It feels like a lot of holes in our hearts, to ponder on the tragedy that has befallen us, losing our gallant officers and men in action last Sunday, along with the crash that followed the evacuation efforts on Monday.
On Monday morning I got into Abuja from a trip and immediately began my journey home. Just around Jere on the Kaduna-Abuja Road, I got a call informing me that a Special Forces team had an encounter with terrorists somewhere in Niger State. Although they gave the terrorists huge blow, we lost some officers and men including the DHQ SF Commanding Officer, Major SA Oni.
I screamed and asked the caller, “You mean Oni, my Oni?” He answered in the affirmative. I was dumbfounded, and began remembering Oni and the courageous forays he and his troops made in the battle against bandits and terrorists in several flashpoints in Kaduna State.
On arrival in Kaduna, I kept following up to know when their remains would arrive, so we could duly, though painfully, pay our respect by receiving these heroes who had given their lives defending Nigeria’s sovereignty. The wait became an unending one.
On getting to the Ministry of Internal Security and Home Affairs, I found the Permanent Secretary Abdullahi Sani, Director of Administration and Finance, Abdulmumin Ashafa and Jonathan Bahago, a Deputy Director, in a meeting. Their mood switched to one of anguish when I broke the devastating news. They had all interacted with Oni at various times to attend to emergencies whenever I was out of reach, while I was there as Commissioner and even after my exit.
From the Garrison Command, I went home, and later on information came through of a crash involving the aircraft involved in the evacuation. This further dampened our already broken spirits and soiled our frayed hearts with more pain. It is a Double Tragedy we are struggling to overcome and a reality we are still grappling with.
I had a close working relationship with Major SA Oni, who was a dedicated, committed, and hard working officer of repute. Oni was like a younger brother to me. His last message to me on 2nd August 2023, was short and prayerful:
“As you open your eyes to see the light of today, may your dreams, your focus, your mission, your desires, your expectations, your ambition and many more, be fulfilled In Jesus name. Amen.”
I expressed gratitude; little did I know that this was to be our last exchange, following the successes recorded in the anti-banditry and anti-terrorism campaigns in the Northwest. His role is indelible and outstanding.
Major Oni was respected by his soldiers, and completed difficult tasks assigned by superiors with distinction. He was a highly industrious Infantry Officer who had undergone further training in several spheres of Special Forces operations.
He had certifications in Special Purpose Counter Terrorism and Ranger from Belarus, Special Forces Airborne Training from Fort Bragg, USA, Special Forces Reconnaissance from Fort Scorpio in South Africa, PI Commanders Battle from Brecon, UK as well as Humanitarian Security and Risk Management, Contemporary Intelligence Gathering, and Information Security all from Switzerland.
Oni, during his sojourn in the Armed Forces of Nigeria, which began with his commission as a Second Lieutenant in 2011, traversed all the theaters and centers of gravity in Nigeria. He was still a cadet in July 2009 when the Boko Haram insurgency started, but has paid his dues having participated in the Operation Lafiya Dole (now Operation Hadin Kai) after his commission. He had also served in the following operations: OP NUT CRACKER, OPSH, OP RESTORE PEACE, OPTS, OP CETO DOLE, OP FOREST SANITY and OP WHIRL PUNCH.
Oni’s stint in life and service has been brief but hugely impactful, leaving indelible footprints in all spheres. Like a northern star, he shone everywhere he served, with discipline, humility and candor.
I read General Saleh Bala’s touching tribute in memory of Major Oni. He posited that Oni possessed rare qualities in an officer. Drawing on the account of one of Oni’s Commanders, he stated that Nigeria has suffered an immeasurable loss.
Oni, General Bala further said, gave himself to Nigeria and his men, and lived his life as an officer in leadership, and transited into the next life alongside his men in active national duty.
From all accounts, he was not a square peg in a round hole but a fine fit for his calling and for Nigeria. It will be my honour to meet with Oni’s mother, his wife and the rest of his family to offer my heartfelt sympathies and pray with them for this great soul. It is not easy for the affected families and friends to come to grips with such a painful loss.
Similarly, my community and church has been thrown into mourning, as one of the men that died with Oni is our own brother George Philip, popularly known as Mba. He was the grandson of our revered Deacon Philip Babayo, of blessed memory. I knew Mba as a kid in the church, always in the company of his grannies. One day after I represented former Governor Nasir El-Rufai at a military event in Jaji, a tall handsome soldier walked towards me, and to my pleasant surprise, it was Mbah. We exchanged pleasantries and I wished him well. Our community followed his progress with pride as he strove to serve and defend our nation with unwavering passion. His strivings are now at an end. We will be converging today at 3PM for prayers in his memory, as well as for the officers and men who have given their lives. The line between life and death is indeed thin.
Our gallant officers and men have paid the supreme price for us to enjoy peace and stability. May their souls rest in peace.
Aruwan is Administrator/Commissioner at Kaduna Capital Territory Authority