Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko
By Emmanuel Onwubiko
There’s no doubt that democracy is facing its toughest survival battles in Africa and the empirical facts and the unassailable body of evidence are there for all discerning and rational minds to see amidst the faltering democratisation efforts in Chad, Mali, Guinea Conakry with the resurgence of militarism and militarization. In the face of these tumultuous challenges are some hidden lessons that can be learnt from some of the actions of the President of Nigeria who has experienced the best of the two Worlds as a military ruler and now in his final term as an elected democrat. Many will doubt if President Muhammadu Buhari can be credited to be a democrat because clearly, some of his administrative approaches have questioned his abiding faith and loyalty to constitutional democracy. For instance, the government in Nigeria has bad records in the area of respect for plurality of opinions and freedoms as are clearly enshrined in many legislative and constitutional provisions and the government has had running battles attempting to moderate and muzzle the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens. But even with these issues highlighted, there is one area in which the Nigerian president has established himself as someone who has atleast one positivity and an enduring lesson to teach the rest of Africa in the democratisation theory and practice and if he keeps to the constitutional term limits and retire quietly to his Daura hometown in the year 2023, he would surely have cemented this as a legacy to be talked about for many centuries to come. This lesson is not seen easily by most observers because of the monumental challenges thrown on Nigerians by the economic implications of some policies of the Muhammadu Buhari’s administration but if an observer looks deeper and think philosophically, the nexus is there for all to see and this is what this article is out to demonstrate and what will resonate in this reflection isn’t so much about praising anyone but putting things in their proper perspectives. You can as well take it to the bank that this writer has no reason in this World to act the praise-singer card because obviously I’m a consummate human rights activist who has maintained consistent records of speaking truth to power. The difference is that I and my team do also make efforts to highlight some positivism and landmarks attained by any government even if that government has a lot of questions to answer in some key areas of governance. And so the straight fact in this piece is the lesson the rest of Africa can imbibe by the way the immediate past military Chiefs and especially the immediate past Chief of army staff Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai and the others served the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari for almost six years and withstood a lot of temptation to torpedo the civilian administration so as to establish militarism and military regime. Indeed the immediate past Service Chiefs believed in constitutional democracy and by their actions in office, demonstrated their unflinching loyalty to the Nigerian constitution which says that military institutions are to remain subordinate to civilian authorities. And at the end of their service as military Chiefs, President Muhammadu Buhari gave them further appointments as his representatives and Ambassadors to key diplomatic offices in West Africa. The former Army Chief Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai is the Ambassador of Nigeria in Benin Republic and from the few things we have seen, this military professional has started very well. So they are good examples to the rest of the military Generals in Africa on why they must resist Worldly temptations to overthrow properly constituted democratic institutions in their nations and remain subordinate to civilian authority and on the parts of the civilian heads of states, they must stick to the principles of accountability and transparency and respect their constitutional term limitations and must never do things to establish themselves as life Presidents.
This is because there is no greater sacrifice one can render to his nation than defending its unity, togetherness and territorial integrity against external aggressions. For instance, in the United States of America where Nigeria borrows its leg of democracy, at least 29 former American Presidents who served their country in the Armed Forces are usually prouder than others.
The likes of George Ford, the famous Jimmy Carter; Richard Nixon; George H. W Bush, Ronald Reagan and hordes of others are proud to render their services to nationhood. On the contrary, in Nigeria today, the greatest gist among the country’s senior political forerunners, former leaders, and political elites is the sustained mockery of Nigeria’s immediate past Service Chiefs.
Though, the Ex-Military Chiefs posted very relieving results between 2015 and early 2021, fighting the conspiratorial or instigated insurgencies and insurrections hovering in some parts of Nigeria, but to some partisan senses, none of them deserve such prestigious national honour of Ambassadors of democracy.
That Nigeria’s Ambassador to Benin Republic; Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai, who led the counter-insurgency operations as COAS, and his colleagues in Nigeria’s Military hierarchy of Service Chiefs are intentionally uncelebrated by some Nigerians is because the hate is deep and malevolent!
No one is forcing the few discontented Nigerians to notice the difference Nigeria’s counter-insurgency operations and respect to constituted civil authorities under the commanding height of the immediate past Service Chiefs unlike what is happening to democracies in West Africa.
Particularly, when President Buhari appointed Gen. Buratai (rtd) as Nigeria’s 26th COAS, he pledged his total dedication to duty and loyalty to the Commander-In- Chief of the Nigerian Armed forces; President Buhari. Quite honestly, credit must be given to Buratai because he showed that Nigeria comes first before self-interest and must be defended at all times by every Nigerian.
Observably, his commitment to Nigeria will remain the beam of a united Nigeria, despite the conspiratorial gang-ups and upsurge of terrorist’s attacks, criminal activities, militancy and agitations. But it only conveys one message; and it is that Gen. Buratai was firmly convinced about the necessity of the defense of his dear nation; a silently saying that a regenerated Nigeria for today and tomorrow is possible.
This could explain why after his retirement, he was elevated to the strategic position of an Ambassador of Democracy to the Republic of Benin. Buratai’s appointment and that of the other ex-service chiefs couldn’t have been timelier and more strategic as it shows that it is not always the best for the military to distablize internal democracy compared to what has happened in some countries in West Africa.
Undoubtedly, Gen. Buratai (rtd) as COAS was a skillful defender of Nigeria’s democracy in the country’s most turbulent times, who tirelessly worked and supported democratic governance in Nigeria.
Even when some mischievous political elements wanted to take advantage of President Buhari’s several medical absences then to truncate democracy, by making overtures to some officers and soldiers for political reasons, Gen. Buratai (rtd) vehemently stood against it.
He warned them to be cautious of the consequences of their actions, telling the intending coup plotters not to make any attempt at truncating the nation’s democracy. The former Army Chief was emphatic, warning Army officers to steer clear of politics. He reportedly asked those interested in politics to resign from the Nigerian Army and pursue their new found ambitions.
Perharps it would be pertinent to mention that when in July, 2017, he granted interview to BBC’s Stephen Sackur, Gen. Buratai clearly stated; “there is no leadership vacuum,” explaining it as a pre-emptive caution, based on past experiences.
“There is no vacuum, it’s just a sort of pre-emptive warning in terms of what transpired before this administration came on board. Based on our own knowledge, based on our experiences, it is good once in a while to tell Officers that there are bounds that we must remain within the constitutional boundaries.
“There are constitutional provisions; there is never a vacuum. We have an Acting President there. I think whatever is happening, we should allow Mr. President to recuperate, get stronger and go back home.”
Repeatedly, Gen. Buratai (rtd.) never failed to drum it into the ears of soldiers and men of the Nigerian Army. At the opening ceremony of a seminar for Commandants, Bursars and Administrative officers of the Nigerian Army on August 1, 2019, in Abuja, he re-emphasised his preachments on politics as the non-negotiable loyalty of the Nigerian Army under his leadership to Mr. President and the country. He urged officers to remain apolitical, take right actions and show commitment to constitutionally defined obligations.
“We need to remain absolutely loyal to Mr. President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This is a non-negotiable part of our profession.”
Also, at the commissioning ceremony of the Entrepreneurial Skills Acquisition Centre, Transit Accommodation and the newly built Accident and Emergency Ward of the Nigerian Army Medical Hospital at the 23rd Armoured Brigade, Gibson Jalo Cantonment in Yola, Adamawa State on December 28th, 2019, Gen. Buratai also resounded to soldiers to be grateful to their nation, keep faith and loyalty to the Federal Government of Nigeria led by President Buhari.
His persuasive words read thus; “I want you to keep faith, be focused and loyal to the Federal Government and be grateful of the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari, for his support to the Nigerian Army. Therefore, I wish to pledge the commitment and unalloyed loyalty of officers and soldiers of the Nigerian Army to the President and the defence of our democracy.”
More so, speaking in Asaba, Delta State during the inauguration of six projects at the temporary headquarter of 63 Brigade of the Nigerian Army on July 2nd, 2020 as part of the activities marking the Army day under the theme: ‘Nigeria’s Territorial Defense and Integrity – Imperatives for Nigeria’s Army’ Sustained Training and Operations, Buratai charged Officers and men of the Nigerian Army to abide by their constitutional roles in the task of securing lives and property of Nigerians just as he tasked them on professionalism and responsiveness.
Furthermore, on the 26th of October, 2020, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai (rtd.), during a meeting with Principal Staff Officers (PSOs), Commanding Officers (GOCs) and Field Commanders in Abuja warned that the Army would not allow subversive elements to destabilise Nigeria and its democratic order in addition to rallying troops to defend the country, not minding threats to file complaints at International Criminal Court.
Buratai told the PSOs, GOCs and Field Commanders that there would be no room for disloyalty amongst all officers and soldiers of the Nigerian Army. He directed that they must reiterate to all their subordinates that the army was determined to ensure democratic stability in Nigeria as the only panacea for development and progress.
“We will not allow any force, elements or destabilising agents in or outside our country to set our beloved country on fire. We remain resolute in doing everything possible to ensure that subversive elements, detractors and other enemies of this great nation do not achieve their aims and objectives of destabilisation”.
Likewise on December 4, 2020, during the decoration of 39 newly promoted major generals, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai (as he then was) warned the newly-promoted generals against coup plots.
He said the Nigerian Army would not tolerate any plot to scuttle the current democratic dispensation noting that he was aware that “some generals were being approached and all our eyes are on them.”
He went further to reiterate: “Democracy has come to stay. We will not tolerate any agent of destabilisation. The years of military misadventure in politics have never carried us anywhere. It is over.”
Disclosing that the Army hierarchy was aware of some interests making efforts to interact with certain personnel, the Buratai expressed confidence in the discipline and loyalty of the newly decorated officers.
However, he warned: “Do not hobnob with politicians. At this rank of two-star generals, do not lobby for appointment. If you want to lobby for appointment, lobby the Chief of Army Staff and you can only do this through hard work, discipline and loyalty.
“The crop of officers decorated will never be dragged into any interest that is contrary to the sustenance of democracy in our nation. All our eyes are on you. We know there are several moves to get your attention. You must make sure that whatever you are doing, and when some persons approach you, you must act within the confines of the constitution.”
By and large, hardly in West Africa’s existential political history would a leader of a large Army such as the Nigerian Army display such fondness of loyalty to a sitting President and a passion for the defense of the country’s democracy in times of threats to national unity.
The few can doubt, but one lesson to be learnt from the constitutional purity ideology of Gen. Tukur Buratai (rtd.) is that his iconic leadership and that of his colleagues in Nigeria’s Military hierarchy of Service Chiefs sensitized and strengthened the military generally as a subordinate institution to civil rule and democratic institutions of the country.
Indeed, with how democracies in some of the West African Countries are looking towards militarism, Buratai has sacredly remained a reference pillar of loyalty, love for the country and dedication to the nation’s peace and security under a democracy. Even as Nigeria’s Ambassador of Democracy in Republic of Benin, Gen. Buratai (rtd.) has continued to demonstrate loyalty and his hunger to disarm the wings of criminals and tormentors of Nigeria for a country totally freed from the strings of insecurities.
In every sense, he was indeed, the finest testimony or portrait of absolute loyalty to Nigeria and the Army’s mirror as subordinates to democratic institutions of a country. His constitutional purity will remain a great lesson for generations.
*EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA and was National Commissioner of the National Human Rights commission of Nigeria. He can be reached on www.huriwanigeria.com.