BY TAYE OBATERU, KINGSLEY OMONOBI, TONY EDIKE, PETER DURU, DANIEL ETEGHE & MITAIRE IKPEN
JOS — IT was another dark day in Plateau State, yesterday, as the Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) in-charge of Operations, Mr. John Haruna and three others were killed when a police helicopter, which was delivered last December crashed into buildings in Kabong area of Jos, the state capital, minutes after take-off.
Haruna who had been in the state since Monday following Sunday’s bomb blast at St. Finbar’s Catholic Church, was said to be on his way back to Abuja when the surveillance helicopter crashed into three buildings at about 11 am turning them into rubbles.
The disaster, yesterday, threw the Police Headquarters into mourning with the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar, who flew in the helicopter for two days without problems, shedding tears. The incident also drew tears from other police officers and men.
How it happened
Residents said apart from a nine-year-old girl who was injured and rushed to hospital, there was no loss of life in the affected houses. “Only a pig was killed”, a resident said.
The helicopter had along with the one used by the Special Task Force (STF) hovered the town in the wake of the violence that greeted the blast.
Residents said they noticed the police chopper hovering with an unusually loud sound and later saw it nosedive and crashed into the buildings following which they rushed to the scene.
The helicopter was said to have burst into flames as it crash-landed, giving the occupants little chance of survival. Youths, who rushed to the area were said to have made efforts to put out the fire with buckets of water before the arrival of fire fighters and other security agents.
According to an eye witness, Solomon Achus, “I noticed that the helicopter was unusually sluggish and making a strange sound and suddenly, I saw it coming down until it crashed into the buildings. Thank God there were no deaths on the ground as most people were not at home.”
Mali Waziri, whose house was destroyed, said he was at work when he got a call that his house was affected. “When I rushed here, I discovered that my house had been completely destroyed and all my property was nowhere again.”, he said.
Confirming the incident to journalists, Plateau State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Dipo Ayeni, described the death of DIG Haruna and others as a monumental loss. He said others in the aircraft were Haruna’s orderly, the pilot and his assistant.
He explained that he saw Haruna, who he said was on his way back to Abuja into the helicopter, which took off from the Prison field just opposite the police headquarters and minutes later, the crash was heard. He said it was difficult to guess the cause of the crash unless investigations were concluded.
Commander of the STF, Major General Ibrahim Mohammed and other top security officers were at the site to oversee rescue efforts. The remains of the DIG and others were later taken to hospital.
Spokesman of the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), Mr. Tunji Oketunbi, who confirmed the crash noted that although the agency heard about the crash, but it did not have the jurisdiction on military disaster.
He however stated that if the AIB, was called upon or invited, it would not hesitate to assist in unraveling the cause of the accident.
Oketunbi said: “We heard about the crash of a helicopter in Jos. Although, the AIB does not have brief to handle military accident, we will not hesitate to assist if we are called upon during the accident investigation.”
Yesterday’s crash brings to three the number of helicopters that have crashed in the last few years with the last being the AOS Helicopter which crashed on the border between Kwara and Oyo State killing the chief executive officer of a sugar company.
DIG Haruna, pilot, co-pilot, orderly were on routine patrol – Police
Also confirming the disaster, the Nigeria Police Force yesterday identified three other senior officers, who died in the crash as ACP Garba Yelwa -Pilot; CSP Alexander Pwol-Ja, Co-Pilot and Sergeant Sonatian Shirunam-Orderly.
According to a statement by the Force Public Relations Officer, DCP Olusola Amore, “the tragic event occurred at about 11. 30am on Wednesday (yesterday) in Jos, Plateau State. The officers were on routine aerial patrol before the unfortunate incident occurred.”
The man Haurna
Haruna had before his elevation to the rank of DIG, served as Commissioner of Police, FCT; Commissioner of Police, Niger State; Commissioner of Police Benue State; Commissioner of Police Federal Operations, Commissioner of Police, Anambra State and Deputy Commissioner of Police in charge Operations, Lagos State.
Born on August 16, 1956, in Karim Lamido LGA, Taraba State, Haruna enlisted into the Nigeria Police force on June 5, 1978 as a Cadet Inspector and rose through the rank to become a Deputy Inspector General of Police.
Late DIG Haruna John is survived by wife and children. Burial arrangements for the deceased officers will be announced after due consultation with their families”, it concluded.
Questions trail DIG Haruna’s death
However, Haruna and other officers’ death has elicited questions within the security community in the country especially the Nigeria Police Force as it emerged yesterday that the BELL helicopter in which the DIG and three other officers crashed near Rukuba in Jos, was one of the four new helicopters delivered to the Nigeria Police from the US between October and December last year.
In fact, the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Dahiru Abubakar, was flown in the helicopter by the AIG in-charge Helicopters, Mr. Samuel Illesanmi to Ila Oragun, Osun State when he went to inspect facilities at the Mobile Police Training School for officers last Friday, March 10, 2012.
From ILA Oragun, the IGP was flown to Jos, where Assistant Commissioners of Police (ACP’s) who had been on Course at the Police Staff College, graduated the following day which was Saturday, 11th March 2012.
From Jos, after the graduation ceremonies he presided over, the same helicopter flew the IGP to Kano where he had some official engagements. The helicopter returned to Abuja the same weekend.
But following the Boko Haram attack on St. Finbars Catholic Church and another COCIN Church in Jos at the weekend, the Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Oluseyi Petirin in company of DIG Haruna John, paid an operational visit to Jos on Monday, 12th of March 2012, to assess the attacks on the churches and reassure the people of Jos that security agencies were putting strategies in place to checkmate further attacks from the terrorist sect.
After the CDS left for Abuja, DIG Haruna John was said to have sought the permission of the IGP to remain behind, carry out some surveillance to enable him put new strategies in place that would checkmate the incessant attacks of Boko Haram.
He had completed that assignment, and the Bell helicopter flown by Assistant Commissioner of Police Garba Yelwa (Pilot) and CSP Alexander Pwol-Ja (Co-Pilot), had taken off from the Rukuba Army Barracks without any electrical, mechanical or detected problems, when about five minutes into the flight, the unexpected happened leading to the crash of the helicopter.
An officer who spoke under condition of anonymity said: “The crash of that helicopter should be investigated. It cannot be ordinary. This is an aircraft that is new. It has been flying all over and nothing, not a single sign to indicate there was a problem and suddenly it catches fire on air. There is more to this and I hope the IGP will not take it lightly”.
Another officer said he could vouch for himself, having had the privilege of flying one of the Police helicopters that the machines were in top shape and that knowing the person in charge of the helicopters, he did not compromise when it comes to the conditions of the helicopters.
“The reason is because Mr. President has flown in these helicopters, the Senate President flies these helicopters, the Service Chiefs, ministers and top government functionaries fly these helicopters and we have not heard of things like this. Why is it when it came to the turn of DIG Haruna John to fly that the helicopter crashed?” he wondered.
Force headquarters thrown into mourning
Meanwhile, the Police Force Headquarters in Abuja was thrown into mourning yesterday following the incident.
The chief mourner, Vanguard gathered was IGP Abubakar, who was said to have wept because the news of the crash and Haruna’s death hit him like a sucker punch.
At a time when he (IGP) was bent on repositioning and reviving the force, Mr. Haruna John who the IG said was responsible for bringing into fruition, his plans to put in place counter measures that would make Nigerians forget the shortcoming and discomfort of Police Check Points was killed while on operational duties.
In fact, many officers and the rank and file consider Mr. Haruna John as one of the best operational officers the Nigeria Police has produced to date and as the backbone of the IGP. Having worked with John in Lagos and many other places, the IG knows the efficiency and capability of the officer, hence his recommendation to the Police Service Commission that Haruna be appointed the DIG Operations.
Aside the IGP and members of the Police management team who grieved at the news of his death, another officer who wept on hearing about Haruna’s death was his bosom friend and someone considered Haruna’s brother in the force, AIG Jonathan Johnson.
For the rank and file officers, many of whom adored DIG Haruna John because they hoped the revival of the Nigeria Police Force back to its lost glory would come to fruition with MD Abubakar working together with Haruna.
Many recalled how DIG Haruna John who was decorated about a fortnight ago felicitated with them after the decoration exchanging banters with them irrespective of whether you are a Corporal, Sergeant or senior officer, promising that time had come for the Force to change for the better
Meanwhile, Vanguard gathered that moments after the death of the DIG and other officers was made known to the IGP, he summoned a meeting of the management team, after which he delegated the DIG in-charge Administration, Mr. Dauda Fakai, the DIG in charge Force CID, Mr. Peter Gana and AIG Jonathan Johnson to go to the house of Mr. Haruna to sympathize with his wife and family.