What exactly did Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai say about troops fighting terrorism in the North-East? What did he mean? Did he say what he meant, and did he mean what he said?
Two days after a June 16 terror attack in which 30 people were killed in Konduga, Borno State, Buratai had said: “It is unfortunate, but the truth is that almost every setback the Nigerian Army has had in our operations in recent times can be traced to insufficient willingness to perform assigned tasks or simply insufficient commitment to a common national/military cause by those at the frontlines.” He made the remarks while opening a “Transformational leadership workshop” organised by the Army Headquarters in Abuja.
His observation caused a stir, particularly because it amounted to unwitting self-blame. As army chief, he was expected to understand that institutional failure under him meant he had failed as a leader.
About a week later, Buratai sang a different tune. He told journalists when he visited Borno State Governor Babagana Umara: “”Let me categorically say that I never said in my remarks that the troops lack commitment. It was completely wrong and I want to believe that somehow, I was quoted out of context and probably with an element of mischief. If you read that remark which was published on our website, you will see that there is nothing like lack of commitment. Some have even gone beyond that and quoted me as saying that the troops are cowards. This is far, far from the truth.’’
Was Buratai misquoted? Well, the army chief claimed he was misquoted. According to him, “The workshop where I was misquoted was an attempt to re-ginger our troops and rekindle troops’ commitment and courage…”
If there was a need to “rekindle troops’ commitment and courage,” it meant there was something wrong with their commitment and courage. This was another way of saying what he claimed he had not said. In the final analysis, the things Buratai said about the performance of troops at the frontlines on the two occasions are not different.
The army leadership should find out why commitment and courage are in short supply among troops fighting terrorism, and find a solution to the problem. For too long, the country’s war on terror has been hampered by soldiers’ low morale arising from welfare issues. Buratai is playing the blame game. His approach is unconstructive.