When I missed being a Nigerian soldier

By Robert Okolo

My zeal for being a soldier has never stopped haunting me about 25 years after. The passion for the military is innate in me; though I could not make it for reasons I cannot recount publicly. But once in a while, an occasion or event strikes me so profoundly to remember my failed bid for the Nigerian Army. I have this feeling that had God granted my prayers to enlist into the Nigerian Army, I would have strove to be a unique soldier on many counts.
The personage and conduct of Nigeria’s incumbent Chief of Army Staff and the arrowhead of the counter-insurgency campaigns in Nigeria, Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusufu Buratai has hit me like a thunderbolt. By my judgment, he strikes me with the kind of soldiering instincts God never allowed to come to fruition, suppressing that ambition. To me, he represents a perfect man, model and idol in the military.
The temptation of some bosses in Nigeria to play God is almost deafening. They care less about welfare, Medicare or any other aspect of existence lawfully stipulated for the comfort and succor of subordinates, Gen. Buratai effectively redefined leadership in this direction.
Gen. Buratai belongs to the prodigious and very few leaders around the world, who have conveniently deconstructed George Orwell’s theory in “Animal Farm,” with conduct and actions. They believe permanently that “all animals are born equal.” But at no time, do they subscribe to the might of magisterial and venal power, to believe other animals are “more equal than others.”
They place the welfare and health needs of their staff on priority list. They demonstrate boundless compassion to subordinates in more ways than officially permissible. To this league of leaders, who are very few in Nigeria, I doff my cap. They inspire and drench me with the milk of human kindness, tacitly challenging me to be their replica.
I can count a few leaders in my country, Nigeria, with such disposition. So, I was happy, this Saturday morning to discover the cult of humane, less bossy and compassionate leaders in Nigeria appreciated in membership. A function performed by Nigeria’s COAS and ombudsman of the counter-insurgency campaigns, Gen. Buratai assailed me pleasurably.
Last Saturday morning, I switched over to my social media handles, a habit that has become a routine to me. And foraging my posts, a brief news and pictures, capturing Gen. Buratai’s impromptu visit to hospitalized Nigerian Army Wounded in Action Soldiers (NAWIAS) from the Northeast frontline of the counter-insurgency operations caught my interest.
The wounded soldiers were on admission at 44 Nigerian Army Reference Hospital Kaduna. The story averred that the COAS was conducted round the four wards reserved for troops of the Operation Lafiya Dole in the hospital by the Medical Director, Major Gen. Ikechukwu Bernard Okeke. The Army Chief patiently visited every bed and had a chat with every wounded soldier on admission. And we are informed Gen. Buratai issued fresh and instant directives where necessary.
Photographs of the visit I saw, inflamed so many feelings in me. One, for the first time publicly, I spotted Gen. Buratai, garbed in mufti in the hospital. It meant that the Army boss decided to cast off the aura and paraphernalia of his exalted office to mutually and freely interact with injured troops, as a father and friend, rather than a boss. I guess, he deliberately placed himself in that condition to feel their physical and mental trauma, much as listen to their predicaments unimpeded.
I watched it again and again. And what confronted me repeatedly was the consoling scenario, where I heard Buratai’s warm fatherly voice whispering to the wounded soldiers on the hospital bed in the interaction that, “I share your pains and your temporary condition of incapacitation; but you will get well soon and fit like a fiddle. So, Almighty God will rise you up as fast as possible to unite with their compatriots and families.” The wound soldiers beamed with smiles all through the conversation.
Buratai’s rapt attention to the wounded as they interacted, coupled with his empathetic facial countenance, puffed the image of a humane and humble leader. And it suddenly dawned on me.
I saw the portrait of a man, who some conscionable Nigerians wrote passionately about his exceptional leadership stunts. And the doubts I nursed about it were instantly cleared and all misgivings about Gen. Buratai’s thick personage vanished.
Tears of joy, gently rolled down my cheeks, as I prayed silently that God Almighty should continue to touch the hearts of more leaders in Nigeria with such milk of human kindness. It pushed me into some sort of inexplicable excitement, as my sub-conscious vividly recounted scores of articles previously written on Gen. Buratai by appreciative Nigerians.
Some chronicled his achievements since becoming the COAS and the courageous and defiant punches that have silenced Boko Haram terrorists in Nigeria, especially in the Northeast.
I regretted arrogantly dismissing these articles or commentaries as one of the hypes. I recalled words and phrases in some of them and was quite disarmed at the graphic replay of Gen. Buratai’s hidden portrait before me, as manifest in the hospital visit.
I also reminisced how another commentator intimated that Gen. Buratai has made it a point of an inevitable duty to always visit soldiers on special assignment hospitalized, anywhere he berths his foot in the country; whilst he keeps abreast with the welfare of his troops constantly. And that he does the something when abroad for soldiers on referrals to foreign hospitals, anytime, an official duty catapults him overseas. Therefore, the visit to the 44 Army Reference Hospitals in Kaduna was not an isolated case.
To me, it was my real novel, quasi-direct encounter with the COAS. But nevertheless, the mere thought of this humane action, left a lasting and positive impression on my mind. It has redefined my perception of the personage in Gen. Buratai, both as professional soldier and the office of COAS.
I could distill clearly that COAS Gen. Buratai, is a rare humanist and commensurably compassionate as Mr. Buratai. And these qualities are innate and it explains the unconscious display of the milk of human kindness at all times and to all faces regardless of affiliations.
This can be gleaned from the day he was commissioned into the Nigerian Army as Second Lieutenant, Infantry Corps. And in all the positions he served, Gen. Buratai has demonstrated himself as a fascinating soldier and leader of troops by his humane interactions with colleagues, course mates and members of the host communities. All his outings draped with such dispositions, as his subordinates and mates alike, never had cause to complain about his style of leadership. Rather, his conduct endeared them to him, which earned him their loyalty and the positive results he posted on all assignments.
His brilliance is unmatchable and, laced in a Spartan personality, Gen. Buratai knows how to set targets for his troops and get the job executed as fast as possible without hitches. Generosity is part and parcel of Gen. Buratai, as during special festivities like Sallah and Christmas, he sponsors carnivals with troops under his command.
And his kindness knows no limits. When it was clear soldiers’ legitimate pay could not effectively carter for expanding families, he arranged for ways wives of soldiers could augment family incomes through investments in agricultural ventures in the barracks.
It is also observable that much as he is amiable, sociable and interactive in the line of duty, he sticks to the strict military ethos of discipline and leads by example. The Army Chief from the outset knew that destiny has entrusted unto him the task of defending his fatherland. An indubitably strong character, Buratai fortified himself with military and academic trainings to prepare himself for the task ahead.
What never escaped his attention was the commitment to rendering splendid service anywhere duty beckoned. And through it, he consciously protected his determination to bequeath to posterity enduring legacies in his service of Nigeria.
Glaringly therefore, Gen. Buratai’s exalted office as numero uno soldier has not changed his character, personage, human relations and perception of life in the service of our country and humanity. There is no doubt that even if he further ascends the ladder in service of the nation, Gen. Buratai would remain the constant “Peoples General.” He has deservedly reaped his rewards on earth, which would certainly, resonate in heaven too. In his portrait, I am again assailed with the pain of “when I missed being a Nigerian soldier.”

Okolo is a freelance journalist based in Kaduna

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