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Tearful farewell to COAS Attahiru, 10 others

By Terhemba Daka, Kanayo Umeh, Matthew Ogune, Joke Falaju, Sodiq Omolaoye and Msugh Ityokura (Abuja), Wole Oyebade, Seye Olumide (Lagos) and Ayodele Afolabi (Ado Ekiti)
23 May 2021   |   4:30 am
Nigeria’s top military brass, including serving and retired senior officers and heads of security agencies, yesterday, bade farewell to the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Ibrahim Attahiru...

• Sultan, Gambari, Buni, Others Lead Prayers
• They Were Nigeria’s Finest –Buhari
• Death Reflects Depth Of Soldiers’ Sacrifice –Osinbajo
• Tinubu, ACF Mourn
• AIB-N To Investigate Crash
• Southern Senators’ Forum Seek Checks On Military Planes

Nigeria’s top military brass, including serving and retired senior officers and heads of security agencies, yesterday, bade farewell to the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Ibrahim Attahiru and 10 other senior officers who died in a plane crash in Kaduna, Friday.

Also interred were Acting Chief of Military Intelligence, Brigadier General Abdulkadir Kuliya; Chief of Staff to the late COAS, Brigadier General Mohammed Idris Abdulkadir; Brigadier General Olatunji Lukman Olayinka, Aide-De-Camp to the COAS, Major Lawal Aliyu Hayat, and Major Nura Hamza.

Others were the pilot of the ill-fated aircraft, Flight Lieutenant Taiwo Olufemi Asaniyi, Flight Lieutenant Alfred Ayodeji Olufade, Sergeant Opeyemi Isaiah Adesina, Sergeant Umar Saidu and Aircraftman (ACM) Olamide Matthew Oyedepo.

The bodies were lifted from 44 Nigerian Army Referral Hospital, Kaduna to the National Mosque and the Nigerian Airforce Protestant Church in Abuja and later, conveyed to the National Military Cemetery at exactly 2:03p.m.

President Muhammadu Buhari, in his speech, described the officers’ death as a national tragedy. According to the President, who was represented by the Minister of Defence, Major General Salihi Magashi (rtd), this was a trying period for the country, given that the dead officers were among the nation’s finest.

He said, “It is tragedy to the nation and we must do all we can to honour them. They were known for their uncommon loyalty, a virtue that is required of all of us at this trying moment.”

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said the death of the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Ibrahim Attahiru and others while in active service, “reflects the depth of sacrifice our military officers, men and women of other ranks are often prepared to make.”

Osinbajo, who expressed sadness over the sudden demise of the officers on Friday, said, “Their death while in active service in the defense of our country, reflects the depth of sacrifice our military officers are often prepared to make. We honour the service of the Army Chief and all those involved in this unfortunate accident even as we continue to demonstrate our profound appreciation to all in our military services and in harm’s way. The gallantry of these heroes would always be remembered.

“I join the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces to commiserate with families, friends and colleagues of these gallant officers and men who died in the crash. I pray that God grants them the fortitude to bear the loss. May the memories of the departed remain ever blessed.”

In his funeral oration, the Chief of Policy and Plans, Nigerian Army, Major General Benjamin Ahanotu, described the late Chief of Army Staff as a disciplined, gallant and professional soldier, who added value to wherever he worked.

In his remarks, titled, ‘love for country’ the Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabor, said the death of the senior officers was painful, but “certainly not in vain.”

According to him, “it is deeply saddening that I have to give these remarks on this occasion. Why are we here? Love for country. How did we get here? Love for country. What is the purpose of the oath of allegiance? Love for country.

“Yesterday, May 21, was a very sad day for the Armed Forces of Nigeria, yesterday was a sad day for the nation as I received with shock and utter dismay the gloomy news of the sudden demise of the Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Ibrahim Attahiru and 10 other gallant officers and personnel. The loss of our gallant and energetic but calm Chief of Army Staff, and other heroes of patriotic zeal is painful, but certainly not in vain.

“Today, the recruits of depot Nigerian Army were to be on Passing Out Parade to herald their joining the workforce of the Armed Forces of Nigeria. The Chief of Army Staff was to be the special guest of honour at the event. One of our finest and best pilots was conveying him along with the entourage, after landing at the Kaduna International Airport, the cold hands of death, which manifested in the stormy weather ended that journey. The sting of death, you have not stopped the fight against all forms of insecurity. As we mourn, I remember with a deep sense of pride the lives and times of an accomplished General, reliable professional and a dependable colleague,” Irabor said.

The late chief of army staff had, since his appointment, been to Borno State more than six times, to supervise ongoing military operations against Boko Haram. He had visited different army formations, mobilised and motivated troops in frontlines in peace-building efforts.

Dignitaries at the event included former Chiefs of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Azubuike Ihejirika and Abdulrahman Dambazzau, Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, Speaker Kaduna State House of Assembly, Hon Yusuf Zelahi, who represented Kaduna State governor, wives of the former Service Chiefs, Irabor, Gambo, Dambazzau, Minister of Defence Salihi Magashi who represented President Buhari, and Chief of Staff to the President, Ibrahim Gambari, among others.

FOR National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu, the death of Attahiru, and 10 others in the air mishap is a tragic, unspeakable loss for the nation.

In a condolence message by his Media Office yesterday, Tinubu condoled with President Buhari, the Nigerian Army, the Defence Headquarters and families of the deceased military officers over the unfortunate incident.

The APC leader said: “COAS Lt. Gen. Attahiru and the others were stalwarts and brave soldiers who had dedicated their careers, and now their very lives, in the service of this nation and toward the realisation of the noble aspirations this nation represents.

“COAS Attahiru had a most distinguished career. The army and the nation will miss his excellent character and fine leadership at this moment when we are fighting terrorism or banditry in many parts of the nation. He, just like the others involved in this tragic incident, served his country with zeal and vigour. He was known as a soldier’s soldier.

“Their untimely and sad departure hurts. However, we owe it to them and to the nation to gather our strength and fortitude. We must gird ourselves that we finish the job to which they dedicated and gave their lives. Let us remember these brave patriots not with our tears, but by achieving victory over the terrorism and violence that seek to rob our nation of its finest destiny. Let this unfortunate accident not deter us but spur us and our valiant military to continue to defend this land from violence and evil.”

MEANWHILE, the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) also said it received with deep shock and utter disbelief the death of the officers.

The state chief executives in a statement by their Chairman and Ekiti State governor, Kayode Fayemi, noted: “Lt. Gen. Attahiru was an exemplary soldier, whose zeal, dedication and professionalism inspired his men in the ongoing war against terrorism and to secure the nation’s peace and stability.

“Already, all well-meaning Nigerians are enjoying a renewed confidence in the army, while the soldiers themselves are showing appreciation for their leadership’s encouraging impetus in boosting their morale on the battlefield.

“Our thoughts are with the families of the entire crew members and others on the entourage of the Chief, who lost their lives in the unfortunate plane crash.

“They were worthy and dedicated soldiers, who devotedly fought for our country on the battlefield. May the souls of these heroes rest in peace…”

The Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, expressed shock over the fatal air crash. In a statement yesterday in Abuja, the SGF conveyed the consensus of all members of the FEC on the passion and professionalism with which General Ibrahim Attahiru discharged the responsibilities of his office, especially the prosecution of internal security operations across the country, since his appointment in January 2021.

The National Chairman, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Chief Audu Ogbe, also said the death of the gallant officers in active service came as a tragic news to all members.

According to Ogbe, “We remember that only recently, the President appointed General Ibrahim Attahiru with other service chiefs to lead the fight against insurgency and all other forms of threats to our collective national security.”

He added: “We at the ACF were just beginning to appreciate his new approach to tackling our multiple security challenges when the news of his tragic death hit us.”

SIMILARLY, the House of Representatives Committee on Air force described as painful and shocking the unfortunate death of Attahiru and 10 others on board the plane that crashed Friday evening, enroute Kaduna.

The Chairman of the Committee, Shehu Koko, in a statement in Abuja, said the news came as a shock, having embarked on an official duty to Makurdi, Benue State last Thursday with the late Chief of Army Staff.

To the Southern Senators’ Forum, the sad occurrence is a big loss and a temporary clog in the fight against the multifaceted security challenges facing the nation.

In a condolence message by its chairman, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, the Senators expressed shock over loss of the high-ranking officers in such a calamitous fashion, saying this had again decimated the military ranks and deprived the country of some of its best brains in the fight against insecurity.

On its part, the national leadership and entire membership of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), in a message signed by its President, Prof. Innocent A.O. Ujah and the Secretary General, Dr. Philips Uche Ekpe, expressed “profound condolences to President Muhammadu Buhari, Nigerian Armed Forces and family of the late Lt. Gen. Ibrahim Attahiru and other officers that died in the fatal crash…”

Also, the former Presidential candidate in the 2019 general election, Mr. Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim, said the death of Lt. Gen. Attahiru was a monumental loss to the nation and the Nigerian Armed Forces.

He described the late COAS as a well-educated officer and fearless military commander, who raised the morale and fighting spirit of troops within the few months he held forte as Army boss.

The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar and Chief of Staff to the President, Ibrahim Gambari, were among dignitaries that led the funeral prayer for the late Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Ibrahim Attahiru, yesterday, at the national mosque, Abuja.

Remains of four other military officers, who died with the late COAS, were brought to the National Mosque at about 12:00pm.

Ministers of Defence, Bashir Magashi, Minister of Communications, Ali Pantami, NSA, Babagana Mongono and former defence minister, Mansur Dan Ali, were also in attendance.

Others are Governors of Borno and Yobe; Professor Babagana Zulum and Mai Mala Buni, Inspector-General of Police, Usman Alkali, and former Minister of Interior, Abdulrahman Danbazau, former Governors Kashim Shettima, Aliyu Wammako and the Director-General of DSS, Yusuf Bichi.

The Chief Imam of the national mosque, Ahmed Onilewura, led the prayer.

MEANWHILE, the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has mandated the Accident Investigation Bureau, Nigeria (AIB-N) to lead investigation into the crash.

A statement by the General Manager, Public Affairs, Tunji Oketunbi, disclosed that the Bureau has recovered the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) and the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) from the accidented Beechcraft 350 aircraft and investigation has commenced.

According to him, investigators will download and analyse vital information contained in the recorders at the AIB-N’s world class Flight Safety Laboratory, in Abuja.

The crash, which occurred on landing, claimed 11 lives, including that of the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen Ibrahim Attahiru, his aides, and the flight crew.

It stated that the mandate given to AIB-N is based on the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between the two agencies on July 1, 2020 covering areas of mutual assistance.