Not a few people, most of whom are high profile dignitaries at the event, stretched their necks from their seats to catch a glimpse of him when his citation was being read at the Army Headquarters Officers Mess 1, Abuja, venue of the 2021 Nigerian Army Day Celebration. Smartly dressed, standing at full attention and head held high was Lieutenant Colonel Ponfa Andrew Wuyep, a thorough-bred infantry officer and current Commander, 146 Battalion of the Nigerian Army.
He along with 9 other officers and seven soldiers were this year’s proud recipients of the coveted Chief of Army Staff Commendation Award, an honour reserved only for the few who distinguished themselves in both character and accomplishment, in their service to the Nigerian Army and the nation at large.
In the introductory remark rendered before the conferment of the awards on the recipients, the Director of Army Public Relations, Brig Gen Onyema Nwachukwu intoned rather poetically that the officers and soldiers who made the exclusive list represents the best of the institution in the year under review.
Not in any way suggesting that the efforts, contribution or even sacrifice of others in the Service are any less significant; rather it means that those being conferred the award had done quite exceptional things that attracted the attention and recognition of the Chief of Army Staff. To underscore the reverence and prestigious nature of the award, it is said that every officer or soldier of the Nigerian Army fantasize the rare opportunity of being honoured and celebrated with the Award.
Take the story of Lt Col Wuyep for instance. Those whose path had crossed with the officer will definitely tell you that they were in no way surprised to see his name in the pantheon of the celebrated. Here is an officer whose trajectory in the military has so far been defined by sense of commitment, loyalty to constituted order, discipline, selflessness, team spirit and sound inter-personal relationship.
Before his current post, Wuyep commanded the 195 Battalion with responsibility for the defence of Maiduguri, the Borno State capital (of course in partnership with other battalions}, in the campaign against blood thirsty Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorists. To his superiors and subordinates alike, Wuyep is an officer to be proud of any day, any time. On account of his (and other gallant officers and soldiers) courage, steadfastness and leadership ability, millions of people in Maiduguri and environs are able to sleep soundly at night.
The daring and relentless operations conducted by the Battalion he commanded in and around the city of Maiduguri, his area of responsibility, to a large extent, stabilized the city, even if there have been one or two hiccups in recent past.
What makes Wuyep most exceptional is his ability to blend the kinetic prowess of his battalion with the ability of winning the hearts and minds of the people. It was Sun Tzu the Chinese General, military strategist and philosopher who described a successful commander as that who is ruthless in the field of operation yet meek at heart with members of the community where he was deployed. Wuyep has mastered that military leadership skill. Accounts of his Battalion’s streaks of conquests over Boko Haram terrorists whose greatest wish had always been to overrun Maiduguri, are very much known to the people in his area of responsibility just as his numerous charity works in the communities where he had served are still in the hearts of members of the public.
As a Commander, Lt Col Wuyep understands the indispensability of healthy civil-military relations in the success of military operations or war, especially asymmetrical warfare which the deadly Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorist elements are waging in the north east.
He knows that the cooperation and understanding of locals in the communities where troops are deployed are of utmost importance if the troops must be on top of the situation. More importantly he has the emotional intelligence to appreciate the fact that folks who are caught up in the attritional warfare between determined troops and brutal terrorists deserve empathy and show of kindness; little wonder he strived to maintain emotional connection with the people and communities he and his Battalion are operating.
In the course of his tour of duty with 195 Battalion, Lt Col Wuyep engaged in extensive civil-military cooperation outreaches which included sinking of boreholes in various communities, organisation of medical outreaches, provision of palliatives to IDPs and physically challenged persons, amongst others. These quick impact projects and community relations efforts endeared the officer to many and won for the Army, the hearts and mind of the people of Maiduguri and environ.
To demonstrate that his emotional connection with the communities where he was deployed in Maiduguri were no fluke, Lt Col Wuyep has continued to send palliatives and welfare items to them from his salary, even as he has ended his tour of duty there and is currently posted far away in the southern part of the country.
As an exceptional manager of men and resources, the senior officer showed proficiency in maintenance culture. He renovated the Battalion Headquarters complex and in furtherance of his soldiers’ welfare and in recognition of their spiritual needs, renovated the Regimental Aid Post as well as the Unit’s Mosque and Chaplaincy.
The officer substantially improved the fighting efficiency of his Battalion by repairing and refurbishing operational vehicles and kept them serviceable and road worthy. Lt Col Wuyep effectively coordinated the Nigerian Army level training exercise that produced training videos on ambush, counter/anti-ambush, convoy, UAV and communication drills for NA schools and the entire Operation LAFIYA DOLE (Hadin Kai).
He also personally installed an x Hik vision 3600 NVR cameras at strategic locations and also procured 2 x Unmanned Aerial Vehicles for low level surveillance during operations.
All these are recollections of Wuyep’s ingenuity, pragmatism and formidable leadership traits. His uncommon display of hard work, dedication and commitment in the discharge of his duties are pointers that he has indeed carved a niche for himself as an all-round military officer with exemplary leadership qualities that are worthy of emulation.
The Chief of Army Staff’s Commendation Award to Lt Col Ponfa Andrew Wuyep is indeed a colorful feather in his once uncelebrated cap. Congratulations to him.
Hamza Suleiman writes from Abuja