By Kelechi Emmanuel
General Buratai: The Truth:Ignore all the negative, dishonest and callous commentaries you have heard about troop welfare in Operation Lafiya Dole (OPLD) and the Nigerian Army in general; the truth is that troops of the Nigerian Army had never had it so good like this. Just like you the reader—that is if you are interested in military affairs, you might have been fed with lies by some fifth columnists who have unfettered access to numerous media platforms to believe that troops are barely surviving. I remember there was a time a viral video trended showing poorly cooked meals that looked like the one prepared in the correctional homes as what was our troops eat. I have also heard about how a meager N500 per head was budgeted for the daily feeding of the troops. There was also the issue of table payment of operational allowances and so on which made some officers to embezzle funds meant to cater for the welfare of troops.
When General Tukur Yusufu Buratai took over as Chief of Staff the Nigerian Army, he made it known that his mission is to position the Army to be a professionally responsive Army, to take it to a level where it will operate according to international standards. General Buratai knew what to do to rejig the morale of the troops of the Nigerian Army and the OPLD. He was conversant with the words of Major General H. Willans C.B.E, D.S.O., who said that the objective of Army welfare may be stated simply as being the maintenance of the morale of officers; primarily to make them fit to carry out their duty as soldiers, when the time comes, with the utmost possible efficiency. I do not intend to make this article to be lengthy so I will limit it to cover two very important areas: feeding and operational allowances. What was the condition before General Buratai, and what is the present situation today? Has it improved? If it has improved, how can we verify it? And if we verify it and discover that troops’ welfare and allowances had improved under this dispensation, what are we as Nigerians supposed to do?
Instead of relying on rumors and lies, I decided to go on a fact-finding mission in the theatre of operations of OPLD, specifically, I went to some battalions and brigades under the 7 Division in Borno Central to inquire from officers and soldiers about the true situation of their welfare. As I have indicated earlier, I was interested only in feeding and operational allowances. This is because to my mind, there is nothing important to the Nigerian soldier like proper and adequate diet and financial rewards in the form of allowances so that he or she can understand in real terms that his or her efforts are appreciated. “Nutrition influences how well a soldier can train and fight. An optimal diet may help delay fatigue, improve performance during training or combat, and avoiding injuries, while certain nutrient deficiencies can seriously impair performance. Military rations provide for the nutritional needs of the majority of service members; unfortunately, what is provided is not always consumed. If soldiers do not consume adequate rations, mental and physical performance and morale may suffer,” wrote Carol J. Baker-Fulco of the Military Nutrition Division, U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine. So feeding is very important and no general worth his salt will handle it with a lackadaisical attitude.
As for the second factor, that is the operational allowances which are sums of money provided for specific needs, such as hazards or housing. Monetary allowances are provided when the government does not provide for that specific need. For example, troops of OPLD who are on active duty I the theatre of operation go through so many deprivations because of the nature of their duty thus an allowance is usually given to them as compensation. If we consider the fact that poverty is a burden on 80% of Nigerians, we will realize that just like the civilian, the soldier is also battling with numerous obligations to family and community. He or she needs money, and it is in this regard that operational allowances play a major role in the motivation of troops in the theater of operations. Fortunately for the troops, they have a COAS who knows that it is not only important to promptly pay operational allowances but also make it befitting of someone who has the onerous duty of protecting this country even it means dying to protect it.
Now, my findings. What I discovered was mind-boggling and very encouraging because it shows that the Army leadership is fully committed to the welfare of troops of the OPLD and the Nigerian Army. First of all, I found out that instead of the N500 daily feeding allowances given to officers and soldiers of OPLD, what is now being budgeted as their feeding allowance is N1000 and another N200 as cigarette allowance. The N1000 is used to prepare nutritious meals for them daily while the N200 is given to them after every end of the month, which is N6000 because it is not everyone that smokes cigarettes. There are days the troops are fed with chicken, and so far so good the officers and soldiers are appreciative of this gesture.
I have also found out that the Chief of Army Staff has introduced what is called Staff Allowance for all the soldiers and officers of the Nigerian Army. I don’t know much about this Staff Allowance but I understand that it is being to every soldier according to his or her rank. This money just like the cigarette allowance is paid directly into the account of the beneficiary.
This is not all that I have found out about operational allowances. I also discovered that officers and soldiers received N1500 daily as their operational allowance. This is entirely different from their salaries. This operational allowance is a flat rate given to all the officers and soldiers of OPLD, and it is also paid directly into the account of the beneficiary. Before the assumption of General Buratai as COAS, this operational allowance used to be paid on the table which made some commanders embezzle or divert it. So at the moment every officer and soldier at the theatre of operations receives N45,000 every month as operational allowance.
General Buratai deserves commendation for this good gesture which I believe will go a long way in motivating the troops therefore they have no excuse not to put in their best. I was humbled to hear how some of the officers extol the virtues of the COAS, namely, kindness, empathy, courage, and generosity. To those who think otherwise, what I have to say to them is this: “If there is not the war, you don’t get the great general; if there is not a great occasion, you don’t get a great statesman; if Lincoln had lived in a time of peace, no one would have known his name.”
I still maintain my stand that the best appointment President Muhammadu Buhari made since his assumption of office in 2015 is appointing General Buhari to head the Army because he took over and found an Army that was like a cesspool because of corruption but he was able to able to restore sanity and order into it because of his impeccable character. He is an officer that is first of all a man of integrity and discipline before being a soldier. Like Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th President of the United States, and former General of the Army rightly said, “The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.“ The Nigerian Army might not be the best in the world or even in Africa but it is certainly one of the best in terms of troops’ welfare, feeding, and allowance. It is also a very potent fighting machine, and this is because of the exemplary leadership provided by General Buratai.
In my brief study on military leadership around the world, I have discovered that majority of people agree that John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, George S. Patton, William T. Sherman, David Petraeus, Douglas MacArthur, George Washington, Winfield Scott, Ulysses S. Grant, George Marshall, and Matthew Ridgway are the best generals to appear on the face of the earth. I am fully confident that General Buratai will be added to this list after his tenure is over. He has not only led the Army to defeat the Boko Haram/ISWAP insurgents but has also destroyed their will to fight. Today, top Boko Haram/ISWAP commanders are laying down their arms and surrendering to the Nigerian military.
On behalf of all the officers and soldiers I interviewed in the theatre of operations, I say may God bless General Buratai and continue to guide him to lead the Nigerian Army to victory.