Yet Another NAF Air Crash: Tribune Editorial
In yet another tragic incident, a Nigerian Air Force (NAF) trainer aircraft crashed in Kaduna, Kaduna State, last week, leading to the death of the two pilots on board, Flight Lieutenant Abubakar Muhammed Alkali and Flight Lieutenant Elijah Haruna Karatu. The aircraft, a Super Mushak, reportedly crashed inside a NAF facility while on a training mission. Following the incident, the Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Oladayo Amao, gave Nigerians assurances that the force would thoroughly investigate the crash. According to a statement issued in Abuja by the NAF Director of Public Relations and Information, Air Commodore Edward Gabkwet, the CAS had constituted an Accident Investigation Board to determine the immediate and remote causes of the air crash, and had further assured the officers, airmen and airwomen of 401 Flying Training School that all measures would be emplaced to avert similar occurrences in the future, while reminding them of the need to remain steadfast and focused on their assigned roles and responsibilities.
To say the very least, last week’s incident is indeed distressing. For yet unknown reasons, gallant officers who were part of the ongoing counter-terrorism war in the North-East, among other operations, lost their lives in the most tragic circumstance. This is, therefore, a sober moment for the country. We are saddened by the loss of the two officers. However, while we recognise and applaud the efforts of the NAF in the ongoing tactical operations across the country, especially in the North-East, it is disturbing that in just a little over a year, at least five NAF aircraft have been involved in deadly crashes, while the nation lost no fewer than 20 military personnel. On February 22 last year, seven NAF personnel conducting intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions in connection with the efforts to secure the release of the 42 students and staff members abducted from the Government Science College, Kagara, Niger State, lost their lives when their plane crashed shortly after takeoff from the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport. Then, on March 31, 2021, an Alpha-Jet aircraft involved in the anti-terror war against Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa Province lost radar contact in Borno State.
Shortly after that incident, the country was again thrown into mourning on May 21, 2021 when a military Beachcraft 350 aircraft conveying the then newly appointed Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt. Gen. Ibrahim Attahiru and 10 other officers and men crashed at the Kaduna International Airport. Following the incident, the NAF mandated the Accident Investigation Bureau, Nigeria (AIB -N) to lead the investigation into the incident, as the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) and the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) from the Beechcraft 350 aircraft had been recovered. Two months later, an Alpha Jet Aircraft crashed in Zamfara State under a barrage of gunfire by terrorists. Happily, though, the pilot, Flight Lieutenant Abayomi Dairo, survived the incident.
As we noted in previous editorials, while perfection in human affairs is an impossibility, it is desirable to raise the bar in the way the NAF is run, especially given that aircraft involved in similar situations in countries like the United States did not result in the death of passengers despite the loss of the engine to fire. As we argued, in order to reach the stage for such awesome performance here in Nigeria, the NAF investigations into air crashes must be thorough, honest and objective. In any case, we have not been persuaded to change our position on the desperate need to upgrade the equipment of the country’s security agencies, as it will be impossible to win the war against terror and banditry without upgraded equipment.
If military aircraft are crashing on a regular basis and combat officers and men killed, then the country has a big crisis on its hands. At no time has the expertise of the NAF personnel been badly needed as it is now when the country is confronted with security challenges that have made it one of the most terrorised climes in the world, making it to feature consistently in the top three countries on the Global Terrorism Index. The NAF aircraft crashes represent a direct threat to the continued existence of the country as a sovereign entity and must be treated as such. It cannot but be a national tragedy that generations of war professionals are being wasted on a regular basis. If NAF aircraft are not surviving training missions, there is no justification for believing that they will serve any useful purpose in war situations. The NAF, therefore, has an onerous duty to get to the root of the matter and ensure that only aircraft that are fit for purpose are deployed at all times.
Given the sensitive nature of the current investigation, it must be kept strictly professional and should not be preempted or politicised at any level. Again, the various authorities should not gloss over key issues, including proper checks on aircraft, funding, aircraft maintenance and the form of incentives available to officers to boost morale. We expect the Federal Government, the National Assembly and the Defence Headquarters to work together and forestall future air tragedies. We commiserate with the families of the deceased officers who have been thrown into sorrow and grief. Needless to say, the NAF authorities should give them all the reliefs provided by law.