Air-Commodore Abayomi A. Balogun (mni) retired from the Nigerian Air Force about two and half years ago. But for his love for humanity and his fellow veterans, he has decided to birth a foundation that will cater for the wellbeing of soldiers affected by wars. This will be kick started with unveiling of his book “Nigerian Air War in Sierra Leone: From the Cockpit of Aggressor 08”. In this interview with Mashe Umaru Gwamna, Balogun who has seen it all spoke on his experience from the cockpit while prosecuting the civil war in Sierra Leone and what should be done to reposition officers for civil life.
You will be presenting a book to the Nigerian public on October 25, what is the book all about?
The title is “Nigerian Air War in Sierra Leone: From the Cockpit of Aggressor 08”. It covered the air aspect of the war in Sierra Leone. So many authors have written on the land battles and ECOMOG operations. They were no sea battles. It is the first-hand account of the air aspect of the effects of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, especially the roles played by the Nigerian Air Force during the war. It highlights the successes recorded by the service and demonstrates the nations’ capabilities and its achievements in ensuring peace and security in the region.
However, nobody has touched on the air aspect and I feel Nigerians need to know about it. It is important to tell the narrative because the Nigerian Air Force did so well. Even the manufacturers of the Air Craft we used to prosecute the war were astonished because they themselves have never used the air craft in combat. It is a success story of the air force and Nigeria because our air force was able to stand on its own to defend the nation’s course.
What was the reason behind this book?
Again, the book will serve as a reference point to let people know what we experienced then, the mistakes we made and the lessons we learnt, so that we can apply it to the future. Although, the war took a longer time, but seamlessly the Armed Forces worked in unison with team spirit and the benefit you could drive from that kind of synergy made us to achieve success. They were a lot of experiences and errors like I said earlier.
Also, there is a chapter in the book, chapter 16 which I titled Myth and facts about the military. There, I tried to disapprove some of the wrong beliefs by common man about the army and some that are supposed to be true, I enumerated it. But one important thing people are not aware of is the affect of war on soldiers, their children, family both immediate and extended family and to a large extent on the society. The side effect of war is much and that has made me to talk about it since it is not in the open market.
Outside Nigeria, it is a common thing, in the United States; before you go to war you are examined physically, counseled and made to be psychologically prepared. Immediately you come back, they will still take you through the same rigors of reevaluating your consciousness, psychology to see that you don’t become bad influence to the society that we are not doing here. When I started reading into it, I discovered that even I sitting here have the effect. Every individual has his own signs; some are violent while some are not. In some places, they call it “The Invisible Injuries of War”. Most time, when you see a soldier, you will discover scars on him and some with limb gone. But there are injuries you will not see that are embedded in them for life. So I have decided to bring those things to create awareness of these effects. We need to care for them for us to live peacefully. They were civilians before they became soldiers. They should be prepared to return to civil life, that is the objective of the book and the foundation we are trying to launch.
How will this book help this category of people?
On October 25, we will create the awareness with the launching of the book and foundation. Let everybody know that these veterans need care. Subsequently, we will now go into full operation where we expect well meaning and good spirited Nigerians to support this noble course. It is an NGO, we are not going to sit down and wait for government to fund us. We will not ask government directly, we will do it from our own resources.
Moreover, whoever come to the book launch and donate, 40 percent will be for Veterans Foundation. That will be where the take off grant will come from, and then right there, the machineries will be put in place. With the support of these people and God, we hope to achieve our set objectives.
The book will also show the activities of air force in action as civilians hardly see air force officers in action except in movies. I have tried to put you inside the cockpit and that is why I said from the cockpit of aggressor 08. Once you pick the book, you will be with me especially the area I talked about the war aspect and life experiences. Nigerians will be glad they pick the book because it is the first of its kind in this part of the world.