Kuriga Kids: Where is Lagbaja ?of Kaduna

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By Yushau A. Shuaib

Nigerian afrobeat musician Bisade Ologunde is better known by his stage name, Lagbaja. His signature face mask denotes him as the country’s everyman—the faceless individual. Lágbájá, a Yoruba word, means a person whose name and identity are purposely concealed or an invisible person. He is somebody, anybody, and everyone.

It was pretty interesting, if not surprising, when in March 2021, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), the late Lieutenant General Ibrahim Attahiru, appointed Major General Taoreed Abiodun Lagbaja as General Officer Commanding the 82 Division of the Nigerian Army in Enugu State.

I initially wondered how anyone would bear Lagbaja as a name beyond just a generic appellation. I later learned the indisputable fact—that the military officer’s family name evolved from his father’s car dealership business, Lagbaja Motors, in Osun State.

As the GOC in Enugu, the peculiar Lagbaja displayed the uncanny leadership trait of being both hot and cool in instilling a high level of discipline among the troops. He sought to refine officers and men into the best version of their professional selves. With his carrot and stick approach deployed in equal measure, there was always reward for gallantry and good conduct in tandem with punishment for cowardice and misconduct.

For instance, in June 2022, at the inauguration of a general court martial to try some soldiers for alleged indiscipline, Lagbaja stated that the process was to instill discipline by punishing erring officers in a manner that would serve as a deterrent to others. The next following, while honouring selected soldiers with motorcycles and letters of commendation for diligence, Lagbaja described their performances as laudable and charged others to emulate such exemplary conduct.

After the death of Gen. Attahiru in a plane crash, the new COAS, Lt. Gen. Faruk Yahaya, redeployed Lagbaja to Kaduna State as the GOC of the 1st Division due to the deplorable activities of bandits and terrorists which had become a grave source of concern and was spilling into and constituting a threat to Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory. It was in Kaduna that General Lagbaja rose into a household name as he led the battle against violent criminals.

Rather than simply mounting roadblocks, he and the troops waded deep into the forests, taking the war to the enemies in their conclaves. In the first month of assumption of office, Gen. Lagbaja stormed kidnappers’ dens and rescued the victims while leading fighting patrols in Manini village, Buruku, Udawa, Manini, Birnin Gwari, Doka, Maganda, Kuyello and Dogon Dawa communities. Apart from eliminating scores of bandits, others were captured alive.

The next month, September 2022, troops struck the camps of the notorious banditry gangs of Boderi Isiya and Musti, responsible for the security breach at the Nigerian Defence Academy, the kidnapping of Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation students, the attack on the Emir of Bungudu, among other atrocities. They eliminated kingpins such as Musti, Yellow Mai-Madrid, Dan-Katsinawa and fighters; battered corpses littered the areas along the Tollgate, Chikun and Sabon Gida.

Similarly, in October 2022, the troops sustained their onslaught against bandits, recovering massive caches of weapons during the Operation Forest Sanity campaign traversing Maidaro, Kagi Hill, Kusharki and Anguwan Madaki in Birnin Gwari Local Government Area. The clearance extended to Sabon Birnin-Zartake, Ungwan Lima Riyawa and Tungan Madaki general area, with the interception of numerous fleeing bandits from Kagi Hill.

From November 2022 till June 2023, Lagbaja-led operations wiped out many terrorists, freed hostages, recovered sophisticated weapons, ammunition and motorcycles. The then Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, was so delighted with the successes that he regularly issued statements through his Commissioner for Internal Security, Samuel Aruwan. Former COAS, Gen. Yahaya, through Army spokesperson, Gen. Onyema Nwachukwu, equally applauded Lagbaja and his gallant troops for their unrelenting zeal.

In July 2023, after the inauguration of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, General Lagbaja, who was the arrowhead of the successes that troops were recording against bandits, terrorists and cattle rustlers in Kaduna and surrounding states, was redeployed to an administrative position in the military high command in Abuja.

Since then, Kaduna has not been the same, making me often ask about Lagbaja. We are now – very unfortunately – inundated with reports of attacks on worship centres, homes and the abduction of vulnerable people, especially women and schoolchildren. The situation in Kaduna is so disturbing that almost every month, there are devastating stories of woe and routine assault on the people who have become hapless victims of banditry and terrorism.

The PRNigeria Monthly Security Reviews provide glimpses of many of these atrocities. In January 2024, terrorists attacked Ungwan Sako, Kunkurai, and Dokan Kaji in Dawaki Ward in Kauru Local Government Area and abducted dozens of people after killing a number of the locals.

In February, terrorists invaded Gindin Dutse Makyali village in the Kufana district of Kajuru and razed houses; at least 12 people were burnt to death in their rooms, as it became impossible to escape bandits shooting sporadically. They killed the Principal of Kuriga Secondary in Chikun for resisting an attempt to kidnap women, invaded Gwada and Kassam in Igabi, as well as areas in Kauru, killing and maiming. Scores were also abducted, including a retired Central Bank of Nigeria director.

The month of March witnessed more daring attacks and massive kidnappings. After the daredevil bandits abducted over 280 Kuriga schoolchildren, another group of gunmen opened fire on worshippers during the Friday prayer at a Mosque in Angwar Makera, Kwasakwasa community, a few days before the commencement of Ramadan.

Terrorists also attacked the Kajuru-Station village and a nearby Dogon Noma community, where over 100 people were reportedly abducted, including women and children, as usual. Similar situations happened when the miscreants stormed Tantau ward and looted shops, before fleeing with dozens of men and women herded away like cattle. Even in the Buda community, also in Kajuru, no fewer than 61 locals were reportedly taken in another organised attack.

Kidnapping for ransom has become an almost daily occurrence and lucrative business for criminal gangs as if the security services are powerless and helpless to stop them. While it is gladdening that the Kuriga kids’ freedom has been secured after they were held for more than two weeks, I still ask: Can’t we get another Lagbaja of Kaduna to re-strategise and lead the troops from the front to degrade criminal activities and restore the people’s confidence?

Shuaib, author of ‘An Encounter with the Spymaster’ and ‘Crisis Communication Strategies’, writes from Abuja

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