Unknown to many, Lt.-Col. Muhammad Abu-Ali was a prince whose father is a retired officer. His father is Etsu of Bassa-Nge Kingdom (Kogi State), Brig.-Gen. Abu-Ali (retd.).
On September 9, 2015, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai, visited Gamboru Ngala, which had just been recaptured from Boko Haram terrorists after a fierce battle. He wanted to see things for himself.
But the COAS had another motive — to personally decorate one of his men, “a war hero, a quiet but fiercely dedicated officer”, Major Abu-Ali — who had been granted promotion to Lt.-Colonel.
Under the cover of darkness, the COAS decorated Abu-Ali, who was surrounded by his men, many of them belonging to what is referred to as “the other rank” with his new rank. Ali saluted smartly, shook hands with the COAS and saluted again.
The COAS was lavish in his praise of Lt.-Col. Abu-Ali. He recounted his many brave acts in the war against Boko Haram.
What followed was one of the most enduring moments in the history of the war against Boko Haram. Lt.-Col. Abu-Ali ran into the waiting arms of his men, who grabbed him and lifted him off the ground. They were shouting and singing.
This appellation was not bestowed on him for nothing, in the fight against Boko Haram, Lt.-Col. Abu-Ali’s name is written in gold. He participated in every battle, always at the head of his men.
In early February 2015, the Army faced the arduous task to recapture Baga town from Boko Haram terrorists who had established a Caliphate of the most extreme form of Islam. Baga was a fortress for Boko Haram and any battalion unsure of itself would merely be on suicide mission if it tried to regain Baga.
The Army found solace and courage in a “smallish guy” with the rank of a Major.
Abu- Ali is an unconventional choice to lead the battle into Baga. If you met him, he would have a lot of explanations to do to convince you he is a soldier.
Abu- Ali is smallish in stature, with a round and unassuming expression. One cannot but notice his pale skin, big eyeballs and sparse frame. No; Abu Ali cannot be a soldier, one would say.
So, it was this unusual candidate that led the battle into Baga. It was according to Acting Director Army Public Relations Col. Sani Usman, one of the fiercest battles against Boko Haram.
But Abu -Ali won the war despite all odds and took back the strategic town.
Tactical, intelligent, Sophisticated.
So how did Abu- Ali achieved the impossible? According to several colleagues, journalists, subordinates who spoke to The Nation, Abu- Ali was one of the finest tacticians in the Army.
“Abu -Ali does not believe only in the quantity of the troops or the numerical strength he believes in tactics,” one said of him.
Abu -Ali was a tank expert. His philosophy of war modelled the modern realities where emphasis is on equipment than men.
This was Abu -Ali’s successful strategy in Baga. He used it again when he captured Monguno.
“He told us not to worry that we would only need to do five percent of the work, that the remaining 95 percent he would do with tanks,” the soldier told an online medium after the battle.
Abu -Ali believed that there was no need for “unnecessary loss of lives” when machines could do the job. He was an expert tanker and was said to always lead his men in his own tank. In Baga, he led with the T-72 second generation tank.
No formation could stand in the way of Abu-Ali and his furious tanks, town after town fell to his superior strategy, courage and determination.
The fear of Abu -Ali was the beginning of Boko Haram’s wisdom, say many commentators. Referred to as the albatross of Boko Haram, he would drive his tanks against a column of insurgents, destroy their IEDs and save the lives of his soldiers.
Abu -Ali also conducted many operations against the insurgents deep into Sambisa forest, clearing insurgents camps one after the other.
Pray, stay alert, stay alive
Abu- Ali had an uncommon relationship with his officers and men, many of whom hardly speak well of the establishment. In the Operation Lafiya Dole (peace by force) which is responsible for the fight against Boko Haram, Abu-Ali was loved, almost to a fault.
He not only fought side by side with his men, he was prepared to lay down his life for them. “Pray, stay alert, Stay alive” were his usual charge to his men. He would tell them that if anyone should die, it would be him.
That was exactly what happened last Friday when it all ended for Abu –Ali. Abu- Ali and the men of 272 Tank Battalion had done extremely well in curtailing what the army called “remnants of Boko Haram”.
Mallam Fatori had been a Boko Haram stronghold, but Abu-Ali dislodged the terrorists but intermittently, “remnants” of the insurgents would attack the army’s position.
On Friday, they came again, this time in large numbers. Sources said Abu-Ali recognised the precarious position he was in and quickly called for reinforcement.
No one has been able to tell how Abu -Ali died. He reportedly died fighting. Four soldiers died with him. Four were injured. Fourteen terrorists died.
A source said Abu-Ali would have been alive if he had not been devoted to his men. He would not leave them, he would not accept any special treatment or right to live.
His duty was his life, when colleagues recall his exploits he would assume a furlong look, unable to process why he would be singled out for special recognition.
Many were stunned when the picture of Abu-Ali’s body arrived from the war front in a body bag, flown in an Air Force helicopter. A parade of soldiers saluting the body as it was wheeled past.
It was a touching spectacle. May his soul rest in peace. Amen!