Penultimate Saturday, Brigadier General Dzarma Zirkushu, died in an ambush by Boko Haram/Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) terrorists along Chibok road, in Borno State. The terrorists had rammed a bomb-laddened car into his official vehicle. Lt Usman Usman and two other soldiers also died in the incident.
Boko Haram/ISWAP fighters had earlier attacked Askira Uba Local Government Area on Saturday morning with about 12 gun-trucks, burning houses, shops and a school, forcing some residents to flee.
Late General Zirkushu, Commander, 28 Task Force of Operation Hadin Kai (OPHK) based in Chibok and the soldiers died while rushing to provide reinforcement in a counteroffensive against the terrorists.
The reprisal attack and ambush came 24 hours after military airstrikes took out several top commanders of ISWAP, while they were allegedly holding a strategic meeting with their new leader, Sani Shuwaram, at Sabon Tumbun and Jibularam, in Marte LGA of the state.
In the past 12 years of the counter-terrorism operations in northeast Nigeria, hundreds of Nigerian soldiers have lost their lives. Statistics show that between 2015 and 2020 alone,1,952 military personnel were killed by insurgents. The death of any military personnel, non-commissioned or commissioned, is a sad loss that affects not just the unit but the military family, and the nation. However, the death of a General in battle is a rare occurrence.
Zirkushu is the highest-ranked Nigerian military officer Killed in Action (KIA) in the war against Boko Haram in the North-East. It is also the first time in Nigeria’s military history, including the civil war, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Bakassi Peninsula wars, that a General was killed in combat.
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Army, Senator Muhammed Ali Ndume, brought home the painful aspect of the death of General Zirkushu, when he described him as “the major obstacle” to terrorists’ operation in the area.
“He was a gallant soldier. He took the fight to the terrorists. His death has sent panic to people in that area. I am aware that some people around that Chibok area have started thinking of relocating.”
Sadly, the death didn’t elicit the kind of attention it deserved from the Presidency. Being the highest ranking officer to die in combat in Nigeria, many expected President Muhammadu Buhari, as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, to pay a condolence visit to his family.
Then, Minister of Defence, Major General Bashir Magashi (rtd), should have followed up with a morale-boosting visit to the family; and then the frontlines, especially his unit. Yet, up till now, even the Chief of Army Staff has not visited the troops or his unit. We believe it is not yet too late for these officials to make amends, and we call on the president and the Minister of Defence to correct this lapse. We also call on the federal government to immortalise General Zirkushu and his fallen men for their supreme sacrifice.
This is also the opportunity for the federal government to communicate to Nigerians, to rally them to the just cause of defeating Boko Haram/ISWAP. Moreover, the federal government should immortalise the late General, a hands-on Commander who led from the frontlines, not the rear, by having a Battalion or facility named after him.
Also, going forward, the military high command should look into the activities of fifth columnists both within its ranks and operational areas. It is clear that information on the movement of troops leaks to enemy combatants. Efforts should be made to fish them out within the ranks and operational areas as the ambush couldn’t have been possible without an insider leaking the information.
This is the time for the Nigerian military to deploy its human and material resources to defeat Boko Haram/ISWAP and their collaborators. That will be a greater honour to the late General.
The intensity of the terrorists’ revenge mission in Askira should be an eye-opener for the military. As ground and aerial operations take out key ISWAP commanders, they are becoming more desperate, abducting people along the highways and indiscriminate invasion of communities and even Nigerian Army Super Camps.
Therefore, the Nigerian Air Force should intensify the tempo of its surveillance and bombing missions while the Army increases its rapid ground offensive and response mechanisms.
General Zirkushu is the first Nigerian General to die in battle. He should be the last. May his soul and the souls of the other departed soldiers rest in peace.
Daily Trust Editorial, November 23, 2021