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There were strong indications on Tuesday that the Nigerian Army High Command was making arrangement to probe the death of the Commander of the 272 Special Forces Tanks Battalion, Lt. Col. Muhammad Abu-Ali, and six of his men in a Boko Haram attack at Mallam Fatori on November 4, 2016.
Abu-Ali, described as exceptionally brave and efficient Army commander and labelled by the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen, Tukur Buratai, as the ‘Sarkin Yakin, (the frontline general’), and the six others were buried amid tears in Abuja on Monday.
The six military men were Sgt. Mu’Azu Ibrahim, Sgt. Hussain Jafaru, Sgt. Bassey Okon, Cpl. Chukwu Simon, Able Seaman Patrick Paul and Prt. Salisu Lawal.
It was gathered that Buratai, who struggled with tears to read a funeral oration for the fallen warriors, had told his men that the circumstances surrounding the death of the soldiers would be probed.
The Army chief was quoted as having said there was no place for saboteurs in the Army under his leadership.
Buratai had approved accelerated promotion for Abu-Ali from the rank of Major to Lieutenant Colonel and decorated him with the new rank to the admiration of his cheering troops on the night of September 9, 2015.
The late officer and his men were instrumental in the recovery of territories erstwhile under the control of Boko Haram, which include Monguno, Baga, New Marte, Bama, Gwoza, Banki Junction, Gamboru Ngala, Yale, Yemteke, Bitam, Doronaira, Kagarwa, Ärrege, Abadam and Mallam Fatori.
A source, who spoke to The PUNCH on condition of anonymity on Tuesday, explained that while a decision had been taken to probe the circumstances surrounding the unfortunate incident at Mallam Fatori, a panel of inquiry was to be set up to probe the deaths.
“The Army authorities have taken a decision to probe the death of the officer and his men, that is the arrangement but they have not constituted the panel of enquiry. The decision was taken shortly after the burial on Monday,” the source stated.
It was gathered that troops in the operational area, who were saddened by the death of the officer and their colleagues, had alleged possible internal sabotage.
“There are so many issues on the ground. The soldiers are complaining. There is a likelihood of internal sabotage in the war. And to worsen the situation, some of the state governors are not acting in a way to encourage the boys.
“Even some officials of the state government are suspected to be in collaboration with these people. So most of the information the Boko Haram terrorists are getting is from civilians working with some military personnel around that place,” the source added.
A military source alleged that while the insurgents attacked the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff, Buratai, in the operational area, no state government official and politician from the area had been attacked by the Boko Haram.
“They suspect the state government officials, because since the beginning of the insurgency, they (Boko Haram members) have never attacked any government official, most especially the convoy of a state governor.
“And whenever they bomb and attack anywhere, politicians would rush to the place to condole with the people of the place,” he said.
The Acting Director, Defence Information, Brig. Gen. Rabe Abubakar, had said in a statement on October 5, 2016 that 32 persons were in custody for alleged sabotage of the ongoing counter-terrorism operation in the North-East.
Usman had said that the suspect included two officers, two soldiers, two policemen and 26 civilians, who were being probed.
It was learnt that as part of the efforts to rid the Army of saboteurs, the authorities were holding a Major and a Captain as fallout of the Boko Haram attack on troops location at Gashigar on October 22, 2016.
A top military personnel said a total of 39 soldiers went missing during the attack in which 13 soldiers were injured while a large number of the troops later returned to base with no loss of life recorded.
It was further learnt that Buratai was angry that some of the soldiers, who were found along the nation’s border with Niger Republic, were with guns whose magazines were loaded.
When our correspondent contacted the Acting Director, Army Public Relations, Col. Sani Usman, he said it was important to wait for the outcome of the investigation in order not to jeopardise it.
“I cannot comment because it would be tantamount to jeopardising the investigation. I enjoin that you should exercise patience, let’s wait for the outcome of the investigation,” he said.
However, our correspondent could not re-establish contact with Usman on the issue of the probe into the death of Abu-Ali and his men on his mobile on Tuesday.
He had not responded to the text on the issue as of the time of filing this report.
Reps seek posthumous promotion for the late Abu-Ali
The House of Representatives on Tuesday asked President Muhammadu Buhari to bestow a posthumous rank of a one-star General on the slain Abu-Ali in recognition of the sacrifice he made for Nigeria in the fight against Boko Haram insurgents in the North-East.
The House also said the six other soldiers, who died with him on November 4, should be promoted to the next rank in appreciation of their gallantry.
A member from Sokoto State, Mr. Abdussamad Dasuki, had drawn the attention of the House to the incident under “matter of urgent public importance.”
The House resolution made further recommendations, “Call on the President and Commander-In-Chief to award Lt. Col Abu-Ali and the other six slain armed forces personnel, national honours in recognition of their uncommon bravery and service in protecting the country’s territorial integrity, for which they have paid the ultimate price.
“Urge the Federal Government to offer the spouse of Lt. Col Abu-Ali automatic employment and his children, scholarship to the highest level.
“Further urge the Federal Government to immortalise Lt. Col Abu-Ali by naming a befitting national monument or institution in his honour.
“Also urge the government to accelerate the disbursement of all benefits accruable to the families of the fallen heroes and mandate the Committee on Defence to ensure compliance with this resolution.”
The lawmakers advised the military to redeploy troops regularly to guard against keeping the same personnel at the war front for too long.
Earlier, they had praised Abu-Ali’s military exploits and bravery, which led to the recapture of at least 13 towns from Boko Haram insurgents.
Dasuki said, “Ali became a nemesis to Boko Haram, but his triumphs over the group’s plots to stop him only made him braver in the battlefield.
“His exceptional gallantry earned him accelerated promotion from Major to Lt. Col in September, 2015.
“This is a rare feat and a proof of his commitment to serving the military institution without any measure of scepticism or compromise.”
However, some members observed that Abu-Ali’s death could possibly have been avoided if he had not remained at the war front for too long.
For instance, the Minority Whip of the House, Mr. Danjuma Barde, noted that having fought for four years on the battlefield, “wear and tear could have set in.”
He added, “Abu-Ali was in the battlefield for four years. He should have been withdrawn and given other assignments while others would take his place.”
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