From MOLLY KILETE, Abuja
Saturday, November 6, 2016 would remain evergreen in the minds of Nigerians as they woke up to the sad news that one of the country’s dogged and courageous soldier, Lieutenant-Colonel Mohammed Abu Ali, had been killed in an ambush by Boko Haram in Borno State. He was killed on Friday night about 10 pm as he and his troops tried to repel the attack on them.
Until his untimely death, Abu Ali was the commanding officer of the 272 Task Force Battalion at Mallam Fatori in the northern part of Borno State.
His death once again highlighted the great risk members of the armed forces are exposed to in the quest to protect the territorial integrity of the country against internal and external aggression.
Like Abu Ali, many officers and soldiers have made the supreme sacrifice for the nation, unannounced, but the case of Ali stood out because the soldiers under his command were so devastated that they took to social media to express their sorrow.
Ali was like the proverbial cat with nine lives as he had on several occasion had close shave with death and survived.
Countless times, he led his men into battle to recover the bodies of fallen officers and soldiers killed by the terrorists in the depths of Sambisa forest, undeterred by the numerous mines laid by Boko Haram, so that they could be properly buried and also give their grieving wives a closure. Most of such missions were accomplished with uncommon bravery.
But streak of luck ran out on Friday, November 5, when the terrorists attacked his location at Malam Fatori, and gunned him down at the tender age of 36.
Malam Fatori is located in the northern part of Borno, close to the border of Nigeria with Niger Republic and Cameroon. It is a major stronghold of Boko Haram and currently a hot zone of the battle against the insurgents.
He left behind a young wife, three very young children, parents, brothers and sisters, friends and the Nigerian armed forces to mourn his devastating loss.
People from all walks of life attended his burial on Monday, November 7, during which they heard so much about his exploits in the battlefront. Though the burial was slated for 5pm, mourners began trooping into the cemetery as early as 10am on that day.
Dignitaries including a delegation from the government of Kogi State and the people of Bassa-nge, where the deceased officer hailed from were also on ground to bid their son who had made them proud farewell.
Top serving and retired military personnel were not left out of the throng of sympathizers; the crowd was overwhelming. His course mates who made up the team of pallbearers arrived the venue early enough and took their position very close to ambulance bearing his remains.
With the arrival of the service chiefs, comprising the Chief of Defence staff, Maj-Gen Gabriel Olonisakin, Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Tukur Buratai, Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Abubakar Sadiq and Chief of Staff and Representative of President Muhammadu Buhari, Abba Kyari, the burial ceremony commenced.
At exactly 4:38pm, the pallbearers lifted the caskets bearing the bodies of Ali and the other six soldiers from the seven ambulances. As the burial party led by Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Michael, marched into the burial site, everyone stood up.
Thereafter, prayers were offered for the repose of the dead, by the Protestant, Catholic and Muslim clerics in the Army Directorate of Religious Affairs.
Overwhelmed by grief, Buratai, wept profusely as he gave his funeral tribute, Buratai praised Lt Col Abu Ali, and the six soldiers (Staff Sgt. Muazu Ibrahim, Sgt Husseini Jafaru, Sgt Okon Bassey, Cpl Chukwu Simon, PTE Salishu Lawal, and Able Seaman Patrick Paul.)
He said: “These gallant soldiers were inducted into Operation Lafiya Dole in 2014 to form the pivot of the counter-insurgency efforts of the Armed Forces of Nigeria in the North East. Through fearless and dogged determination to defend the territorial integrity of our fatherland, these turned the tide of battle to liberate Nigeria from the scourge of terrorism. As members of 119 Task Force Battalion, and the Armed Forces Special Forces, they went after the adversaries to smoke them out of their enclaves, bomb their IED factories and hiding areas. They were brave, precise, professional and inspiring.
“They led the battle to recapture the following towns and villages: Monguno, Baga, New Marge, Bama, Gwoza, Banki Junction, Gamboru Ngala, Yale, Yemteke, Bitam, Doronaira, Kagarwa, Ärrege, Abadam, and Mallam Fatori.
“In these battles, they rescued women, and children, fathers and mothers, the young and the old and restore peace and order to Nigerian citizens.
“At last on Friday, November 4, 2016, they paid the supreme sacrifice in the battle of Mallam Fatori. These men epitomize the best of our military. They exemplified the values of our nation and our military, with their loyalty, discipline, courage selfless service, respect, honour and dignity.
“They left behind wives, children, as well as parents and dependants. They fought for the unity of our nation. Our brave and gallant compatriots, your families and comrades will miss you. The entire nation will miss you but be rest assured that your labour will never be in vain.”
Focusing on Ali, Buratai said: “Sarkin Yaki, the frontline general, you and your men have fought a good fight, you always told them to pray, stay alert, and stay alive. You will always be alive in our memories, we shall continue to pray for you, we shall continue to pray for you all, and we shall remain alert for you, for the cause you have laid your life for.
“Your loved ones will remain in our care and their welfare will be of utmost priority at all times. You have fought a good cause and we are rest assured that your souls rest in perfect peace with the Almighty in Paradise.
Abu Ali’ body was committed to Mother Earth at exactly 5:50pm.
How he died
There are speculations surrounding the death of this fine soldier and a terror to the terrorists. The army authorities have indicated that thorough investigation would be conducted as it is believed that some unscrupulous persons within and outside the army might have given the enemy details of how a group of soldiers belonging to the Special Forces trained in Belarus were asked to withdraw from Mallam Fatori, in northern Borno, where soldiers of 272 Tank Battalion are presently located, to Maiduguri, on the day of the incident.
It was gathered that although the order to withdraw from the operational area where the special forces have been since June, did not go down well with the soldiers, given the sensitive nature of the area, the troops had to obey the last order and got to Maiduguri, about 5pm on Friday.
Sunday Sun gathered that the Special Forces team was to participate in a special operation in the Sambisa forest.
Sources said Malam Fatori, which is a border town between Cameroon and Niger Republic, and major stronghold of Boko Haram, from where the terrorists launch attacks against the army almost on a daily basis.
“What happened was that there was a signal that 50 soldiers of our Special Forces be withdrawn from Malam Fatori to Maidiguri,” a source told Sunday Sun.
Continuing, the source said: “The reason was that they were to embark on a special operation at Sambisa forest. Although we were not happy when we received the signal given the nature of the security situation there and the role these members of the Special Forces are playing there, the soldiers had to comply with the order. A senior officer who was sent to oversee the effective withdrawal of the troops from the area did not look too relaxed when he came because he was in such a hurry that he even left without his soldiers, which was very unusual. He was supposed to have left with the soldiers but somehow he left without them and drove on that dangerous road alone with his escorts which was very unusual.”
However, another source who simply described the incident as unfortunate, said that the officer and his team had to go ahead of the soldiers after their vehicle developed some problems and needed repairs.
The source said that before leaving Malam Fatori, it was agreed that they meet up with them at Diffa, for onward movement to Maiduguri, which they did.
The source continued: “And so that night about eight o’clock, the terrorists who were mostly Cameronians, Nigerien, Nigerians and other nationals that had been operating in the area decided to attack as usual. The soldiers fought back and the shootout lasted, about two hours and when the terrorists could no longer withstand our firepower, they retreated but the soldiers didn’t know that some of the terrorists were hiding close by and only buying time.
“And so when the commanding officer felt that the area was cool and calm, he decided to come out of his tank to boost the morale of troops, which he usually does after such operation and to find out the number of casualty on his side.
After greeting the soldiers and urging them to keep the fighting spirit very high, he then was walking back to the tank when the terrorists who had been looking for him for sometime fired a volley of shots at him, and killed him in the process.”
Expectedly, his death has affected the morale of the troops.
The man Abu Ali
Lieutenant-Colonel Muhammed Abu Ali meant different things to different people. Hardly has any story of bravery evoked as much passion as in his case amongst Nigerians.
When news of his death and that of six soldiers got to the theatre command headquarters in Maiduguri, a military helicopter with medical personnel was dispatched to evacuate their bodies.
Muhammed Abu Ali was born on August 15, 1980, in Lagos State, but hailed from Kogi State. He attended Army Children’s School, Maiduguri, and Command Secondary School, Jos. He gained admission into the Nigerian Defence Academy in 1998, as a member of 50th Regular Course and was commissioned as an officer in 2003.
He got married to his heartthrob on January 25, 2008. The marriage is blessed with three children – Fatima, Amir and Yasmin.
Popularly called “slim” by his friends and “Sarkin Yaki” and OC “Suicide Bomb”, by fellow combatants, he was known as a terror to terrorists for his daring campaigns as Commander of the 272 Task Force Battalion.
He fought for the glory of the nation and was unshakable in his steely resolve to retain the territorial integrity of Nigeria – a price that came with the sacrifice of his life in the line of duty. A patriot par excellence and an unyielding force to enemies of the nation, he was not one to shy away from battle. Under very difficult circumstances, he and his men successfully liberated scores of towns from insurgents.
Before he and six others fell in combat in a Boko Haram ambush, he had been decorated for his gallantry by the Chief of Army Staff, who also gave him rapid promotion to the rank of a Lt. Colonel in September 2015, shortly after he was promoted a Major. He was also the recipient of the Chief of Army Staff Award for Bravery and Excellence.
He served the nation with unwavering commitment and dedication, paying the ultimate price so that millions can sleep on their beds in peace.
From the frontlines, it is reported that he was instrumental to the military campaign that won back Baga from the stranglehold of Boko Haram. From soldiers in the frontline, it was learnt that he initially started his brave conquests from Yola, in Adamawa State from where he was moved to Borno. He and his battalion later moved to recover Monguno and later to Konduga, which were hitherto dreaded.
Through Yale, he and his battalion were again instrumental to the liberation of Bama, Pulka and eventually Gwoza, which fell back under the control of Nigerian forces. He was a dutiful officer and will be missed by millions of Nigerians
His course mates described him as an irreplaceable asset. He will remain a towering source of inspiration.