The Nigerian Army has been engaged in serious operations against the Boko Haram insurgents for almost a decade. The destruction to lives and property has been unquantifiable but very little is still known about the war itself. Nigerians know more about the War against ISIS or the even the shenanigans of the dictator in North Korea than they know of the war being fought for so long in their own country. The very little information that trickle in, come as reports from international organisations like the Human Right Watch while for the most part the rest is stepped in propaganda and falsehood with the army itself being known to have at various times, issued information that was later found to be false.
The consequence of the dearth of information about the war is that there has not been any detailed human angle to it. So we hear of communities wiped out and statistics of the number killed and that is all. We hear of soldiers ambushed and missing and afterwards of ‘sizable numbers’ being found. Hardly any names attached to victims, who they are and what their stories are. But for the celebrated Chibok Girls, not much is known about human victims of this war and ironically, because they are the only one whose case have been so publicized it sometime begins to sound like they are the only set of girls and women who have been victims of the war.
Equally, we know very little of the heroes of this war. The gallant officers who are daily paying the price so that the rest of us can live, do our businesses and sleep peacefully at night in this country. On several occasions I have written on this column, how shameful it was that we report the news about our military casualties just as figures, sometimes even grossly underreported just to perhaps save some top dogs some embarrassment. Nigerian soldiers fighting this war are buried un-acknowledged and uncelebrated. We do not even know their names. It is like they never existed.
I have argued that this is an opportunity being missed by the army. Wars are won on many front and one of the fronts is being able to control the narrative and inspire your people to support the war efforts. Being able to document and tell the stories of your war heroes both alive and dead instills bride in the army itself and fires up the spirit of patriotism in the people and a knowledge among a huge section of the populace that indeed if they die serving their fatherland in the army, they will be celebrated and their efforts would not have been in vain.
It is thus cheering, on a very sad note though, that finally, one such gallant officer and hero of the war is being celebrated. Prior to November 4, 2016, the name Lt Colonel Muhammad Abu Ali aka Slim rang no bells and very few Nigerians outside of his army colleagues knew about him or his exploits. For those who are yet to read about him, a brief introduction will suffice. He was the commanding officer of the 272 Task Force Tank Battalion who became popular among his peers for his heroics in the battle field, killing boko haram insurgents which earned him an accelerated promotion to the rank of Lt Colonel in the army. He was killed during an ambush on 4th November while he was preparing for another raid on Sambisa.
It is painful that we only got to know about Abu Ali in death. It is sad that we can now only celebrate in past tense this unique officer who has been described by his peers as uncommon leader, a patriotic Nigerian and a fine gentleman. When he was given accelerated promotion for his heroics especially during the recapture of Baga, why did we know hear of it, why did the army not celebrate him and let Nigerians know of his story. This is such a huge missed opportunity. It was not enough to have added a new rank on his shoulders, he should have been sold as the face of the army, a live evidence of the heroic army which has been so battered by poor press for being cowardly in the face of battle.
Though he is getting the commendations he deserves in death, he would, I am sure have been happier to see a nation appreciate him while alive. Now, one hopes that beyond the praises, the Nigerian government will do what is necessary to immortalize him and importantly, take care of the very young family he left behind.
But there are many more Abu Ali’s in the Nigerian Army alive today. There are many more officers and soldiers who have shown extraordinary courage, innovation and leadership in the battle front who we should now begin to celebrate and whose stories should be told. One of our problems as a nation today is that we lack role models to look up to. The lot of our past leaders have very little for anyone to admire. There are too few stories to inspire the next generation and instill in them a sense of national pride and patriotism. We need to talk more about the best among us, those who are doing the kind of things that is worthy of celebration in every field of endeavor. The heroes of the war on terrorism presents very good characters for this tale and Abu Ali is a good first chapter.
First published here on Nov 10, 2016