By Augustine Ehikioya
With the right support from his superiors, retired Army Major General, Muhammad Aliyu, has revealed how he led troops to recapture Banki town and other villages from the stronghold of Boko Haram terrorists.
Gen Aliyu, who was the Commander 21 Brigade when Banki town and other villages were recaptured and later General Officer Commanding 3 Division in the North East of Nigeria, also fought during the intensity of wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Speaking with Security Watch Africa (SWA) in an exclusive interview, he said those days of recapturing Banki town and other villages were the most exciting part of his career in the Nigerian Army.
Recounting the experience, he said “My exciting time was when I was a Brigade Commander, not a GOC. As a GOC, I was well protected and have every arsenal at my disposal. But as a Brigade Commander, I’m a battle group Commander and so two of my operations excited me. One was the recapture of Banki town.
“I asked why is Banki up till now still in Boko Haram hands and so the Officers around me said, Sir, it has been two years nobody dared to go to that place. I asked them are you sure. They said yes. I said okay, we will go to Banki. They asked, Sir how?. I said we will go to Banki, you wait and see.
“I called my GOC then, Major General Lamidi Adeosun, now retired Lieutenant General. I said Sir, I have intention to capture Banki. He also asked me the same question, how?. I said Sir, I just need your blessings. He said that you have to wait to see what we can gather for you first. I said okay Sir.
“Then, I had a unit, a battalion that have been kept for the defence of Banki junction in addition to Army team B where Late HO Salami was commanding. They were just stationed there. I drove there and called the C.O. and said start preparing your troops we are going to Banki. So, he complained the same thing, Sir we don’t have this, we don’t have that.
“I said okay and then I called him to my headquarters. I said go around the headquarters, anything you want, take it. He said he wants artillery guns, I said take the artillery gun. He wants MRAP, I had only one MRAP. I said take the MRAP. He wants armoured tank. I had two and he had one with him, I said take one and add to your own. I need a guns, called DESEKA, we checked the store, we had four. I gave him. I just went to Maiduguri, got an APC, repaired it, and said you can take the APC also.”
Gen Aliyu went on “I said any other thing. On his own, he said Sir, honestly I will be unfair to myself and to you if I say I am not advancing. That is what I was saying earlier, give your surbodinates the incentives to work and you will see them work. The same officer told me that if I don’t advance, I’m unfair to you.
“So, I then called my GOC and said next week I’m going to Banki but I didn’t tell him a date. He said are you sure. I said yes sir but I need more ammunition. He said okay we will send ammunition to you and I said no Sir, I’m coming to collect it myself.
“So, I traveled to Maiduguri. I went to the yard, I looked for a trailer and drove it to the ammunition depot. I parked it and told the Commander C.O.D, Major General Alabi. I said fill this vehicle with all the ammunition you have. He said Sir, the GOC didn’t tell me. I said call him.
“So when he called the GOC, he said give him. That is how I got trailer load of ammunition, assorted types that I wanted. I took it back to Bama myself and now called the officer and tell him take any kind of ammunition you want here.
“So he took what was enough for him including bullet-proof jackets. So, I told him on Sallah day I’m advancing to Banki. He said why Sallah day. I said let me remind you of operation YUM KIPUR, that the Israeli were beaten hands down by the Egyptians because they attacked them on the Sabbath day. So the Boko Haram will be celebrating Sallah when we go to Banki.
“So then, he understood me and started gathering his troops. That is about three days to Sallah. On Sallah day, as I woke up in the morning I said let the artillery gun move. They said the driver of the prime mover, the vehicle that towed the artillery was sick. So, like I told you earlier, my father’s work was transportation. I started driving trailer when I was eleven years old. So, I just jumped into the prime mover without escort and pulled it to Banki Junction.”
He added “Immediately I arrived there, when the soldiers saw that I was the one driving the prime mover with the artillery gun behind, they started jumping and saying let’s go, let’s go. So, we gathered the soldiers there and I addressed them. We were to move again. The officer commanding one of the tanks T75 said that the tank is not good because they shot at the tank and that if they full the tank half-way, it starts leaking and that the tank cannot move.
“I said which tank, he said that one. He forgot that I am an Armour Officer and I was an instructor on tanks. So, I entered the tank, started it and moved it forward. If you have gone to Banki junction, towards Banki, about one kilometer there is a bridge towards the bend. So, I took the tank there and parked.
“I then asked him, is this the tank. I said okay, this tank will lead. Now, there is no excuse for anybody not to move and that was how we moved. I told them that wherever they will sleep, I will be with you that day. This was about 1 o’clock in the afternoon. They moved. They were fighting on the way at Miyanti and after Miyanti.
“Fortunately, they got to Darel Jamal by night. So, they decided to pull back out of Darel Jamal to sleep for the night. So, during the process of the pulling back, the tank marched IED, so heavy that the gear box of the tank moved out of the tank. But to God be the glory, no one was hurt. So the C.O called me over the radio. Before then, I have provided for repeater at Darel Jamal, so I can talk with him on walkie-talkie.”
Continuing, he said “The next morning, I took the second tank that is with me, again I drove the trailer and took it to him at Darel Jamal. Immediately I reached there, what moved me most was when I overheard a soldier saying ‘this oga na him Papa born am.’ It really moved me and I was proud of those soldiers.
“So, I said I am here with you today and if you enter Banki today, tomorrow I will be with you also. They said, sir we believe you. And by evening 4 o’clock they were in Banki. Just one day advance, let’s say 12 hours movement took them to Banki.
“And that unit has been in Banki up till today. Since they entered Banki, I sustained casualty of four soldiers. Four soldiers died on entry, they were attacked by Boko Haram. So, I took helicopter myself and went to Banki and took the soldiers back to Maiduguri. That was one of my exciting operations.”
On the other exciting moments, he said “The second one was my entry into Sambisa. Again, the same way, I told another C.O, is now Colonel Aminu Gumel. I told him tomorrow, we are going into Sambisa. He asked how sir?. I said just like you heard it. He said no problem sir.
“Why I like him is that he is a brave officer. He didn’t quarrel, he went to make preparations and I gave him all he needed. So he entered Sambisa. He was at Yerimari Kura, then I was at Banki juntion. I called him and say where are you. He said he was at Yerimari Kura and going to Yerimari Gana.
“I said I will be with you at Yerimari Gana. So, I took Salami, I was driving my Hilux and Salami’s vehicle followed us with another three Hilux. I was heading back towards Bama and Salami thought we were going back to Bama. Immediately we reached Bokos, I just branched into Sambisa without a road. I was calling him.
“On our way, we encountered about six Boko Haram members. They were just walking on their own. We met them. So we cleared those ones. And I asked him where are you, he said he is waiting for me at Yerimari Kura. So, I went to Yerimari Gana and Yerimari Kura and saw he has cleared the village.
“On my way to Yerimari Kura, I met him. It was then that the entire nature of this Boko Haram programme surprised me because we caught an old man who is a Boko Haram.
“We asked him, he cannot speak English, he cannot speak Hausa. He can only speak Kanuri. So, we asked him in Kanuri why did he join Boko Haram. He said, that he is a resident of Yerimari Kura, they captured them and they converted them.
“I said what did they tell you. He just brought out a sheet of paper and showed that this is the ‘shaadat’ they gave them. Shaadat means convertion. So, he said this is what they gave him and when I looked at it, there is an Arabic inscription on it which read ‘There is no God but Allah and Prophet Mohammed is His messenger’.
“So, I asked him to read what is there. That guy cannot read it. So it dawned on me that majority of those people were just called into that action without knowing what it is about,” he stated.
Despite getting seriously injured during an operation, he said he had no regret joining the Nigerian Army and he would not stop his children from getting enlisted.
He however added “But my accident in the Army has scared them.
“But my only regret in this accident is that God did not allow me to meet Shekau to have discussion, everything would have been history and he won’t have even died. But maybe that is fate and it happened like that,” he said.
Gen. Aliyu, who has been a former Chief of Projects and Programmes (Army) and former Chief of Defence Standard and Evaluation at the Defence Headquarters, also criticized anyone supporting war in any country, saying the person doesn’t know what he is backing.
According to him, anyone who does not want to lose his loved ones or does not want to experience a scenario where his daughters will sleep with foreign soldiers to feed the family, will not support war.
Gen Aliyu said “Anybody who calls for war does not know what war is all about. If a country fights war for six months, it will take them more than six years to recover. So, let nobody pray for any kind of violence where he is surviving.”
He advised Nigerian youth not to join the Army, other security agencies and paramilitary organizations for employment sake only, but solely for service to the Nation.