It was supposed to be another sunny day in the northern city of Zaria, Kaduna State. Members of the Shiites Islamic sect, known as Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) were out for their ‘normal’ procession, unknown to them and residents of the ancient city that tragedy of enormous proportion was lurking in the corner.
The Shiites, viewed as unruly by many, especially those who are opposed to their mode of operation, had always been at loggerheads with the authorities, especially security agents, who were in the characteristic manner, obstructed on this day, the 12th day of December, 2015, just a few months after President Muhammadu Buhari appointed a new Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai.
Coincidentally, the Army Chief was held up inside the obstructive traffic the Shiites procession had caused, paving way for intervention by Buratai’s aides and security details.
A faceoff ensued after the IMN members blatantly refused to clear the roads and allow the head of the Nigerian Army have a safe passage. Anarchy soon set in and in the process, what many Nigerians and international bodies described as a massacre of Shiites, a not too favoured Islamic sect in the Northern part of the country took place.
Accounts by members of the sect say up to 1,000 of their members were killed in the resultant orgy of violence that followed in the hands of the Nigerian Army.
The military, however, denying the number of deaths, said the sect members provoked it by blocking the convoy of the Army Chief.
The Zaria incident of 12 December, 2015, continued to define, if not bugged the over five years tenure of Lt. General Tukur Buratai’s tour of duty as the country’s Chief of Army Staff until his ‘resignation and retirement’ late January, 2021.
Buratai, who is no doubt a fine officer with an enviable career since he was commissioned in 1983, was appointed as the Chief of Army Staff on 13th of July 2015.
He came on board at a time the Boko Haram insurgency assumed a monstrous challenge in the North-East geopolitical zone of the country, with states like Borno, Yobe and Adamawa at the mercies of the insurgents.
Prior to the 2015 general elections, the insurgents were in total control of some local government areas in Borno State, the epicentre of the insurgency, as they established a caliphate and hosted their flags in many locations in the state. This necessitated the postponement of the elections by six weeks to enable the military clear some of the areas.
However, when Buratai took over, the situation, the North-East was still grim, needing a more proactive approach in dealing with the insurgents and winning the war, a pledge both President Buhari and the new Army Chief at that time made.
Technical Victory, degraded Boko Haram
The administration of President Buhari has always told Nigerians that the Boko Haram insurgents have been ‘technically defeated while the military on it’s part said the insurgents have been degraded.
The combine import of the above is that Boko Haram and its offshoot, Islamic State in West Africa (ISWAP), are no longer lethal forces that should call for concern.
Statistics on ground, and response from many Nigerians, including analyst suggest that though, the army, under Buratai did record a few commendable feats earlier, most of the gains may have been reversed, with more deadly attacks on targets in Borno, including military formations, with heavy casualties.
A security expert, Tunde Sosina believes the war against insurgency was initially better prosecuted when Buratai first took charge as Chief of Army Staff.
“There is no doubt that there was a day of hope when General Buratai was appointed as Nigeria’s army chief. He, at that time, cut the picture of a man who was on a mission to win the war on record time. This was even more so with the fact that he is from Borno State, the state that has borne the major brunt of the senseless activities of Boko Haram.
“But the truth is that he lost steam along the way, leading to the reversal of most of the gains made initially. And this led to the long clamour for his sack alongside other service chiefs by Nigerians.”
Talking about reversal of gains, analysts point at the abduction of over 100 girls from Dapchi, Yobe State, several attacks on military formations in Borno, the massacre of over 20 travellers who were burnt alive in Auno, 24 kilometres from Maiduguri, and the killing of more than 40 rice farmers in Garin Kwashebe, also in Borno, as eloquent testimonies to how daring a technically defeated and degraded insurgents later became.
From Insurgency to Crippling Banditry
Before the advent of Buratai as Chief of Army Staff, the nation grappled with the atrocious attacks by Boko Haram insurgents, which were mainly confined to the North-East. Also, there were disturbing activities of bandits in Zamfara raiding villages and kidnapping people for ransom.
However, banditry assumed an epidemic proportion during Buratai’s tour of duty as Chief of Army Staff, as the banditry scourge spread to most of the North-West and the North-Central, leading to the abduction of over 300 students of a government secondary school in Kankara, Katsina State.
Kaduna State in the North-West and Niger State in the North-Central, continue to groan under the activities of killer bandits, who death, tears and blood on their trail, Sokoto, Katsina and Zamfara State have elected to negotiate with the deadly marauders.
Buratai as his Own Judge
Despite widespread criticism of his tenure and earlier calls for his sack on account of perceived failure to deliver, General Burutai did not beat his chest at the end of the day but claimed to have stabilised the security situation in the country.
Speaking while handing over to his successor, Buratai said the military would not remain the same because of his transformational leadership and achievements.
According to him, the Nigerian Army had been better positioned with intelligence gathering techniques and equipment.
He also said his administration would be remembered for three things – improved professionalism, improved responsiveness to personnel welfare and responsiveness to Nigeria’s democratic system.
Buratai in the Eyes of Others
One of the organisations that constantly kept Buratai on his toes while in office was Amnesty International, an international rights watchdog which constantly released negative reports on the Army’s handling of human rights issues.
As early as 2015, 2016, Amnesty accused the Nigerian Army for killing at least 150 members of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
In a report published by Amnesty International on the 24 of November, 2016, the group said: “Since August 2015, the security forces have killed at least 150 members and supporters of the pro-Biafran organization, IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra) and injured hundreds during non-violent meetings, marches and other gatherings.
“This report focuses on the crisis brewing in the southeast of Nigeria, where IPOB campaigns for an independent state of Biafra. It documents extra-judicial executions and the use of excessive force by the military, police and other security agencies.
“It also shows a worrying pattern of arbitrary arrests and detentions, including soldiers arresting wounded victims in hospital, and of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees.”
Also a petition published on change.org by some Nigerians, blamed the retired General for a plethora of crimes against humanity.
The petition read: “We the people of Nigeria demand the urgent retirement of Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Yusuf Buratai for the mass murder of hundreds of Nigerians north and south and the mass burial of these victims in violation of conscience, the constitution and the basic principles of a Godly existence.
“In December of 2015, the Nigerian army under command of CoAS Buratai led the mass killing of hundreds of minority Muslims in the northern state of Zaria. According to the self-given testimony of the Kaduna State government, at least 350 bodies of victims of the brutal army massacre were secretly buried in a mass grave at Mando.
“Perpetuating several other massacres in Ogoni land, Delta State and others while resisting to address deadly marauding “Libyan” herders, two similar massacres, one in Abia State where praying pro-Biafra protesters were gunned down in cold blood and a latest gruesome and unprovoked clampdown of Biafra commemorating south easterners with the massacre of no less than 100 victims in Onitsha and again, the mass burial of these in a military grave as relayed in media reports, Buratai and other members of the Nigerian security agencies stand accused of some of the most despotic and tyrannical, barbaric actions in recent history, amounting to crimes against humanity.
“We call on the Federal Government of Nigeria to urgently retire General Tukur Yusuf Buratai and investigate him and all other members of the Nigerian security services at all levels implicated in this unconscionable unleashing of terror by the Nigerian army and police on the citizens of Nigeria.
“Nigerian lives are sacred. No human is dispensable. Lives must be protected as the dead who deserve respect after death be given decent burial. We refuse to live and die in fear.
“Nigerians say Enough is Enough!”.
The petition was signed by 106 people.