From all indications since the relocation of Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai to the frontlines of the war on terror (Boko Haram\ISWAP) is as good as won. Available records show that the Nigerian troops are winning the war back-to-back, having killed about 150 terrorists in the first week of the reinforced assaults on terror. This, of course, is attributed to the uncommon selfless commitment of Buratai. The relocation of the audacious, fearless and courageous COAS is recording tremendous successes. Nevertheless, there still exist some mind boggling questions on the operational engagement of the troops in the northeast in particular. In this interview with the Acting Director of Public Relations, Nigerian Army, Col. Sagir Musa, these issues are addressed. The intelligent and eloquent spokesman of the army, Musa who exudes confidence speaking on the accomplishments of the army under Gen Buratai, sheds light on sundry issues. Excerpts:
What can you say has been the impact of COAS’ relocation to frontlines of the war on terror?
On the impact of Gen Buratai’s relocation to the frontline, I will say that as at today, over 1,500 BokoHaram/ISWAP terrorists have been killed. Gen TY Buratai relocated temporarily to the Northeast Theatre of Operation on 4 April 2020, where he personally and passionately oversees and directs the operations. In some cases, he led the operations with resounding successes. Many BH terrorists’ gun trucks, assorted arms and thousands of ammunition, several motorcycles and bicycles have been captured from the BH/ISWAP terrorists.
We should be able to recall the high losses suffered by the insurgents during Buni Gari encounter (where 105 BHTs where eliminated) and also their failed attack on Geidam town (where 13 terrorists were deleted).
In addition to that feat, as we speak there is abundant evidence that hundreds of kidnapped victims have been rescued by the troops from April till date.
As a result of the overpowering assault launch on the terrorists by our troops I will say indeed, there has been noticeable terrorists’ inactivity since the relocation of Gen Buratai to the Battlefield/Theatre of Operation.
In fact, on arrival at the Theatre of Operation, Gen Buratai interacted with alI the key field Commanders, Sector Commanders and Commanding Officers at the Headquarters Theatre Command Operation LAFIYA DOLE in Maiduguri. Same day, he moved on a tour of all the major troops’ locations in the North east covering some parts of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states, where he interacted with officers and soldiers and strongly sensitized them for the impending task to destroy BH/ISWAP terrorists.
Driven by his uncommon zeal, he moved to the Army Super Camp 1 at Molai and the Special Super Camp 12 in Chabbol near Maiduguri. In the same spirit the COAS took a bold step and toured other places/infrastructures such as troops’ location at Alau Dam at the outskirts of Maiduguri and also personally led troops on reconnaissance around Mairimari Forest located southeast of Tamsu Ngamdua in Mafa LGA of Borno State. The brave Gen Buratai also entered the dreaded Maigilari forest in the east of Tamsu Ngamdua south east of the same Mafa LGA.
These areas are generally seen as the routes and directions of approach into Maiduguri by BH/ISWAP terrorists.
He was also at Headquarters Sector 2 in Yobe state, Special Forces School Buni Yadi, 130 Battalion Goniri all in Yobe state among others. In all the places he toured, he inspected/assessed the equipment disposition/ serviceability of the equipment and Platforms and interacted with officers and soldiers as well as gingered them to brace up to end the terrorism soon.
What is your assessment of his relocation on the morale of the soldiers?
With his presence, concurrent activities have been taking place across the operational arena. There has been injection of new fighting equipment and platforms, gun trucks, additional special forces personnel have also been deployed. We also witnessed reinvigorated troops patrols, ambushes, attacks on terrorists’ camps, hideouts and crossing points.
Generally, BH/ISWAP terrorists were effectively blockaded or quarantined and therefore had no freedom of action or movement. The battle was obviously taken to their door steps with remarkable successes as already reported by the media.(including your platform, Laughter…)
How about soldiers’ welfare, does the leadership give the welfare of soldiers particularly those in the war front the priority it deserves?
On top of the accomplishments of Gen Buratai Troops’ Welfare in the areas of feeding, medicals, military stores/kits, uniforms, boots, fragment jackets, still helmets have been supplied to the troops on a regular basis occupies number 1.
Above all, troops’ welfare has always been paramount to Chief of Army Staff’s permutations. Consequently, his presence further mobilized and raised the morale and fighting spirit of the soldiers.
You need to hear the applause, the commendations, the cheering from the troops on the mere sighting the Chief of Army Staff. His presence alone is inspiring.
Equally, through enhanced intelligence gathering capacity, periodic, guided military offensive actions like Artillery and air force bombardments as well as ambushes – terrorists’ high profile war Commanders and fighters have been successfully eliminated during this period. This has also been reported by the media.
Many BH terrorists’ key informants, suppliers and collaborators have also been identified and neutralized. Their logistic supply chain has to a greater extent been paralysed.
At the moment, BH terrorists have suffered monumental losses in both human and material resources enough to cause disruption in their offensive actions. Thus, no wonder, we are witnessing glaring absence of terrorists activities in the Northeast.
It was reported that Gen Buratai said he won’t return to Abuja until Boko Haram is defeated. Can you clarify this?
This is a wrong insinuation and malicious and cannot be substantiated. What he said was – “I’m here with you in the trenches, overseeing/ leading the operations and we will remain with you until substantial progress has been made”. You will agree that as at today substantial progress has been made in the war against terrorism in Nigeria. Everybody can see that there has been a significant change the relocation of the Chief of Army Staff, let us be truthful to ourselves.
When is Chief of Army Staff returning to Abuja?
Bearing his statement above that he will not leave the operational arena until substantial progress has been made, I can say that you should not be surprised to see him in Abuja anytime he chooses because remarkable achievements have been made in the war on terror. What remains is for the relevant field Commanders to maintain the standards and achieve the final defeat of the terrorists.
How are the troops coping with COVID – 19 Pandemic during the operations?
This is a very important question. Thank you for asking me this question. Let me state that by the grace of God, we have not recorded any case of CoronaVirus in the Theatre of Operation. Despite that, the Nigerian Army has complied fully with governments’ guidelines and directives on COVID – 19 pandemic. Army has strictly enforced on all her personnel irrespective of their deployment to observe self- isolation, wearing of face marks, use of hand sanitizers, body temperature measurements and regular hygiene including hands washing.
These are fully applied where applicable or necessary. As you might be aware, we in the Nigerian Army are somehow monolithic, regimental, we are closed, we fight as a unit, we know ourselves and so it is easy to know if anyone of us is sick at any given time particularly during operations. Again, we feel more secured in the bush.
What have to say about the allegation by Amnesty International on Rights Abuses by the troops?
Typical of Amnesty International (AI), – the allegation is again baseless and lacking in objectivity there is no fool proof evidence. Ordinarily, we would not dignify Amnesty International by joining issues with it. However, it is necessary to put the records straight and clean. We have not deviated from our mission to end terrorism in the country and we are doing it from the point of constitutional duty.
We wouldn’t abuse rights of individuals. We therefore dismiss the allegations of Amnesty International as uncomfortable conversations. It is a faux pas and the Nigerian army debunks it in its entirety. There are yet no established cases of torture by the Nigerian Army in her operational engagements in the North East.
The Military Detention Facility in Giwa Barracks which is one of the reference points by AI has since been modernized in tune with international best practices. The Nigerian Army(NA) which is at the center of the report has been transparent enough to have allowed human rights groups, NGOs and CSOs like the Red Cross, Human Rights Watch and some media organisations to visit the detention centre (DC) in Maiduguri. (We would be glad to also take you to the Centre to see things for yourself. Laughter…)
Major observations arising from such visits have been addressed or implemented by the military. The Giwa Barracks and Kainji holding facilities have been structurally renovated and expanded to provide basic requirements for a decent living accommodation for Boko Haram terrorists’ detainees. The quality and quantity of food given to detainees is satisfactory.
Accordingly, the sanitary condition and the medical needs and provisions have been substantially improved to keep pace with the requirements of modern DC comparable to expected basic international standards.
On the allegation of Child abuse by the Nigerian Army in the Northeast what is the position of the army?
Again, let us tell ourselves the truth. It is on record that the Nigerian Army has progressively addressed the human rights concerns of national and international publics. This process is dynamic and is ongoing. Available record which is verifiable on the ground has proved beyond reasonable doubts that Nigerian Army under Lt Gen TY Buratai has remarkably done a lot to improve the human rights disposition or record of the NA. Some of the tangible efforts are:
Establishment of Human Rights Desk. NA has established human rights desk across formations and Units of the NA. These desks are where human rights violations, claims and petitions are received and investigations are conducted by qualified legal and public affairs personnel of the NA on whose professional advice or suggestions the NA appropriate authority will upon confirmation take decision/necessary disciplinary action/s on erring personnel. Members of the public have since been sensitized on this; the effort is continuing and is yielding good results.
Strengthening the Department of Civil-Military Affairs of the NA. It would be recalled that one of the earlier measures taken by the current Army Chief to checkmate rights infractions by army personnel was to rejig and empower the Directorates of Civil-Military Affairs (DCMA) and public relations. Under the DCMA, regular engagement with the Civil populace including human rights groups like NGOs, CSOs and professional associations like the Nigerian Bar Association, NUJ, NIPR, youth groups among others, are being conducted with the view to creating necessary harmonious relationship between the Army and members of the public as well as to create the required support/ understanding of the nature and operations of the NA. Sensitization campaigns, lectures and workshops at NA schools and other training institutions on the professional, constitutional/legal requirements to respect human rights have been organized regularly for the troops to enrich their knowledge and reap the obvious benefits of excellent civil military relationship particularly to those on operations.
Thus, the necessity to respect human rights and the consequences of failure to respect the rights of others is being pressed in the skulls of NA personnel on a periodic basis. Instructively, the Army under Lt Gen TY Buratai never downplayed on matters of rights abuses, professionalism and discipline. This process is dynamic and is ongoing.
Prompt Application of Sanctions Once Rights Abuses are Established. Through the enforcement roles of the military police and respective Commanders rights violations have been seriously checkmated. Prompt decisive punishment of rights violators by the NA has overtime increasingly checkmated abuse of human rights by Army personnel. The NA is very strict on this.
Establishment of Information and Reception Centres During Operations and Exercises. Establishment of Info Centre especially during operations and exercises among other reasons is aimed to checkmate rights abuses by NA personnel. The centre is where low scale briefing for important VIPs who may not be conversant with the military matters is conducted. It serves as a press Centre, at the same time, a complain centre where the locals can easily access and lay complains or any issue of public concern to the public relations/information officers at the Centre whose major task are to hear/receive, collate and forward such complains to appropriate officer for urgent action. Issues of collateral damage are also looked into and addressed at the centre level where feasible.
What is the most urgent thing for Gen Buratai Since his relocation?
I would tell emphatically is to end BH/ISWAP’s terrorism. One could see sheer will, uncommon commitment and determination to achieve that. You could clearly see selfless daring actions undertaken by the Chief of Army Staff in the battle field, – clearly leading the operations to outstanding success. As at today 1, 504 (one thousand five hundred and four terrorists) were eliminated in the Northeast Theatre of Operation. This was largely because the battle has been taken to their camps, enclaves and hideouts with remarkable successes recorded so far.