Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff, Lt.- Gen. Ibrahim Attahiru and 9 other military officers were killed in a plane crash Friday at Kaduna International Airport. At 64, he was the first COAS to die in active service. President Muhammadu Buhari appointed him as the Army Chief on January 26 this year. Attahiru and the others were buried Saturday at the Military Cemetry in Abuja.
President Buhari, on May 22, received a briefing from Defence Minister, Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and other security chiefs on the tragic plane crash. In his reaction, he said he was shocked and pledged that “the departed will not die in vain. “In a statement by his Special Adviser Femi Adesina, President Buhari said he was “deeply saddened” over the air crash that claimed the lives of General Attahiru and other military officers. He described them as “heroes who paid the ultimate price for peace and security in the land.”
The President said the crash “is one mortal blow to our underbelly, at a time our armed forces are poised to end the security challenges facing the country. It is a 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.”
For his part, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said the death of the Chief of Army Staff 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 death 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 …. The gallantry of these heroes will always be remembered.”
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.
Meanwhile, Buhari approved Monday, May 24, as a work-free day for members of the Nigerian Armed Forces in honour of the dead. He also directed that Nigeria’s national flag be flown at half-mast in all public buildings and official residences across the country from Monday to Wednesday May 26.
In the short time Attahiru was Chief of Army Staff, he visited Borno State, the epicenter of the Boko Haram insurgency, more than six times, to supervise ongoing military operations against Boko Haram. He had visited different army formations, mobilised and motivated troops in the front lines and been very active in peace-building efforts. He was genuinely interested in giving the arm the cutting edge in the anti insurgency campaign as required of him. His sudden death is certainly a setback in that regard. Hopefully, it will not take loñg to name a suitable replacement.