward to a robust hardworking and professional military officers.

It was after my stay in the staff college as a director from there I went to Port Harcourt as a Brigade commander. I came back again to JaJi again this time to the Nigerian Army school of infantry . I presided over the school, directed, and administered and run courses for officers and soldiers.

Interestingly because of my flare for teaching those period I was in the schools , colleges, it was full of dynamism, activities, initiative, vibrancy , achieving result, keeping the students in sound and conducive environment to learn.

That is why when I was Chief of Army Staff, I still continued to mentor. As a commander you must know that it is one thing to pass a directive it is another thing for the recipient to understand the statement as a directive, understand the content.

If he understands the content it is good. But if he does not understand, he cannot execute that directive . This is why there is need to follow up on directives to ensure it is executed properly. If you assessed somebody more than two times and you are satisfied , you begin to give the officer or commander the latitude to exhibit his own initiative and capacity to achieve results.

I see this in all my officers, especially the present Chief.of army Staff, Lieutenant General Faruk Yahaya. He notes every details , he understand every instructions and follow it up even the Chief of Defence Staff. It’s a good development.

In terms of academic environment as luck will have it and designed by the almighty God after being commissioned I went to the University of Maiduguri and got a Masters and first degree there. I got another masters at Bangladesh there also. The studies further broaden my horizon, knowledge of life better.

I brought all these knowledge gained into my military operations. I am happy with the recognitions so far from several universities.

Kaduna state University gave me a honorary doctorate degree, Igbinedion university , Okada , Edo state , gave me Professor at large. In Adamawa Modibu university , Yola, also ecognised me. I even gave the convocation lecture. About three weeks ago I was at the national defence college where I gave lecture on strategic leadership

While in service I was called at the African centre in Washington, I gave talk. I was invited twice at the Royal United servicing institute in UK, London where I delivered lectures. I was in Rwanda to discuss issues with the defence services command and staff college. I look forward to more academic engagement.

I have three centres named after me , one in Igbinedion University, Tukur Buratai centre for contemporary security affairs . At the Nigerian army University Biu, there is the Tukur Buratai institute for war and peace. And at the Ebonyi state university, i have a centre for security studies .I am also establishing my centre, Tukur Buratai research centre

So, I am trying to tell you that there are other things I could have done with my life apart from the army that I might not even know. For example, apart from teaching, I also like farming and sports. Also, don’t forget that I am now a diplomat. Destiny has a lot to play in one’s life. It is good to have a plan but at the end it is what God destined that is going to happen.

No doubt you enjoy a sense of fulfilment after a successful military career. Let’s hear how you feel in retirement now.

ANSWER: My number one and primary constituency is Nigeria, and as I have told you earlier, I have served this country as an army officer and chief of army staff to the best of my ability. I may not have achieved all my objectives and targets for the Nigerian Army but Nigerians know that I left it far better than I met it.

There is no area or facet of the Nigerian Army that our leadership has not touched and transformed. Is it troops’ welfare or training and re-training? Is it infrastructural and manpower development or safeguarding the democratic institution of our country? Is it the counter-insurgency operations against insurgents, terrorists and other criminal gangs? Name it.

We crushed Boko Haram in less than two years but they got international support from al-Baghadadi and formed ISWAP after that; we did our best. So I have no regrets whatsoever. I am thankful to God for the opportunity to serve, and the guidance He gave me to serve meritoriously. Most of the crop of leaders we have in the army today received some form of mentorship and leadership training from me, and they are all doing well today.

Also, when I thought I will just be confined to my farm in retirement, God willed otherwise. The President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, decided to appoint me and my colleagues as non-career ambassadors. So I am enjoying my retirement although you must know that we were retired but not tired. We will continue to serve this country in whatever capacity God gives.

On a lighter note, do you cook? Was there any time in your career you made meals yourself?

ANSWER:

(Laughs) Hahaha! Of course I know how to cook. I learned how to survive on my own at a very early stage in my life so cooking is one of those things I learned early. But to be frank, I no longer cook these days but I cooked in my early days as a junior officer. You know I was posted to Rivers State after my commissioning in 1983 so I have to cook on my own before I got married and got settled.

What kind of meal can you make with much ease?

ANSWER: Well! I like traditional or local dishes a lot. I like tuwon shinkafa and okro or baobab soup. I also like fruit salad and tea.

What kind of music appeal to you?

ANSWER: Music of the 70s and 80s. I still listen to country music Don Williams and Kerry Refters and so on. I also listen to contemporary Nigerian music.

Your Excellency Sir, we are in an age when there is so much desperation on the path of many young ones to make money without any history of hard work, Some are into rituals, there is the Yahoo economy angle and all that. Is there any story you will like to share with them possibly to change their perception that hard work doesn’t pay anymore?

ANSWER: You are right; the youth of nowadays is in a hurry to make it in life because we live in a digital age that is characterized by speed. At times I get flabbergasted by the kind of success some young people achieve at a very tender age of say 27 or at the most 30;success without hard work, without diligence and excellence.

I hear a lot of people argue that joblessness is the cause of this get rich quick syndrome but I beg to disagree. There are a lot of Nigerian youths who are doing their best to survive with menial jobs or as tailors, mechanics and carpenters. They worked for what they have, and there is nothing you can do to convince them to go into money rituals or the yahoo yahoo thing.

So, by and large, I think it has to do with our collective value system as a people. When we were growing up, our elders made us understand that honesty, hard work and patience pays at the end but today the society considers any young man without money or a big car and houses a failure. Thus, you see young people who are gainfully employed trying to leave above their means.

Also, the issue of peer group is another factor; most youths want to belong, to fit into a particular group, they want to impress others and violate their principles and honor. Anyway, some of them don’t even have principles; that is why it is easy to use movies to influence them.My advice to today’s youth is embrace excellence, diligence, hard work and patience.

He or she must strive to develop a reputation for excellence because there is nothing that succeeds like excellence. There is a limit that instant riches or favor and connections can take you to but if you become excellent through diligence in whatever you do, the sky will be your limit.

And riches and fame will come your way. It doesn’t matter the kind of legitimate trade or profession you are into; so long as you discharge your duty with excellence and diligence, you will succeed. So young people must respect their elders, especially their parents, shun drug abuse, respect constituted authority and pursue excellence. That is the best way to succeed in life.

The camera caught you several times smiling when you were in active service, was it part of your tactic as a military General to disarm or douse tension?

ANSWER: Is that so? Well I think this is how I am. It is better to smile to people than to frown one’s face. When you smile, you make others to be at ease, it also makes one to be at ease and make better decisions. I also believe that it makes you to be a good communicator because I have discovered that people are more receptive to a person who smiles when speaking although there are times one has to look serious.

Was there any decision you consider toughest you took in your military career, looking back now sir?

ANSWER: I took many tough decisions when I served this country as Army Chief; very, very many tough decisions that had to do with life and death or the career of soldiers and officers. But as you might be aware, these things are classified and I don’t have permission to speak openly about them.

You said your father was a war veteran , your readers may want to see more on this

Ok . He was a soldier in the colonial army in the second world war. He fought alongside the British army. They went through the India sub continent then. They went through the present day Bangladesh.

After he was discharged he later worked n the country, then in the northern Nigeria government when he came back. When the north east was created he moved there and he retired from there .

he was widely travelled.

I had the opportunity of going with my father to see some.of the scenes in Bangladesh when I was at the Bangladesh defence college

What is your game or sports?

ANSWER: I like track events. I am still proud of my NUGA 90 silver medal in 400m Relay. I ran for University of Maiduguri. I also enjoy playing chess, golf and badminton .

Is politics on the table now that you are retired?

ANSWER: Time will tell. There is this cliché that says, “Never say never,” so I can’t say anything about that. As I told you earlier, I never knew that I will be serving this country as an ambassador but here I am serving Nigeria as an ambassador. So the main issue is service to humanity, to Nigerians but for now I am not a politician.

General sir, you may now speak on any subject of interest to you for this interview.

ANSWER: I don’t have much to say except to admonish Nigerians to tread the path of peace. This is the only country we have so we must all play our parts well to see that peace is sustained across the country.

It is high time we started to see ourselves as Nigerians, as people of one destiny on a common mission. What we need is more justice and equity; there is enough for everyone to be comfortable

Nice talking to you sir.

You are welcome.

Source: Vanguard

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