As the Muslim faithful worldwide marked the end of Ramadan fast, two warriors in different parts of the world sent a clear message to terrorists across the globe that humanity will not be cowed by those who pervert Islam, killing in the name of the faith for which millions observed Eid prayers at end of the holy month.
In Pakistan, Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif spent Eid day with the troops in the frontline of North and South Waziristan, offered his Eid prayers at Shawal and later visited troops in other areas. Prior to Sharif’s visit to troops, his Nigerian counterpart, Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Tukur Buratai broke the Ramadan fast with troops of 103 Battalion at their trenches in Konduga, Borno state on Monday, July 4.
As part of his operational visits to formations and units in the North East, which was in continuation of the activities marking this year’s Nigerian Army Day Celebration (NADCEL) 2016, General Buratai was to later visit troops of 119 Task Force Battalion of 7 Brigade located at Kangarwa.
He was also at Konduga, Dikwa and even at the border town that connects Cameroon, Chad and Niger, where insurgents are desperately making last ditch efforts to attempt proving they are still potent, despite all the security concerns that should have stopped him since the terrorists won’t pass on an opportunity to score a hit against a senior administration official.
It is such action that confirms to Boko Haram terrorists that the day when they confront a poorly motivated army is over same way the Pakistani COAS’ visit would let the Taliban realise that the power of the state remains dominant. In the case of Nigeria, gone are the days when the war on terror was managed from air-conditioned hotel lobbies and suites. The leadership of the military is strategizing with the troops from inside the trenches. The Army leadership now has a first-hand experience of happenings on the battlefront and is able to respond faster than if it were reliant on dispatches.
The selflessness of Buratai, his officers and soldiers for the peace project of Nigeria in this regard is unquantifiable. It is therefore of note that that such qualities form part of the reason that Nigerians rise up in his defence at every point in time. Detractors who seek to tarnish his image or bring him down reckon without this leadership quality that earns respect from the troops who consequently see basis to be loyal to the fatherland. The same quality built trust for him among the civilian populace and they are thus able to easily see through any web of lies spun against the COAS.
It is instructive to note that with the trusted Army Chief, the Commander in Chief can boastfully have the kind of Eid we just had without the usual bombings. A clear hope that one day we will all also go to bed with our eyes truly closed as citizens of some parts of the world do. Of course, knowing full well that a larger part of the insurgency is politically sponsored, Boko Haram fighters staged some attacks in the aftermath of the COAS’ visit to the frontline in the desperate efforts to create the impression that things have not calmed down to the extent reported. What is noteworthy however was the efficiency with which troops were able to thwart several of the terror group’s plots to cause untold carnage.
This is one area where General Buratai must make changes. Whenever he or any senior government official visits the theatre of war, contingency plans must be made to forestall any attempt that Boko Haram fighters will make to stage daring attacks just to create the impression that they still have the upper hand.
The great Gandhi of India was right when he said, ‘giving is the attitude of the strong, only the strong gives especially when he expects nothing in return’. This captures the essence of how Buratai has operated so far. Where others have taken what ordinarily belonged to troops – allowances and funds for the equipment needed to prosecute the war, the COAS has been selfless. Buratai placed himself in the same situation as the troops he commands, no giving can be greater than placing one’s life in service to one’s nation. This is a reflection of the practicality that the COAS has brought to the frontline.
Beyond his strong military posture, another side of Buratai is his philanthropic and humanitarian gesture which he constantly demonstrates without showing bias for religion or ethnicity. He is a friend of the poor, always rising up directly and indirectly for their wellbeing and he has successfully transferred the same disposition to dealing with the welfare of his soldiers, officers and their families.
It is on the strength of the COAS’ mien that despite the sounds of bullets in the war front, he still took out time to visit his troops and shared their meals with them. While one may see crude and undiluted love by a general trying to inspire his officers and soldiers to quickly win and end the war on terrorism, it could also be taken further to surmise that here is a military leader that wants to be sure that the appropriate rations are served to his men while fighting for their fatherland.
One must recall that there have been concerted efforts to whip up dissension among the troops with cooked up stories about soldiers not getting rations and allowances. But with what Buratai has demonstrated, it is no wonder that stories of soldiers attempting to fire shots at their commanding officers have died a natural death since the incumbent COAS took over the reins. In him, the Nigerian Army has a symbolic reflection of President Muhammadu Buhari, whose persona inspires a willingness of the larger part of the population to embrace change even when it is certain that it comes with sacrifices.
The hope is that when it is time to mark the end of the next Ramadan, the confidence inspired by General Buratai’s disposition would have spurred our troops to rout Boko Haram from the last of the holes they are hiding in such that the thousands of displaced persons can break their fast in their ancestral homeland.
Agbese is a National Coordinator, Stand Up Nigeria (SUN), a civil rights group based in the United Kingdom.