Mon. Apr 15th, 2024

By Emmanuel Onwubiko 

One set of appointments made so far by President Muhammadu Buhari since assuming office about seven years back is the set of Envoys the President selected and posted out to the West African sub region and especially those sent to Togo, Benin Republic and Cameroon about a year ago to be precise. 

Ironically,  these persons apart from the Nigerian Ambassador to Togo who is a seasoned journalist and indeed my boss in The Guardian newspaper for many years Mr. Debo Adesina,  the remaining duo were erstwhile military service Chiefs who retired about a year ago and immediately got a national call ups to serve Nigeria further in a civilian capacity and to become the faces of a Democratic Nigeria in a sub region that is increasingly becoming restless and impatient with the practices of constitutional democracy. 

The Nigerian Ambassador to Togo did something extraordinary to show that Nigeria cares for the wellbeing and welfare of her citizens globally. We will discuss his outstanding performance demonstrated by the uncommon effort he made to rescue Nigerians from being deprived of their dignity and fundamental human rights and also stave off possible diplomatic war between Nigeria and Togo. We will also look at how the Ambassador of Nigeria in Cameroon motivated the Super Eagles during the ill fated appearance at the just ended African Nations Cup in Cameroon. Things are indeed looking bright for us in the West African sub region. 

This is because it will be more suitable to start this piece with the following quote, “A good name is better than bags of gold,” by Miguel de Cervantes; a Spanish writer, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the Spanish language and one of the world’s pre-eminent novelists.

Section 19 of the 1999 Constitution places Africa at the centre of Nigeria’s foreign policy and those who wish to analyse the events and activities that have shaped the Country’s foreign relations, including trade promotion, economic relations and bilateral security cooperation in the last one year can proudly point at the Nigerian Mission in Benin Republic headed by a Soldier-Diplomat; Amb. Tukur Yusuf Buratai (rtd), who has brought dignity to ambassadorial job and increasingly becoming the face of democracy in West Africa.

Ambassador TY Buratai is a former Chief of Army Staff; one that redefined purpose and engagement. He is such a great thinker. One won’t be wrong to regard him as one of the great strategists in the modern-day era because his exploits are legendary especially his desire to transform and enhance operational efficiency in combating insurgency.

When he served, as Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and leader of the counter-insurgency operations, His Excellency, Ambassador Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai (rtd) stretched his last energies, to save his country, from the pangs of insurgencies and insurrections. 

In fact, he donated his life and strength to the cause of liberating humanity to the best of his capacity and conscience for six years in leading the battle in the trenches. But life has mixed experiences; some pleasant and others unpleasant. So, Amb. Buratai has been publicly arbitrated maliciously or accurately eulogized based on who holds the other end of the stick, as ennobled by his personal perceptions.

But then, with how democracies in some of the West African Countries are looking towards militarism, Buratai could be designated as an ‘Icon of Democracy’ as he has sacredly remained a reference pillar of loyalty, love for the country and dedication to the nation’s peace and security under a democracy.

Pertinent to recall that with a clever sagacity, Buratai as Chief of Army Staff had on December 4, 2020, sternly warned his officers and men to perish the idea of any coup attempt in Nigeria. Did he foresee the series of military coups that would sweep out civilian administrations and put the West African region on edge? Now a diplomat, it may be difficult to get him to share his genuine thoughts on the subject matter.

Nonetheless, according to the foresighted ex-army boss, the Army hierarchy was aware that some generals were being approached and revealed that his eyes were on them. “Democracy has come to stay. We will not tolerate any agent of destabilisation. The years of military misadventure in politics have never carried us anywhere. It is over…Do not hobnob with politicians,” he had authoritatively declared.

Also, Buratai had in May 2017 warned his officers against unholy alliances with politicians. The statement came on the heels of a major shakeup in the Nigerian Army then. It appears that Buratai’s farsighted sermons would have hugely benefited the political leaders of Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Chad if they had had their antennas pointed at Abuja – and even Guinea-Bissau which escaped military overthrow by the whiskers.

Even as Nigeria’s Ambassador of Democracy in Republic of Benin, Gen. Buratai (rtd.) has continued to demonstrate loyalty and his hunger to disarm the wings of criminals and tormentors of Nigeria for a country totally freed from the strings of insecurities.

Since assuming duty in June, 2021 as President Muhammadu Buhari’s Envoy in Benin Republic, he has continued to take proactive steps in advancing the commitment of Nigeria in enhancing relations with the neighboring West Africa Country.

No doubts, President Muhmmadu Buhari’s appointment of Gen. Buratai (rtd) and his posting to the Republic of Benin was for strategic reasons. Fighting and defeating terrorism requires more than just having a properly trained army and warfare weapons. Amb. Buratai’s diplomatic endovours in Benin Republic has shown that it transcends such basic considerations and needs international alliances, collaboration and partnership with other foreign nations.

Benin Republic is strategic to Nigeria for several reasons. As a nation which shares a major commercial border with Nigeria-the Seme border, the country has come with its enough blessings on the economic front; and much as the concomitant burden.

Both legitimate and illicit trade transactions occur on the border. The Seme border’s most terrifying nightmare to Nigeria includes, trans-border crimes such as smuggling of firearms and contraband goods into the country.

While smuggled weapons have worsened insecurity in Nigeria; smuggled goods deny the Nigerian Government of its essential revenue or tax levies on imported goods. Importation of banned items also destroys the local economy and kills productivity.  Nigeria has battled with these discontents for years.

Angered by the danger posed by such sabotaging acts, President Buhari closed Nigerian borders, including the Seme border in August 2019, to curb smuggling of goods and weapons by these economic criminals.

Again, Nigeria’s greatest problem on insecurity is battling banditry and terrorism, which has lasted for over 10 years.  Much as the country has attempted to weaken terrorists and bandits operations within, they resurge from time to time, exalting more powers through smuggled weapons into the country.

Through subtle talks and persuasions, Benin Republic joined the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF), a regional security outfit set up to confront the madness of terrorism in the West African sub-region. The original countries in this arrangement are Nigeria, Niger and Chad republics.  But the needed cooperation for better gains has to be constantly activated or renewed by Nigeria.

Visibly, within the past few months, there has been a bright hope to end these tribulations with Gen. Buratai (rtd); a soldier who demonstrated his zeal, passion and determination to see to the greater security and peace for humanity, especially in Nigeria, now serving as a bridge between Nigeria and Benin; one of the countries which lubricates the problem.

Gen. Buratai is well-known for his passion for multiple approaches in fighting terrorism.  While in the service of the Nigerian Military, he was a consistent advocate of the adoption of non-kinetic weapons in fighting terrorism in the country.

His service now as Nigeria’s ambassador to Benin republic has been a good icing on the cake, hence he has constantly used the platform to further utilize his competence on preserving the multi-dimensional security issues afflicting Nigeria for peace, progress and security of the country.

Additionally, the timing of his Ambassadorial sojourn to Benin Republic was promising. Due to sustained pressures, the Federal Government of Nigeria had reopened its closed borders in December 2020, after it nearly broke international relations between the two countries.

By implication, while Government is desirous to encourage legitimate or authentic trans-border trade and commerce, it must also necessarily confine the operations within the prisms of approved international laws.

Thus, Amb. Buratai’s first duty or challenge was in this direction on how to renew the broken trade  relations between Nigeria and Benin in terms profitable to both countries, in accordance with prescriptions  of the ECOWAS Protocols. No magic could have worked better, rather than diplomatic engagements, which Amb. Buratai vigorously pursued.  

Once more, Amb. Buratai has been poised in promoting national security through the Nigeria/Benin border.  He has been working round the clock to curb smuggling of arms and other dangerous weapons into Nigeria through the Benin border. Being that this is an issue of interest, which is uppermost on the minds of Nigerians, he took very commendable steps within his first two months in office.

Within the past few months, Amb. Buratai has also engaged the Government of Benin Republic on ways to curb the large scale smuggling of goods into the country, which is a practice orchestrated by economic wolves and saboteurs and has deprived Nigeria of critical revenue in billions of naira annually for the development of public infrastructure. 

With these loopholes blocked, it opened the sure path to a greater and more rapid development of Nigeria under the Buhari’s Presidency. Individuals engaged in the business of importation are now having robust transactions in a competitive and protected environment. 

Gen. Buratai performed incredibly, as Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) in the very few months of his resumption of duty.  He has again replicated the same feat in Benin. Nigerians are now hopeful for more of such exploits in his mission.

Besides, the quick wins have started trickling into Nigeria, evident in the curtailing of the flow of smuggled weapons into the country. The reduced tempo in acts of terror or banditry. The series of surrenders by terrorists and armed gangs to the Nigerian Army is an apt indication of their suffocation in various ways, including weapons supply. 

Therefore, his mission as Nigeria’s envoy has helped in harvesting and sustaining multilateral ties with the West African country. As attested by his impeccable credentials in public service, Buratai has proven trusted in galvanizing international support from Benin Republic in the final defeat of the Boko Haram insurgency and allied insurgencies in Nigeria.

His many accomplishments within this short period are testament to the fact that his appointment was the right decision by the current administration as he has remained an exceptional Nigerian whose service record speaks volumes of an unalloyed commitment to the Nigerian dream and an equally astonishing level of patriotism to those ideals that define us as a people and country. No wonder in December, 2021 he was awarded as Icon of Patriotism by the London-based group; The Nigerian News.

The Embassy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in Lome, Togo proactively reacted further to trending videos on the social media on the maltreatment of some Nigerians in transit from the United States, aboard Ethiopian Airlines through Lome to Nigeria. The Ambassador, His Excellency Debo Adesina and his officials were at the airport and took up the matter until it was resolved.

Completing the Tripod of human rights defenders is the High Commission of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in Cameroon led by the former Chief of Defence Staff, Ambassador Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin, organised a grandiose reception for the members of the Federal Government’s AFCON delegation who were in Garoua to watch the Super Eagles engage their Egyptian counterparts in the ongoing competition.

The Federal Government delegation was treated to a grand lunch before the game, and the excitement was capped with a well-deserved victory by the Super Eagles against the Pharaohs of Egypt.

As Nigeria cruised to victory in Garoua, Olonisakin promised to sustain the support for the Eagles and her supporters, in ensuring that Nigeria lifts the trophy at the end of the competition.

Members of the official delegation, headed by the Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, Ahmed Idris Wase, were full of praise for the efforts of the High Commissioner and his staff, in navigating the huge logistics challenges in the remote Cameroonian city and ensuring a hitch free visit for the delegation.

Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, Chairmen, Senate and House Committees on Sports, Senator Obinna Ogba and Olumide Osoba respectively, were part of the delegation.

Other members included Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Sunday Dare; Minister of Agriculture, Dr Mohammed Abubakar, Minister of State for Finance, Clem Ikanade Agba, Minister of State for Science and Technology, Mohammed Abdullahi. Presidential aide on Sports, Daniel Amokachi, representative of the Department of State Security(DSS) and chairman of the Air Peace, Chief Allen Onyema.

Nigeria got their campaign off to a fine start as they claimed a 1-0 victory over Egypt in their Group D curtain-raiser on Tuesday. Another victory against Sudan today will take Nigeria to the second rounds irrespective of results between Egypt and Guinea-Bissau.

It can be said that Nigerians have been made happy by how well so far these three iconic Ambassadors have represented all of us in their respective fields of diplomatic engagements. 

Emmanuel Onwubiko is head of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria

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