It was an emotional moment at the National Military Cemetery Abuja, yesterday, when one of Nigeria’s most formidable war commanders, the late Lt Col Muhammad Abu Ali who was killed in an ambush by Boko Haram insurgents in Mallam Fatori, Borno State, last Friday, was buried.
Ali was buried alongside six soldiers Sgt Muazu Ibrahim, Sgt Hassan Jafaru, Sgt Bassey Okon, Cpl Chukwu Simon, Seaman Patrick Paul of the Nigerian Navy and Pte Salisu Lawal, who were also killed in the ambush.
In his funeral oration, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen Tukur Buratai, in an emotion-laden voice, described the slain army commander, and his six other colleagues as the embodiment of the best of Nigeria military.
According to the army chief, they exemplified the values of the nation and the military with their loyalty, discipline, courage selfless service, respect, honour and dignity.
He said the slain officers had on several occasions, turned the tide of battle in Nigeria’s favour in their mission to liberate the country from the scourge of terrorism, through their fearless and dogged determination to defend the territorial integrity of their fatherland.
Buratai recalled that as members of the 119 Task Force Battalion and the Armed Forces Special Forces, Abu Ali and the other soldiers went after the terrorists, smoked them out of their enclaves and bombed their factories and hiding areas.
“They were brave, precise, professional and inspiring,’’ he said.
The COAS disclosed that these fallen heroes led the battle to recapture towns and villages like 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 restored peace and order to Nigerian citizens.
“At last, on November 4, 2016, they paid the supreme sacrifice in the battle of Mallam Fatori.
“Sarkin Yarkin, 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,’’ the army chief said.
Buratai further assured the families of the slain soldiers of strong support from the military, and that their welfare will be a top priority to the military at all times.
Earlier in his address, President Muhammadu Buhari, who was represented by his chief of staff, Abba Kyari, had said that at a time like this, the attention of the nation had been refocused on the sacrifices of the men and women in uniform who epitomise the noble values that unite the country.
He further stated that words alone cannot describe the patriotism and courage of these soldiers who laid down their lives for Nigeria, adding that the officer, the soldiers and their colleagues showed unalloyed commitment to the common good of all Nigerians.
According to the president, the ultimate sacrifices of the slain gentlemen recall the memories of other great heroes who stood firm in the defence of the nation and had to pay the supreme price in the fight against insurgency.
“Their sacrifice, patriotism and, indeed, gallantry would surely not go in vain,” he said.
The president further stated that, “Undeniably, the gallantry and high sense of professionalism displayed by these gentlemen have contributed to the restoration of peace and normalcy in the North East.
“It is therefore our resolve that the efforts of these fallen heroes shall never be in vain. We remain spurred by their zeal and gallant efforts to ensure that terrorism and insurgency is defeated so that our country can enjoy the much desired peace and progress.
‘’The efforts of the leadership of our armed forces, as well as those of other services and all Nigerians towards the successful end of insurgency as well as all other security threats are commendable.’’
The president urged the armed forces not to relent in their efforts in the war against the scourge of terrorism
The funeral was witnessed by families of the slain military men, Wife of the president, Mrs Aisha Buhari, Borno State governor, Kashim Shettima; minister of interior, Abdulrahman Dambazau; minister of information, Lai Mohammed; Senators Ali Ndume, Philip Aduda, Dino Melaye, and wife of the Senate president, Mrs Toyin Saraki among others.
Abu Ali, A National Hero – Gov Bello
Meanwhile, tributes have continued to pour in for the deceased war hero.
Niger State governor, Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello, described the late Lt. Col. Abu Ali as a national hero whose battleground conduct is worthy of commendation and emulation by all Nigerians.
Governor Bello said the fallen officer’s discipline, gallantry, patriotism, selfless service, commitment and clear understanding of the battle space and what was at stake ensured various successes recorded in operations he led in the fight against Boko Haram, particularly the liberation of territories occupied by terrorists in the North East.
The governor, in a condolence message signed by his chief press secretary, Malam Jibrin Baba Ndace, said Abu Ali was the example of a gentleman officer who lived by the professional demands of his calling through tactical deployment of strategic directives from the military high command in support of counter terrorism operations (Operation Lafiya Dole) in the North East.
“Late Muhammad Abu Ali’s understanding of military regimentation, command and control structure as well as exemplary leadership ensured that his troops respected him, and senior commanders at strategic and command levels had confidence in him.
“He lived and died for Nigeria. The tributes, testimonies and outpouring of emotions by his troops and others who encountered him in the course of his professional career, which earned him accelerated promotion and Chief of Army Staff’s Award for Exceptional Bravery and Excellence, are an indication that he was a war hero who knew nothing more than service to the nation.“
According to the governor, Ali’s timeless quote: ‘pray, stay alert and stay alive. If someone must die, let it be me’, which has gone viral with his death, revealed the kind of persona and life that he lived as a military officer.
The Niger State governor commiserated with the family of the departed hero, President Muhammadu Buhari, the defence ministry, the military high command, the government and people of Kogi State, the Etsu Bassa Nge, and the officers and Men of 272 Tank Battalion over the loss of the Nigerian war hero.
He prayed Allah to grant the late officer Aljana Fidausi and to grant the family the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss.
Until his death, the award winning officer, fondly called Sarki Yaki, was the Commanding Officer, 272 Task Force Battalion at Mallam Fatori in Northern Borno State. He is survived by his father, the Etsu Bassa Nge, Brig Gen Abu Ali (retd), wife, and three children.