On 21 May 2021, the nation was greeted with the sad news of an air mishap involving one of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) Beechcraft King Air 350i passenger aircraft, where 11 souls including the Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Ibrahim Attahiru, and 10 other gallant officers of Nigerian Armed Force.
This sad event has generated a lot of comments and criticisms from Nigerians taking a swipe at the NAF for the ill-fated air mishap while also questioning the serviceability status of its aircraft.
Others called to question the experience and the rank of the Pilots of the aircraft Flight Lieutenant Taiwo Olufemi Asaniyi, the Captain who has garnered at least 2000 hours flying in his career.
The director of Public Relations and Information Air Commodore Edward Gabkwet dismissed the video insinuating two people ejected out before it crashed.
“The absurdity of the whole episode was the fake video circulating in the social media where it was insinuated that 2 people were seen ejecting out of the aircraft before it crashed.”
He said all the platforms in the NAF inventory are constantly maintained by highly experienced and professional NAF engineers and technicians, Beechcraft King Air inclusive.
It is interesting to note that the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Oladayo Amao on assumption of office made platforms and equipment serviceability through innovative maintenance methods and logistics support systems, one of the key drivers of his vision.
Recently, as part of efforts to advance it’s Research and Development to sustain its platforms, the NAF signed Memoranda of Understanding with Industrial Training Fund and Equipment and Protective Applications International Limited.
The Beechcraft King Air 350i aircraft is an American aircraft with a twin-engine turboprop that can take off from shorter runways with ease, without compromising payload as at when due.
The aircraft came into the inventory of the NAF in 2015 brand new, and since then it has been used for Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) in all the theatres of operation in the North East, North West, North Central, and other parts of the country.
It has also been employed as a light transport for liaison and VIP airlift. This aircraft alongside other platforms in the NAF inventory has been constantly maintained. It is pertinent to state that, for the first time in its history, the NAF successfully conducted multiple in-country Periodic Depot Maintenance (PDM) of its platforms which include two C-130H (NAF 917 and 913) in Lagos and three L-39ZA aircraft in Kano, two Mi-35P in Port Harcourt as well as three Alpha Jet aircraft in Kainji, which also involved avionics upgrade.
The acquisitions and reactivation as well as the emplacement of a robust logistics support structure have enabled the NAF to raise the serviceability status of operable aircraft from about 35 per cent in 2015 to between 78 and 82% at the moment.
“Therefore, the question as to the serviceability and maintenance of all NAF aircraft does not arise as the NAF does not joke with the maintenance of its platforms to meet international standards,” he said
He said there are also insinuations in the public domain regarding the age, experience, and the rank of pilots on board the aircraft however, it should be noted that the NAF does not compromise competency, proficiency, and professionalism when it comes to efficient and effective service delivery.
In line with one of the key drivers of the CAS’ Vision, which deals with purposeful training and human capacity development, the NAF has trained thousands of officers and airmen/airwomen in different categories of air and ground functions in the last 6 years both at home and abroad.
The NAF has winged over 133 pilots in the last 6 years alone. In the same vein, 130 other student pilots are currently undergoing training in different training institutions both within and outside the country. This is aside from 1,700 personnel of other specialties undergoing training within and outside the Country.
He said the young pilots have racked up thousands of flying hours to their names, a feat which last achieved in the early 1980s.
The training of the young and vibrant pilots has undoubtedly added more impetus to the fight against insurgency, armed banditry, and other internal security operations in the country.
“Late Flight Lieutenant Taiwo Olufemi Asaniyi, the Captain of the ill-fated aircraft was one of the finest and well-trained pilots in the NAF. He had over 2,000 flying hours and had been involved in the airlift of VIPs on many occasions as well as ISR missions alongside his co-pilot, late Flight Lieutenant Alfred Ayodeji Olufade.”
He said Late Flight Lieutenant Asaniyi and Olufade were trained locally and internationally.
They both attended 401 Flying Training School, Kaduna for their Ab-initio flying training after graduating from the prestigious Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna. The late Asaniyi was later trained at the Aviation Training Resources, United Kingdom and thereafter in the United States of America for his Initial Type Rating Simulator Training on King Air 350. He later attended King Air Aircraft Recurrency Simulator Training at the United Arab Emirates and Falcon 7X Initial Simulator Training, also at the United Arab Emirates.
The NAF, since the air accident occurred has been very transparent in its findings.
Gabkwet said the insinuating remark and conspiracy theory that the officers who lost their lives in the unfortunate air crash were victims of sinister power play within the military has left much to be desired.
“What happened was a mere accident which could happen to any plane whether military or civil. There are 3 main possible causes of air accident, it could be due to human errors/technical faults, weather or act of God.”
Preliminary investigation revealed that the crashed aircraft was on its way from Abuja to Kaduna and the air mishap occurred after landing at the Kaduna International Airport due to inclement weather.
For instance,in the United States alone, which does not involve in any intraconflict war, there were 186 military aircraft crashes and about 224 deaths within a space of 5 years from 2013 to 2018 according to a report.
Records, however, indicate that since its establishment in 1964, the NAF has had less crashes compared to the developed countries.
In the last five to six years,the NAF has had at least 10 crashes or more but not comparable with their counterparts in other countries.
On 26 September 1992, a NAF Lockheed C-130H Hercules serial number 911 crashed three minutes after take-off from Lagos, Nigeria, when three engines failed, possibly due to high take-off weight.
All 158 people on board were killed, including 8 foreign nationals.
On January 25, 2015, a photo appeared online appearing to show a CASC Rainbow CH-3 UCAV which crashed upside down near Dumge village in the Mafa District of Borno State.
The two anti-tank missiles on the CH-3’s wings appeared to be intact.
Also on September 28, 2018, a fatal air collision involving two F-7 aircraft occurred during a formation flying exercise involving an Aeritalia G.222 and three Alpha Jets as they practiced flight maneuvers for the 58th Independence Day celebrations in Abuja.
As the F-7 jets turned to the formation flying, their wings clipped each other’s side. Both planes lost stability due to the collision and it resulted in the spiral loss of both jets and they both crashed at the Katampe district of Abuja. Three pilots ejected out of the crippled jets. The two pilots who were on the F-7Ni ejected and landed with minor G-force injuries, and the third pilot on the F-7 ejected and sustained head injuries due to the problems from the parachute as it deployed.
The pilot later died thereafter, on the way to the hospital as emergency services rushed to the scene of the crash.
On February 21,2021 King Air 350, NAF201 B350, crashed while returning to Abuja after reporting an engine failure.
The aircraft was said to be on a mission to Niger State to provide surveillance as part of government efforts to rescue the kidnap victims from the shackles of bandits.
On March 31, 2021, Nigerian Air Force (NAF) Alpha Jet aircraft (NAF475) was declared missing while providing close air support to ground troops.
The aircraft with 2 crew members on board was later reportedly crashed.
Again on Friday 21 May, 2021 a Nigerian Air Force Beechcraft King Air conveying the chief of Army Staff Lt Gen Ibrahim Attahiru crashed killing all on board.
In as much as the NAF is greatly saddened about the unfortunate air mishaps in the last 3 months with the attendant loss of lives and assets, it should be on record that the accidents occurred while the NAF was carrying out its constitutional roles of fighting insurgency, armed banditry and other forms of criminality in the country in synergy with other sister Services.
The air accident on 21 February 2021 occurred while the NAF was conducting ISR missions to secure the release of the students and staff abducted from the Government Science College, Kagara, Niger State. Similarly, the NAF Alpha Jet aircraft which was reported missing after losing radar contact on 31 March 2021 was on a combat mission against insurgents in the North East and not a reconnaissance mission as claimed by some sensational newspaper columnists. The last air crash was also closely related as the aircraft was conveying senior military officers to the Passing Out Parade of recruits at Depot Nigerian Army, Zaria.
Meanwhile, in line with international best practices, the Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabor ordered that an Accident Investigation Board (AIB) be constituted to unravel the immediate and remote cause (s) of the unfortunate accident.
The CAS has equally constituted a Committee of serving and retired senior officers to conduct a safety audit of all NAF operational and engineering units.
The Committee is to, among other terms of reference, analyze safety reports from operational and engineering units, conduct safety evaluations of NAF units, and recommend measures to enhance the safety of operations in the units. The Committee is also to interact with unit operational and technical personnel for views, observations, and contributions on safety measures. The Committee which is chaired by Air Vice Marshal Abraham Adole, the Deputy Theatre Commander, Operation HADIN KAI, is to submit its report not later than 18 June 2021.
In spite of the daunting security challenges, the NAF is still WILLING, ABLE, READY to take on the constitutional responsibilities of defending the territorial integrity of the Nation. It is on record that the NAF has proved its mettle in various military campaigns both within and outside the country and, it is still a force to be reckoned with in the African continent. With the support of the Federal Government and indeed, all well meaning Nigerians who are standing by the NAF in this trying period, we are more than ever before determined, committed, resolute, and emboldened to combating various security challenges confronting our dear Nation.
Instead of trading blames, this is the time we need to come together as a country to see how we can rally around our military to give their best in the defence of the nation. May the Almighty God comfort the families of our gallant colleagues they left behind.