The General Officer Commanding, GOC, 7 Division of the Nigerian Army in Borno State, Victor Ezugwu, a Brigadier General, recently embarked on a four-day elaborate tour of brigades and units under his command in Borno and Adamawa States. Despite an attack on his convoy in April along Maiduguri-Bama road, which led to the death of a soldier and injuries to two others, the army chief took to the same road when he could opt to take a helicopter ride.
That is the daring spirit that oozes when one encounters troops fighting insurgents in the Northeast. Our reporter, Samuel Malik, had a first-hand encounter with soldiers and their commanders during a trip to the frontlines of the war against insurgency. He got the rare privilege to speak with the GOC during one of his numerous tours of duty.
It was a brief encounter that was quite revealing. The GOC, fondly called ‘zuma’ by soldiers due to his connection and camaraderie with the troops, speaks about the insurgency and efforts to ensure civilians are safely returned to their communities. He says troops are winning the war due to the inspirational leadership of the current Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, a Lieutenant General.
What inspired you as the General Officer Commanding to embark on such an elaborate tour?
What inspired me is the inspiration I get from the leadership style of the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General T.Y. Buratai. Each time he comes to visit us in the front lines here, he goes to every unit within the AOR (area of responsibility) and he spends quality time with the troops and he tranverses through all these our locations. So, having been inspired by his sacrifice as head of the army, I said ‘ok, as a divisional commander I should be able to also go round and see my soldiers. So, particularly, what is unique about this tour is that it is the first time that I am taking a cross-country tour of my brigades.
What I want to achieve by this is to get to see my soldiers at every point. The idea is that even if I did not get to stop at each checkpoint to see them, if they heard that GOC was passing, as they saluted and I reciprocated, it would still be appreciated that at least the GOC passed through here. I wanted to get to know them closely and make myself available to them rub minds with them and hear their problems so that I can do whatever I can to solve them.
What are the takeaways you are leaving with from the tour?
The takeaway has been quite enormous, as it has been an eye opener. I have seen that my troops are in very high spirits. I have seen that the objective of the army headquarters to make sure that insurgency is brought to a successful conclusion has started yielding result. I saw motivated soldiers, I saw peace and security being restored in local governments and villages, I saw markets and places of worship and business activities springing up, I saw farming activities. Borno state was facing a food crisis. There was a time that we were losing IDPs due to shortage of food.
Now that I have seen farming has picked up, it is a guarantee that next harvesting season, there will be enough food for people to eat and this is closely linked to the security provided by soldiers. So, it gives me a lot of joy. I feel satisfied and fulfilled that peace is actually beginning to return to hitherto troubled places.
One statement you have reiterated to your troops in every location is, ‘We have won the war, it is the peace that we are after’. What do you mean by that?
What I mean is that war is about flexing muscles, pitching your equipment against the enemy’s, pitching your tactics against the enemy’s. These are the physical components of war. That is, immersing your arsenal against the enemy. In that case, the enemy has not been able to stand and face us and fight any longer. We have been destroying them. They come to attack us, we defeat them. We go to attack them, we defeat them. Casualty rate has dropped in my division but enemy casualty rate has tripled and quadrupled. So, if you allow me to say, I will say that particular aspect of the war, fighting, we have an upper hand against enemy.
Why I said peace is left for us to win is because much as I am satisfied that peace is returning to some areas, there are still some areas that we do not have our citizens in those places, where their houses that have been destroyed are yet to be reconstructed.
Thus, peace will be won when there is absolute or near absolute return of citizens to their abode and full commencement of economic life and restoration of government activities. You saw broken down bridges, you saw there is no power, you saw hospitals dilapidated and almost out of existence. These are the ingredients of peace that are still eluding us. It is not only about the presence of the military. Remember, there are other elements of national power that come into play in things like this when you are fighting insurgency. Military is a line of action. The political, the diplomatic, the economic, the information are all channels that you employ to fight insurgency.
The military aspect is what I am telling you that we have done reasonably very well. Now, for political stability, economic restoration, for ease of communication – you have seen that you cannot use your phones in certain places. The presence of these is what will show that peace has been won. It will take time but eventually there is light at the end of the tunnel, meaning we will get there.
So, I hope and dream that in no distant time, government will step up their activities in all other aspects, including the negotiation that the President keeps talking about, ‘If I see credible leaders of the insurgents, I will negotiate with them.’ It is an option that is open for us to win the war because every battle ends up on a talking table. After the war-war, you do the jaw-jaw. The jaw-jaw aspect of it is key to peace and I am praying and recommending that sooner or later when that is done, everything will come to a favourable conclusion and that is when Nigeria will declare herself free of insurgency.
In every location you have been to, troops kept calling and shouting ‘Zuma’. Where and how did you come about that name?
When I was a Lieutenant Colonel, I was posted to 35 Battalion in Katsina State as a Commanding Officer, CO, and, you know, command at battalion level is very critical in the military. If you make a successful battalion commander, you can as well make a successful brigade commander and as well a successful higher commander.
So, when I took over the battalion, the first address I gave to my soldiers – after telling them my mission, what I wanted us to do and how I wanted to run my battalion, discipline and a lot of other issues – that first address is very key because the soldiers are watching your lips, they are watching your body language and idiosyncrasies. These are the things they use to assess their commander and say, ‘E be like say this CO wey come, you sure say na better CO come so?’ Then same way, if your speech, that first speech, is inspirational, they can say, ‘Kai, the way wey we dey see this CO, the way him talk to us e be like say better CO don come’.
So, when I finished the address, I told them I came with two gifts. In my left hand I told them I had whip and in my right hand was a bottle of honey. I asked for the Hausa name for honey and they said Zuma. So, I told them those who wanted whip would get enough of it while those who wanted Zuma would equally get enough and we departed.
The day I held my first durbar, a soldier stood up to ask a question and he said, ‘Sir, when you took over this unit’, immediately he said that, my heart jumped because during durbar the soldiers have immunity and they can say anything without fear because there is no officer present, it is the commanding officer and them. He continued, ‘You told us that you came with Koboko (whip) and Zuma but sir, the way I dey see am now e be like say you don throw away the Koboko, na two Zuma dey your hand now’. They felt that I was beginning to give them a new lease of life and that was how they started calling me Zuma. I think that was their way of giving me a pass mark for the little effort I put in.