Kuriga Kids: Where is Lágbájá of Kaduna? 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.

As a Yoruba word, Lágbájá means a person whose name and identity are purposely concealed or an invisible person. He is somebody, anybody, and everyone. He is the soul of the community.

It was pretty interesting, if not surprising, when in March 2021, the Chief of Army Staff, now deceased General Ibrahim Attahiru, appointed Major General Taoreed Abiodun Lagbaja as General Officer Commanding the 82 Division of the Nigerian Army.

I initially wondered how anyone would bear Lágbájá 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, especially in Osun State.

As the GOC in Enugu, this peculiar Lagbaja in the Army 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 every man—every officer—into the best version of their professional selves. With his carrot and stick approach deployed in equal measure, there was always the reward for gallantry and good conduct, in tandem with punishment for cowardice and misconduct.

For instance, in June 2022, while inaugurating a general court martial to try some soldiers for alleged indiscipline, Lagbaja stated that the process was to instill overall discipline in the army by punishing erring officers in a manner that would serve as a deterrent to others.

The following month, while honouring some soldiers with brand new motorcycles and awarding them letters of commendation for diligence in their duties, Lagbaja described their performances as laudable while charging other soldiers to emulate the exemplary conduct of the honourees.

After the death of General Attahiru in a plane crash, the new Chief of Army Staff, Lt General Faruk Yahaya, redeployed Lagbaja to Kaduna as the GOC of the 1st Division due to the deplorable activities of bandits and terrorists in that axis, 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 from the front. Rather than simply mounting roadblocks, he and the troops he commanded waded deep into the forests, taking the war to the enemies in their conclaves.

In the first month of his assumption of office as the 39th GOC of the 1st Division of the Nigerian Army, Major General Lagbaja stormed kidnappers’ dens. He 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 following month, September 2022, the troops under his command struck the camps of the notorious banditry gangs of Boderi Isiya and Musti, which were responsible for the security breach at the Nigerian Defence Academy, the kidnappings of students of the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, the attack on the Emir of Bungudu, among other such atrocities.

In the operation, the troops eliminated kingpins such as Musti, Yellow Mai-Madrid, and Dan-Katsinawa, among others, whose battered corpses littered the operational areas, especially along the Tollgate and other axis of Chikun and Sabon Gida.

Similarly, in October 2022, the troops sustained their onslaught against bandits. They recovered 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 operation extended to Sabon Birnin – Zartake, Ungwan Lima Riyawa and Tungan Madaki general area, with the interception of numerous fleeing bandits from Kagi Hill.

In fact, from November 2022 till June 2023, the military operations led by Lagbaja as GOC led to the wiping out of many terrorists and the rescue of kidnapped victims, besides the recovery of sophisticated weapons and hoards of ammunition and motorcycles in the general area of responsibility.

The then Governor of Kaduna State, Malam Nasir El-Rufai, was so delighted with the various military successes that he regularly issued statements through his Commissioner for Internal Security, Samuel Aruwan, praising Lagbaja and his troops for the commendable feats and notable security breakthroughs made since he took command of the Division.

Likewise, the then Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lieutenant General Faruk Yahaya, through the Army Spokesperson, General Nwachukwu, applauded Lagbaja and his gallant troops for their unrelenting zeal in decimating banditry and terrorism in that axis.

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 armed bandits, terrorists and cattle rustlers in Kaduna and surrounding states, was redeployed to an administrative position in the military high command in Abuja, beyond the operational one that he had made a massive success of.

Since then, Kaduna has not been the same, making me often ask where the Lagbaja of Kaduna was, as 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 now become hapless victims of banditry and terrorism. The PRNigeria Monthly Security Reviews provide glimpses of many of these atrocities.

For instance, in January 2024, terrorists attacked Ungwan Sako, Kunkurai, and Dokan Kaji in Dawaki Ward in Kauru Local Government Area, from where they 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 burnt several houses. At least 12 people were burnt to death in their rooms, as it became impossible for them to escape the bandits, who were also shooting sporadically. They also killed the Principal of Kuriga Secondary in Chikun for resisting a kidnap attempt while making efforts to escape with some women. The terrorists similarly invaded Gwada and Kassam in Igabi, as well as areas in Kauru, killing and maiming people. At the same time, 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 occurred as the miscreants stormed Tantau ward, looting local 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 people were reportedly abducted in another organised attack.

Kidnappings for ransom payments have become an almost daily occurrence and lucrative businesses 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 in the criminals’ den, I still ask: Can’t we get another Lagbaja of Kaduna to re-strategise and lead the troops from the front towards degradations of criminal activities while restoring the people’s confidence in the safety of the axis?

Yushau A. Shuaib, the Author of ‘An Encounter with the Spymaster’ and ‘Crisis Communication Strategies’ writes from Abuja www.YAShuaib.com

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