As we begin to gather our thoughts for Armed Forces Remembrance Day on January 15, HumAngle highlights the sacrifices of soldiers braving harsh desert conditions and battling Islamic State fighters in Malam Fatori, one of the farthest Nigerian towns and military outposts.
Troops in Malam Fatori, a strategic border town, have continued to push back and resist persistent attacks from Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) fighters employing various types of weapons such as improvised explosive devices, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and gun trucks.
Sometimes spelt as “Mallam Fatori”, it serves as the headquarters of Abadam Local Government and is one of the largest and most deserted towns in northern Borno.
The town was where Lieutenant Colonel Abu Ali, Commanding Officer of 272 Task Force Tank Battalion, was killed in action around 10 pm on November 4, 2016.
It lies along the seasonal Ngadda River and close to the shores of Lake Chad, sharing a border with Chad and the Niger Republic.
Ngadda River flows through Maiduguri the state capital in a snake-like form and extends to Malam Fatori 205 kilometres away, where it serves as an important source of water for farming of crops like pepper, rice and wheat.
The remoteness, security risks and communication problem in the area have impacted the reporting of skirmishes between troops and insurgents, despite the frequency.
HumAngle understands that the Theatre Command of the counter-insurgency operation Lafiya Dole, Army Super Camp 15, is located at Malam Fatori.
The heat, semidesert and sandy terrain of the town make it a difficult environment for troops, especially during harmattan when the location is cold and dusty.
Troops, however, continue to brave these elements and the risks associated with the closeness of their position to Lake Islands inhabited by ISWAP. The Air Task Force has conducted regular airstrikes on insurgents’ positions in the general area.
At least two incidents have already been recorded on January 5 and 6, this year.
The fate of the military base in Arege which lies further to the north of Malam Fatori town is unknown, following the withdrawal of troops in 2018 after coming under intense assault from insurgents.
The raiding of Foward Operating Bases and staging grounds in Northern Borno led to the establishment of Super Camps to curb attrition of men and equipment.
The objective was to utilise strength in numbers to protect military bases from raids and the strategy has been successful in that respect. But analysts blame it for exposing the countryside to insurgents and putting the military in a defensive posture.
In September 2016, Nigerian and regional multinational forces engaged in fierce battles with insurgents to regain control of Malam Fatori, after the town was lost due to the failure to provide security after 2015 dislodgement and subsequent withdrawal of Chadian and Nigerién troops.
The historical crossroads for trans-Sahara trade and a hub for fish, cattle and farm produce markets with a multiethnic population of about 30,000 people was captured by Shekau led Boko Haram in November 2014, burning houses, schools, markets and government buildings.
In February 2020, the Governor of Borno State, Babagana Zulum made an unprecedented trip to Malam Fatori and indicated interest to rebuild the town.