By Chukwuebuka KANAYO PHILIPS
On 4 September 2017, one “Salisu Suleiman”, said to be a freelance journalist in Adamawa State, reportedly wrote an article, which was published on the online platform of Daily Times Newspaper. Ordinarily, one does not expect the Nigerian Air Force to dignify the article with a response. However, those of us who are avid followers of the recent activities and achievements of the Air Force believe that the article might misinform the general populace, if nobody draws attention to its misleading and erroneous contents. I have therefore decided to respond to the article towards ensuring that the general public remains well informed. Although everyone is entitled to his opinion, the presentation of facts and not fallacies should be the guiding principle, in expressing such opinion.
The said author of the article wrote that the Air Force was the weakest link in Nigeria’s security infrastructure and chain. He then cited examples of how the Nigerian Army, in particular, had contributed to the counterterrorism operations in the Northeast with some inputs from the Nigerian Navy and the Department of State Services. He could not cite a single example of what the Air Force had done since the inception of the operations in the Northeast. The immediate question that comes to mind is “what was the basis for determining the weakest”. With several reports of few of the critical efforts of the Air Force in the ongoing campaign, with reports of nearly 10,000 hours flown by its aircraft in the past two years ago, one also wonders if the said Salisu Suleiman has been in Nigeria at all!
According to the purported author, it is now that the “Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, led Air Force is finally attempting to punch its weight in the counterterrorism war”. Firstly, it is puzzling that the focus of the article in question was the person of the CAS and not the Air Force per se. The said author clearly had one mandate – to destroy the reputation of Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar whose effectiveness and transformational ability is fast becoming legendary. Secondly, one cannot but marvel at the malicious ignorance of the said author who claimed not to have known any of the Air Force’s contributions to the ongoing campaign. Perhaps, he did not know of the many reported instances of successful aerial bombardments of the structures, weaponry, equipment and gatherings of the Boko Haram Terrorist (BHT) Organization. I have seen video clips of successful aerial bombardments released from time to time by the Air Force in its press releases; such videos were still available on the social media platforms of the Air Force the last time I checked. The said author also did not know that in every major advance by the surface forces, in the ongoing campaign, the Air Force had to always ‘soften the ground’ from the air to enable the surface forces subsequently move in with minimal efforts, as members of the public had been briefed on occasions. Obviously, he was unaware that Nigerian Air Force pilots provide air cover for surface forces during advance, whenever requested to, and that the Air Force sometimes helps to correctly direct artillery fire from Nigerian Army artillery units towards decimating adversary forces.
The writer has also pretended not to know that the Nigerian Air Force shares necessary intelligence with the surface forces after conducting what they describe as Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions with ISR aircraft. Besides, the said author would claim to be unaware that the Air Force has been conducting logistics resupply missions for the surface forces who are deployed in remote places across the vastness of the theatre and beyond. Such logistics resupply missions, aimed at supplying food, ammunition, as well as spares for Armoured Personnel Carriers, are usually conducted with Nigerian Air Force helicopters. What of the airlift of troops within the mission area as well as the provision of liaison flights for Nigerian Army commanders and senior officers as well as other government officials in respect of the counterterrorism operations? Furthermore, the Air Force has become renowned for its humanitarian intervention schemes in the Northeast, which are reportedly aimed at winning the hearts and minds of the communities in the conflict areas, and have already brought succour to several Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and others. It has also been reported that the Air Force has well-trained Special Forces, who daily fight alongside Army troops on the ground and are doing exploits; this perhaps is equally unknown to the said author. Members of the public had been briefed severally on these issues and besides, the social media platforms of the Nigerian Air Force are regularly updated with the latest happenings.
There is no doubt that the Army and the Navy have truly done well in the fight against militancy in the Niger Delta. However, the said author is again blind to the exploits of the Air Force in the Niger Delta, with its helicopter gunships. The Air Force continues to destroy illegal oil storage facilities and barges containing stolen oil products in the Niger Delta, with its helicopters, towards discouraging miscreants from further depleting the wealth of this nation. In addition, the exploits of the Air Force in putting an end to the menace of oil thieves in Arepo in the Southwest were well reported but the said author was perhaps not in Nigeria then. Again, video clips of the air force’s successful attacks, to protect the nation’s oil wealth, are available on the air force social media platforms.
The said author further betrayed his apparent ignorance in claiming that the BHTs attempted to deploy vessels in Lake Chad but was always frustrated by the Nigerian Navy. The Navy is no doubt greatly contributing to the ongoing counterterrorism operations in the Northeast but certainly not by destroying BHT vessels, which only exist in the realm of the imagination of ‘Salisu Suleiman’. It is unclear what the said author meant by “tales from Air Marshal Abubakar” during the festive season. Could it be the hundreds of terrorists that were reportedly neutralized by the Air Force on 1 September 2017 or the claim that the Air Force prevented Boko Haram from striking during the Sallah Period, as was usually the case, or the fact that Air Force recent air strikes led to the killing of 5 BHT leaders?
The said author claimed that the CAS directive for Air Force personnel to redouble their efforts towards completely clearing the Sambisa Forest was bogus, simply because the Army once held an arms competition there. It is strangely curious that the said author pretends ignorance of the vastness of the Sambisa Forest, which is over 60,000km2. There was never any doubt that there were still remnants of the BHTs in the Sambisa Forest. Accordingly, all Nigerian Air Force air operations, in conjunction with the efforts of the other Services, in the past months had reportedly been focused on clearing those remnants and preventing them from regrouping. The recent glaring setbacks must have naturally led to the call by the Chief of the Air Staff for Air Force personnel to redouble their efforts, a directive which any reasonable wartime commander would give.
Another surprise is that the said author is unaware that there had indeed been positive changes to the aircraft inventory of the Nigerian Air Force, courtesy of the commitment and support of the Federal Government. In accusing the Air Force of wasting resources by enabling the Ezekwesili-led group to have a glimpse of the efforts being made, from the air, to locate the Chibok girls, “Salisu Suleiman” again demonstrated his ignorance of the workings of democracy and accountability of all government institutions to the citizenry. Furthermore, it is gladdening to note that the BHTs can no longer openly drive convoys of Toyota Hilux cars as they did in the past, knowing that the Air Force’s ISR aircraft are always in the air. However, it would appear that the said author wishes that were still the case.
In summary, the Nigerian Air Force has, in my own opinion, been effectively playing its part in the ongoing counterterrorism operations in the Northeast, even if much of its activities were underreported in the past. The other Services appreciate and do acknowledge the contributions of the Air Force to the war efforts, which remains a collective effort. It is recalled that the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas openly praised the Nigerian Air Force efforts in the counterterrorism operations during the recent winging ceremony of some young Air Force pilots in Abuja. If the aim of the said “Salisu Suleiman” is to malign the person of the Air Marshal Abubakar, it is too late, as his transformational efforts, with the support of the Federal Government, are too obvious for all patriots to see. If, however, the aim was to cause disaffection within the Services, it is on record that the synergy between all relevant stakeholders in the counterterrorism operations is ever increasing and therefore, the possible ploy to cause disaffection will not work. My honest advice to Air Marshal Abubakar is that he should not be deterred but should rather remain focused on the task at hand so that Nigerian could be better for it. I end my article with the following popular quote from Winston Churchill, the famous onetime Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, who in 1949, said that “For good or for ill, air mastery is today the supreme expression of military power and fleets and armies, however vital and important, must adopt a subordinate rank”. That statement remains a truism even today, in my own opinion.
PHILIPS, a renowned security analyst,wrote in from Wuse II.