Slain officer received accelerated promotion, decorated for outstanding bravery in anti-insurgency war
Michael Olugbode in Maiduguri and Kasim Sumaina and Oluwatosin Komolafe in Abuja
About three weeks after 21 of the over 200 schoolgirls abducted in April 2014 by Boko Haram terrorists from Chibok, Borno State, were rescued, another victim of the abduction was yesterday found by soldiers and handed over to the state government. Acting Director of Army Public Relations, Colonel Sani Usman, said the girl, identified as Maryam Ali Maiyanga, was carrying a 10-month-old son, when she was discovered among escapees from Boko Haram hideouts in Sambisa forest who were being screened by soldiers.
Also yesterday, the Nigerian Army said the officer who commanded troops to dislodge Boko Haram extremists from Baga, in Borno State, in one of the fiercest battles since the anti-insurgency war began in 2009, was among those killed in a surprise attack by suspected insurgents on Friday night. Usman said Lieutenant Colonel Muhammad Abu Ali was “killed in action” alongside four soldiers, while four other soldiers sustained injuries. He said 14 Boko Haram terrorists were killed as troops tried to repel the attack on a 119 Battalion, Nigerian Army, location at Mallam Fatori. The town in northern Borno State is on the border between Nigeria and Republic of Niger.
Though, the attack by the extremists, which took place about 9pm on Friday, was successfully warded off by soldiers, the Nigerian Army said it lost one of its bravest officers since the anti-terrorism war. Usman said the formation “came under attack of Boko Haram insurgents about 9pm. The insurgents, who had been earlier dislodged by the troops, regrouped to reclaim the location but were successfully repelled after a fierce battle that lasted for an hour and a half with the troops overpowering them at about 10.30pm.”
Ali was the Commanding Officer of 272 Task Force Tank Battalion. As a Major in February last year, he led the battle to recapture Baga town from Boko Haram occupation, an operation that has been described as one of the fiercest battles with the terrorists.
In a statement yesterday, Usman recalled some of Ali’s heroic exploits in the fight against Boko Haram. “Because of the late senior officer’s exceptional bravery and gallantry, he was given an accelerated promotion from the rank of Major to Lieutenant Colonel and was decorated by the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General TY Buratai at Gamboru Ngala on 9th September 2015 during an operational visit,” the Army spokesman stated.
He listed items recovered from the terrorists to include one General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG), seven AK-47 rifles, and a large quantity of ammunition. Others are three Bandoliers of 7.62 mm ammunition totalling 57 rounds, one hand grenade, two Nokia phones and chemical substances for making Improvised Explosive Device.
The Army said Maiyanga and her son were discovered by troops of 121 Battalion, Nigerian Army, deployed at Pulka, Gwoza Local Government Area, Borno State, for the anti-insurgency war, code-named Operation Lafiya Dole. She was taken to the unit’s medical facility for medical check-up before being handed over to the state government, the according to the Army spokesman.
Usman added, “It is imperative to state that troops have been working round the clock to clear remnants of Boko Haram terrorists wherever they might be hibernating and also rescue all persons held hostages by terrorists.”
Speaking to journalists in Maiduguri yesterday after handing over the freed Chibok schoolgirl to the state government, the head of the anti-insurgency operation, Operation Lafiya Dole, Major General Lucky Irabor, said the war on terrorism was drawing to a close. However, he regretted that the military “lost an officer and six soldiers in an attack on the military in Malam Fatori.”
The latest Chibok girl found by the soldiers brings to 22 the number that has officially regained freedom this year, from the over 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram from the school hostels in April 2014. The girls from Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, were preparing to write the Senior School Certificate Examination. Twenty-one of them had been released on October 13 after negotiations between the federal government and the terrorists.
Meanwhile, the #BringBackOurGirls Movement has applauded the federal government, the military, and other stakeholders for their efforts in the rescue of some of the abducted Chibok schoolgirls. In a statement yesterday in Abuja by its spokesperson, Sesugh Akume, the group said, “We welcome news of the return of another of our abducted #ChibokGirls.”
Akume stated, “Preliminary investigations on our part show that Maryam Ali (Number 198 on our list), a school prefect, is from Askira Uba and was abducted along with her twin, Halima Ali (Number 197), who is yet to return. We shall update the public with more details as necessary.
“We therefore, applaud the federal government under President Muhammadu Buhari, the military formations and other security working day and night to rout the terrorists and rescue all Nigerians in captivity.”
The group, however, lamented Ali’s death. “The news of the death of the Commanding Officer of the 272 Task Force Tank Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Muhammed Abu Ali, a highly-rated, young officer and four other members of his team, in a separate incident at Mallam Fatori, is unfortunate and saddening. We send our heartfelt condolences especially to their families, and the Nigerian military,” the #BringBackOurGirls Movement stated.
Ali is the son of Colonel Abu Ali, who was governor of Bauchi State from August 1990 to January 1992 during the military regime of Ibrahim Babangida.