The Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai, could not hold back tears yesterday at the graveside of the Commanding Officer (CO) of 272 Task Force Tank Battalion in Battalion, Lt.Col. Muhammed Abu Ali, and six others, who were killed by Boko Haram elements.
Other gallant soldiers, who also lost their lives in the theatre of operation were: Sergeants Muazu Ibrahim, Hussani Jafaru, and Bassey Okon, Cpl Chukwu Simon, Able Seaman Patrick Paul (Nigerian Navy) as well as Pte Salisu Lawal.
They died when the terrorists attempted to seize Mallam Fatori in Borno State on Friday, November 4 in an attack.
The soldiers were inducted into the Operation Lafiya Dole in 2014, designed to fight the Boko Haram insurgents and liberate the North-East from their hold. In his oration at the National Military Cemetery, Abuja, Buratai described Ali and others as a shining example of gallantry and patriotism.
“They were brave, precise, professional and inspiring. They led the battle to recapture the following towns: Monguno, Baga, new Marte, Bama,Gwosa, Banki Junction, Gamboru-Ngala, Yale, Yanteke, Bita, Deruwa, Daira Kangaruwa and Mallam Fatori.
“In these battles, they rescued children and women, fathers and mothers, the young and the old and restored peace and hope to Nigerian citizens. At last, on November 4, they paid the supreme sacrifice in the battle of Mallam Fatori,” the COAS said.
According to him, “the deceased epitomised the very best of our military. They exemplified the values of our nation and the military, which are: loyalty, discipline, courage, selfless service, respect, honour and dignity.
Buratai said that the deceased fought for the unity of the nation, adding that “your labour will never be in vain.”
He vowed that the sacrifices of the fallen heroes will not be in vain. He promised that the army would take care of their survivors. On his part, President Muhammadu Buhari eulogised the gallantry of the soldiers.
Buhari, who was represented by his Chief of Staff, Mr. Abba Kyaari, said: “They (soldiers) were fearless, responsive, inspiring, selfless and dedicated to their duties. “The selflessness of these gentlemen reinvigorates the memories of other great fallen heroes, who stood firm in the defence of our dear nation.
“It is, therefore, our resolve that the labours of these fallen heroes shall never be in vain.” He added that insurgency and terrorism would be defeated.
Also, the wife of the President, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, offered her condolences to the families during the burial of the soldiers. The wife of the president, who was among top dignitaries that attended the burial, also interacted with the families of the slain soldiers.
She said the soldiers died as heroes and would remain in her mind and the minds of Nigerians.
Mrs. Buhari commended the efforts of Lt.-Col. Abu-Ali and his colleagues for the successful return of some of the Chibok girls and other persons held in captivity by the insurgents. She prayed for the repose of the slain soldiers’ souls, saying that late Lt.- Col. Abu-Ali and his colleagues paid the supreme price.
The wife of the president, who was accompanied by the wife of the Senate President, Mrs. Toyin Saraki, said that the soldiers laid their lives for peace and security in the North-East.
Also in her entourage were the wives of Borno, Kebbi and Kogi State governors, Mrs. Nana Shettima, Mrs. Zainab Bagudu and Mrs. Rashidat Bello respectively, as well as wives of some ministers.
The families of the slain soldiers were later presented with the National Gorail for fallen heroes by the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The presentation was performed by the Chief of Staff to the President, Kyari, who represented the president at the burial ceremony.
Dignitaries that attended the funeral included the service chiefs, Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno, Ministers of Information and Culture, and Interior, and Senators Ali Ndume, Dino Melaye and Phillip Aduda.
The deceased were interred at about 5.55 p.m. after all necessary military ceremonies. The soldiers died during a fierce encounter with Boko Haram elements.
The battle, which was occasioned by an attack on 119 Battalion located in Northern Borno State, also resulted in the killing of 14 suspected insurgents.
The Army, in a statement by its spokesman, Col. Sani Usman, said Ali’s gallantry, had earned him a rapid promotion from the rank of Major to Lieutenant Colonel. The late CO was decorated in Gamboru-Ngala on September 9, 2015, by the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen. Buratai.