By Emeka Obasi
Dark clouds enveloped the blue sky that fatal Saturday evening. Life was ebbing as a big bird dropped from the air into the swamps of Isheri – Osun around the Ejigbo area of Lagos. White navy uniforms soon turned crimson red, Airforce blue was bruised and military camouflage mixed with the greenery of the mud.
The nation was thrown into mourning as news of the disappearance of a Nigeria Airforce Hercules C -130 filtered in from the airspace. Flight 911 had crashed three minutes after take off from the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Lagos on the way to Kaduna. Most of the passengers were middle rank officers undergoing a course at the Command and Staff College ( CSC ) , Jaji.
The flight and rescue operations were shrouded in an uncanny blunder. There were reports that the transport plane was faulty. A military source told me that some of the dead were stable after the accident as they tore their uniforms to cover injuries sustained and prevent excessive bleeding. With no help forthcoming, they died of suffocation and loss of blood.
“Tell them my brother died due to some people’s negligence. From what I heard since I flew in last week, the plane was in bad shape and some people who were supposed to know knew it. Yet nothing was done. Even when they crashed I learnt it took more than 16 hours before serious rescue operations could begin. What kind of arrangement is that. Are you telling me that our Airforce and Airways are so poor that they could not provide equipment to rescue my brother?That came from a sister to one of the victims, Maj . I.D. Nock.
It was a day the Sultan of Sokoto,Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, the Third then a Major, lost many of his friends and Course mates.
He is a member of the Nigeria Defence Academy ( NDA ) Course 18.The Sword Bearer at their Passing Out Parade ( POP ) Maj.F.U Bassey, who was also the Cadet Senior Under Officer ( CSUO ) died alongside Majors A.A.Itodo, Daniel Okobo and K.A Ogwu. Course 18 produced former Army Chief, Lt Gen Azubuike Ihejirika.
Interior minister, Lt Gen. Abdurahman Dambazau, was lucky enough to be away. Some of his NDA 17 Course mates died. They were Majs Charles Njamah, S.DYawus,S.S Agada,O.O Mbah and A.B Femowei. Others included Squadron Leaders John Husainu Tela, M.M Gumel, T.A Clement and Lt Commander A .A .Amaino. Other prominent members of that course who were not part of the team included former Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Ola Sa’ad Ibrahim, Maj Gen F.N Osokogu ( father of Cynthia Osokogu, the young lady who was murdered in Lagos by fraudsters in 2013), and former governors, Aminu Kontagora and Isa Maina.
NDA 14 was not spared. Maj Victor Scott Kure was lost. His mates : Omoniyi Omobolade Anthony Obi, John Kalio, Bala Jibrin, Yakubu Bako, all former governors and Luka Yusuf and Ishaya Ibrahim ex – Service Chiefs did not make the trip.
That set also suffered another military air crash, again in September, 1992 . Maj. Generals Nuhu Bamali (President Ibrahim Babangida’s ADC following the death of UK Bello in the Gideon Orkar Coup ), James Amedu, Salihu Lemu and Peter Haruna all perished in Benue State on their way to Obudu .
Another Course mate, Murphy Bozegha, died in the EAS crash of May, 2002. One of the survivors of that crash was Brig.Gen Ikegwuoha. Gen. Jerry Useni, lost his wife Julie and son Danjuma. Two active players in the Orkar Coup, Cletus Obahor and Gilbert Edoja, belong to NDA 14.
NDA 13 lost many officers .Among them were Lt. Cols George Ikoli, S.A . Onipede and Maj M.F. Leramoh.Two officers who were not part of the team included former CDS, Air Chief Marshal Paul Dike and eleven former military governors : Theophilus Bamigboye, Rasheed Raji,Joseph Adeusi,John Ebiye,Rufai Garba,Bizirgu Afakriya,Mohammed Shehu,Usman Ahmed,Augustine Aniebo, M. Mohammed and Adewunmi Agbaje.
Fourteen years later, two members of Course 13: Joseph Adesunloye and Sunday Otubu died in the Ngorkugh air mishap.
Squadron Leader Kola Odubanjo,an Ijebu – Igbo Prince, died before his parents just like Majors Sunday Amaga and P. Iyayi whose parents mourned in Otukpo and Irrua respectively.
The Sporting family was hard hit. Taiwo Ogunjobi,a former national athlete, whose brother Taiwo,was Team manager of Shooting Stars, Ibadan died . Charles Njamah,Chairman Anambra Sports Council was gone. G.O Oyefi,who was active in Ilorin and S. Abubakar,a good basketballer perished.
Maj.Samuel Ma’Asaba Ogbeha,was with ECOMOG in Liberia. He survived. His elder brother , Brig Tunde Ogbeha,was man enough to visit the crash scene . Their mother, Priscilla Rekiya,never fancied two of her children in the Army. Maj.Garba Ismaila, was in Liberia under Gen Joshua Dohonyaro as an ECOMOG Reconnaissance officer.
Maj.Grace Nwada Nze ( Danne Grace ) was the only female military officer that was known to have died. Mrs M.A. Abu of the Defence ministry was there too. Lt.Col S.K. Aladesuyi, was the only Lt.Col among the students. He needed to brighten his career .
Families of the dead were shocked that the Federal Government chose to toy with the lives of such gallant officers who would have preferred death in service of fatherland to negligence on the part of the military high command .
Ngozi, wife of Lt Commander Kareem Farouk ( Feruke ) Bello,of Naval Intelligence flew in from London where she relocated on mutual understanding. Her regret was inability to have a child for her hubby . Maj. S.O. Gbenro’s wife, Grace, thought about their six children, three already in the university.
Some widows of the officers: Hadiza Pindar, Dooshima Ada’a, Francesca Odache and Nwano Eze – Ukagha, who carried Adaku, her seven weeks old baby to the Karamajiji military cemetery to pay their last respects to Maj. E. Ukagha, took their case to the Justice Chukwudifu Oputa panel during the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo presidency.
Five officers from Ghana and one from Uganda , Tanzania and Zimbabwe respectively also lost their lives.
Some strange and intriguing things trailed the crash. One officer was said to have missed the flight because he went to cool off in his girlfriend’s bunk. When news of the crash came, lover boy promptly reported himself to Madam. Of course, his sins were forgiven amid jubilation by some family members.
Another officer had left his car very far away from his crib in Jaji before embarking on the trip. Moments before CSC received the news,the same man drove the car back to his quarters .The dead do drive, you may imagine.
Recently, the Nigeria Airforce named some apartments after the pilots of the C -130: Wing Commanders Pere Aborosun and Ali Mamadi. The flight engineer,Squadron Leader J.A Adeiza, was not left out. They are best remembered for saving lives in densely populated Festac town by plunging into the swamp.
We had our own 911 before the Americans. They honour their dead heroes, the Nigerian government easily forgets the deeds of great men and women.
It happened 25 years ago, on Saturday September 26, 1992. Little Adaku Ukagha should be an adult now. Does the nation remember the girl who did not get to meet her father because he died in service? The houses promised the widows, the scholarships publicised by the government,could all have been on paper.
ODUBANJO: The Ijebu prince
Squadron Leader Ezekiel Kolawole Odubanjo was a blue blood from Ijebu land. His father, Oba Joseph Otubu Odubanjo, Kegbo of Atikori, Ijebu – Igbo, Ogun State was expecting to see the Prince soar above the sky and possibly someday become a Marshal in the air.
That dream died on September 26, 1992. The brave Airforce officer went with the dream. It was a situation he could not help. And those who trained him did virtually nothing as he died as a result of an air crash in Lagos. Odubanjo’s mother, Olori Felicia Abike, could not bear the loss. She passed on seven months later, on April 21, 1993.
An old boy of Ijebu Ode Grammar School (JOGS), Odubanjo combined military training with University education. According to his younger brother, Omoba Ademola Odubanjo: “He was running a course at the University of Lagos until his death.” During his time, the Nigeria Defence Academy (NDA), Kaduna had not been upgraded.
The Odubanjos remember their son every year. “We usually observe family prayer every September 26,” his brother said. That is what Nigerians expect from the government, not to forget those who died serving the country.
Omoba Odubanjo added that some of his late brother’s colleagues have not forgotten their friend. “His friends in the military still keep in touch but most of them are retired having attained the mandatory retirement age.”
Sqdr.Ldr. Odubanjo’s number was NAF 930. He died with some of his Course mates. N.A.Alege was NAF 931. A.A.Ndule, NAF 923 and E.J. Ekpong, NAF 924 died too.
Three of the Army officers who were lost in the crash followed each other numerically. Major D. O. Okoroji of Army Engineers was N 6253. M.A. Agoyi of the Military Police, N 6254 and Infantry man, C. Otti, N 6255.
Lt.Col S.A. Onipede, N 2888 and Maj. M. Leramoh, N 2889, were commissioned same day. The former was an Instructor while the latter was his student at the time of death. One was an Infantry officer while the other belonged to the corps of supply and transport, NACST.
It was such a painful loss that Col. James Audu, a retired Intelligence officer collapsed at the Karamajiji military cemetery, Abuja as their remains were lowered to the ground.
“ I knew Reuben Olufe intimately. I knew Godwin Joseph intimately. I knew Abass intimately and to imagine that they are gone like that was unthinkable. It was too much for me to bear ,” Col. Audu said.
Col. Musa Gambo lost his little son, Selechang, a student of the Nigeria Military School, Zaria. School should have resumed a week earlier but it was shifted. Father handed over his son to one of his colleagues on the flight. That was the last he saw of them.