Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar is the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Nigerian Air Force (NAF). In this interview with CHRISTIAN OCHIAMA and SUNDAY ISUWA, he recounts activities during his tenure and notes that he will leave the office a satisfied man having given his best to the nation.
What was your ‘mission’ on assumption of office as the Chief of the Air Staff?
My ‘mission’ was to ensure that we are able to reposition the Air Force to become a highly professional and disciplined force. Professionalism is all about ensuring that you have the right knowledge and skills. You also need the right attitude to have a disciplined force. We intended to achieve that through capacity building. A human being succeeds, by and large, because of how much he or she knows. That is why professionalism and discipline are part of the vision. So, that was why, at the outset, we emphasized the need for capacity building so that we can be effective and efficient in every facet of our operation despite the security challenges we are facing.
We must be effective or we will not be able to achieve our goal. Efficiency is also very critical because the resources are not really there; there are so many competing demands for available resources. So, whatever you are doing, you must make sure that you are not only sensitive but also prudent in using whatever resources that are available to you and that is where the efficiency is crucial in addressing some of our national security challenges. Basically, this is what we came up with as a vision and in the last five years or so, we have endeavoured to pursue this dream vigorously. I want to say that I am very excited that we are making substantial progress in terms of achieving it.
Sir, what did you meet on ground that you built on?
There were so many efforts because the Air Force has existed for so many years before I came in and one of the major issues of concern to me was the structure of the Air Force. In 2015, we had four Field Commands and what we did was to evaluate them critically, look at the structure of the Air Force with a view to understanding whether that structure was adequate for the kind of challenges we have in Nigeria today. The structure was not adequate and required modification and so on. At the end of our assessment, we concluded that the structure was grossly inadequate for the kind of challenges we face. We therefore created two new additional field Commands. We also unbundled the erstwhile Training Command which was handling both air and ground training and established the Air Training Command (ATC) and the Ground Training Command (GTC), so that the man that is in charge of the GTC will focus solely on all aspects of ground training, while the ATC will focus on pilots’ training – primary flying training, basic flying training and helicopter training as well as combat training, amongst others.
That was the first thing we did. In addition, as at 2015 we had Logistics and Communications Branch which was in charge of communication, procurement, works, services and logistics. This was really cumbersome and the span of control was so wide that one individual could not really handle it. We therefore decided to unbundle the Branch into 2 Branches; the Logistics Branch and the Communications and Information Systems (CIS) Branch. The CIS Branch deals with all issues relating to ICT, communications, utilization of space assets including live streaming of images from our aircraft, amongst others. That was another step taken at the Air Force Headquarters level. We also saw the need to have a Medical Services Branch. Thus, we upgraded the Directorate of Medical Services to a Branch status, with subordinate directorates. This was done to meet the requirements occasioned by the rapid expansion of the Service. We have many Reference hospitals. One was established in Bauchi, another in Daura, and the Hospital in Port Harcourt was also upgraded to a Reference Hospital. We equally upgraded the facilities in all NAF Hospitals and Medical Centres. Consequently, there was the need to emplace a structure for their effective management.
Besides, in our fight against terrorism and insurgency, we came up with a non-kinetic approach to the fight. This is different from the kinetic approach in that it focuses on providing medical services to the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and other people in the area of conflict. This has been done because I realized that in fighting insurgency, you need the support of the communities where you are fighting and the community is not likely to support you unless you are able to create a forum where you can engage them and one of the best approaches that we thought of was to have a medical outreach programme that would enable us to engage the community. This approach has really helped us. We have therefore been able to address the structural problems which hitherto existed in the Air Force. We are not fully there yet. We still have the need for an Air Defence Command. We are working on that at the moment but the finances required and other issues are such that we cannot have everything at the same time.
Apart from the structure, there was the need to look at the flying schools. In Kaduna, we had only three aircraft. This was grossly inadequate to conduct training for about 40 to 50 student pilots on each course. Today, as I speak to you, we have 15 aircraft that are flying and are conducting ab initio pilot training. They have trained so many officers and some of these guys have gone beyond Kaduna to do their basic training in Kano and in the last four and half years or there about, we have trained 318 as qualified pilots and in addition to that we have trained instructor pilots. We have also been able to establish contact with our partners in other countries such as Morocco and Egypt. That partnership was not there but we saw the need to ensure that we have this training going on. We had to engage them and solicit their support. With that, we are able to increase opportunities for our pilots to go and train. The Egyptian Air Force has trained quite a number of our fighter pilots and Morocco has equally trained some. They are giving us the opportunity to keep sending our pilots for training which is very good. Now and then, we send people there and in terms of helicopter flying, we have established partnership with Azerbaijan.
You inherited Boko Haram Terrorism. How have you been able to manage it?
I think the Nigeria Air Force has played a very substantial and important role in dealing with Boko Haram. Look at the wide expanse of the land, certainly only aircraft can cover that place without much difficulties and we are working hand in hand with the ground troops. We have flown over 30,000 hours in order to ensure that we provided the required air support to our ground troops to ensure that we are able to defeat this threat. You must remember that before 2015, Boko Haram was virtually everywhere, even in Abuja where they bombed the Police Headquarters. They also bombed a Plaza inside the City.
They bombed a Catholic Church in Madalla. They bombed Nyanya Motor Park twice. They equally bombed the Abuja office of This Day Newspaper. There were also bombings elsewhere including Kano where they bombed the Central Mosque and over 200 people were killed. In Kaduna, Plateau and Bauchi States, they carried out attacks including at a Prison where so many people were killed. So, Boko Haram was virtually in charge. Similarly, in the Northeast, they had a Caliphate Headquarters that was in Gwoza, with their flags and all structures of Administration. They were collecting taxes and administering justice and so on and so forth. But with the mandate given by the current Federal Government Administration, the Armed Forces has been able to substantially degrade the Sect. This was made possible by the support of the Federal Government, particularly in terms of provision of the necessary platforms required to fight these people.
Right now, most of their activities are restricted within the Northeast particularly in the Sambisa Forest area and the Lake Chad Basin area where we share borders with Chad, Niger and Cameroon. We have conducted several air interdiction missions in order to further degrade the Sect and curtail their ability to move around those areas. However, the area of coverage is huge, about 159,000 square kilometres which needs constant surveillance.
I can tell you that some of the major roles we play include logistics resupply. We supply to all the Sectors, food, ammunition, medical supplies and also evacuate those who have been wounded to Maiduguri with our helicopters; whilst treating them on board the helicopters. Another area of logistics support is the movement of troops and equipment into and out of Maiduguri, using the C130H aircraft. We also support the Federal Government on food distribution programme by flying in food items into Maiduguri since agricultural activities have been affected by this conflict. We also provide close air support whenever required by the Army during operations.
The Air Force will always clear the way so that the Army can continue their operations. We have also continued to conduct our air interdiction operations, which do not require close coordination with ground troops. They involve taking out the capability of the terrorists far away from where your friendly forces are so that those assets are not brought to bear on your own people. We have conducted so many of such air interdiction missions and, like I said, the relative peace that we have, despite setbacks from time to time, like what we witnessed recently, have been ensured by these missions. This does not mean that there may not be attacks on people. But as a fighting force, I can say without any fear of contradiction that we have substantially degraded Boko Haram. You must also remember that a number of things happened in the last two or three years.
The dismantling of ISIS in Iraq, the instability in Libya and a lot of instability in the Maghreb area have led to the movement of some of these terrorist elements from where they had been dismantled into the Northeastern part of our Country. These are people that were fighting the greatest powers on this planet – the United States of America (USA). It took the USA a long time to dismantle them in Syria with all their economic, military and technological might. So, now that ISIS has been dismantled, they now move across to areas where they think is relatively safer for them to come and operate. Like I said, we have worked substantially and we have done enough to make sure that Nigeria is secured and the Nigerian people are able to carry on with their legitimate aspirations without fear.
Would you say that the Nigerian Air Force has enough fire power to withstand external aggression and internal insurrection?
You see, when it comes to whether you have enough or not, there is no country in the world that has everything it wants. Even at the individual level, you do not have all that you want to have. Similarly, as a family unit, you do not have all that you want to have. As a Nation, we don’t have all that we want to have. So, what is important, in my opinion, is to ask what do I have? What do I need to have and what are the gaps? How do I make sure that I use the best of all the assets that I have? That is where effectiveness and efficiency come in; as encapsulated in my vision. I might not have all the fighter aircraft. We do not need some of these sophisticated aircraft because some of the equipment you require are, by and large, determined by the threat analysis. I am not fighting a country so I do not need to go buy expensive air defence aircraft. Rather, we need assets to deal with the internal security challenges in Nigeria as well as the emerging threats. So, I will not say we have all that we want but just like I said, no country has all that it requires but we are grateful for what we have. I want to say that we are grateful to the Federal Government.
In the last 5 years, we have acquired 22 brand new aircraft. As I told you earlier, in Kaduna we had only three trainer aircraft. That is where you will generate the pilots that will fly but today, like I said, we have there, 15 aircraft. Ten of these are among the 22 brand new aircraft. Because of this, we have been able to train 114 pilots. We are also expecting two pilots from the USA, bringing the total number of new pilots to 116. We are also expecting another 4 from UK and that will make a total of 120 pilots. We have one trainee and another two pilots in India. So, quiet a number of our officers have now been trained as pilots. We are able to do that because the aircraft are available. That is the first point. Secondly, the resources are available for us to buy aviation fuel. If you have aircraft but cannot fuel them, you cannot train anybody. Thirdly, you must put a very sound logistics system in place that would ensure that the aircraft are serviceable.
As I speak to you, in Kaduna 99 per cent of the trainer aircraft (that is the Super Mushshak and DA-40) are serviceable. Those aircraft are good to go, and the pilots are well-trained. In order to achieve that, you must have a proper logistics plan. You must have the resources to buy the required spare parts and you must have technicians that are trained to maintain the aircraft, which we have also done. I think in terms of assets, we get the support of Mr President who has demonstrated a lot of commitment and understands that the NAF is critical to achieving his vision of a secured Nigeria. So, we are expecting an additional 16 aircraft. If you add that to 22, it will give you 38 aircraft. Besides, following the directives from the Federal Government, we have received 11 aircraft handed over from other Ministries Departments and Agencies. These include 2 helicopters from the Presidential Air Fleet, 3 DO-228 aircraft from the Nigeria Immigration Services and 6 helicopters from the NNPC. Moreover, we have reactivated 20 aircraft that were previously grounded, which are now being employed in various NAF operations. Some have exhausted their flying hours and have been brought back for maintenance, which has been done and they are back to flying. So, for that to happen, you must build sufficient capacity and that is why the capacity building initiatives come into play.
We are able to train and retrain our technicians and they are now able to do most of the maintenance works locally. I am sure you are aware of the maintenance we carried out in Lagos on C-130H aircraft. For the first time in the history of the Air Force, we were able to successfully conduct Periodic Depot Maintenance (PDM) on the C130H aircraft within the Nigerian territory. The first attempt made many years back was not successful. This is the first time we have two C-130H aircraft that are repaired locally in Nigeria.
We have also invited some technical experts to support us in Kano with the L-39ZA aircraft. So, we did a life extension programme for L-39. About 3 of them are flying, one of which is conducting operations in Maiduguri today. We are also executing PDM on three Alpha Jets in Kainji. We have done that before in the past and now we are doing it again. Apart from that, we have done a life extension programme for EC-135 helicopter in Port Harcourt, locally. So, I think we are happy with what we have. We are making a case for additional aircraft because Nigeria is so vast and so strategic. We need a lot of assets to be able to protect it from other powers that may be interested in threatening our peace and security.
We observed that you have been giving attention to staff welfare. With this, would you say that your officers and men are on the same page with you towards achieving your mission?
Well, I always say that human beings are the most important resources; before you talk about the machines and the aircraft. Even the so-called Unmanned Aerial Vehicle has about 15 people in Ground Control Station (GCS) trying to ensure that the mission of the unmanned aircraft goes well. So in the real sense, it is not unmanned.
Human beings are the most important resource that any Nation has. Hence, despite enormous constraints, we have tried to see how we can address the welfare concerns of our personnel in order to make them more effective. The NAF has expanded and with the expansion, you must recruit more people. We have recruited over 10, 000 personnel into the Service in the last five years. These personnel need to be accommodated. They also need to have access to medical facilities and those that have families would need to have schools to send their children to get a good education. This means that as you recruit, you must also fund the development of appropriate infrastructure. Despite the challenges, we have made very substantial progress in terms of enhancing the welfare of our personnel, their allowances as well as accommodation – both office and residential accommodation. The environment where you operate matters. If you do not have a decent environment, you are not going to be effective in whatever you are doing. We have also provided the infrastructure that supports our operation.
We now have a hangar in Maiduguri. In the past, the aircraft technicians were out in the open with temperatures as high as 48 to 52 degree centigrade and there was no shelter at all. But today, we have a huge hangar in Maiduguri which we relocated from one of our units where we felt it was not being optimally utilized. We could not afford to ask for money for a new hangar there in view of other competing demands. With that mindset, we looked at where we had one that was not being utilised and we moved it to Maiduguri. We did that in-house through our Works and Services personnel by direct labour. Our technicians now have shelter and a more conducive environment where they can focus and maintain our aircraft. That has equally translated to more effective aircraft maintenance activities as well as better preservation of avionics and electronic instruments. So, welfare is very critical.
Apart from the foregoing, for the first time in the history of the Air Force, we have also introduced Post-Service Housing programmes for people that are not officers; that is, our non-commissioned officers like Sergeants, Corporals and below. This is the first time we have introduced that. In the past, it used to be solely for officers but now we have airmen that have also subscribed to the housing scheme. We are also providing new schools. We now have an Air Force Secondary School in Shasha, Lagos. The Air Force Secondary school in Kaduna was a Day Secondary School. People were going and coming back daily. But now, it has been converted to a boarding school. So, once you enroll your child there, for three months, you will relax and continue with your job. You know that your child is safe rather than going to the school every day in the morning; especially for those living outside the Base who have to traverse the motor parks and all that, to drop their children in schools.
In Abuja here, we have one of the best secondary schools – the Air Force Girls’ Comprehensive School Abuja. The children of personnel can now go there, and of course, apart from the school in Abuja, we are now converting the School in Port Harcourt to a boarding school so as to ease the burden on the parents.
Apart from schools, you also look at the medical facilities. Our hospitals are some of the best in this Country. I can say that without the fear of contradiction. We have a Reference Hospital in Bauchi with all the equipment and everything that you may want to see in a top-rate private hospital. We also have one in Daura. The one in Bauchi takes care of critical patients and injured personnel from the Northeast Theatre; thereby reducing the burden on the Nigerian Army 44 Reference Hospital in Kaduna. You do not need to fly to anywhere once you are in the North West. If you go to our Reference Hospital in Daura you will have all the facilities you need. We have upgraded the hospital in Port Harcourt. It is also a Reference Hospital with all the equipment that you can think of and that, I believe, is part of welfare.
Okay sir, what is the level of cooperation between the Air Force and Sister Services in relation to the security of the Nation?
I think we have been cooperating very well. There is no way you will fight a war without cooperation and without rendering services to the community. The Air Force cannot occupy land even though we have trained Regiment and Special Forces personnel fighting side by side with the Army. This may not be known by most Nigerians. We used to have about 150 Special Forces that were in the North East deployed to fight on ground apart from our statutory role of conducting air operations. We still have about 250 Special Forces of the Nigeria Air Force that are fighting in Zamfara State, side by side with the Army. In Benue State, we have about 300 special forces personnel that are fighting side by side with the Army under the DHQ-led Operation Whirl Stroke. This might not be known to most people but that is just it.
We also have our Special Forces in some of the conflict zones like Agatu in Benue State. We have Quick Response Groups/Wings (QRGs/QRWs) that are supporting the ground troops in Internal Security Operations in various theatres. They are fighting side by side with the Army. We also have a QRW in Gembu, Sarduana Local Government Area of Taraba State that is supporting the Nigeria Army on the issue of insecurity. In Nasarawa State, we recently activated a QRW in Lafia that is also working hand in hand with the ground troops to see how they can deal with threats in that State. We have these units across the country. In Plateau State, we have had a lot of crises there. I am sure you are aware of our Combat Search and Rescue Group there, with Special Forces personnel that support the Army and the Police in dealing with some of these issues. In Gusau, Zamfara State, we also have a QRG. In Owerri, Imo state, we have a QRG that is also there. All these units are cooperating and supporting the Nigerian Army. I must also not forget the NAF Detachment Birnin Gwari in Kaduna State. Birnin Gwari is a critical area where there have been a lot of crises but now we have a detachment of Special Forces and as a matter of fact, we recently commissioned the accommodation for personnel in the Unit because we want to increase the number deployed there. Our target is to have about five hundred Special Forces there that will support the security arrangements to tackle the challenges along the Birnin Gwari – Kaduna Road. Those units are equally there and they are doing excellently well and are working in synergy with the Army.
So, I think we are working very closely with the Nigeria Army. The collaboration with the Nigerian Navy is also cordial. We have used our aircraft to patrol the Nigeria’s waters. We gave information to them a number of times and also conducted exercises with the Navy, quite a number of times and everything has actually been working very well through this cooperation. There might be this misconception that the Nigeria Army and the Nigeria Air Force are not working together in the Northeast but this is only the work of mischief makers and does not reflect the true situation on ground. I will give just one reason.
We have been operating for almost 10 years in the Northeast and there has not been a single incident of the Air Force bombing the position of our ground troops. That also tells you that there must be some level of coordination and cooperation or else we would have bombed so many of our troops but not a single incident in ten years. In those ten years, I do not have the flying figures of 2009 to 2015 but I can tell you that from 2015 till now, we have flown almost 30,000 hours and not a single incident. What does that tell us? It clearly shows that there is cooperation and coordination. Anytime an aircraft is going or coming, the Army knows that the Air Force is coming. If they have problems, they call and we link up with them. We support them and also conduct independent air interdiction missions, which, by our training, does not require any close coordination with the troops on the ground because we go deep into the enemies’ territories to deal with them before they become a problem to our troops. So, there is excellent cooperation. That is what I mean. Recently, we trained both Army and Naval Special Forces in our Regiment Training Centre in Kaduna. They are training us and we are training them. There is cross-training, which is an evidence of excellent cooperation.
Sorry sir, I interrupted you earlier when you were mentioning your relationship with Egypt and Morocco and we are going to ask about your bilateral relationship between your service and your foreign counterparts?
We have had quite a number of agreements with the Egyptian Air Force. For instance, in the past, before the emergence of the current security challenges, our Air Force was basically, let me put this way, was not really involved in bombings and going into war apart from during ECOMOG operations in Liberia and Sierra Leone. That was the last time our forces went out for such major prolonged campaigns. We were just flying and all that but when the situation in the Northeast developed, we began to realize that look, we really need to give our pilots the skills required. You cannot be effective when you do not have the required training; having seen that there were a few gaps in the training capacity of our own schools. We went into bilateral relationship with Egypt.
Egyptians were here during the civil war and after the civil war. They were here in the 70s and 80s before they left. So, we keyed into that relationship. I met with the Egyptian Chief of Air Staff and solicited his support in terms of training of our pilots so that they can be more effective in what they are doing and he agreed and I think we have trained close to about 12 or 16 pilots there in Egypt. It was on tactical and combat training and they are back. The Egyptians use the same aircraft that we are using – the Alpha Jet.
I also visited Morocco earlier and they are also flying the same Alpha Jet just like us but they are well ahead in terms of the training facilities they have. I was there to solicit support and the Moroccan Air Chief promised to cooperate with me.
Shortly after I came back, he gave us a number of slots for training. More than 20 of our officers have been to Morocco for training and similarly, their own people have also come to Nigeria to support us in Kainji when we had problem with our fighter aircraft that we could not resolve. They came here for some weeks and they helped to resolve all the problems. There was leakage of aviation fuel at that time and they came and worked with us and we fixed it. They also trained with some of our people in Morrocco on logistics and data management for the C-130 aircraft. In Azerbaijan, also I met with the Air Chief and solicited his support and he said ‘come over’’ and I went there. We looked at all the programmes and we are sending our own helicopter pilots to Azerbaijan for training too.
Well, of course, we are collaborating with our other traditional partners such as the United States of America and United Kingdom. I have visited both countries because of the need to build our force protection capability and I know they have the experience, especially based on their experiences during the Second World War. I personally met the UK Air Chief and he sent his people here through the British Military Advisory Training Team (BMATT). They have trained about 6,000 of our personnel. In the past, our base had actually been attacked by Boko Haram. That was in December 2013 in Maiduguri when they destroyed some aircraft there but today, nobody will try that because our personnel have the right knowledge and skills. I think Pakistan has also been very supportive. Our pilots and technicians who are to fly the JF-17 aircraft we are acquiring from Pakistan have gone to Pakistan to start training on the aircraft. The JF-17 is supposed to come in November but because of this COVID-19 we realized that if we decide to wait, there will be delay. An aircraft has also gone to Czech Republic to drop four pilots for training there. So, I think in terms of partnership, we are having excellent partnerships. We were to have West African Air Chiefs’ Conference in April this year but because of this COVID-19 pandemic, we postponed it. The idea behind this was to see how we could come together and support each other in dealing with the security challenges within the West African Sub-Region.
Sir, let me ask you this. How would you assess the Air Force in the 21 years of Nigerian Democracy?
I think we have fared very well under democratic governance and there is no doubt about that. I just told you the number of aircraft that we are expecting – 16; and we have already inducted 22 brand new aircraft. If you put everything together that is 38 aircraft. If I am not mistaken, apart from the Shehu Shagari Administration, that is the largest number of aircraft for the NAF acquired by a single administration. That was in 1983. And from 1983 to date, it is quite a number of years. So, we have fared extremely well. The National Assembly has demonstrated a lot of understanding of what we require to be effective because we need a stable environment, a secured environment for democracy to flourish. If that stable and secured environment is not there, there will be a lot of problems. So, because of that, the National Assembly has demonstrated a lot of commitment and understanding of what we require to function. Also, the President, Commander-in-Chief, President Muhammadu Buhari, is very familiar with the system and equally understands the relevance of air power projection in resolving any conflict. So, I think we have been able to benefit a lot under democratic dispensation as against when the military was in power.
What would you consider your major achievements were you to leave the Service today?
Well, it’s very difficult to say. I have not achieved absolutely everything I wanted to achieve but I can tell you that if I leave the Air Force today, I will go home smiling, thanking Almighty God, thanking the President and also, thanking the officers and men of the Nigerian Air Force for making me to substantially achieve what I meant by a professional and disciplined Air Force. I am sure you know because you have seen it for many years over there in the Press. This is the first time in many years that we are beginning to really show the relevance of the Nigerian Air Force in resolving conflicts. The issue of having the Air Force in the background is no longer there. It is about projecting air power and we have in the last four and half years been projecting air power not only within Nigeria, but also outside Nigeria. We have taken relief materials to Sierra Leone; we have gone out there to resolve political empasse in Gambia at the beginning of 2018. We were the only country in West Africa that went with fighter aircraft into Senegal from there we flew to The Gambia and that was when the defeated President realized that the game was over. That is within the West Africa Sub-Region. We also brought back 133 Nigerians whio were refugees in Cameroon; we equally supported Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe during flooding disasters in those countries. The C-130H aircraft flew relief materials on behalf of the Federal Government to these places. That is the projection of air power outside Nigeria.
Within Nigeria, in the 2019 General Elections, we moved over a Million kilogrammes of electoral materials, in record time, without which there would not have been any elections.
Our aircraft were flying almost 24 hours to make sure that these materials were distributed to about 32 locations and in some of these locations, we even provided the ground handling equipment to bring the materials out of the aircraft because they were not there. This is within Nigeria; and of course we are in the Northeast and we have killed so many bandits in the North West recently. So, in terms of projecting air power, I think we have done extremely well both within and outside Nigeria. In terms of capacity building, we have done substantially well. In terms of making sure that the gap between the air power protection and air power projection is bridged, we have done substantially well also. In terms of training of pilots, over a hundred and fourteen so far and I’ve given you quite a number that we are expecting very soon. So, with all these, there are so many other units that were not in existence before like the K-9 unit, the Forensic Unit of the Air Force which is not only an Air Force thing but can be used even outside. If there is any crime, we bring in our trained Air Provost personnel from Lagos. They would go in there and resolve the crime without difficulties. The K-9 is where you have the dogs participating proactively with our troops. Similarly, this is the first time we are really coming in and making sure that there is proper air-ground integration. The most recent of these is the training I mentioned for the Nigerian Navy and the Nigerian Army. Honestly, I can tell you that I would not say hundred percent of what I wanted has been achieved but I can tell you that by my assessment, we have been able to achieve about 95 or 97 per cent. So, if I leave the Air Force today, I will go back thanking my God and thanking everybody particularly, Mr President, for the support he has given to the Service.
How do you assess the level of confidence of your officers and men?
You have confidence when you know that you can do the job assigned to you and it is part of our training and skills acquisition. There was a time we did not have the capability to dismantle a helicopter engine. I was a Commander at that time and I kept insisting that look, we must learn how to repair the engine but today we are not only removing engines, we are putting them back, we are installing gear boxes of our helicopters. Sometimes, if I go round and see some of those personnel that were there at that time with me, I tell them ‘look, you guys were grumbling but now you can do it and for the first time we are doing it here, in Nigeria So, I think, our officers and airmen/airwomen, pilots and technicians are very confident because they have acquired the necessary skills and they have been able to have opportunities to apply these skills regularly, especially our pilots. In my 21 years of flying, from June 1980 or there about (I flew from 1980 June up to 2011), my total flying hours were somewhere in the region of probably 1,700 or 1,800 hours.
Today, you have Flight Lieutenants that have flown just for five years with 3,000 hours. Look at the period it took me and the short period our officers stay to log such flying hours. Recently, we had an all-females’ flight crew for and operational surveillance mission. Everybody in that flight was a woman. The captain, co-pilot, technicians and airborne camera operator were all women. Even when they landed, the person who was marshalling them to park was a female. So, I think our officers and men are very confident now and I believe that if we maintain this trajectory, certainly we will have every reason to celebrate the Air Force in years to come.