The recent outpouring of emotions that followed the death of five heroic figures in the war against Boko Haram indicates how highly Nigerians appreciate patriotic sacrifice. Vincent Obia writes
When the news about the death in action of one officer and four other soldiers broke recently, the whole country reacted angrily. Nigerians were pained by the loss of Lieutenant Colonel Muhammad Abu Ali and his compatriots under what many believed to be avoidable circumstances.
Ali, one of the unsung heroes of the war against Boko Haram while alive, was, however, highly regarded by his fellow combatants. The commanding officer of the 272 Task Force Tank Battalion, and his colleagues died about 10pm on November 4 when suspected insurgents launched a surprise attack on the 119 Battalion, Nigerian Army, location at Mallam Fatori, northern Borno State.
Ali was credited with many iconic feats in the anti-insurgency war. He led some of the fiercest battles in the war, which began in 2009, including commanding troops to dislodge Boko Haram extremists from Baga, in Borno State. He and his battalion also moved to recover other seemingly impenetrable areas from Boko Haram occupation. He led the operations to recapture Monguno and Konduga. Ali and his battalion were also instrumental to the recovery of Bama, Pulka and Gwoza.
Many Nigerians feel the Boko Haram ambush that resulted in the death of the officer and his colleagues could have been contained without such level of casualty on the part of the army if steps had been taken to address some avoidable lapses. They believe Ali and the four soldiers could not have died if their unit was well-equipped at the time of the Boko Haram attack.
Those are some of the feelings that could be gleaned from reactions by Nigerians when the social media exploded with outrage and condemnation for the military authorities and the federal government at the break of the news of Ali and the other soldiers’ death.
One commentator from the account, babadem2much, wrote, “In the history of this fight no commander has ever motivated and has been feared by the terrorists like Lt-Col Abu Ali. This man has what they call balls and always motivating his troops, loved by every battle tested soldier and those who have neither been there. His name makes more sound than seeing him physically. God bless your soul, sir.”
Another commentator, onomeasike, wrote, “The federal government has to investigate the remote causes that led to the death of this gallant patriotic officer. It’s so sad.”
Phemmie06 stated, “This man was one of the soldiers that were highly mourned among the soldiers confronting Boko Haram. Hope the FG will not forget his family?”
All these show how greatly Nigerians value their heroes and patriots. They also demonstrate how frustrated the masses feel about the inexplicable non-performance of their leaders and governments.
The tragic story of Ali and the four soldiers yet again brings to the fore some of the ignominious missteps that have caused the anti-terrorism war to linger with incalculable consequences and embarrassment for the world’s most populous black nation.
Following the death of the five combatants, stories have emerged about how whole battalions of the Nigerian Army in the frontline of the anti-insurgency war have operated with just two or completely without things as ordinary as night vision goggles. There have also been stories about battalions – even armoured battalions – having no armoured tanks or having to share tanks.
It is such ill-equipment that create the loopholes and porosity that the insurgents capitalise on to wreak havoc on the fighting men and those they protect.
As the country mourns the death of the fallen heroes, the federal government should harness the surge of patriotism to put in place necessary measures that would minimise the risk that the soldiers face in the anti-terrorism war.