FEATURE: The military warlords who laid the foundation for relative peace in the North East



There have been several counterinsurgency efforts in the fight against the over decade-long Boko Haram war in the North East of Nigeria, led largely by the Nigerian Army.

The war, in its thirteenth year now, has claimed over 20, 000 lives, displaced two million people and destroyed several public utilities.

The activities of the terrorist group has caused it to be declared one of the world's deadliest terror groups by the Global Terrorism Index.

In 2015, the Nigerian government created a special joint military counterinsurgency operation with headquarters in Maiduguri to battle them out to a finish.

It was the first instruction by President Muhammadu Buhari, which he gave at the venue of his first inauguration on May 29, 2015.

At the time, over 20 local governments in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe had fallen to the control of the terrorists. The terrorists were at the verge of extending as their ‘playing field’, other states outside the northeastern region, including Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT.

These local governments have been taken back—and most of them now under effective control of the troops.

Over 20, 000 of the terrorists, with their families, have defected and turned themselves over to the Nigerian divide.

The dreaded leader of the terrorists, Abubakar Shekau, is now killed, as well as Musab Albarnawi, the gang leader of the other faction, ISWAP, including his successor.

Similarly, destroyed communities are being rebuilt and resettled.

Displaced persons are returning to their hometowns in droves and their seven-year-old temporary camps being closed.

This year in particular, many farmlands and roads have been reopened—in addition to commercial roads now in use, years after their closure.

The situation was brought to this level on the back of the sweat of several military warlords and a large number of their troops. Some of them have paid the supreme price, while others live with lifelong injuries.

The counter-insurgency operation is being anchored by the theater command, whose successive commanders must be credited with the laying of the foundation of the current successes recorded, which they did under various operations in Maiduguri.

They were known at various times with different codenames, such as Operation Zaman Lafiya, Operation Lafia Dole, Operation Tura Ta Kai Bango and Operation Hadin Kai, among their other sub-divisions.

Here are the successive commanders:

  1. Maj. General Yushau Mahmood Abubakar Yushau Mahmood Abubakar, a major general, was the first theatre commander of the counter-insurgency operation. He was appointed August 2015, to lead the foundation-laying of the new operation, which was then codenamed Operation Lafiya—and modified few weeks later by the then, also newly appointed chief of army staff, Lt. General Tukur Yusufu Buratai.

Under him, the first phase of recoveries—of occupied territories—were recorded. He also oversaw the setting up of military formations in the recovered communities. Gen. Abubakar was later redeployed to Defense Headquarters and appointed as the director of military training.

Of the feats he had achieved, his successor, Maj. General Hassan Umoru, said 'I want to thank my predecessor for laying a solid foundation; in fact, he has done very well.'

He passed away in a car accident along Maiduguri – Damaturu Highway in March 2016.

  1. Maj. General Hassan Umoru Umoru, who took over from Abubakar in January 2016, was the second and one of those who laid the earliest foundations of the theatre.

Having been in the theatre even before his appointment, Umoru in his taking over speech stated that 'since most of us are not new to this operation, there is no time to waste, rather we will start hitting the ground running and carry on with our activities.'

He was, a year later, redeployed to the Army Headquarters, where he took over the post of director of training.

  1. Maj. General Lucky Irabor Maj. General Lucky Irabor took over from Umoru as the third theatre commander in March 2016.

Before his appointment, Irabor was the deputy theatre commander, the fact of which prepared him to take the job heads-on.

He was also among the most popular commanders and variously described as the most effective—for which reason this paper had awarded him twice for his excellence.

During his stay in the North East, the general and his troops routed out terrorists’ strongholds in places like Rann, Alagarno, Gudumbali and Baga, among others.

He was redeployed to serve as the commander, Multinational Joint Task Force, MNJTF, in May 2017 and then subsequently appointed as the chief of defense staff, by President Buhari in 2021.

He was succeeded by another highly praised commander, Maj. Genaral Ibrahim Attahiru—who was to become for a short time, the chief of army staff, before his death in a plane crash, in 2021.

  1. Maj. General Ibrahim Attahiru General Attahiru took over the theatre command May 2017 when Boko Haram overran some part of Benishekh and Mainok, holding the dreaded camp Tinbuktu Traiangle, which was recaptured by men of the Nigerian Army effectively by February 2021.

Few days after assuming office—of his many other feats—Attahiru neutralized five Boko Haram commanders.

He was later redeployed to the army headquarters to serve as deputy chief of policy and plans. Maj. Gen. Rogers Nicholas replaced him.

In 2021, he became the chief of army staff—with his tenure cut short by death, just when it started.

  1. Maj. Gen. Rogers Nicholas Maj. Gen. Rogers Nicholas, took over from Major General Ibrahim Attahiru in December 2017.

His first action started shortly after he called on Boko Haram insurgents operating in Sambisa Forest and other axis of the Lake Chad region to lay down their arms and embrace peace.

Under Nicholas, the sect continued to launch series of attacks, in Gwoza, Madagali, Bama, Banki, but which were repeatedly repelled by troops.

Nicholas’ tenure saw the forging of major working cooperation between members of Civilian JTF, other security agencies, the media and people of the state. He was replaced August 2018, by Maj. Gen. Abba Dikko.

  1. Maj. Gen. Abba Dikko Dikko was the sixth theatre commander.

Before his appointment, Dikko was the commander Operation Last Hold, also a military operation stationed in the fringes of Lake Chad, battling the terrorists and who are largely from the ISWAP extraction, hibernating in the region.

In November 2018, Dikko was moved to the army headquarters to serve as the chief of civil military affairs.

In May 2021, after his retirement, he was also appointed by President Buhari, as the pioneer coordinator of the National Centre for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons (NCCSALW).

  1. Maj. Gen. Benson Akinroluyo Maj. Gen. Benson Akinroluyo who replaced Dikko in November of the same year, became the seventh theatre commander of the operation and served for more than eight months.

He was the General Officer Commanding the Headquarters of 3 Division before his new posting November, 2018.

The general was commended severally by the then Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Buratai, retired.

He was replaced in August 2019 by Maj. Gen. Olusegun Adeniyi.

  1. Maj. Gen. Olusegun Adeniyi Adeniyi, upon taking over the command, promised Nigerians that he would take the fight to the enclaves of Boko Haram.

According to records, Maj. Gen. Adeniyi on several occasions joined his troops in the field to fight the terrorists, which made him much popular among the terrorists and their prime target.

Adeniyi had come under their ambushes several times.

One of them was in Auno, along the Maiduguri – Damaturu Highway.

In the encounter, several Boko Haram terrorists were killed.

He was replaced by Lt. Gen. Faruk Yahaya, the current chief of army staff.

  1. Lt. Gen. Faruk Yahaya Lt. Gen. Yahaya took over March 2021, as a major general.

Under him, the codename of the operation was changed from Operation Lafia Dole to Operation Hadin Kai.

He served for only three months, after which he was appointed by President Buhari as the chief of army staff.

He succeeded Lt. General Attahiru, after he died in a fatal plane crash.

  1. Major General Felix Omoigui Major General Felix Omoigui took over from Faruk Yahaya in acting capacity June 2021.

He held the office for one month, before handing over to the serving theatre commander, Major General Christopher Gwabi Musa.

  1. Major General Christopher Gwabi Musa Maj. General Musa took over few days after Abubakar Shekau, the factional leader of terrorist group died.

His death was followed by the killing of many terrorist commanders by troops.

Many of their enclaves were also destroyed.

As a result of overwhelming firepower from the military, as well as widening internal cracks, over 20, 000 of them surrendered to the Nigerian Army.

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