By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
LAGOS—Former Governor of Kaduna State, Mr. Patrick Yakowa and erstwhile National Security Adviser, Gen Andrew Azazi (rtd.), were solemn but smiling last Saturday after listening to a message on the brevity of life and the vanity of riches preached minutes before they boarded a Navy helicopter that crashed within 10 minutes of take off.
An eyewitness account of their last moments revealed the last conversation of the late duo and the first search party immediately their chopper went down.
Those who saw them before the doomed flight could not decipher why they were solemn. Whether it was the message preached by Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor or the premonition of death at the burial ceremony of Pa Obebara Douglas, father of the Oronto Douglas, the Special Adviser to the President on Research and Documentation.
“Governor Yakowa spoke softly, greeted warmly and smiled like he knew it was a final moment to be enjoyed,” an oil industry expert and friend of the late Azazi, Ross Alabo-George, who saw off the duo of Yakowa and Azazi to their ill-fated chopper, said.
Alabo-George had declined an invitation from the late Azazi to occupy two empty seats in the ill-fated helicopter because his own chartered Caverton chopper was already on the way. However, as the Navy helicopter ferrying Yakowa and Azazi took off, a former pilot immediately noticed trouble with one of the rotors of the navy chopper.
The former pilot accompanying Alabo-George noticed the unusual take-off of the helicopter and the unusual effects on the rotor blades.
Their fears were unfortunately confirmed within minutes.
“Less than 10 minutes later, we were ready to go. The captain welcomed us on board and soon after we were in the air. We had just done about 10 nautical miles when the pilot suddenly did a 180 degree turn. Mr. Darego Williams was curious and called on the captain. The captain apologised to all on board and announced to us that a helicopter had just ‘gone down’. He actually meant ‘crashed’. We were the first search party,” Alabo-George, who also writes for Vanguard said in an eye witness account.
“Less than a minute ahead, smoke plumed from the thick swampy forest. It was a clear sign of danger. We did about four low fly passes to capture the coordinates of incident site. Our helicopter had ingested the smoke and smell of burning metals, wires and flesh. We could see the helicopter and the appendage bearing the ‘NAVY’ inscription had severed from the main body. The moment was intense, we doubted the very facts we knew. We all believed some miracle could have happened; the worst case was not an option. It just could not be true.”
Azazi’s final hour
In his final hour, Azazi had lost no love for the president despite his summary dismissal months ago as National Security Adviser, confident that the president would suppress the rebellion by the Boko Haram Islamic insurgency, affirming that the President is smarter than many people take him for.
“Ross, the president is very intelligent and smarter than most people know,” he said just before boarding the ill-fated navy helicopter.