When Farouk Yahaya was moved from the Nigerian army 1 division in Kaduna state to oversee the wars against Boko Haram in the north-east, he pledged to ensure “total peace and sanity” in the troubled region. He may not have achieved that completely, but things improved under his watch going by available records.
Data obtained from the Council on Foreign Relations shows that from April 1 when the major general took charge of the war against Boko Haram, till Thursday when he was named Nigeria’s chief of army staff, the number of civilians killed by insurgents dropped by 17 percent, while the number of Boko Haram members killed shot up by 46 percent.
The data, gathered from media reports, show that 946 persons were killed by the insurgents from when he was appointed theatre commander of the recently renamed operation Hadin Kai till May 2021, compared to the 1,137 that died in the previous 14 months.
On the side of the Islamist extremist group, 2,122 members were reportedly killed during Yahaya’s reign, compared to the 1,449 that were killed within the previous timeframe.
Notwithstanding, the insurgents launched a number of audacious attacks while Yahaya was in charge in the north-east, such as in late April when they forced thousands of residents in Geidam, Yobe state, to flee to Niger Republic during an attack that lasted for days.
NIGERIAN ARMY’S OLIVER TWIST
In his various roles in the Nigerian army, Yahaya has often demanded more from the personnel under his watch. His watchword was a continuous improvement with no room for slacking.
When he took over from Mohammed Mohammed as the general officer commanding (GOC) 1 division in Kaduna, he told the soldiers and officers at the division that they must be guided by the rules of engagement.
“I expect nothing less but more,” he had emphasised. “I urge you all to remain steadfast. We should be apolitical and be committed to our areas of responsibility. You must conduct yourselves well and be professional in the discharge of your duties.”
On February 5, when more than 50 Boko Haram insurgents were reportedly killed, Yahaya told the troops not to back down as ‘the party’ was just getting started.
“You must not give room for laxity and assumptions. When you see the terrorists, deal decisively with them. Pursue them, don’t spare their lives,” he had told them.
SPEAKS SPANISH, LOVES CRACKING JOKES
The incoming army chief, who is from Sokoto state, is aged 55 and is of the 37 regular course of the Nigerian army. According to his curriculum vitae, a copy of which was obtained by TheCable, he speaks and writes four languages including Arabic and Spanish.
He was commissioned as a regular combatant on September 22, 1990, and has since then attended nine military courses, including the national defence course in Chile. He has also been promoted on seven occasions — the last time was in September 2017 when he became a major general.
Yahaya has also held various key positions during his service which spans over three decades, including as deputy military secretary; principal general staff officer, ministry of defence; commander of the 4 brigade and 29 task force; military secretary, GOC, 1 division and commander, headquarters of the theatre command, operation Hadin Kai.
He has also been laurelled on at least 10 occasions, including the Economic Community of West Africa States Monitoring Group medal, field command medal, general operations medal, silver jubilee medal, and golden jubilee medal.
One interesting thing stands out in his CV though: He loves cracking jokes — and listening to local music.
HUNTED SHEKAU WITH THE AID OF CNJTF
In November 2020, the Nigerian army command in the north-east declared Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram leader who is now reported dead, wanted alongside 85 other members of the group.
Unlike in the past when the army often hunts the Boko Haram leader all alone, Yahaya enlisted the CNJTF as partners in the fresh hunt, with clear guidelines for their operation and conduct.
He had said such a move would “harness the skills and competence of the personnel in terms of the terrain” of the north-east, particularly the Sambisa forest area, the insurgents’ key hideout.
‘NOT WORRIED BY CHARMS’
During his stint as the commander of the 4 brigade in Edo state in May 2016, the army had arrested 10 members of the Niger Delta Avengers suspected to be responsible for attacks on oil and gas installations in the Niger Delta region.
While they were being paraded, Yahaya dismissed reports that some of them might be using charms in the attacks.
“We are not worried by voodoo. It did not stop the suspects from being arrested and others that have been arrested before now,” he had said.
“Operations that led to these arrests and recoveries were conducted professionally, guided by our mandate, operation orders, code of conduct and rules of engagement. Our operations are strictly targeted against perpetrators of all criminal acts in our area of responsibility and not innocent citizens.”
With the announcement of a new chief of army staff on Thursday, Yahaya will replace Ibrahim Attahiru, who died in a military plane crash alongside 10 other officers last Friday.