Last week, five crew members, made up of two pilots and three personnel of the Nigerian Air Force, were confirmed dead in the military helicopter crash which occurred in Damasak, Borno State. The victims were identified as Flight Lieutenant Perowei Jacob, the pilot in command; Flight Lieutenant Kaltho Kilyofas, the co-pilot; Sergeant Auwal Ibrahim, a flight technician; Lance Corporal Adamu Nura, a gunner; and Aircraft Man Meshack Ishmael, also a gunner. The five crew members were on board the NAF Mi-35M helicopter, providing air support to troops of 145 Battalion, Damasak, Borno State, when the crash occurred around 7:30pm on Wednesday.
This is the second time a NAF helicopter would be involved in an accident in a space of three months. In September 2018, two aircraft belonging to the Nigerian Air Force were involved in a crash in the Katampe area of Abuja. The aircraft were taking part in rehearsals for the 58th Independence Day celebrations when they had a collision and crashed. Squadron Leader Bello Baba-Ari, described by colleagues as one of the country’s finest, fearless and courageous fighter-pilots, who took delight in combat operations against Boko Haram terrorists, was lost in that crash, after he was successfully ejected from one of the F-7Ni aircraft. He was trained to engage in air-to-air combat while in the cockpit of a fighter aircraft.
We commiserate with the Nigeria Air force, the families of the deceased and indeed all Nigerians on the unfortunate loss of some of the brightest minds in the Air force. The loss of Nigeria’s finest fighters in attacks by insurgents and air mishaps, as the one recently witnessed is an issue that calls for serious concern. There has been a recent resurgence of attacks in the North East, particularly in Borno state, where fighters of the Islamic State of West African Province have attempted to overrun military bases, with attacks on Metele on November 18, 2018, Buni Gari in early December 2018, and Baga in the latest invasion between December 26 and 27, 2018.
While we acknowledge the efforts of the Air force authorities in the acquisition, maintenance and deployment of aircraft to assist in the combat against terrorists, we call for a probe of the issues that have often led to such air mishaps, with a view to preventing reoccurrence.
The air force acquired and inducted two Mi-35M attack helicopters from Russia in February 2017, which it deployed in the North-East to complement the fight against the Boko Haram insurgency. Also, in October 2018, the air force said the reactivation of Mi-35P and EC-135 helicopters at 115 Special Operations Group (115 SOG) Port Harcourt would bring to 15 the total number of aircraft that would have been reactivated within the last 3 years, pointing out that the reactivation, which would enable the service save huge foreign exchange that would have been expended if carried out abroad and also improve the operational capability of the air force.
It is our view, therefore, that while the air force authorities make efforts to save foreign exchange in aircraft maintenance, care must be taken to ensure that those maintaining the aircrafts locally are well trained and deploy the right technology and materials in their maintenance. This is necessary if such air mishaps, leading to avoidable deaths and loss of scarce equipment in the fight against insurgents is to be avoided.
We also make a case for the provision of more equipment for troops who daily, risk their lives to keep the entire nation safe.