By AE Ameh
In the military, we are faced with several challenges. We are always on the go in the quest to keep the country safe and secured. I recall ten months ago when I was posted to Borno State from my previous posting in Taraba state; it was a case of mixed feelings for me as I didn’t know what to expect.
Make no mistakes; I was not in anyway frightened. As an army officer, I had signed for it, and the issue of fear was far from it. I dare to say my initial reservations were how I was going to work with my commanders in the theatre of operations as we have been fed with tales on how some commanders can be overbearing. In some instances, their sense of judgment does much harm than good.
You reading might be wondering why I am writing the article. Yes, it is primarily to narrate a chance encounter I had with the Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen. Tukur Buratai in the theatre of operations in Borno State.
The encounter was a chanced one which I would forever cherish as long as I remain an officer of the Nigerian Army. As I write this piece, we just returned from an operation in Dikwa where scores of Boko Haram members were killed and some arrested. Interestingly, the Chief of Army Staff was with us in action. It was like a joke, as we didn’t know he was with us.
The Chief of Army Staff was inside our advancing tank that first engaged the Boko Haram group before we moved in to provide support during the operations. That encounter was such an eye-opener for me as it afforded me the rare opportunity of meeting the Chief of Army Staff on a one on one basis. The celebration that followed reminded us of our days in the Nigerian Defense Academy. The Chief was with us all through the night as we compared notes on the success of the operations as well as our lapses.
Two things struck me about the Chief of Army Staff. He is an exceptionally humble man. The way and manner he related with us sent shivers down our spines. It was such a difficult thing to see the number one man in the Nigerian Army shake hands with lance corporals, exchanging seats with sergeants, eating from the same plate a recruit would eat from and many other surprising acts.
I dare to say that in my ten years as a commissioned officer in the Nigerian Army, I have never seen a Chief that is so humble and down to earth. A Chief that looks at you and enquires about your family. I recall the case of a corporal who had some family issues that was bothering him.
At our usual camp night, the Chief of Army Staff noticed an unusual mien from the soldier. He beckoned on him and asked a few questions. The soldier narrated his challenge and how he has not seen his family for three years. Everyone was shocked that a soldier could have such courage to speak in the presence of the Chief.
We concluded that it was over for that soldier. Our commander attempted to take charge of the situation by barking on the soldier to disengage. All the while, the Chief was standing and wearing a smile, and there was pin-drop silence.
I recall that for about five minutes, there was palpable silence. The Chief then called on the solider to come forward. When he did, the Chief asked him to cock his rifle and face the south. The soldier complied, and the Chief asked him to fire shots until his magazine was empty.
After firing thirty shots, the Chief then asked him what his next actions would be. The soldier replied that he would refill his magazine. It was at that point that everything changed as the Chief took us on a lengthy lecture on “The Army Values”. He harped on selfless service, honour, integrity and personal courage.
I must confess that we were held spell-bound by the way and manner the Chief spoke. At the end of the lecture, he asked the soldier to make his wish known. And immediately he granted the desire of the solider. The take away for me from that encounter was that the Chief of Army Staff listens. As a matter of fact, he has all the time to listen to you regardless of your rank. He always wants to hear us speak about our challenges.
The Chief of Army Staff is also a workaholic and one that does not sleep. Another crucial fact, the recent successes recorded in the theatre of operations are as a result of the inputs of the Chief of Army Staff, who has been with us for a while. He works extraordinarily hard from coordinating operations from the various sector commands; he is also involved in planning and reconnaissance operations.
The Chief is everywhere you can think of in the theatre of operations mixing and exchanging ideas with soldiers and officers alike. I also noticed that he does discontinuance any idea no matter how irrelevant such an idea is. His display of leadership is mainly responsible for the level of professionalism in the Nigerian Army today.
I stand to be corrected; the Nigerian Army has never had it so good. He is the soldiers’ soldier and one that would take the lead in everything and expects everyone to follow. He is also one that takes responsibility for a wrong decision made. As incredible as this might sound, we witnessed one of such instances, and everyone was shocked with the way the Chief handled the situation.
I recall that this act by the Chief created some murmurings from the troops against some commanders that never made amends for some of their tactical errors; instead, they would shift the blame and continue as nothing happened even in instances where some of our soldiers lose their lives.
To cap it up, the Chief is a delight any day and anytime. His grasps of issues are legendary and speaks volume of a highly intelligent man. I also recall how he called off an operation because he felt the morale of the troops were not high enough.
He immediately ordered for a feast for those that were detailed to participate in that operation. It was such sweet relief for us because, in truth, most of us were exhausted mentally and physically. That is how sensitive the Chief is to the morale of the troops. The few weeks that he has been with us in the trenches has seen to an astronomical rise in the confidence of the troops.
As I write this piece, I can tell you that we are about going for an operation and the Chief is leading it. The atmosphere is calm, we are all relaxed and battle-ready, and for me to be able to pen this article tells a lot about my state of mind. I doff my heart for the Chief. He sure is a role model to young officers like us.
Ameh, an officer wrote this piece from Maiduguri, Borno State.