MSA Aliyu: A salute to courage

When he left Gusau in then Sokoto State to join the Nigerian Defence Academy, in Kaduna in 1984 as a member of 36 Regular Combatant Course, the young Mohammed was taking a path chosen by few. It is a path where many are called but few are chosen; a path fraught with imminent danger of death, beyond the prestige, glitter and glamour of the uniform.

Having made up his mind and not minding the danger, Mohammed stayed focused and stayed the course, weathering the storm in the academy.

And in the end he survived ‘putty’ and ‘rumble’ in the academy. As a cadet he was a high flier and diligent student. As an  officer, he has maintained the standard he is known for in his academy days.

Like many in his generation, Mohammed Sani Abdullahi Aliyu joined NDA during its transition period from award of Nigerian Defence Academy Certificate of Education (NDACE), to a degree-awarding institution. So even though, MSA Aliyu is not an NDACE, he was among the pioneering cadet officers to graduate with a degree from the premier military university.

Since his passing out as a second lieutenant in 1989 and joining the elite Armour Corps, he has left no one in doubt about his determination to make a success of his chosen career. He proved from the onset his understanding that military career is not a paid job but a profession that requires one to give his all. As an officer, he quickly internalized the mission statement of Nigerian Army which is “to win all land battles in defence of the territorial integrity of Nigeria, protect her national interests and accomplish other tasks in aid of civil authority.” He also showed great understanding and acceptance of Soldier’s Creed, which is “of…honour…faith…duty in service…to defend Nigeria everywhere…territory, wealth and people…whenever clarion calls, whatever the price or odds…”

Born  on the 19 Nov,1965 in Gusau, now Zamfara State, Aliyu attended Government Science Secondary School, Gusau from 1979 to 1984.

Since his commissioning as a second lieutenant and subsequent posting to the Nigerian Army Armoured Corps on 23 Sep 1989, Aliyu rose steadily to the prestigious rank of Maj Gen with seniority date of 24 Sep 2016.

MSA’s steady rise in the army to the prestigious rank of two-star general, is a clear example of an officer that combined brain, brawn and bravery. As a young officer, he was one of the commanders at tactical level who shone like a thousand stars in the ECOMOG Operation in Liberia and Sierra Leone through uncommon bravery, courage and determination. Group Capt. SG Shehu, a retired Air Force officer, described Maj Gen MSA Aliyu thus: “a well rounded battle tested General, not only in Nigeria but also outside the country. In Sierra Leone, while serving with then President Koroma, MSA played a very important role in thwarting the efforts of rebels to oust the president by ensuring a water tight defence of the Presidential Palace. His courageous action in Sierra Leone brought glory to Nigeria and the Nigerian military”.

While pursuing his career, he was mindful of the fact that to be a successful general in modern military, you require not just bravery but requisite professional qualifications. He therefore, attended military courses necessary for career progression from tactical to operational and strategic levels. These !include: Young Officer’s Course, Armour; Anti-Tank Platoon Commanders’ Course; Tank Weapon Instructors Course; Junior Staff Course; Senior Staff Course; Disaster Management Train-The-Trainers Course; Democratic Civil/Military Relations Course in Canada; French Planning Course, Ghana; and National Security War Course, Pakistan.  

To further develop himself as a well rounded officer, Maj Gen Aliyu, in addition to his Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry which he graduated with from NDA, obtained a Diploma in Arabic Studies, PGD International Relations and Diplomacy as well as MSc in National Security and War Studies.

MSA Aliyu’s brilliance was noticed early as he was saddled with responsibility of imparting knowledge for future operational and strategic commander as Directing Staff at Armed Forces Command and Staff College, AFCSC as well as Director of Higher Military Operations and Organization at the National Defence College, Nigeria which earned him the appellation, Pass Staff College with distinction (psc+) and National Defence College with distinction (ndc+).

Other military appointments held by Maj Gen Aliyu in the course of his career in the past three decades include: Commanding Officer 244 Recce Battalion; Defence Adviser at the Defence Section of Nigerian High Commission in Pakistan; Directing Staff as well as Director of Higher Military Operations and Organization at the National Defence  College, Nigeria; Chief of Staff HQ 3 Division; Commander 21 Brigade and Acting General Officer Commanding 3 Division, Nigerian Army.

In all appointments, MSA Aliyu displayed outstanding leadership qualities as manager of men and resources. It is for this exemplary qualities that he is seen by officers and men that he has worked with as  a man of integrity, resourceful teacher who imparted knowledge and experience to both his seniors and juniors. He is also considered as a man with outstanding human relations with both military personnel and civilians and who puts the welfare of the people working under him above other considerations.

As a Defence Adviser at Nigerian High Commission in Pakistan, MSA Aliyu exhibited professionalism and proved to be a strategist and military diplomat.

His students at both Armed Forces Command and Staff College, and National Defence College, attest to the contribution of the senior officer to their career progression. Gen Aliyu is no doubt patriotic citizen who does things in favour of all and in national interest. Interestingly, many officers and soldiers, airmen/women, ratings and civilians that served under him confirm that he treats everyone fairly.

Alhaji Muktar Sirajo, President Nigerian Institute of Public Relations, NIPR, who said he has known Gen MSa Aliyu for over three decades as a brother and friend,  has this to say:

“We’ve come a very long way since his days as a Captain close to 30 years ago. He is a very simple, honest, humane, and courageous officer, who is always eagerly looking forward to be of help to others. If you are with him and you are confronted with a problem,  MS turns it into his own personal problem and will not mind stretching his own limitations to get you out of it.

“His exploits as a soldier on the battle fields,  from Liberia and Sierra Leone, among others, to the onslaught against insurgency are legendary. Comments on him from superiors, peers and subordinates who worked with him in all the command and staff appointments he’s held are pleasing to the ear and spirit. To me, he is the best example of an officer and a gentleman”.

Major General MSA Aliyu’s professionalism earned him  the trust of the Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen TY Buratai, who appointed him as Brigade Commander, 21 Armour Brigade with additional responsibility as the  acting General Officer Commanding 3 Armour Division in the Theatre of Operation  LAFIYA DOLE where he wholeheartedly served in the fight against Boko Haram terrorists. As a Field Commander in Op LAFIYA DOLE, he took very good care of the troop’s under him and gained huge success of neutralizing Boko Haram terrorists and their equipment. He also rescued many civilians abducted by Boko Haram and recaptured equipment captured by Boko Haram terrorists.

It was on this assignment and during an operational visit of then Chief of Training and Operations, Nigerian Army, late Maj Gen YM Abubakar, that he paid the supreme price. While he survived the fatal accident which claimed the life of Maj Gen Abubakar, then Brig Gen Aliyu was badly injured and had to be flown to Germany for medical attention where it was discovered that he sustained a spinal cord injury.

Not aware of the magnitude and likely impact of the accident on him, Gen Aliyu even on the very day he was involved in the  accident was focused and determined to return to command to continue the fight against insurgents and terrorists. The wounded General Aliyu, while battling for his life told the Chief of Army Staff: “Sir by the grace of God Almighty, I will go back to work after one week of my recovery”.

And amazingly, though, he didn’t return to work immediately, he did go  back to work even on a wheelchair . And today, the amiable General is on a wheelchair of honour which is a personification of selfless service, gallantry, courage, sacrifice, patriotism,  supreme price, honour and love for country.

Maj Gen MSA Aliyu who  speaks fluently and writes accurately in English, Hausa, Arabic and Djarma languages, is a Fellow of International Institute of Professional Security (FIIPS) and happily married with children. His hobbies include polo, biking, badminton, basket ball and hunting.

Interestingly, despite his present condition, the Chief of Army Staff believes MSA Aliyu still has a lot to offer Nigeria and the armed forces. It is in recognition this that he was posted to the Directorate of Projects and Programmes (DPP) in the Office of the COAS, AHQ as the Director of Projects and Programmes (Army) on 17 Nov 2016. 

The Directorate was recently upgraded to a department and designated Department of Projects and Programmes, where General Aliyu is still serving the nation with impressive dedication and commitment as the Chief of Projects and Programmes in the office of the Chief of Army Staff, Army Headquarters Abuja.  As one of the departments in the headquarters, the mission “is to support COAS through initiating, monitoring, supervising and implementing projects and programmes towards achieving a professionally responsive Nigerian Army”.

However, what has defined MSA Aliyu since the unfortunate accident that changed his life and changed the course of his brilliant and thriving military career is not exactly what happened to him and how the Chief of Army Staff responded swiftly to ensure his full recovery; more importantly, it is his attitude to what happened to him. 

Having known him for many years within the barracks – as Directing Staff at AFCSC and NDC, as Defence Adviser at Nigerian High Commission in Pakistan, as  Brigade Commander and Acting GOC in the Theatre of Operation Lafiya Dole;  as well as at seeing him at  polo events, Gen Aliyu is always full of life.

Seeing him now, I am pained by his condition, but consoled by his positive attitude to a very challenging circumstance. Whether at events such as COAS Conferences, NADCELs, courtesy calls at Army Headquarters or in the Defence Headquarters Jumaat Mosque where I have sat by his side many times—the mood has always been the same — calm disposition, lovely radiation and warm exchange of pleasantries with officers and  men as well as civilians.

As noted by Group Capt SG Shehu and many others who interact with the senior officer, his poise and acceptance of his fate is a lesson for all. Group Captain SG Shehu says: “Above all, MSA (whom I call “Bloody”) displays a great deal of equanimity to accept with fortitude whatever life brings. He possesses both physical and moral courage”.

This article is a salute to that courage!

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