•Day he appeared 48 hours after his presumed death
•How he risked his life in Mongonu to save wounded colleagues.
•May be promoted Colonel posthumously.
By Kingsley Omonobi, and Joseph Erunke
Hero of the war on terror, Lt Col Abu Ali, who died in the battle front on November 4 this year alongside six of his colleagues was buried Monday, November 7 at the National Military Cemetery, Abuja.
Those who died with him and were given heroic burial were Sgt Muazu Ibrahim, Sgt Hussani Jafaru, Sgt Bassey Okon, Cpl Chukwu Simon, Able Seaman Patrick Paul, (Nigerian Navy) and Pte Salisu Lawal.
Investigation by Saturday Vanguard showed that the death of Lt. Col. Abu Ali was particularly painful to officers and soldiers because at one point during the operation to liberate one of the recovered territories Monguno), he put his life on the line by frontally taking on scores of the terrorists so that wounded soldiers could be successfully evacuated from the battle front to receive medical attention.
During the operation, Lt. Col Ali (whose 272 Task Force Battalion is mobile and rotational) was said to have driven his then armoured 105 Howitzer battle tank against the terrorists and fired until he ran out of ammunition.
The terrorists later surrounded the armoured tank, thinking the operator had run away, bombed it with IEDS, pumped several rounds of AK 47 rifles into the armoured tank and all visible opening of the tank. Having concluded that whatever was left of the Howitzer was carcass, the terrorists were said to have left, happy that they had demobilized and destroyed an armoured tank of the Nigerian Army.
Troops of 272 Task Force battalion who escaped the attack, were said to have gone back to base to report that Lt. Col Ali had been killed.
But almost 48 hours later when everybody concluded the worst had happened, they saw the 105 Howitzer of Col Abu Ali making its way back to base even in its state of near destruction.
When the battle tank stopped, behold, it was Lt. Col Abu Ali who disembarked.
The soldiers and officers who could not believe their eyes went into jubilation, chanting his praise and quickly rushed him to receive first aid attention because he was bleeding from his nose, ears and other parts of the body. The officer was later said to have been rushed out for treatment to stop the bleeding from different parts of his body.
However, having been treated and certified okay, Lt. Col. Abu Ali who said he had an unfinished business of annihilating Boko Haram terrorists, and liberating hostages and remaining villages, returned to battle but this time with the brand new T-72 long range battle tank.
It is in recognition of this commitment and doggedness that Vanguard was told that the Commander in Chief may have given a tacit approval to the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Buratai to give a post-humus promotion of a full Colonel to the late Lt. Colonel Muhammad Abu Ali.
His last battle
After foiling an attempt to overrun Mallam Fatori on Friday November 4, 2016, by over 60 Boko Haram terrorists, who were heavily armed with various sophisticated weapons including Anti-tank weapons, Anti-Aircraft guns, GPMGs and several AK 47 rifles, Lt. Col. Muhammad Abu Ali who led the onslaught against the terrorists moved several hundreds of meters ahead to ascertain the casualty figures of the terrorists who were killed and his own troops who were either killed or injured.
As the Commander who led from the front, Ali was said to have disembarked from his T 72 armoured battle-tank while some of his soldiers accompanied him to carry out mop up if any.
This was to ensure that there were no more terrorists hiding in caves, hills or in bushes to carry out further ambush. Having satisfied himself that the environs were clear, the officer was said to have ordered his men to return to their position. However, unknown to him, a new group of Boko Haram terrorists, emerged from nowhere as the soldiers were heading back to position and opened fire on the soldiers leading to Abu Ali’s death and six of his colleagues.
Though many of the terrorists were killed and many others escaped with bullet wounds, it is still a mystery how this set of terrorists emerged from nowhere, especially an area that was initially cleared of terrorists to create the havoc.
That was how Lt. Col. Muhammad Abu Ali, a recipient of the Chief of Army Staff award for exceptional bravery and excellence who led the army units that recovered Gamboru-Ngala, Baga and several communities from the terrorists, lost his life, a source told Saturday Vanguard.
Farewell to the fallen heroes
Monday, November 7 may have gone but its memories will linger for long in the minds of those who thronged the National Military Cemetery Abuja to bid farewell to Lt Col. Abu Ali and six other military personnel who died following Boko Haram ambush in the North East, where they were participating in the ongoing war against the dreaded group.
For many civilians who attended the burial of seven military personnel they never believed soldiers could be emotional. Not even the relatives of military men could believe what they saw, that soldiers could also cry and shed tears. The most emotional of all was seeing the Chief of Army Staff, Lt General Tukur Buratai, also sobbing uncontrollably.
They were not crying because they were overpowered by enemy forces at the battlefield but for the fact that some of their gallant and most dedicated colleagues in the ongoing war against Boko Haram terrorism in the North East were killed in avoidable circumstances.
Reading the funeral oration at the graveyard of the deceased, Buratai, who could not hold back tears described the fallen heroes as brave, precise, professional and inspiring.
“They led the battle to recapture the following towns: Monguno, Baga, new Marte, Bama, Gwoza, 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,” he said in his tribute. Noting with pain in his heart that the deceased paid the supreme sacrifice on November 4, in the battle of Mallam Fatori,’’ Buratai said the deceased “epitomized 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, your labour will never be in vain”.
He promised that the army would take care of their survivors.
Speaking at the solemn event, Buhari who was represented by his Chief of Staff said the deceased had shown unalloyed commitment to the nation.
“They 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,’’ the president said.
“It is, therefore, our resolve that the labour of these fallen heroes shall never be in vain,’’ he said, adding that insurgency and terrorism would be defeated.
In their own tributes, Ali’s Course-mates in ‘50 Regular Course’ said -“hardly has a story of bravery evoked such passion in recent times amongst Nigerians as is being told of late Lt. Col. Muhammed Abu Ali who died in confrontation with Boko Haram insurgents in the theatre of war in the North Eastern part of Nigeria. Popularly called “Slim” by his friends and “Sarkin Yaki” by fellow combatants, he was known as a human terror to terror for his daring campaigns as Commander, 272 Task Force Battalion.
“He fought for the glory of nation and was unshakable in his steely resolve to retain the territorial integrity of Nigeria – a price that came with the sacrifice of his life in the line of duty.
“A patriot per excellence and an unyielding force to enemies of our nationhood, Lt. Col Muhammed Abu Ali was not one to shy from battle. Under very difficult circumstances, he and his men successfully recovered scores of towns from insurgents. Before he and four others fell in combat from an ambush, he had been decorated for his gallantry by the Nigerian Chief of Army Staff, who decorated him as a Lieutenant Colonel in September 2015, shortly after he was promoted a Major.
“He was also Recipient of the Chief of Army Staff Award for Bravery and Excellence. In a statement by the Army Authorities, the fallen hero was said to “serve the nation with unwavering commitment and dedication, paying the ultimate price so that millions can sleep on their beds in peace”.
“From the front-lines, it is reported that he was instrumental to the military campaign that won back Baga from the stranglehold of Boko Haram. From soldiers in the frontline, we learn that he initially started his brave conquests from Yola, in Adamawa State from where he was moved to Borno. He and his battalion later moved to recover Monguno and later to Konduga – dreaded no-go areas of battle.
“Through Yale, he and his battalion were again instrumental to the recovery of Bama, Pulka and eventually Gwoza back to control of the Nigerian forces.
“The stories of uncommon courage that trail his achievements on his military assignments are unending. He was reputed as telling his men to load him up with 95% of the duties of engagement.
“He was a dutiful officer and will be missed by millions of Nigerians”.
On his part, Kogi State Governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello in a message to the family of Etsu of Bassa-Nge Kingdom Brigadier General Abu-Ali (rtd) over the death of his son described his death as unfortunate and “a monumental loss to Kogi State and Nigeria”
Governor Bello said the late colonel “was a gallant officer who served the nation with his all and paid the supreme price by laying down his life for the peace of the country.
“Kogi State and indeed Nigerians will never forget your gallantry as you led a cream of the Nigerian Army to recapture Baga from the control of terrorists and your death while in active service, gallant soldier” the governor said.
On his part, Nigerian Journalist based in South Africa, Hamza Idris said, “Lt Col Abu-Ali: It’s really Sunset at dawn! “Can’t stop crying when I heard of the brutal murder of this gentleman. Only those who were in Borno at the height of the Boko Haram’s inglorious territorial conquest would understand, appreciate and then lament the exit of Lt. Col. Abu Ali.
“His was a life, full of gallantry, sacrifice, and love for Nigeria and ever willing to die in order to keep it one. Quiet, considerate, compassionate and caring, leading by example was his trademark at the height of confrontation with Boko Haram terrorists.
“Late Lt. Colonel Ali was the soldier, who operated the most sophisticated of all war equipment deployed to the North East, traversed the North, Central and Northern Borno endlessly and tirelessly; recovered towns and liberated villages under control of the Boko Haram.
“Late Ali it was, who during the day and night, come rain come shine, stepped on countless landmines that dotted Borno’s porous borders with Chad, Cameroon and Nigeria, cleared the paths for our dear soldiers, who rescued the weak, the kids, the women and the old from the clutches of the Boko Haramists.
“Though smallish in nature, late Ali’s heart was like that of a lion, the king of the jungle; he never re-treated, he never relented, he never compromised and he never gave up until the last hour.
“Yes, he was, Ali the Conqueror of the ambitious Abubakar Shekau’s Empire.
“Ali’s short but eventful life will never be forgotten in the annals of Nigerian history. He came, he saw, he conquered and cleared the ruins for the next generation”.