By Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu,
Thanks to a recent revelation that exposed the two mansions he procured in Dubai while serving as the Director of Procurement at the Defense Headquarters, the character of Lt. General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, the present Chief of Army Staff of Nigeria, has become fuller and rounder.
Before now, Buratai was a single story persona. He was definitively profiled as the civilian-hating author of the massacre and mass burial of 347 Shiites in Zaria. Now he has revealed that he is more than a waster of blood: He is also an extraordinary saver of treasure!
By way of defense, Buratai chalked up his ownership of 120 million naira houses in Dubai to his capacity for thrift. He said he grew his widow’s mite. He saved and saved and saved his salaries…until he had enough foreign exchange to make himself a double landlord in the United Arab Emirates!
Taken at face value, this is an inspiring tale. It’s a powerful object lesson in parsimony. It teaches that all things are possible to an everyday person if he can define a goal for himself, tame his appetite, and practices the discipline of delayed gratification.
Except that the tale is intrinsically false. It is not a testimony of prudence – by any stretch of the imagination.
Buratai’s narrative is a reconstruction of the reality of a theft meant to extricate the thief from his anti-social deed. His widow’s mite saving is a patent lie. It is an incredible truth told by a desperate robber who is less eager to expiate his crime than he is to justify his possession of the stolen goods.
Buratai told an incongruous legend. The cost of his two Dubai mansions is not a sum of the savings of the unspent fraction of his soldier’s salary. He couldn’t have possibly bought the houses that are significantly above his earning with his wages. He procured the house some other way he is not proud to divulge.
Thankfully, he didn’t parrot a variation of Diezani Allison-Madueke’s claim that her stupefying 18 million dollar Abuja mansion was a product of “the blessings of God.” He avoided the profanity of ascribing his dubious acquisition to the handiwork of an invisible Being who can neither be queried nor arrested. He told the less obnoxious untruth of describing his two Dubai houses as stuff that materialized out of his cumulative “personal savings.”
To be fair, though, a strict reading of his theory of “personal savings” acquits Buratai of lying. This is because he did not state that the “personal savings” were part of his legitimate wages. He merely implied it. He cued the reader of the text of his response to to infer a proposition he couldn’t bring himself to assert. He suggested just enough to make you adopt the import of the subtle conclusion he made by hoarding his disclosure behind a thin veneer of escapist denial!
That said, Buratai effectively confessed to perpetration of fraud, stealing and money laundering when he confirmed that he purchased properties he couldn’t ordinarily afford. He bore witness against himself by admitting ownership of houses that are worth more than his means. He unwittingly accused himself of furtively bridging the irreconcilable difference between the worth of those properties and his wages.
And it’s easy to figure how this general managed to buy houses that were above his level of income without a bank loan. His resume indicates he had the ‘good luck’ of being the Director of Procurement, Defense Headquarters a while ago. That period coincided with the ascendance of Boko Haram and the ritualized humiliation of the Nigerian Army in the North East.
The termination of the corrupt regime of President Goodluck Jonathan by the Nigerian electorate and the installation of opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari created opportunity for the interrogation of the artificial paradox of a continental military superpower, with an unrivaled record of successful peacekeeping across Africa, fighting a losing territorial war with homegrown insurgents.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has been investigating the military industrial complex that denied Nigerian troops war supplies and made billions of naira at the expense of 20,000 Nigerian lives and 3 million refugees.
The probe revealed that a syndicate of senior military officers who were responsible for procuring ammo for the prosecution of the war against terror in the North East betrayed their country and their colleagues at the war front. They awarded fake contracts to themselves and their cronies, under-supplied in the few instances where they bothered to deliver at all, and fattened their pockets.
This resulted in a situation where Nigerian soldiers were compelled to face one of the deadliest terrorist groups in the world empty-handed. That ironical, uneven match between the government force and the guerrilla fighters favored the better-equipped underdog. Thus, the terrorists decimated and maimed hundreds of our troops. They sacked villages, took women and girls into sex slavery, and hoisted their flags. They declared, at some point, 20,000 square miles of Nigerian soil, a space the size of Belgium, their jihadist caliphate.
Our military capability deficit caused many of our troops to desert the army that abandoned them. Others rid themselves of their uniform and escaped into neighboring countries; a shameful retreat the Nigerian Army minimized as “tactical maneuver.” Some who were braver stood their ground and declined to deploy to the war front until they were furnished with modest arms that would make their engagement with the enemy a proper combat.
Their refusal to march in lockstep unity to the appointed arena of the decreed suicide was called “mutiny.” They were branded cowards. They were arrested, court-martialed and sentenced…to death.
Buratai, obviously, featured in the cast of that top brass that made a fortune by hemorrhaging the rank and file of the Nigerian Army. As Director of Procurement, Defense Headquarters, he was a very relevant player in major purchases conducted in the name of the Nigerian military. The nature of his position domiciled the core routines of arms procurement business in his office.
He knew about the cult-like bids, the classified paperwork, and the fast-forward encashment that attends such ‘national security’ transactions. He had such a strategic positioning that is impossible to imagine a scenario in which that protracted season of fraud could have lasted without his passive acquiescence, in the least, or his active participation, at most.
The very fact that Buratai bought those properties during the span of that muted looting riot strengthens the certitude of his participation and profiteering in the arms contract bazaar.
Buratai bought his Dubai houses with blood money. The “personal savings” he references have nothing to do with the wage due his rank. The “personal savings” that account for his houses represent the portion of filthy profit he made from the multiple arms procurement scams he was privy to.
His choice of Dubai even goes further to frame his portrait as a bona fide member of the Nigerian elite thieving class. It is de rigueur for members of his clique to own houses in Dubai. You validate your place in the scheme of things by securing a residence in the Arabian city that all your partners-in-crime agree should be the adopted village of all the members of the brotherhood!
Looking at Buratai buttresses the truism that says charm is deceptive. The man is gaunt, slim and trim. His form is a rebuke to the overweight build Nigerian generals parade nowadays. His physique suggests he is a believer in spartanism. You would never have guessed from his outward appearance that he won’t be content with one house in Dubai. You would never have judged that he required an irreducible minimum of two houses to feel his military career has been a success!
The indictment of Buratai in this matter highlights a broader Nigerian problem. There is a dearth of integrity in our land. Our large population has but a few endangered species of incorruptible men. In practically all fields of human endeavor in Nigeria, if you cast a lot, the odds are that it would fall on a retired thief, an active thief, or an aspiring thief.
That is, every recruitment shortlist is likely to confront you with the risk of picking a person who is living on the remainder of his past thievery, or a person who is currently plundering his present position, or a person who is waiting for an opportunity to create new all-time high looting record!
To clarify this further, your average pick is a thief. In the time continuum, he is a retired thief, a practicing thief, or a potential thief. It’s only the tense of activity that locates him in the right taxonomy.
This is the reason why the tendency is for people to treat obvious cases of corruption with hesitancy. Their guilt or ambition restrains them from condemning in absolute terms. They know they have stolen like the disgraced man or they have a dream of stealing like he did.
And if they determine that the subject of the scandal identifies with a nativity, political party, or a religion that resonates with them, they are wont to come out of the closet as kindred spirits and exculpate the thief as an innocent target of witch-hunt.
We have simply mainstreamed corruption in Nigerian public life. We have normalized the materialistic ethic and let it percolate through the curriculum of our socialization. And the real tragedy is that we aren’t honest about the immoral evolution we have wrought. We still affect respect for standard virtues though we prove to be hypocrites when a blatant assault on those values tests our sense of outrage.
A few weeks ago, Buratai purged the Nigerian Army of senior officers that were said to have been guilty of unprofessional misdemeanors. He justified their premature retirement as an exercise in personnel sanitation. He himself should share in the fate of those he sacked. He should be dumped. He is not a cleaner specimen than those he pronounced dirty.
If anything, he is a more serious threat to the Nigerian Army than all of them put together. What proves this is the manner in which he is using the institution as a handy shield. Instead of confronting the private scandal as a person, he is subjecting the spokesman of the Nigerian Army to the abuse of posing as a character witness to a criminal suspect.
In an attempt to do the double act of simultaneously asserting his ownership of the stolen goods and claiming legitimate possession of same, he is disseminating a propaganda that echoes a false equivalence between a question mark on his character and an effort to undermine the Nigerian Army. He would even venture so far as weaving the war against terror into his mess. He said the anonymous whistleblowers that exposed him were not patriots. They were fifth columnists. Boko Haram agents working to reverse the technical defeat of the death cult…by distracting him!
President Buhari must sack Buratai. Everything is wrong with permitting a war criminal who amassed outrageous wealth by sacrificing Nigerian lives to continue as head Nigerian Army. His complicity in the escalation of the war and the resultant slaughter of thousands of Nigerians renders him unfit to answer to the title of Chief of Army Staff.
Buhari must sack the Chief of Army Staff for the selfsame reason the general sacked his juniors. The exact punishment the judge used for others should be meted out to him. The sententious Buratai should be kicked out in the spirit of the clean-up he preached. The Nigerian Army should not accommodate at the height of its hierarchy a man who has a habit of buying pieces of real estate his means cannot explain.
A corrupt army chief is a threat to national security. Buratai is a threat to national security. As it stands today, he models to Nigerian soldiers a lodestar of “personal savings” that doesn’t make sense outside the perimeters of corruption.
Imagine what an army we would have if the Chief’s example of magical ”personal savings” catches on in all Nigerian barracks!
Buratai should be sacked and called to account. To retain him as the leader of the Nigerian Army in the face of a scandal that has vitiated his authority is to encourage him to continue to inspire Nigerian soldiers and civilians to mimic his dark art.
Imagine what a country we would have if we all started doing Buratai-style ”personal savings” and becoming Dubai landlords!
You can reach Emmanuel at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @EmmaUgwuTheMan. on SR