With a slow and solemn movement, the group of military officers and high-ranking government officials were ushered into a walled expanse of land at Gudumbali, a remote town about 209 kilometers north of Maiduguri, Borno State.
The atmosphere around the area was devoid of the usual friendliness and courtesies of official events. The initial sunny weather suddenly paved the way for cloudy weather as the guests, led by the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen Tukur Buratai, unveiled a cenotaph built in memory of 150 soldiers killed in a single attack by Boko Haram in the town about three years ago. It was a silent noon in this small community located around the Lake Chad region in Borno State. Gudumbali was a quiet and relatively unknown community even to many people in Borno State. The inhabitants are mostly peasant farmers, who lived a communal life until November 18, 2015, when Boko Haram attacked the town. Some top army officers described that attack as “the fiercest of all battles” in the almost nine years of insurgency in the northeast.
“It was only at this town that the military lost the highest number of troops in a single Boko Haram attack,” an army officer told Sunday Sun in a chat. A total of 206 soldiers died in the attack that lasted about four hours, statistics of victim soldiers inscribed on the cenotaph indicated.
“Forever in our heart,” the inscription on the cenotaph located at the outskirts of the town reads. It was a sad remembrance of the Gudumbali battle, which the army authority said would be a historical evidence of the evil of insurgency in the country.
The Chief of Civil-Military Affairs, Maj. Gen Nuhu Angbazo, said the insurgents launched attacks on Gudumbali four times but were restricted by military troops. He said the affected troops were from the 157 Task Force battalion of the Nigerian Army 8 Division.
While giving further details, Army Chief, Lt. Gen Tukur Buratai said Gudumbali was inaccessible by road between 2014 and mid-2015 as the insurgents had laid mines and explosives around the community. “It was difficult to access Gudumbali from the eastern side because it was fortified heavily with mines. So many mines and IEDs (improvised explosive devices) were laid along the roads,” he disclosed. He said it took the troops four days to liberate the community and built a base though all the residents had fled. Gudumbali was made desolate like other communities in the state seized by Boko Haram.
But while the troops were still celebrating the success of reclaiming the town, Boko Haram launched a surprise attack on the army base with vehicles laden with explosives and other weapons and killing scores of soldiers.
Sources said the insurgents surrounded the base late in the night and kept firing for four hours until the military troops exhausted their bullets. Sadly, Gudumbali is tucked in the Sahara desert, far from Maiduguri, Borno capital where the air component of the counter-insurgency operation would have come to the rescue. About 25 soldiers who fled the scene of the battle reportedly survived. Those killed were buried at the scene of the battle due to the bad state of their remains.
But Buratai said heat in the area contributed to the high casualties. “It was the heat at that time that further set our equipment ablaze, leading to the loss of equipment, logistics and personnel,” he disclosed. He said the cenotaph was built by the Nigerian Army to remember and honor the fallen heroes who laid their lives in the battle to push back Boko Haram from the community.
“These soldiers will remain in our memories. We don’t want to forget them. We have inscribed the names of the fallen heroes on the cenotaph to remember their contributions. They are one of the many victims of the insecurity in the northeast,” he said, and promised that the army authority would “not leave their families alone.”
District Head of Gudumbali, Zannah Aji Numa, commended the army authority for honouring the fallen heroes. He said the cenotaph would also help the future generation in the community to appreciate military effort in liberating the town for return of peace.
Interesting, life has gradually returned to the town as it opened its only market for commercial purposes that same day the cenotaph was unveiled.