The military aircraft that crashed in Kaduna on May 21, 2021 which led to the death of the former Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt Gen Ibrahim Attahiru and 10 other military officers, was a monumental tragedy. It is sad that the nation lost such military officers in a single air mishap. The Federal Government must do something drastic and urgently to arrest the disturbing trend.
The frequency of the crashes in recent times puts question marks on the airworthiness of our military planes. This year alone, the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has lost three aircraft and many officers to needless crashes. The most recent one, which happened on May 21, 2021.
In February this year, a Beechcraft King Air 350i passenger aircraft belonging to the Nigerian Air Force also crashed shortly after the perimeter fence of the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja. Seven people lost their lives in that accident. The aircraft was said to be heading for Minna, Niger State, to help in the rescue efforts of the now released students of Government Science School, Kagara, in Rafi Local Government Area of the state. The students had earlier been kidnapped from their hostels by a group of bandits who demanded huge ransom. After the crash, Nigeria’s Aircraft Investigation Bureau and the United States National Transportation Safety Board reportedly initiated some investigations. So far, it is not certain if they have concluded their investigations and what their findings are.
On March 31, 2021, a NAF Alpha fighter jet supporting ground troops fighting the Boko Haram insurgents suddenly disappeared from the airspace. It is not too certain what happened as the NAF debunked claims by Boko Haram elements that they were responsible for the tragic incident.
Since 2015 when the Buhari administration took over power, it has been one air disaster or the other. In August 2015, for instance, a Dornier-228 aircraft crashed into a house at Ribadu Cantonment in Kaduna killing all the passengers and crew on board. In September 2018, two NAF F-7NI aircraft collided midair in Abuja during a rehearsal for Nigeria’s 58th independence anniversary. One of the pilots was not lucky as he died in the process while others were able to eject before the crash.
Previous administrations also recorded some air disasters involving military aircraft. There was a devastating accident in September 1992, when a Nigerian military transport plane, Hercules C-130, crashed soon after take-off from Lagos, killing all 159 people on board. In September 2006, a Dornier 228 military plane crashed at Vandekiya in Benue State. Ten Generals and four other military officers perished in the crash.
These accidents occur partly because of negligence and lack of adequate emergency rescue facilities. For instance, there was no quick intervention by the fire service or other emergency services personnel to salvage the Air Force plane that crashed in Abuja in February. Concerned authorities should do everything possible to equip the fire service at our airports with modern equipment to enable them to rapidly respond to emergencies.
We should also review our maintenance culture. As it is now, the state of health of our military aircraft is in doubt. It is high time Nigeria took inventory of the aircraft in the country and subjects them to thorough checks. Air Force authorities should ensure that their aircraft are well serviced regularly. There is also the need for training and re-training of pilots. We cannot continue to lose the class of officers we have lost in these needless successive mishaps.
Besides, the rapidity of the accidents constitutes huge challenge to national security. The strength of countries in modern warfare is determined by the efficacy of their air power. With constant air mishaps, the country continues to lose its reputation and prestige among other countries. The government should do something to arrest further air disasters.
We commend the Chief of Air Staff for setting up a committee to evaluate the integrity of the country’s aircraft. The Air Force has also set up a team to investigate the cause of the most recent crash. The team should go further to unravel the cause of previous air mishaps. The probe panel should go deeper in recommending ways to avoid further embarrassment.
The report of the panel should not be swept under the carpet. It should be a complete departure from the past. The probe should not be subjected to any political exigencies but should run deep by unearthing what caused the crash and proffering lasting solutions. We believe that Nigerians should be made to know what happened whenever the probe panel completes its findings.
We commiserate with the President Muhammadu Buhari over the death of the COAS and other military officers. They died in active service in a bid to serve the nation. They should be adequately honoured.
We also join other Nigerians in mourning the departed heroes. Accidents must happen, but avoidable ones should not be allowed to happen. While we commiserate with the bereaved families and friends, we pray that the souls of the departed officers will find rest in the Lord.