It has not been easy writing about the death of Lt. General Ibrahim Attahiru, the Chief of Army Staff, who was one of the 11 military men who died in the plane crash in Kaduna last Friday, 21st May 2021. I have never met him, but sourcing for information about him when he was appointed COAS last January threw up a whole lot of stuff about this man who wrote on his Facebook wall: ‘I am proud to be a professional soldier’. He went further on the page to describe himself as a ‘Motivational Speaker’. It was like a song getting information about him then, because unlike most military men, he had a lot of presence on social media, especially Facebook where he had 5,774 followers and the page features posts and photographs about him and his activities. Perhaps it was only the incoming Chief of Air Staff, that had more biographical data than Ibrahim Attahiru, but as for information on his activities, Attahiru seemed to beat the others.
This may have to do with the fact that he had some Public Relations and media experience, having served as Director of Army Public Relations as a Brigadier-General. Recall that on January 26 this year, when the President decided to change the Service Chiefs that have served him from his first term, it was in response to the clamour by several groups and individuals for the replacement of the previous occupants of the positions who were appointed by the President in 2015. The then Major-General Ibrahim Attahiru was appointed to take over as Chief of Army Staff from Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai. Attahiru was until his appointment as COAS, the General Officer Commanding, 82 Division, Nigeria Army, Enugu. Other Service Chiefs appointed that day were then Major-General Leo Irabor, Chief of Defence Staff; Rear Admiral Awwal Zubairu Gambo, Chief of Naval Staff; and Air-Vice Marshal Isiaka Oladayo Amao, Chief of Air Staff.
The last post on Gen. Attahiru’s Facebook page was probably when he updated his cover photo on Sunday May 16. By Friday, 21st May, he was gone! A total soldier he was, starting as a young boy in Military School Zaria; then, Army Day Secondary School, Bukavu Barracks, Kano and Nigeria Defense Academy, Kaduna, as a member of the Regular Course 35 of the NDA with the enlistment Number 8406. Ibrahim Attahiru, was Theatre Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole, in the North East, and was redeployed to Nigerian Army HQ as Deputy Chief of Policy and Plans. As Brigadier General, he was also at Depot Nigerian Army Training Institute. Born on 10th August 1966, he hails from Kaduna North Local Government Area of Kaduna State. His death and that of the others in the aircraft has shaken the country. That we have lost a soldier’s soldier is not in doubt. But life must continue – for the country, for the military, for the army, for the family and friends. The very sad part is that the Kaduna crash claimed a cream of three other army generals on Attahiru’s entourage – Brigadier-Generals M.I. Abdulkadir, Olayinka and Kuliya; as well two majors – Hamza and L.A. Hayat; one sergeant – Umah.
The Air Force crew of Flight Lieutenants T.O. Asaniyi, A.A. Olufade, Sgt. Adesina and Aircraftman Oyedepo made up the 11 military men who lost their lives in the ill-fated flight last Friday. This crash that claimed the Army Chief and his entourage is one too many and in too short a time since the last mishap of the Nigerian Air Force Beechcraft KingAir B350i which threw Nigeria into mourning on Sunday 21st February, 2021, when it crashed in Abuja and killed all the seven air force men on board. They were scheduled to conduct surveillance missions over Niger State and its environs, in connection with the concerted efforts to secure the release of the students/staff abducted from the Government Science College Kagara. That plane crashed while returning to the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja after reporting engine failure on its way to Minna, the Niger State capital. The 7 officers who died in that ill-fated crash were Flight Lieutenant Haruna Gadzama (Captain); Flight Lieutenant Henry Piyo (Co-Pilot); Flying Officer Michael Okpara (Airborne Tactical Observation System (ATOS) Specialist); Warrant Officer Bassey Etim (ATOS Specialist); Flight Sergeant Olasunkanmi Olawunmi (ATOS Specialist); Sergeant Ugochukwu Oluka (ATOS Specialist); and Aircraftman Adewale Johnson (Onboard Technician).
The Beechcraft aircraft model is regarded as a reliable model, with civil and military options in use all over the world. Internationally, it has a relatively modest accident and incident record compared to others in its category in the aviation industry, because of its popularity and versatility. So why are our Air Force planes practically falling out of the sky in Nigeria and killing our brave, loyal and top military officers and men? Military aircraft all over the world are known to be well-maintained and the staff well-trained. This is probably why the Air Force globally runs the Presidential Air Fleets, just as with the US President’s Air Force One. Nigeria is not an exception to this rule as the Presidential Fleet is run by the Nigerian Air Force. But with the recent crashes of Air Force aircraft, questions may need to be asked, so that we know what has gone wrong. In confirming the Abuja crash of last February, the Nigerian Air Force said the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Vice-Marshal Oladayo Amao, had instituted an investigative panel to determine the remote and immediate causes of the accident. 1. What did the investigative panel find out? 2. What was the cause of that accident? 3. Will we also have to start asking questions about last Friday’s crash before being told the what, how, and why the plane crashed? We must make sure that our military men do not continue to die from preventable crashes of our military aircraft. The country must also make sure that the service of these men and women had not been in vain, by ensuring that what led to their deaths does not occur again.
• Epa Ogie Eboigbe, veteran journalist, broadcaster and public affairs specialist writes on, and analyses current and historical issues with a ‘wise pen’