•3 mishaps, 17 deaths in 3 months
•Victims buried amid tears, eulogies
•Gbajabiamila, govs, Tinubu, Ekweremadu, others mourn
•SOURCE: Why NCAA can’t speak •Army combs crash site for clues
By Our Reporters
Friday’s crash of a military plane in Kaduna, which brought the number of such crashes to three in the last three months, has led to calls for a proper investigation of recent military plane mishaps since February this year.
In making the calls, it was said that the rate at which military aircraft had crashed in less than 100 days necessitated a detailed probe.
The calls were on the heels of the directive by the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen Lucky Irabor, that an accident investigation board be constituted to unravel the immediate and remote causes of the latest accident.
Sunday Vanguard learned that all the crashed Beechcraft KingAir 350 airplanes were of the same manufacturer, Beechcraft Aircraft Manufacturing Company, in America. No fewer than 17 military officers have so far died in air mishaps involving Beechcraft 350 military airplanes since February 21.
An aviation source told Sunday Vanguard that the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, wouldn’t speak on the incident since it involved a military aircraft.
He said every inquiry about the aircraft should be directed at the military authorities and the manufacturer.
Meanwhile, the remains of the Chief of Army Staff, CoAs, Gen Ibrahim Atahiru and 10 other Airforce and Army officers, who perished in the crash, were interred at the National Military Cemetery, Abuja, amid tears and eulogies.
The fallen heroes were given a military burial at an event that had Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Minister of Defence, Major-General Bashir Magashi, retd, Chief
of Defence Staff, Gen Lucky Irabor, some top military officers, Borno State governor, Professor Babagana Umara Zulum, Senator Kashim Shettima, Senator Abubakar Kyari, Governor Nasir El-Rufai, Yobe State governor, Mai Mala Buni, Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’adu Abubakar, Chief of Staff to the President, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, Inspector General of Police, Usman Alkali, and Comptroller-General of Immigration, Muhammad Babandede, among others in attendance.
A military convoy had earlier conveyed the remains of the deceased from the 44 Nigerian Army Referral Hospital, Kaduna to the Nigeria Air Force Base in the Mando area of the town. Their remains had arrived at the Presidential Wing of Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, Abuja at 11 am.
The deceased military officers were on their way to Kaduna to attend the passing-out parade for recruits scheduled for yesterday at the Nigerian Army Depot, Zaria. As at press time, military authorities had cordoned off the site of the crash. Journalists and residents who were at the scene in Kaduna were not allowed access to the area.
Amid the outpouring of tributes, yesterday, the Minority Caucus of the House of Representatives, called for an investigation into the military plane crash and two others that preceded it to ascertain the cause of the accidents.
While calling for an investigation, the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, Ndudi Elumelu, described the deceased as courageous soldiers. He said this in a statement made available to Sunday Vanguard.
The statement reads:”The Minority caucus is griefstricken by this huge tragedy which has befallen our dear nation and we demand a fullscale investigation into the unfortunate incident.
“Gen Attahiru and the other officers were very courageous and patriotic soldiers, who gave all in the defence of our dear fatherland.
“The minority caucus charges the military not to be weighed down by the tragic event but to remain focused and undeterred to ensure that the heroes did not die in vain.
“Our caucus calls for a system-wide investigation into the cause of the crash as well as the last two crashes of our military planes which also led to the loss of lives of our gallant and promising officers.
“As representatives of the people, we stand with the Army, the entire military as well as the families of the Chief of Army Staff and other gallant officers and men who have paid the supreme price in service to secure our nation.
“Our caucus prays to God to console them at this hour of grief. We urge the federal government to take urgent steps to ensure the safety of our fighting men and women, who are daily putting their lives on the line for the security of our nation.’’
A human rights group, International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law, Intersociety, said the death of Gen Attahiru should be thoroughly investigated and not treated like similar occurrences in the past.
In a statement by its chairman, Board of Trustees, Emeka Umeagbalasi, the group faulted what it called the hasty and uninvestigated conclusion that the crash happened as a result of bad weather.
According to the statement,” the sudden and suspicious demise of Lt Gen Ibrahim Atahiru, the recently appointed Chief of Army Staff, is likely going to end the same way others ended without any form of comprehensive, conclusive and satisfactory investigation.
No credible inquiries have been launched and concluded to prevent future occurrences. Nigeria has in barely four months or since Feb 2021, lost no fewer than 20 military personnel mostly commissioned officers and till date, no single sanction has been meted or any form of detailed investigations carried out.”
Air accident experts
Similarly, Deji Adeyanjuled Concerned Nigerians for the Protection of Human Rights and Rule of Law Initiative called on President Muhammadu Buhari to employ independent air accident experts to unravel the cause of the crash.
This was contained in a statement made available to Sunday Vanguard. According to Adeyanju, the call became necessary following the manner the Air Force plane crashed upon landing at the Kaduna Airport.
The statement reads in part: “Our heartfelt condolences are with the families of the Chief of Army
Staff, the Air Force crew and other generals who lost their lives in the ill-fated crash that occurred in Kaduna. “We call on the President to launch an inquest into the cause of the crash that claimed the lives of some of our finest officers by employing the services of independent air accident experts.
“It cannot be a coincidence that three Nigerian Air Force jets have crashed in a space of three months. Something is fundamentally wrong somewhere and the onus is on the President to uncover these mysterious crashes.
“We have always condemned the idea of granting former Boko Haram fighters amnesty and the dire consequences of enlisting them into the army and other security forces.”
Depth of sacrifice
On his part, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, said he received the news of the death of General Attahiru and other military officers in an air crash with great sadness.
According to Osinbajo, “their death while in active service in the defense of our country reflects the depth of sacrifice our military officers, men and women of the other ranks are often prepared to make.
“We honour the service of the Army Chief and all those involved in this unfortunate accident even as we continue to demonstrate our profound appreciation to all in our military services and in harm’s way. The gallantry of these heroes would always be remembered.”
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, said the death of the Army Chief was unfortunate coming at a time that the Nigerian military was finding solutions to the security challenges in the country.
He said having taken over from the immediate past Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, a couple of months ago, Attahiru has shown a lot of commitment in tackling the security situation in the country. Gbajabiamila, who said he had a few meetings with Attahiru in search of solutions to the challenges, noted that the late Army Chief came across as a core professional officer.
On its part, House Committee on Airforce described the incident as painful. Chairman of the Committee, Shehu Koko, in a statement, said the news came to him as a shock. State governors were also unified by the incident as they described it as a national loss.
The governors under the aegis of Nigeria Governors Forum, NGF, said Gen Attahiru died at a time
Nigerians were beginning to enjoy a renewed confidence in the Nigerian Army.
In a statement yesterday by its Chairman, Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, the governors described the late Attahiru as an exemplary soldier whose zeal, dedication and professionalism inspired his men in the ongoing war against terrorism.
READ ALSO: The Travails of Malam Nasir El-Rufai
His words: “Lt. Gen. Attahiru, who was appointed Chief of Army Staff on 26th January 2021 by President Muhammadu Buhari, was an exemplary soldier whose zeal, dedication and professionalism inspired his men in the ongoing war against terrorism and to secure the peace and stability of the nation.
“Already, all well-meaning Nigerians are enjoying a renewed confidence in the army, while the soldiers themselves are showing appreciation for their leaderships’ encouraging impetus in boosting their morale on the battlefields.
“As governors, we will miss the gallant soldiers. We pray for the repose of their gentle souls in the highest recesses of Jinnatul Fiddausi, hoping that their contributions to bringing peace back to the lives of our people do not go in vain.”
Some of the state chief executives also mourned the dead in separate condolence messages made available to Sunday Vanguard.
Those who expressed surprise include Lagos State governor, Babajide SanwoOlu, Rivers State governor, Nyesom Nwike, Edo State governor, Godwin Obaseki, Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, Ondo State governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, Kano State governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, Osun State governor, Adegboyega Oyetola, Ogun State governor, Dapo Abiodun, Taraba State governor, Darius Ishaku, Nasarawa State governor, Abdullahi Sule, and Ekiti State governor, Kayode Fayemi.
They were unanimous in their description of the late CoAS as a courageous soldier, who paid the supreme sacrifice for Nigeria.
Others who expressed sadness at the crash are Deputy Senate President, Sen Ovie Omo-Agege, former Senate President, Sen David Mark, National Leader of All Progressives Congress, APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, and ex-Deputy Senate President, Sen Ike Ekweremadu among others.
Finish the job
Tinubu in a statement by his Media Office, said: “CoAS Lt. Gen. Attahiru and the others were stalwarts and brave soldiers who had dedicated their careers, and now their very lives, in the service of this nation and toward the realization of the noble aspirations this nation represents.
“CoAS Attahiru had a most distinguished career. The army and the nation will miss his excellent character and fine leadership at this moment when we are fighting terrorism or banditry in many parts of the nation.
“Lt. Gen. Attahiru, just like the others involved in this tragic incident, served his country with zeal and vigour.
He was known as a soldier’s soldier. “Their untimely and sad departure hurts. However, we owe it to them and to the nation to gather our strength and fortitude. We must gird ourselves that we finish the job to which they dedicated and gave their lives. “Let us remember these brave patriots not with our tears but by achieving victory over the terrorism and violence that seek to rob our nation of its finest destiny.”
Meanwhile, the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo, has directed the cancellation of the events marking the 65th anniversary of the Nigerian Navy.
A statement by the Director of Naval Information, Commodore Suleman Dahun, said: “This decision followed the sad demise of the Chief of Army Staff Lt Gen Ibrahim Attahiru, some senior officers, other officers and personnel in the air crash of yesterday in Kaduna.
“The CNS commiserates with the nation and ratings of the Nigerian Navy to Mr. President, the Nigerian Army and Nigerian Air Force as well as families of the departed.”
Recall that on February 7, 2021, seven people died after a Nigerian military plane crashed in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja.
It was said to have crashed due to an engine failure. The plane was on its way to Minna, Niger State capital.
Another incident happened on March 31, when an Air Force fighter jet, NAF 475 went off the radar. It was said to have lost contact in Borno State while on a mission to support ground troops.