Saturday, 30 July 2016

OP-ED | The Unwarranted Attacks on General TY Buratai

In the last couple of weeks, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai  has  become a subject of media bashing by some desperate detractors as news filtered in that the army chief and his two spouses own some kind of ‘properties’ in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE).
                                                             

Hardly has any evidence been tendered to prove that Buratai illegally acquired the said properties, yet the detractors rushed to the public glare with their unsubstantiated tale of corruption against him.
SaharaReporters an online publisher were the first to break the news of the alleged corruption based on a petition written by some retired-disaffected officers and soldiers of the Nigerian army to President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR; alleging that Buratai might have acquired the properties with funds meant for the purchase of military vehicles when he was the Director of Procurement at the Army Headquarters. Fortunately, the army has refuted the allegation.

The same petitioners under the aegis of Concerned Soldiers and Officers from the North East according to SaharaReporters, accused Buratai of executing the contract for the purchase of vehicles and motorcycles through a proxy by the name Usman Gamawa of Baggash Investment Limited.

The petition stated that rather than supply new vehicles as the contract demanded, Mr  Gamawa purchased second-hand vehicles and motorcycles from Niger Republic and on arrival in Nigeria, the vehicles were then refurbished at the Mogadishu military Cantonment under the supervision of Staff Sergeant Dadan  Garba.

The petitioners noted that some of the vehicles and motorcycles had since broken down.
They further accused the army chief of boosting his Skye bank accounts with several cash lodgments since he became the COAS in July last year adding that he must have helped himself yet with money meant for military procurement, feeding, medicine and payment of allowances meant for soldiers fighting the war against insurgency in the north East of the country among other sundry accusations slammed on the army chief. “Another blatant lie” says the army acting DPRO.

Some newspaper houses went reckless in their misrepresentation of the issues and fed the public with fabrications, motivated by nothing but pernicious desires to disparage the army chief and denigrate the successes being recorded by the army under Buratai against the Boko Haram insurgency in the north east.

These invidious accusations may yet tempt the bemused public to believe them because the political environment in the country is already suffused with daily news of how corrupt public officials have fleeced the nation and diverted huge sums of money meant for national development.

It is however, untenable to believe such news, which has largely remained unsubstantiated by all accounts. The reports have in the last couple of days exposed the dubious quest by some media organs to sensationalize issues to score cheap popularity.

For instance, some media outfits unwisely rushed to disseminate this obviously false alarm raised by the disgruntled individuals thereby churning out these sham reports in the name of investigative journalism; and to demonstrate how gullible a section of the public has become, some so called commentators and opinion writers have employed some caustic and uncouth language against the army chief in the way they reacted to the allegation.

For instance, the respected Senior Advocate of Nigeria Mr. Femi Falana, suggested that the Army Chief should be sacked. This is uncalled for in my opinion. The same Falana in 2008, rose in defence of Nuhu Ribadu who while as Chairman of EFCC was accused of allegedly buying properties worth millions of dollars in the same Dubai, by Charles Ogboli and Ogochukwu Osuagwu of Victory & Rose Chambers based in Abuja.. Falana went all out to defend Nuhu, by saying that “the constitution does not preclude a public servant from owning investments….but they cannot operate foreign accounts.” See Nations Newspaper, 28th July, 2008.

Those who know falana well alleged that he was rewarded by Nuhu Ribadu for his loyalty; his current office in Abuja, a building seized by EFCC at the time was sold to him at below market price. It is also important to mention that Falana is the lead counsel defending Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, the embattled leader of Iranian government sponsored Islamic Movement of Nigeria (aka Hezbollah). He thinks that sacking the COAS makes his case against the Nigerian Army easier.

However, irrespective of how any one may react or how ever anybody chooses to believe the stories, the facts remain sacrosanct. It is not against the Nigerian law to legally own property in a foreign country by public servants. What is against the law of the land is to own foreign accounts, which I think the detractors have not proven against Buratai; and they failed to establish that the COAS used public funds for the said Dubai ‘properties’.

Despite this sustained campaign of calumny against the amiable general, the army, which is the authoritative source, has cleared Buratai of any wrong doing. The Acting Director of Army Public Relations, Col Sani Kukasheka Usman, debunked the claims that General Buratai and his family illegally acquired the two properties in Dubai. He said in a statement that the said properties were paid for in installments from 2011 thru 2013 through the personal savings of Buratai and his wives. Col Usman also stated that General Buratai had shown integrity earlier by declaring his assets before the appropriate government agency, and wondered why anybody or group would embark on such campaign of calumny to discredit Gen. Buratai.

Furthermore, the Law office of St. Francis Xavier Solicitors and Advocates, based in Abuja through their lead counsel Ugochukwu Osuagwu wrote to Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) siting section 1 and 4 of the freedom of Information Act 2011, to clarify if Buratai did in fact declare the said property in his asset declaration form.

The CCB wrote back: “we refer to your mail dated June 29th 2016,. We wish to state here that Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai, after his appointment as the Chief of Army Staff, declared his assets as required by the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria….He was served form CCB-1 on July 21, 2015, and he returned same on August 21, 2015….we also wish to confirm that his property at Dubai was declared in his wife’s name, please accept the warmest regards of the chairman.”

To me and many Nigerians, that is a mark of one who is transparent; a man who has nothing to hide. If the Army chief is corrupt as his traducers would want us to believe, he would have used a proxy to acquire the said property. This same Buratai has compelled every officer serving Nigeria Army to declare their assets with CCB; he has of recent compelled a financial auditing of every office, and branch of Nigeria Army; this is the first since 150 years of existence. He is leading by example.

Meanwhile facts have emerged that the said properties is just a ‘single self-contained-room’ in a complex which the Buratais are not the sole owners of the building; they are only part-investors. The properties are like quoted companies; you buy into them and get dividends as profit from your investment. So it is outrageous for these despicable and disgusting elements to attack the integrity of the COAS without any facts. It is unwarranted and it is unacceptable.

The army commanders at various task-force-operations theaters in the North East have also cleared Buratai in the controversy over the procurement of sub-standard equipment as claimed by the detractors saying that at no time did the army purchase sub-standard vehicles and motorcycles. They stressed that the equipment were usually dismantled at the place of purchase for easier transportation and are assembled here in Nigeria, thereby refuting the claim that the equipment were refurbished in Nigeria. The army has also made it clear that the rugged buffalo vehicles are not only brand new but they are 2014 model that was imported from Libya.

On the allegation that General Buratai owns a huge industrial farm called Tukur and Tukur Farm Limited on Abuja-Keffi Express Way and the facilities therein, the detractors only made wild accusations and failed to convince the public as to the illegality of the said farm as they claimed. For instance the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) under the Fifth Schedule, Part 1, permits a public officer to engage in farming.

Therefore Buratai did not break any law by owning a farm and there was no proof he acquired the farm with illegal funds. Many retired Public servants owned farms while in office. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo started his farm as a Colonel; Gen. TY Danjuma (rtd.), and many others did the same. Further investigations revealed that the farm is very unique, apart from the usual products like maize, bean, and vegetables, it also breads snakes. In fact, Ophiologists from around the world visit the farm to study the different species of snakes, and possibly purchase vials of venom for snake-bites-treatment.

It is Gen. Buratai who actually established the Directorate of Procurement in the Army, after 150 years of existence; facts have emerged that he was not necessarily the director in charge of the procurement. Traducers mentioned that he made money as Director Public Procurement while at Defence Headquarters under Air Chief Marshall Bade; but that is not true.

The procurement of equipment under DHQ is so complex that a director cannot influence it. In fact Bade is on trial for offences allegedly committed as Chief of Air Staff (CAS), and not as Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). Gen. Buratai did not stay long at DHQ, between March 2015 and May 2015, he was sent to lead the Multinational Joint Task Force against the Boko Haram, and from there he was later appointed the COAS. So one wonders at what time he really featured as the director of procurement-Army.

The Amnesty International (AI) unfortunately also joined the crowd clamoring to bring down Buratai and, to a larger extent denigrate the efforts of the army as an institution to contain the Boko Haram insurgency in the north east. The AI since the eras of Lt. Gen. Dambazau, Lt. Gen. Ihejirika, and Lt. Gen. Minimah as COAS’s, have always accused the army of highhandedness in the way they treated captured Boko Haram insurgents.  But the human rights group failed to provide evidence, which underscores the pathetic antecedents of the AI in its sham opposition against the Nigerian security forces in general. Yet, it is Lt. Gen Buratai who recently established a human rights desk at every Army unit. This desk is meant to laise with Nigerian Human Rights Commission, and Amnesty International to better address the gaps and to assist the military on this touchy issue.

I understand the vehemence with which the AI tries desperately to undermine the efforts of Nigeria in the fight against insurgency. Their sharp revulsion against Nigeria, according to International experts may be predicated on the refusal of the Nigerian government to allow gay rights and gay marriage in the country. This abominable behavior is alien to Nigerian and African cultures and Nigerians in their great numbers have rejected this obscene and rather strange phenomenon.

Lt. Gen. Buratai has proved his authenticity as a superb military commander no matter the hogwash from the hostile crowd of jesters with their misbegotten agenda to hack down the genial general. The army command has made it clear that under Buratai, in the last one year, the soldiers have been motivated and boosted with the requisite weaponry with which they have overwhelmed the terrorists. The soldiers’ morale has skyrocketed. He added confidence to his troops by visiting the various theaters of operation during the just concluded Ed-fitri; he was in the front celebrating the Sallah-break with his men. He did not have to, but he takes his job and the responsibility of protecting his men and our country very serious.

Under his charge, the army has degraded the Boko Haram insurgents, restored its dignity and rejuvenated the pride, bravery and courage of its service men and women. Other lawless elements within the Nigerian society such as the Shiite Islamic Movement have been taught a bitter lesson and they are now compliant with the rule of law. Buratai and the army have also sent a strong message to the insipid Niger Delta Avengers to desist from their attacks against oil facilities in the Niger Delta or face the full weight of the military might. This no doubt has unsettled the backers of the so called avengers and they are in haste to destroy the immense contributions of COAS.

The Nigerian public has long suspected that some vicious individuals have backed and armed the Boko Haram terrorists and have motivated them to attack the Nigerian state in order to weaken her.  But the bravery of soldiers under Buratai has dislodged their evil intensions. The sponsors of Boko Haram are not happy with these achievements just as the corrupt elite squad; the economic terrorist and military chiefs who profited from the Boko Haram insurgency have failed in their efforts to scuttle the war against terrorism.

To further strengthen the resolve of the soldiers, the army command has created adequate contingency plans to treat wounded soldiers, rehabilitate and reward them contrary to the malicious reports emanating from the so called International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) and an online news medium-The Cable.

Gen Buratai cannot be deterred by these trumped up accusations neither should he be perturbed by the subversive efforts to blackmail him. The Nigerian Army and its men have marshaled out plans to unleash a massive final punch on the Boko Haram insurgents with their renowned and unrivalled professional finesse. A victory against the terrorists is bad business for the ill-fated gang that gains from such unprecedented evil and Nigerians must be aware of this.

This same Buratai, during the military era never lobbied to be a Military Administrator (MILAD); he had no Army-god father; he rose in rank by dint of hard work, and holds a Master’s degree, His two wives are graduates who have been doing their own business preparing for the eventual day their hard-working husband will leave the Army. Through-out his career in the army as a staff officer or commander, he has never been accused of any wrong doing. The records are there for the interested.

The Nigerian public should always remain vigilant and must not be hoodwinked by the antics of unpatriotic individuals bent on rolling back the successes recorded so far in the fight against terrorists and other unscrupulous elements in Nigeria. Therefore, these unwarranted attacks on Lt. Gen. TY Buratai are uncalled for; it is a distraction; and a storm in a tea cup.