By Daily Post
Thousands of people, including a lot of soldiers and other security officials have died in Nigeria since Boko Haram launched its murderous insurgency six years ago but the outpouring of grief all across Nigeria last week at the death of Lt-Colonel Mohammed Abu Ali was without precedent.
This skilled, patriotic and fearless Army officer was killed when insurgents attacked positions of the Nigerian Army’s 119 Battalion location at Malam Fatori in northern Borno State on November 4.
An Army statement said the attack took place at 10am on that day. It said the troops fought gallantly, repelled the attack, killed 14 insurgents and retrieved a lot of weapons and ammunition.
However, five soldiers were killed including Lieutenant Colonel Muhammad Abu Ali, Commanding Officer of 272 Task Force Tank Battalion.
At the soldiers’ funeral in Abuja last week, encomiums were showered on Colonel Ali and his men. President Muhammadu Buhari, the Senate and Army Chief Lt Gen Tukur Buratai all showered encomiums on the slain officer and his colleagues.
The huge outpouring of tributes for Lt Col Ali arose when accounts by the Army command, his fellow officers and men as well as by journalists who knew him in Borno State brought to Nigerians the real scope of the loss that we all suffered.
Born in Lagos State on August 15, 1980 the late Col Ali attended Army Children’s School in Maiduguri and Command Secondary School, Jos.
The son of retired Colonel Abu Ali, a former military administrator and presently a traditional ruler in Kogi State, Lt Col Ali went to the Nigeria Defence Academy in 1998 and was commissioned an officer in 2003.
At a time when many officers pulled strings in order to dodge deployment to the North East in order to fight the murderous insurgency, Ali willingly went to the front and over the years he fought with great skill, gallantry, courage and dedication.
He played a prominent part in the liberation of areas once controlled by Boko Haram especially Monguno and Baga in northern Borno State.
Ali was a very skilled handler of the Russian made T-72 main battle tank. While fellow officers called him “Slim,” men of his tank battalion called him “Sarkin Yaki,” i.e. war commander.
Many stories are told of his exceptional skill and bravery during the epic battle to liberate Baga from Boko Haram last year.
As a result, Lt Gen Buratai gave him special promotion from Major to Lt Col during an operational visit to Borno State in September last year.
At the time of his death, Ali was the Commanding Officer of the 272 Task Force Tank Battalion based at Malam Fatori, one of the last areas to be cleared of Boko Haram insurgents.
It is a very difficult terrain where troops of the Multinational Joint Task Force comprising men from Nigeria, Niger Republic, Chad, Cameroon and Benin Republic are still heavily engaged in clearance operations.
The House of Representatives has already called upon the Army authorities to give the late Lt. Colonel another accelerated promotion to Brigadier General in recognition of his gallantry and for laying down his life in order that his country will know peace.
We fully support the legislators’ call and all other calls that have been made to immortalise the late tank commander’s name and to ensure that he did not die in vain.
Yet, it must be remembered that Lt Col Ali was one out of many, many officers and men who paid the supreme price in order that this country would slay the Boko Haram monster.
While it may not be possible to individually immortalise all of them, all honours done to Lt Col Ali should be in recognition of his personal sacrifice but also as a symbol for the heroic soldiers who laid down their lives in the line of duty.
In other countries, soldiers that died at the war front in the service of their countries are honoured not only collectively at the national level but every state and local government area also honours its natives that died in the war.
Lt Colonel Ali left behind a young wife, three small children and his parents. The sight of them at the funeral last week broke every Nigerian’s heart and no effort should be spared by the military authorities and government to cater for them and ensure that their bread winner did not die in vain.
It must also be remembered that there are hundreds, if not thousands of other military widows and orphans. In most cases they have received the shabbiest treatment since the death of their husbands and parents at the war front.
No civilised society should treat its war heroes in this way. In other countries that fought epic wars, whole ministries are created to cater for war veterans as well as their survivors through a welter of educational, health, welfare and other programs and projects.
This is necessary not only to show gratitude to the veterans and fallen heroes but also to motivate others that are called to war service to know that if they fight or die, it will not be in vain.
The present situation where families of dead soldiers could be thrown out of the barracks and must wait endlessly for benefits should come to an end immediately. Government must budget generously not only for weapons to fight the war but also for the welfare of the troops that wage the war and possibly die in it.
If the painful death of Lt Col Mohammed Abu Ali finally awakens us to the urgent need to improve our regard and treatment of our country’s war heroes, then he would not have died in vain. We pray for the repose of their souls in Aljannat.