Yesterday, wives, children, friends and colleagues of Lieutenant Colonel Abu Ali and six other Nigerian Army troops killed in a fight against Islamist terrorist group, Boko Haram, displayed tearful emotions as the remains of the gallant soldiers were lowered into graves at the National Military Cemetery along Airport Road in Abuja.
Some of the officers and civilians at the moving burial, which was anchored by the Nigerian military, said the loss of the Colonel Ali and six other officers was a devastating blow that could affect the morale of soldiers involved in the offensive against the Islamist terror group.
Gun salutes resounded at yesterday’s burial of the felled officers, an event that was also marked by a ceremonial parade and attended by service chiefs of the Nigerian Armed Forces.
The seven officers were killed last week in an ambush by Boko Haram terrorists in Borno State. Lieutenant Colonel Muhammad Abu Ali was commander of the 272 Special Task Force Tanks Battalion. The other slain soldiers were Staff Corporal Simon Chukwu, Private Salishu Lawal, Able Seaman Patrick Paul, Sergeant Muazu Ibrahim, Sergeant Husseini Jafaru, and Sergeant Okon Bassey.
The military’s profound sense of loss was reflected in a speech read by Chief of Army Staff (CoAS), Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai. In a grief-stricken voice, General Buratai described the fallen soldiers as gallant, brave, dependable and loyal. He noted that Lieutenant Colonel Abu Ali led the gallant troops who recaptured and liberated many communities that had been seized by the Islamist insurgents. The recaptured towns included Doronaira, Kagarwa, Ärrege, Gamboru Ngala, Yale, Yemteke, Monguno, Bama, Gwoza, Banki Junction, Baga and New Marge.
A top officer at military headquarters in Abuja told our correspondent that Colonel Ali’s tactical expertise and brave exploits inspired soldiers deployed in the fight against Boko Haram. “His death may affect the momentum of the fight,” the officer said.
At the burial ceremony, several civilians from the violence-torn Borno State also expressed apprehension that the recent ambush that claimed the lives of Colonel Ali and others might prove costly in the fight to expel Boko Haram in the state and throughout the northeast.
“Even though we are civilians, we knew that Lieutenant Colonel Ali was fearless in dealing with Boko Haram,” said Yakubu Sani who hails from Gamboru in Borno State. “We are now worried whether the officers who replace Lieutenant Colonel Ali can live up to his fearless record,” he added.
Another civilian, Garba Usman, expressed similar fears. “My fear is that many soldiers would loss hope with the killing of the brave officer [Lieutenant Colonel Ali], but we are all hoping that they [soldiers] will honor their dead colleagues by fighting to eliminate Boko Haram from every community and Sambisa Forest as well.”
Our source at the military headquarters told our correspondent that, even though Boko Haram struck a blow by killing the seven soldiers, Nigerian troops “will continue in a renewed resolve to drive out Boko Haram from all the locations where they currently organize.”
Chief of Army Staff Buratai had assured the late officers’ bereaved families of the army’s adequate attention and welfare package.
One sign of the impact of the killing of Colonel Ali and six other soldiers was the fact that President Muhammadu Buhari askedChief of Staff, Abba Kyari, to represent him at the soldiers’ burial. The presidential delegation at the burial also included wife of the President, Aisha Buhari, Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Bello Mohammed, wife of the Senate President, Toyin Saraki, and Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno. Senators Ali Ndume, Dino Melaye and Phillip Aduda also attended the somber event.