THE WIDOW MAKER: C-130 Crash and the Forgotten Wives

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By Jide Ajani &  Wahab Abdulah

This is the untold story of the hardship faced by the abandoned families of the Hercules C-130 Crash of 1992 (some 20 years ago).  Though they were promised quite a lot, most of the widows are still languishing in despair as the Federal Government their husbands served has abandoned them to their fate.

They were told not to re-marry!

At least, that was the claim made by Mrs. Risikat Mukoro.

To Mrs. Mukoro, life couldn’t have been crueler.

Her late husband, then a Major in the Nigeria Army, V. U. Mukoro, was on that ill-fated Hercules C-130 aircraft that crashed into the swamp of Ejigbo, a suburb of Lagos on Saturday, September 26, 1992.

She said she had written several letters to former President Obasanjo and General Abdulsalam Abubakar (rtd) without any response. She said she had not collected any money from the authorities since the army headquarters relocated from Maloney Street in Lagos to Abuja.

“I have not collected any money from them. They asked us not to marry other men, but they refused to cater for our families,” Mrs. Mukoro lamented.

She also lamented the discrepancies in the way state governments handled building accommodation for the widows, stressing that many states have not redeemed their promises till today.

“Many widows did not get any landed property from their state government as promised. Initially, the then military government promised to give all of us landed property in Lagos. Later they directed military governors of our respective states to redeem the promise, but many states have not fulfilled that promise. Some states gave landed property to victims without any C of O”.

When the widows converged in September to mark the 20th anniversary of the disaster, human rights lawyer and former President of West African Bar Association (WABA), Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, assured the widows of his preparedness to use the instrument of law to get justice for them 20 years after the death of their loved ones.  He lamented neglect of the families of the officers who lost their lives in the incidence by successive military and civilian administrations, saying it is regrettable that government that claimed good governance for the people should abandon victims to their fate with little or no compensation since 1992.

*Crashed plane

*Crashed plane

Falana noted that one would have expected Obasanjo, who was a victim of a phantom coup, to correct injustice against affected families of  the victims of the air crash, but he turned his back against the widows when he was needed most.

“It is very sad that you have been abandoned for about 20 years by successive governments in the country.  They made promises when the incident happened, but they didn’t do anything to correct this injustice. We take up this challenge to take up your matter and correct the criminal neglect of military authorities.  American soldiers are dying in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places during operations, and their families were duly compensated, but soldiers, officers are dying in Nigeria and nothing is being done,”Falana stated.

“Is it not an irony of life that Obasanjo, who was tried illegally for phantom coup, pardoned to contest would spend eight years ruling the nation without addressing your plight (Falana asked the widows rhetorically)? When he was there, one would have thought that he knew where the shoes pinched others.

If  the military failed to address this injustice before the end of this month (Sept, 2012), we will be compelled to use the instrument of law to seek redress. We shall call on those in authority to correct this criminal neglect. We want to assure you that the human rights community and progressive arms of the law are behind you.”

JOURNEY TO DEATH

Rewind to September 26, 1992: A Hecules C- 130 air plane was waiting for its human cargo at the VIP/Air Force tarmac of the local wing of the Lagos Airport.

The signs were ominous. This was a plane that was supposed to have taken off the previous day, a Friday.  But it developed a fault and, therefore, could not fly. By the following day, it was reportedly fixed and the intending passengers returned to the airport for their flight to Kaduna. For Major Mukoro, he had bade his family farewell.

He was the benefactor of the family; he  would fly and land safely in Kaduna.

Almost all of those on board were students of the Senior Course 15 of the Armed Forces Command and Staff College, AFCSC, Jaji, Kaduna. They included 104  army officers, 17 naval officers, 17 Air Force officers, eight foreign officers, 11 Nigerian Air Force crew and nine others.

There were a few civilians who had been caused to join this free flight which turned out to be a flight of death.

The aircraft finally took off about 4:15pm.

But it was a flight of no return because, just a few minutes after take off, it plunged into the swamp of Ejigbo.  It killed everyone on board.

The consensus at that time was that there may have been survivors but Nigeria’s typical shambolic emergency response cost  all on board their lives.

20 YEARS AFTER

But echoing Falana’s position during the 20th anniversary of the crash, Barrister Kabiril Akingbolu, Esq. said failure on the part of government to adequately compensate the affected widows was “wicked and an injustice to committed officers who lost their lives in active service”.

He said that in line with the Nigerian Army Code, affected widows should be commended because they had honoured their own part of contract that barred them from marrying other men after the loss of their  loved ones”.

While expressing their readiness to fight the battle to the logical conclusion, Mrs. Didi Feruke-Bello, the wife of the late Lt. Commander Kareem Bello, said the battle was not a personal one but one aimed at upholding the ideals of their late husbands.

“We are not fighting for ourselves, but we are fighting for the dead. They made them to die and rendered us useless. If you have forgotten I did not forget because the  dark era is still fresh in my memory,” Feruke-Bello said.

Lamenting her grief since the incidence, Mrs. Olusanya Johnson said that she lost her mother due to the military authorities’ neglect, saying lack of adequate care and psychological depression led to the death.

Crying profusely during the event, Mrs. Johnson recalled that she was 14years when she lost her father in the crash, stressing that her mother was faced with the trauma of carrying the burden of taking  care of her children.

She spoke of how her mother made several appeals to former governors of Lagos State to provide their family with the landed property promised in the wake of the crash as she called on military authorities to pay  her father’s entitlements.

“I was 14 years old when my father died. In fact, I went to school and we were summoned from the school to inform us of the tragic story.  Few days later, the military authorities directed us to quit our apartment.

“My mother died because of the trauma she went through since the demise of my father. My mother carried the burden to her grave. One thing which these wicked leaders should realise is that the pain which they made us go through their own children will go through it,” she  said.   That was a curse. Corroborating Mrs. Olusanya, Mrs Stella Onabolu, one of the affected widows, said they had made several attempts to convince the military authorities as well as the Ministry of Defence, but received little attention from relevant  government agencies.

She explained that while their colleagues  from the  Navy and Air Force had prompt attention from their corps, the army had turned deaf ears to their case, adding:

“As at today,  I have not received the school fees of my children from the army headquarters for 2011 not to talk of 2012. We met the Minister of State for Defence in 2010, but nothing has happened and nothing is happening.

“Last year, the President made a statement on the issue, promising  to offset all our entitlements, but the presidential pronouncement was just an empty promise like his predecessors’. We are praying silently. The army is the worst corps because they don’t want to see us.

They are behaving as if they have something to hide, but we know that God will fight for us. Several times, they had threatened us. They asked us not to marry and we are living without  men. This is sad. It has been tough and my husband served the Nigerian Army for 20 years.”

But the military has done something.

It remembered the “fallen heroes”, contrary to the impression being created by the widows.

In a newspaper advertorial placed by AFCSC, on Wednesday, September 26, which announced an Islamic prayer for Friday, 28; and a Christian prayer for September 30, for the deceased, signed by Brigadier-General Tanko Gaiya, it described the victims of the crash as fallen heroes.  Some rememberance!

We shall get justice for the widows – Femi Falana, SAN

By Wahab Abdulah

Can we have an update on the letter you wrote to the government on behalf of the wives of the military men that died in the C-130 crash at Ejigbo, Lagos, in 1992?

Femi Falana, SAN

Femi Falana, SAN

I have been told that the letter is receiving the attention of the relevant authorities. But the patience of our clients is understandably running out.

How would you describe the attitude of the government to the family and dependants of the slain military men?

The attitude displayed to our clients by the military establishment has been hostile, inhuman, wicked and unjust. Most of the women were aged between 20 and 30s when they lost their husbands in the plane crash over 20 years ago. To claim their legitimate entitlements they were told not to remarry.

So they have had to remain single through no choice of theirs. Barely three months after the tragic incident the widows together with their young children were kicked out of the official quarters allocated to their husbands in the barracks. They were compelled to send SOS to the Ibrahim Babangida junta.

Embarrassed in the circumstance the junta directed the military governors in charge of the states of origin of the deceased officers to give a house to each of the families. A few complied while others ignored the directive. The education of the children has been disrupted because the scholarship promised them was not forthcoming.

The compensation due to each of the widows has not been paid. They were also not paid insurance benefits. We are just trying to find out if the aircraft was insured as required by law. So for the widows it has been a tales of sorrow and tears.

Assuming the government eventually refused to compensate these families as indicated in your last letter, what remedies that are open to them?

We shall drag the Federal Government to the appropriate court. Luckily, the matter is alive. It is not caught by statute of limitation. There have been written commitment to pay compensation to the widows. So the issue is alive. The Government is also going to taken to the court of public opinion.

That will encourage many other victims in similar situation to demand for justice. Can you believe that those who lost their loved ones including bread winners in ADC, Bellview, Sosoliso and Dana plane crashes have not been compensated? Ditto for military plane crashes! You cannot run a system whereby the Government cannot even compel insurance companies to pay compensation to the dependants and relations of those who lost their lives in plane disasters. Such official insensitivity has to stop.

Some of the officials of the government who spoke to Sunday Vanguard claimed that their case have been settled. How true and genuine is this claim?

Let such officials produce evidence of such settlement. My experience with the elite in Nigeria is very interesting. It is generally believed that you can never be a victim of injustice. I handle many cases in the military courts otherwise called courts-martial.

The officers who engage our services to defend them in military or regular courts often tell me that they had thought that we usually set out to embarrass the military authorities. They never believed that they could be victimised by the system. But as a people we must not wait to fight injustice until we become victims.

Injustice to one should be seen as injustice to all and collectively fought. Those who are punishing the widows may end up in a worse situation if the institutionalised injustice in the armed forces is not challenged once and for all. Can you believe that President Olusegun Obasanjo who was pardoned by General Abdulsalami Abubakar abandoned those who were illegally convicted with him by the Sani Abacha junta? We have just taken up their case with President Goodluck Jonathan. We are still pursuing the case of the 27 soldiers. The list of victimised military officers and soldiers is a long one.

The widows of the 103 military officers who were killed in the Hercules 130 plane over 20 years ago have been left in the lurch. Whoever says they have been paid compensation should produce the evidence. As i said the case is receiving attention of the relevant authorities.

 

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