Other activities lined up for the 50th anniversary of the NAF were free medical services to communities, a commanders’ retreat as well as a dinner and awards’ night, among others.
Speaking on the occasion, the Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Adesola Amosu, said that the NAF had a lot to celebrate in view of its numerous achievements.
He recalled that the NAF, barely two years after its establishment, surmounted the daunting task of prosecuting the country’s civil war in spite of its inexperience.
Amosu described the successes which NAF recorded during the war, regardless of its limited logistics and qualified personnel, as a commendable achievement in efforts to safeguard Nigeria’s unity.
He noted that the rating of the NAF ascended astronomically after the war, thereby making it the “toast’’ of the entire African continent in the 1980s.
He, however, noted that unfortunately, the shining era of the NAF was followed by a period of decline.
“Notwithstanding these challenges, we have retained the capability to protect Nigeria’s territorial integrity both at home and abroad,’’ he said.
The air force, nonetheless, noted the 50th anniversary celebration was low-keyed because of the unprecedented security challenges facing the country.
He also attributed the low-keyed celebration to the current involvement of the NAF in counter-insurgency operations in some parts of the country.
Amosu pledged the commitment of the air force to winning the war against terrorism.
“We must stabilise the North-East and we must ensure that the forthcoming general elections are conducted in all states, not minding threats of disruption in some quarters,’’ he said.
The air force chief said that the NAF was, however, compelled to suspend its “Air Expo’’, which was primarily designed as part of the golden jubilee celebration, because of the current security challenges facing the country.
“We are not cancelling the expo but we are postponing it; we shall hold it toward the end of the year,’’ he added.
Amosu underscored the need to protect the country’s democracy, saying: “Democracy is vital to our nation and we have vowed to be defenders of civil rule, good governance in our country.
“So, everything we need to do, we will do it; any kind of sacrifice we have to make to ensure our country’s security, we will make it.
“The Nigerian Air Force has continued to play critical role in ensuring the security and inviolability of Nigerians airspace by complementing the services of other security agencies.’’
The CAS, however, ascribed the success of the air force to the discipline, courage and determination of its officers, men and women.
While paying glowing tributes to the founding fathers of the NAF, Amosu pledged to align the dreams of the founding fathers with current mission and vision of the air force to facilitate its transformation.
“Our aim is to consolidate the transformation of the Nigerian Air Force by employing innovative approaches with a focus on joint capabilities and consideration for credible international partnerships,’’ he said.
The CAS said that the Federal Government had approved the acquisition of new fighter jets and helicopters for the NAF, while upgrading some of the existing platforms to enable the air force to perform optimally.
Amosu commended President Goodluck Jonathan for ensuring that the resources required for the maintenance of NAF were always available.
On his part, the Minister of Defence, Lt.-Gen. Aliyu Gusau, commended the NAF for its collaboration with other security services in efforts to end the Boko Haram insurgency.
He, nonetheless, called for greater collaboration among the armed forces in the fight against insurgents in the country.
He particularly commended the NAF for its support and participation in “operations’’ within and outside the country.
He noted that in the last 50 years, the NAF had been able to prove that it was a competent force which could always be relied on and reckoned with.
“I have not known of any air force in the world that is as versatile as our Nigerian Air Force which operates 16 different types of aircraft.
“I will like to use this opportunity to congratulate the officers, airmen and women of the Nigerian Air Force for the services they are rendering to our nation,’’ he said.
Gusau attributed the successes which the NAF had so far recorded to the good leadership qualities of its officers and quality training of its personnel.
The Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh, recalled that his tenure as the CAS was challenging but exciting.
He said that the tenure was challenging because it coincided with the largest deployment of the NAF’s aircraft, assets and personnel outside the country since the end of ECOMOG operations in Liberia and Sierra-Leone.
“It also marked the heightened increase in the deployment of assets and personnel to the North East in support of ongoing anti-insurgency operations.
“In spite of these challenges, however, we were able to record some modest achievements by building upon the foundation that had been laid by my predecessors,’’ he added.
At the church service to mark the golden jubilee, the Most Rev. Nicholas Okoh, the Primate of Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion, urged the Federal Government to provide the right platform for the NAF to perform creditably.
He described the air force as a vital instrument for facilitating the country’s security, stressing that pragmatic efforts should be made to ensure that the facilities of the air force were serviceable and in good condition.
“The air force is a highly mechanised arm of the military and it is not good for people to die out of our own faults.
`If there is any problem; certainly, it shouldn’t be as a result of human negligence.
“So, we are appealing to the Federal Government and the leadership of the Nigerian Air Force to ensure that the planes and other equipment are performing optimally,’’ he added.
All the same, Okoh congratulated the CAS and all the officers, men and women of the NAF for the successes recorded in the journey so far.
He prayed that NAF would continue to grow because the nation needed a good air force, particularly at a time like this when there were crises everywhere.
As part of the 50th anniversary celebration, the NAF, in its civil-military outreach programme, provided free medical services to some communities around NAF bases.
The medical services include blood pressure checks, blood sugar tests, de-worming of children, free counselling and free eye checks, among others.
Some communities in the FCT, which benefited from the programme, include Sauka village along the Airport Road as well as Kpaduma 1 and 11 communities in the Asokoro Extension neighbourhood.
Speaking at the event, Air Commodore Olufemi Olutoye, the NAF’s Director of Medical Services, said that the exercise was going on simultaneously in every NAF formation across the country.
“The whole idea is for those who live around us to feel our impact,’’ he said.
As part of the celebration, the wives of air force officers also undertook some charity programmes.
The Nigeria Air Force Officer’s Wives Association (NAFOWA) donated some materials to the Mother Theresa Orphanage and the Nigerian Air Force Hospital in Abuja.
NAFOWA’s President, Mrs Omolara Amosu, said that the gesture was aimed at alleviating the hardship of some less privileged members of the society.
The donated items include assorted medications, toiletries, tubers of yam, bags of rice, provisions, and cartons of Indomie noodles, biscuits and semovita, among others.
“Not everyone is born privileged; that is why we are showing love to those who are struggling and those who cannot pay back,’’ Mrs Amosu said.
The idea of establishing an air force in Nigeria was first mooted in 1961, following the country’s participation in peacekeeping operations in Congo and Tanganyika (now Tanzania).
During the peacekeeping operations, the military aircraft of some foreign countries were engaged to ferry the Nigerian Army regiment to and from the theatres of operation.
The Federal Government then recognised the urgent need to establish an air force with modern facilities to enhance the service delivery of the nation’s military.
Early in 1962, the Federal Government agreed in principle that the NAF should be established.
The Nigerian Parliament, therefore, approved the establishment of the NAF and recruitment of cadets commenced in June 1962.
The NAF was officially established by a statutory Act of Parliament in April 1964.
Since its inception, the NAF has gone through some landmark events, starting from the civil war when the air force was very young.
The inexperienced NAF then assumed the role of a well-established air force to prosecute the civil war in concert with the army and the navy.
“Over the years, the air force has grown from a small service with few platforms to one with 17 aircraft types and it is still growing,’’ said Air Commodore Yusuf Anas, NAF’s Director of Public Relations and Information.
Speaking on the expectations of the NAF, 50 years after, Anas said that the NAF would strengthen the funding of its Research and Development (R&D) department so as to bring in new innovations.
Anas said that these innovations would facilitate efforts to digitalise the operations of the NAF.
Besides, the NAF spokesman said that the NAF would acquire additional and newer aircraft for personnel training and surveillance duties.
All the same, security experts urge the Federal Government to provide more modern platforms for the NAF to enable it to carry out its statutory functions effectively.