The remains of the slain Commanding Officer of 272 Task Force Tank Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Muhammad Abu Ali, and those of six other soldiers were buried yesterday.
Late Ali, Staff Sgt. Muazu Ibrahim, Sgt Husseini Jafaru, Sgt Okon Bassey, Cpl Chukwu Simon, PTE Salishu Lawal, and Able Seaman Patrick Paul were buried at the National Military Cemetery in Abuja following an emotional ceremony witnessed by their families.
Tears flowed freely as pall bearers in military ceremonial uniforms marched in silent drills carrying seven caskets draped in Nigerian flag and arranged close to the seven graves lined in a row.
The burial reached an emotional crescendo when all the dignitaries in attendance, including the representative of the President Muhammadu Buhari, his Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari and the Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai stood at attention during the Final Post salute to the fallen heroes.
Apart from the parents of the soldiers, mourners, including the Etsu Bassa Nge retired Brigadier General Abu Ali, whose son was the celebrated war hero and only officer killed in the attack, wore sad faces.
Buratai weeps, pays glowing tributes
The Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai wept as he paid his last respects to the fallen heroes who were killed in Mallam Fatori, Borno State, during a clash with Boko Haram.
“Here lie the bodies of our fallen heroes; Lt. Col. Muhammad Abu Ali, Staff Sgt. Muazu Ibrahim, Sgt Husseini Jafaru, Sgt Okon Bassey, Cpl Chukwu Simon, PTE Salishu Lawal, and Able Seaman Patrick Paul.”
He said: “These gallant soldiers were inducted into Operation Lafiya Dole in 2014 to form the pivot of the counter-insurgency efforts of the Armed Forces of Nigeria in the North East.”
He added that: “Through fearless and dogged determination to defend the territorial integrity of our fatherland, these [heroes] turned the tide of battle to liberate Nigeria from the scourge of terrorism.”
Buratai said: “As members of 119 Task Force Battalion, and the Armed Forces Special Forces, they went after the adversaries to smoke them out of their enclaves, bomb their factories and hiding areas. They were brave, precise, professional and inspiring.”
Some of the town and villages recaptured by the fallen heroes, according to Buratai, include Monguno, Baga, New Marte, Bama, Gwoza, Banki Junction, Gamboru Ngala, Yale, Yemteke, Bitam, Doronaira, Kagarwa, Arrege, Abadam, and Mallam Fatori.
“In these battles, they rescued women, and children, fathers and mothers, the young and the old and restored peace and order,” he said.
“At last on 4th November 2016, they paid the supreme sacrifice in the battle of Mallam Fatori. These men epitomize the best of our military,” he said, adding that “they exemplified the values of our nation and our military, with their loyalty, discipline, courage, selfless service, respect, honour and dignity.”
He noted that they left behind wives, children, as well as parents and dependents, adding that they fought for the unity of the nation.
“Our brave and gallant compatriots, your families and comrades will miss you. The entire nation will miss you but be rest assured that your labour will never be in vain.
“Sarkin Yarki, the frontline general, you and your men have fought a good fight, you always told them to pray, stay alert, and stay alive.
“You will always be alive in our memories, we shall continue to pray for you, we shall continue to pray for you all, and we shall remain alert for you, for the cause you have laid your life for,” Buratai stated.
He also said: “Your loved ones will remain in our care and their welfare will be of utmost priority at all times. “
Your efforts shall never be in vain – Buhari
President Buhari, represented by his Chief of Staff Abba Kyari, said: “No words can do justice to the patriotism and courage of these soldiers who laid down their lives for Nigeria.”
He said the officer and soldiers together with their colleagues had shown unalloyed commitment to the common good of all Nigerians. They were fearless, responsive, inspiring selfless and dedicated to the discharge of their duties, he said.
He added that: “In these qualities lay the foundation to our nation’s values. At times like this the attention of our nation is refocused on the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, epitomizing the noble values of that unite our country.”
He said the selflessness of these gentlemen reinvigorates the memories of other great heroes who stood firm in the defence of “our dear nation and had to pay the supreme price in the fight against insurgency.”
Buhari said: “Undeniably the gallantry and high sense of professionalism displayed by these gentlemen have contributed to the restoration of peace and normalcy in the Northeast.
“It is therefore our resolve that the efforts of these fallen heroes shall never be in vain. We remain spurred by the zeal and gallant efforts to ensure that terrorism and insurgency is defeated so that our country can enjoy the much desired peace and progress.
“To the bereaved families, the government and people of Nigeria share this moment of grief with you. Although this is a sorrowful moment, please take solace in the fact that your bread winners have brought honour and pride to Nigeria, the military and the families.
“To these gallant heroes, I say may your gentle souls rest in peace.”
Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima, Ministers Alhaji Lai Mohammed (Information and Culture) and Abdulrahman Dambazau (Interior) and many members of the National Assembly attended the event.
Also at the funeral were Wife of the President, Aisha Buhari and Wife of Senate President Toyin Saraki.