Open letter to Tukur Buratai
I wouldn’t know what others think but for me, you have come to reinvent the army and re-establish the characteristic institutional discipline. We knew how it was before your arrival and we also know how it is now. Within a very short time, you have stamped on the army some measure of dignity and confidence through a leadership style, which bridges much of the gap between the strategic and tactical levels of army operations.
For instance, I had watched with delight, television footages of the Northeast frontlines. The soldiers were at home with you. On one occasion, you even did push-ups as required by every soldier that was in the formation. Your trimmed frame and austere looks combine to heighten your character as an officer and a gentleman.
The only story, and I guess it was the handiwork of enemies, that had attempted to detract from your good image was properly managed and put under control. I am talking of the story of the stupendous wealth you had allegedly made as army procurement office before your current posting and how you invested part of the wealth in choice properties in Dubai.
In the end, it wasn’t a big deal. People came to know about something called snake farming. While other serving and retired military officers, including General Olusegun Obasanjo are doing chicken farming, you have the guts as a brave soldier to go into snake farming. Yet some cowardly people who could not even do snail farming had the effrontery to question the source of your wealth. I want to help you to tell them that a snake venom is more expensive than gold in the international commodity market.
Your style is good. Whenever there is doubt, you usually cause people to see so that they can believe. You took editors to Maiduguri to see and believe. When these people called Bring Back Our Girls Group (BBOGP) would not let the military and the Federal Government have peace, you took them to the sacked Boko Haram stronghold in Sambisa forest to see and believe. They are now the ones pleading for the understanding of Nigerians on behalf of the military regarding the recovery of the remaining kidnapped Chibok school girls. Master stroke!
Sir, I will suggest also that you organise yet another guided tour, this time to your snake farm in wherever it is located so that people can see snakes and a snake farmer at work and believe. I am not coming though; I will be too busy supervising my three titles. The point I am making is that you have been very wonderful, so far, as Army Chief of Staff. I love you and if I were not too old, I would have enlisted in the army so that I could grow to be like you. You don’t look like an oppressor of ‘bloody civilians.’ In fact, you are always smiling and willing to engage.
The more reason I was flabbergasted when you were mentioned in the tango involving Mr. Dapo Olorunyomi and his online newspaper, The Premium Times and the police. You are my friend and I will tell the bitter truth. That is not the way to go at all. What happened to your instinct of strategic engagement? I want to believe that you were wrongly advised. And whoever that offered that satanic advice that it was heroic to take on the media in a democracy and under the current national circumstances should be court-martialed.
Before I go any further, I want to tell you that taking on Dapo Olorunyomi is like taking on an army chief who has many GOCs under his control. Enough to say what happened was a serious tactical slip that could lead to strategic shortfalls. I am one of Olorunyomi’s GOCs. He was my editor at The African Guardian Magazine about 25 years ago. He is one of the finest in the media profession and actually a veteran of many save-the-media battles. Be thoroughly warned that he is gallant and not one to run away from the type of battle you have just taken to his doorstep. Above all, he is a patriot who will not see undermining the Nigerian State for whatever short-term gains as heroic. If anything, he is to be cultivated as a partner in the all-important task of building a better Nigeria.
That said, I want to state that just as soldiers don’t create wars but fight wars, journalists don’t create stories but report stories. Soldiers will not fight if politicians in their greed do not create wars. Same way, journalists will not report if there is nothing to report. However, if stories are created instead of being reported, it raises ethical questions for which answers exist in the operating code. Arrest of reporters and forced shutdown and occupation of media premises are not part of the answers in the code. This is even more so in a democracy where the doing word is engagement.
Sir, I don’t want you to taint your record. Your tenure as Chief of Army Staff shall end one day but by the grace of God, the media in Nigeria shall continue and you shall rely on it to save your life after service as the case may be. What I am saying is that the media which you want to kill today because it has said the stories in the Northeast frontlines are not as palatable as being narrated by the army authority, will rise in your defence tomorrow, if after your retirement some people out of bad belle come out to taunt you with stories of acts of corruption you committed while in service.
Many of your retired senior colleagues are exactly in that kind of boat currently. In fact, regarding the former National Security Adviser, Col Sambo Dasuki, it is only the media that still has him on the radar having been forgotten by almost all institutions of a free society. If somebody had told him only two years ago to help the media and that the media would help him in the days ahead, it would have all sounded very much like the deal of mutual assistance between the lion and the mouse.
The notion that the media is wired in its operation to diminish government and public officers is wrong. The media is for and against everybody as the case may be. You are gallant enough to handle all matters. Why the resort to external help? On a scale, the media are a better friend than the police. And if you had asked me, instead of enlisting the services of the IG to contain Dapo Olorunyomi and his media outfit, I would have told you to drive straight to Dapo and over a cup of green tea or whatever, tell him: aah! O boy nor be so ebi o! Open up to him and you would achieve with him results in confidence building that a division of the army would not be able to give you.
No editor worth his salt will create sensation out of information volunteered to him in confidence. After all, the intelligence community briefs editors now and again and nobody has had cause to complain. Sir, it is not too late to retrace. And even as you retreat, do note that engagement with the media is one war that is never won with guns. Thanks and God bless you sir.