The Nigerian Air Force C-130 Hercules Air Crash of 1992

INTRODUCTION

On a Saturday, the 26th of September, 1992, a tragedy of monumental proportion silently crept into the world’s most populous black nation. It was a disaster so great that it left the country’s military president and her generals in tears, reducing them to babies. So massive was this wound that even now as I write of it, the scars are etched so deep in our memories that it all feels like it happened yesterday. A very sad chapter of our history, this is the story of the doomed Nigerian Air Force C-130 (NAF 911).

This is the NAF 911 at the Oberpfaffenhofen Airport in Germany in August 1989. It crashed three years after this photo was taken.

THE AIRCRAFT

  A majestic C-130 (specifically a C-130H, also called the Charlie 130 Hercules) transport plane, the NAF 911 was one of the various big birds in the inventory of the Nigerian Air Force. The C-130H has four engines, two on either side of the wings. It balances in the air when the four engines are on. Pilots said it could fly from Ilorin to Lagos at an altitude of 28,000 feet with one engine without a mishap but at take-off, all the four engines must be working. Six (6) C-130Hs were delivered between 1975 and 1976 (NAF 910, NAF 911, NAF 912, NAF 913, NAF 914 and NAF 915 ) followed just under ten years later by three C-130H-30s in 1985. These were NAF 916, NAF 917 and NAF 918.

THE PRECEDING EVENTS

The NAF 911 was overloaded. The turnout of passengers that day was so large that 48 officers were not able to even board it. A naval officer who was a former military administrator of Ondo State was said to have stormed out of the plane when he felt the pre-flight test was taking too much of his time. He was not alone. Another naval officer who was also a former military administrator (of Ogun State) also reportedly left his seat, vacating it for a junior officer saying he could afford the flight ticket to Kaduna. But why was the NAF 911 overloaded? Well, simply because other aircraft in the fleet were grounded, the other aircraft were pretty useless and many were flying coffins.

THE CRASH

DEATH IN THE SWAMP: The site of the crash, the aircraft lies submerged.

  One of the things that make this particular crash so painful was not only the loss of some of the best and brightest of Africa’s military minds but the fact that it was preceded by an atmosphere of joy and happiness and no one had a premonition of the great evil that was to befall the passengers. They had all arrived Lagos from Jaji for a tour of the naval formations and to watch the demonstration of power by the Nigerian Navy. All those who entered the aircraft had just finished celebrating and were in good mood and very high spirits. On that fateful day, at 5:27 pm, it was already getting a bit dark, the fully-loaded aircraft took off from the Runway 19 of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, its destination was the city of Kaduna in northern Nigeria. However, just few minutes after take-off, the pilots discovered that something had gone terribly wrong. 

The crash site.

   Nigerians on the ground did not know what was going on but those living around Ejigbo, Isolo and Okota settlements close to the airport were so alarmed at the proximity of the aircraft that Mrs. Funke Akanni, a resident of Ejigbo later described it thus: One of the most dangerously low flights.

 In just about two minutes after take-off, the aircraft was already in big trouble. As the pilots battled and hope for the best in the cockpit, the American-made transport plane simply refused to gain any lift. It was flying dangerously low but by a stroke of fate, it missed the high-rise buildings. Like a spoilt generator, the aircraft made some grunts, inside the cockpit was the real struggle but its power failed. After a while, the plane started gliding and all of a sudden, it took a nose dive and went straight down with a slam and a muffled din that sounded like an earthquake, according to Mr. Bola Arije, a resident of Okota. The Nigerian Air Force C-130 (NAF 911) had just crashed after just three minutes in the air and a mere distance of 10 kilometers from the airport. All passengers on board were killed. But what happened precisely?

  Immediately the aircraft took off from the airport, the engines started failing. A C-130 has four engines, two on each side. It can manage with three or in worse conditions, with two (one on each side) but on this very day, one of the engines packed up, the pilot attempted to make a return to base then a second one failed too and they decided to ditch the aircraft inside the Ejigbo Canal and even deployed the water landing gear and then the third engine also gave way. Three out of the four engines had failed when the aircraft was barely 500 feet above the ground. The pilot, 40-year-old Justus P Alaboson, easy-going, soft-spoken father of three from Rivers State must have been trying his best to avert a tragedy but luck was not his side that day. Just promoted Wing Commander less than 24 hours earlier, Alaboson was one of the finest pilots in the Nigerian Air Force. As a matter of fact, he had averted a disaster with the C-130H previously when two of its engines failed in mid-air. Everyone was so impressed with his heroic feat that he received multiple accolades and even a guarantee of employment in the future from the manufacturers of the plane, Lockheed Corporation of Georgia in the United States (now known as Lockheed Martin).

DOOMED: The NAF 911 in all its glory.

  So on that very day, Wing Commander Alaboson and his co-pilot Wing Commander A S Mamadi (fondly called Mammy by his colleagues) tried all the tricks in the piloting book to prevent another disaster but it was not to be. The duo even tried to jettison the fuel so as to return to base all to no avail. Three engines had failed and there was nothing they could do and it happened so fast that in less than 200 seconds, the aircraft was lying in a tropical mangrove swamp after it narrowly missed a creek, nestled among raffia palms. Ninety per cent of the 32-meter long aircraft was submerged in the deep swamp not too far from the Lagos State Low Cost Housing Estate, Ejigbo to the Festac Town, located down south. Interestingly enough, Alabosun and Mamadi were co-opted into flying the officers back to Jaji after another pilot refused to have anything to do with the aircraft again in his life. A pilot said of the disaster:

By the time NAF 911 spent three minutes in the air after takeoff, it could not have ascended more than 500 feet above sea level. At that height, if three engines pack up, as in this case, there was nothing the pilot could have done to avert a disaster. With three engines out of order, the aircraft’s payload (about 21 tonnes) would tilt towards the only functional engine. That explains the swerving of the aircraft which eyewitnesses thought was an attempt to return to base.

    The eagle had crashed and with it came crashing the dreams of ‘a whole generation of officers’, some of the very best of African military. Trapped in the aircraft were several majors who were full of dreams and ambitions that in about nine months, stars would be added to their eagles and they would become the newest lieutenant-colonels in town. Since the aircraft was overcrowded, many did not have their seatbelts on and luggage all over was not properly clamped down to anything. They were not alone. Their colleagues from the Nigerian Air Force with the ranks of a Squadron Leader were hoping to grow bigger ‘wings’ while the naval lieutenant commanders hoped to be able to command ships after their nine-month senior division course at the Armed Forces Command and Staff College in Jaji, Kaduna State. After all, that was the sole purpose of their travel not knowing they were going to be consumed by a rotten system where dreams are quashed even before they germinate.

THE VICTIMS

Generals Babangida and Abacha shedding tears over the incident.

  Swallowed in the belly of the C-130 were not just the military boys and girls but young students of the Nigerian Military School, NMS, Zaria, alongside civilians, relations and friends of military officers, some of whom either were accompanying their proud wards to Kaduna or those who just joined for a casual lift. All in all, the figure of the passengers was estimated to be 200, the C-130 was clearly overloaded (although the government maintained an official figure of 159). If the exact figure of the passengers was not clear, what was very clear is that no single soul survived the crash and till date, and it remains one of the worst military aviation disasters. The following is a list of the victims of the C-130 air crash complete with their serial ranks and numbers alongside the corps they belonged in the Nigerian Armed Forces (or the foreign nations they represented):

  1. Lieutenant-Colonel S A Onipede, N/2888, Inf
  2. Lieutenant-Colonel A I Ibiyeye, N/3300, NAE
  3. Lieutenant-Colonel J A Agber, N/72712, Inf
  4. Lieutenant-Colonel B A Ibanga, N/3315, NAE
  5. Lieutenant-Colonel J O Okafor, N/2805, NAEME
  6. Lieutenant-Colonel G O Okoli, N/5402, NAE
  7. Lieutenant-Colonel S K Aladesuyi, N/3259, DAPR
  8. Major C D Nwabuowo, N/5587, NAMP
  9. Major E Ezenwa, N/3039, NACA
  10. Major M H Leramoh, N/2889, NACST
  11. Major S O Yawus, N/5956, NACST
  12. Major S S Agada, N/5975, NAE
  13. Major E O Amechi-Okoro, N/5861, NACA
  14. Major O O Mba, N/5945, NAMP
  15. Major E J Onwe, N/3196, Inf
  16. Major S Bature, N/6085, NACA
  17. Major T Zubair, N/5465, NAE
  18. Major P U Bassey, N/60018, Int
  19. Major O G Akise, N/3207, NAMP
  20. Major J Shija, N/3217, Inf
  21. Major A B Famowei, N/5936, NACA
  22. Major A A Itodo, N/6043, NAMAB
  23. Major J O Okobo, N/6047, NAS
  24. Major K A Oogwu, N/6058, Inf
  25. Major M S Dambata, N/6063, NAMP
  26. Major P S Stephen, N/3389, Inf
  27. Major S O Amaga, N/6095, NAMC
  28. Major C U M La’ah, N/6092, NACA
  29. Major I A Abolade, N/6102, NAE
  30. Major W Adaa, N/6112, NAE
  31. Major E A Usibe, N/6207, NACST
  32. Major J Ugo, N/3356, NAAC
  33. Major S Abubakar, N/3459, NAAC
  34. Major G Josiah, N/3462, Int
  35. Major Aliyu, N/3471, NAFC
  36. Major G Ismaila, N/3474, NAAC
  37. Major M I Ukeh, N/3191, Inf
  38. Major S A Jibunoh, N/6173, NAEME
  39. Major I U Odache, N/3482, NACST
  40. Major L E Muazu, N/6131, NACA
  41. Major P O Bamidele, N/6135, NAAC
  42. Major I D Nock, N/6187, NACA
  43. Major D S Oyeleola, N/6188, Inf
  44. Major I Nyanayo, N/6192, Int
  45. Major N Obie, N/6195, NACST
  46. Major R N Nwankwo, N/6197, NAE
  47. Major C T Akpe, N/6208, NAOC
  48. Major R Okeowo, N/6291, Int
  49. Major R A Olufe, N/6292, Int
  50. Major E Egoro, N/3423, NAS
  51. Major A O Jegede, N/3443, NACST
  52. Major A H Dombe, N/3477, NAE
  53. Major P Yaro, N/3488, NACST
  54. Major A Y Abbas, N/4221, Int
  55. Major C O Egharevba, N/4222, NAE
  56. Major F Oghebor, N/5460, NAEME
  57. Major B A Anebi, N/5461, NAS
  58. Major G O Oyefi, N/5467, NAPTC
  59. Major I K Nwoke, N/5470, NAS
  60. Major V S Kure, N/5483, NAAC
  61. Major J A Tokula, N/5484, NAE
  62. Major T Abina, N/5486, NAFC
  63. Major B Kadiri, N/5489, NACA
  64. Major C Mungu, N/5502, NACA
  65. Major A N Ebiringa, N/5506, Inf
  66. Major O A Ogunaike, N/6032, NACA
  67. Major B B Sadiq, N/4028, NAS
  68. Major S O Gbenro, N/4646, NAE
  69. Major T J Adahada, N/4747, Inf
  70. Major C E Ogbenjuwa, N/5102, NAE
  71. Major O Babalola, N/5115, Inf
  72. Major E W Ekanem, N/5474, NAMP
  73. Major C T Arowojolu, N/4216, NAE
  74. Major M S Ogbeha, N/6242, NAS
  75. Major I J Raiya, N/6244, NACA
  76. Major D O Okoroji, N/6253, NAE
  77. Major M A Agoyi, N/6254, NAMP
  78. Major V U Mukoro, N/6265, NACA
  79. Major A E Mshelia, N/6268, Int
  80. Major J A Audu, N/6270, Int
  81. Major S A Oisamoye, N/6328, NAEC
  82. Major A Bala, N/6276, NAMC
  83. Major M A D Badamasi, N/6283, NAEC
  84. Major E Ukagha, N/6299, Int
  85. Major K E Osula, N/4218, NAE
  86. Major Kajere, N/6281, Inf
  87. Major D Daranijo, N/6243, Inf
  88. Major M O Ajibola, N/6263, Inf
  89. Major U A M Balamai, N/6274, Inf
  90. Major S Omakwu, N/5601, Int
  91. Major O A Obiora, N/5604, NACA
  92. Major A A Kawonta, N/5607, NACA
  93. Major C Otti, N/6255, Inf
  94. Major O O Olusanya, N/5549, NAS
  95. Major O J Mbaka, N/6317, NAEME
  96. Major P Iyayi, N/6069, NAMC
  97. Major T O Ogunbiyi, N/6116, NAPTC
  98. Major G N Nze, N/6348, NAMC
  99. Major H Onwegunam, N/5464, NAS
  100. Major M A Pindar, N/6204, Inf
  101. Major M Samuel, N/6246, NAE
  102. O B Oshodi, Ministry of Defence Student
  103. M A Abu, Student
  104. Sergeant Michael Bahago, Nigerian Army Cameraman
  105. Augustine Okpe, Ministry of Defence Reporter
  106. Major B O Botsha, N/6179
  107. Major O Adebayo, N/6393

NAVAL OFFICERS

  1. Lieutenant Commodore E O Obeten, NN/646
  2. Lieutenant Commodore K A Fasuka-Bello, NN/0587
  3. Lieutenant Commodore S O Odusola, NN/0529
  4. Lieutenant Commodore O Shiejir, NN/0645
  5. Lieutenant Commodore E I Gabriel, NN/0548
  6. Lieutenant Commodore A O Ojekunle, NN/0619
  7. Lieutenant Commodore K O Igwara, NN/0639
  8. Lieutenant Commodore A O G Aboruwa, NN/0639
  9. Lieutenant Commodore S Lasisi, NN/526
  10. Lieutenant Commodore A A Amaino, NN/467
  11. Lieutenant Commodore E N Okafor, NN/0556
  12. Lieutenant Commodore P Asoro, NN/0518
  13. Lieutenant Commodore P N Amangbo, NN/0453
  14. Lieutenant Commodore O O Onabolu, NN/0455
  15. Lieutenant Commodore J O Omokhuale, NN/0509
  16. Lieutenant Commodore C O Ochigbono, NN/0481

AIR FORCE OFFICERS

  1. Squadron Leader Ekong Okon Effiong, NAF/809
  2. Squadron Leader John Husaina Tela, NAF/906
  3. Squadron Leader K Odubanjo, NAF/930
  4. Squadron Leader F O Akede, NAF/920
  5. Squadron Leader Habu Saidu, NAF/782
  6. Squadron Leader A Duson, NAF/1071
  7. Squadron Leader T A Clement, NAF/903
  8. Squadron Leader R O Yusuf, NAF/822
  9. Squadron Leader S O Oyerinde, NAF/807
  10. Squadron Leader N O Alege, NAF/931
  11. Squadron Leader M T Njida, NAF/816
  12. Squadron Leader J K Osho, NAF/767
  13. Squadron Leader E O Ikwue, NAF 793
  14. Squadron Leader M M Gumel, NAF/907
  15. Squadron Leader A A Ndule, NAF/923
  16. Squadron Leader E J Ekpong, NAF/924
  17. Squadron Leader A O Atteh, NAF/928
  18. Sergeant O Jaja, Air Force Video Cameraman

GHANAIAN ARMY

  1. Major A B Ibrahim, GH/1901
  2. Major M K Okwabai, GH/2193
  3. Lieutenant Commodore N N Amevor, GH/1924
  4. Squadron Leader S S Sackey, GH/1847
  5. Squadron Leader J M K Mensah, GH/1635

TANZANIAN ARMY

  1. Major M S Mgonja, P/6234

ZIMBABWEAN ARMY

  1. Major K Mnalazi, T8338T

UGANDAN ARMY

  1. Major J R Muteizi, RO/1326

NIGERIAN AIR FORCE CREW

  1. Wing Commander J P Alabosun
  2. Wing Commander A S Mamadi
  3. Squadron Leader J A Asetza
  4. Flight Lieutenant S O Adamu
  5. Warrant Officer Alum Wakala
  6. Flight Sergeant Tarfa Saidu
  7. Warrant Officer W I Datong
  8. Sergeant A Soyemi

It was devastating. The crash wiped off many fine and brilliant officers. Officers of the 19, 20, 21 and 22 Regular Courses of the Nigerian Defence Academy were badly hit. A list of 159 names of those officially listed as passengers of the C-130H was released on the 1st of October by the Director of Army Public Relations, Colonel Fred Chijuka. The list was made up of seven Lieutenant Colonels, 96 Majors, a Sergeant, Michael Bahago, two students – Mr. O B Oshodi, Mrs. M A Abu, and a reporter, Mr. Augustine Okpe. There were also the eight-officer crew including Alaboson, Mamadi, Squadron Leader J A Adeiza and Flight Lieutenant S O Adamu. The other men, Alum Wakala, Tarfa Saidu, W T Datong and A Soyemi in addition to 19 Air Force officers, made up of 18 Squadron Leaders and a Sergeant, O. Jaja. 

Director of Army Public Relations, Colonel Fred Chijuka gave the chilly announcements of the victims of the crash.

 The Nigerian Navy lost 16 Lieutenant Commanders, Ghanaian Armed Forces, five – Major A B Ibrahim, Major M K Okwabi, Lieutenant Commander N N Amevor, Squadron Leader S S Sackey and Squadron Leader J M K Mensah. Tanzania lost Major M S Mgonja while Ugandan Major J R Mulazi also lost his life in the crash. For the Nigerian Army, the records were also not looking nice at all. The Nigerian Army Education Corps lost a total of 19 officers, Infantry 17, Artillery 15, Intelligence nine, Signals nine, Supply and Transport eight, Military Police seven while the Electrical and Mechanical Armoured and Medical Corps lost four officers each. Others included Ordance three while Finance and Personnel and Training lost two each.

  According to Colonel Chijuka, the list was not even exhaustive. He said:

These are the people we have on our record that flew in the aircraft. The number could be higher as colleagues, students of the Nigerian Military School, Zaria and their (officers) spouses travelled with them. This is what we hope the Air Force will be able to sort out.

Unconfirmed sources at Jaji that time put the death toll between 200 and 300 saying that included many officers recently transferred from Jaji, Zaria or Kaduna but who still had to go back to collect their salaries as payment in their new areas have not been formalized. Many other civilians who regularly enjoyed free rides with their military friends were also believed to have been trapped in the disaster.

THE AFTERMATH

Back at the Command and Staff College, CSC, in Jaji, the news of the crash was broken to the Commandant, Major-General Joshua Nimyel Dogonyaro the next day, the 27th of September. He broke down in tears and sobbed. When his colleagues told him to take some sleeping tablets, he refused and instead quickly summoned top officers and assigned them various responsibilities of leaving immediately for Lagos to get first-hand information of the disaster.

   Ever since Dogonyaro (who later dismissed all allegations of deliberate sabotage of the aircraft especially via fuel contamination) dished out his instructions, the ever-busy Officers Mess at the CSC became a ghost town, emptied of its vibrant atmosphere. The Danjuma Hall was as quiet as a cemetery while the 150 cars purchased for the dead officers from the N500 million loan given to military officers simply waited for owners who would never return. It was a very dark day for all of Jaji. 

   On Monday, the 28th of September, the women whose husbands were on course at Jaji besieged the school. Many of them who learnt that they husbands were still in Lagos broke down into uncontrollable tears. The officers struggled to calm them:

Be calm. Your husbands are alive. We have not confirmed who was in the plane. They are only in Lagos.

But the more the officers tried to calm them, the louder the wailings grew.

Eventually in early October, a unit headed by a Wing Commander in the college was set up to handle all matters and issues relating to the dead officers. For Mrs. Alaboson, the Guinean wife of the late pilot and a teacher at the NAF Secondary School in Ikeja, the demise of her husband was a climax of what a coursemate described as a chain of bad luck. The late Wing Commander Alaboson was an unassuming man and at the time of his death was a postgraduate student in Business Management at the University of Lagos, the same institution where his wife read Industrial Relations. Earlier in the year, her car had gone up in flames while she was going to the school and she barely escaped unhurt. She was worried the repair costs on the car would affect the house her husband was building. Not long after that and few weeks before the crash, their nine-year-old son lost some of his frontal teeth when the crossbar of a swing hit him while they were playing. He bled so much that he had to be rushed to the Military Hospital, Yaba where the forcibly removed teeth were surgically re-implanted. All these were on her mind only for her to hear that the plane her husband was piloting had crashed in the swamp.

THE RESCUE AND ITS CHALLENGES

Rescue operations in progress.

This is probably the most heart-breaking chapter of the story. The tardiness with which the rescue attempts were handled was most irritating. The top military commanders who were supposed to coordinate the whole rescue efforts did not even know anything had gone wrong until hours later. They were busy wining and dining at the Ikeja Cantonment celebrating the end of the annual Nigerian Army Squash Tournament attended by the Commander of the Lagos Garrison and the Air Force Base Commander. As the top-ranking officers were having a nice time with their merriment, an entire generation of their colleagues was trapped a few miles away.

A C-130H is a very large aicraft, about ten times stronger than a conventional passenger plane and it crashed at around 5:29 pm when it was already starting to get dark. Group Captain John Ojikutu, the Airport Commandant was prompt with his response, he quickly organized an ad-hoc search team made up of a pilot, two engineers and an air traffic controller. But the team could not do anything as there was no functional helicopter from the NAF to convey them. It was until a private airline, Aero Contractors, provided them with one but the team got late to the scene, they arrived the scene of the disaster 40 minutes after the crash. But when they even eventually got to the scene, they could not provide an immediate rescue operation and the officers would remain trapped in the aircraft wreckage until about 16 hours later when the first corpse was eventually lifted from the site.

   The government and NAF shifted the blame on the harsh swampy terrain where the plane had crashed saying it was impossible to reach the aircraft by land immediately after it crashed. AVM Akin Dada himself confessed that he did not get information on the crash until 6:05 pm and that he ‘contacted all necessary agencies.’ It was a day of disgrace for the Nigerian Air Force. Even though it had six large Puma helicopters for search and rescue, not one was okay, they were all scrap material. They later managed to get a NAF BO-105 helicopter to use. Nigeria simply did not have the machinery or system to initiate, conduct or coordinate such a sophisticated rescue operation. The system was total crap.

Air Vice Marshal Akin Femi Dada was the Chief of Air Staff. He shed tears over the crash.

  Although the Nigerian Civil Aviation Policy of 1989 provided for a National Search and Rescue Organization (NSRO), made up of the Navy, Air Force, Army, Police and other relevant agencies, the body was not functional in the country, it existed only on paper. That explains why despite the good visibility after locating the aircraft, the rescue operation came too slow and too late. The Nigerian system could not save its brightest military minds. There were lamentations over the matter:

If there had been an efficient NSRO, it would have been able to pierce the fuselage and retrieve the bodies much more quickly. What if this was in a war situation, does it mean we won’t be able to penetrate the swamp immediately? Shouldn’t the military have a survey of all the Lagos environs to understand the terrain?

  But the problem was even more convoluted than that. While the Air Traffic Controllers should have used a radar system to monitor aircraft movement to some distance within the Flight Information Region (FIR), they had to rely on radio contacts and control towers binoculars simply because the radar system was epileptic. In the case of the NAF 911, they were lucky to have the radar system track the aircraft, but instead of monitoring its ascent, it monitored its descent. The radar was not the only source of problem. The Instrument Landing System (ILS) that guided the pilots was virtually dead and the pilots had to entrust their lives to the Distance Measuring Equipment (DME) fixed to the aircraft, even if all it does was to give the pilot the distance to and from the runways. Aviation experts say that even though DME could work as a substitute for the ILS, it was not 100% reliable or accurate.

 There was also a shortage of Air Traffic Controllers and around the time of the crash, they were even on strike over demand for improved facilities at the country’s airports in addition to compelling the FCAA to hire more ATCs. They complained that the Murtala Muhammed International Airport needed around 90 ATCs but had just 21. A situation report on air traffic operations released on the 28th of October, 1991, about a year before the crash highlighted by the Nigeria Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) the lack of ATCs, poor state or total lack of equipment for communication, navigation and surveillance as factors that militated against a safe air navigation system for the country. According to the association in the report sent to the FCAA boss, Captain Ado Dahuru, with a copy sent to the Aviation Minister, ‘the rate of failure of the navigational aids in Lagos has reached an alarming rate.

  Some aircraft almost crashed in Lagos on the 6th of October because all the navigational aids failed, according to NATCA. That was not all. On the 9th of October, a Nigeria Airways B737 from Calabar was almost lost in a storm because she could not receive any navigational aid during her approach to Lagos and communication with the aircraft was lost for about 20 minutes. The crew was forced to coordinate their descent into Lagos through the Accra airspace because they received no navigational aid from those on ground in Lagos. Their entry via the Accra airspace created some panic on the ground in Lagos because the ATCs in Lagos had no means of communicating with their counterparts in Accra because their Flight Information Centre (FIC) was dead. The Lagos VHF omni-directional radio range was also failing all the time. FIC in Lagos could not communicate with neighbouring stations in Niamey, Accra, Brazzaville and even Kano sometimes, it was that bad for the Nigerian aviation industry. The radar system was virtually useless as its maps, sweeps and even radar scopes were very faulty.

 The rescue operation started on the 27th of September and it was failure from the first step. There was nothing to start with, not even the most basic of equipment as stretchers or communication facilities. Navy Commodore Mike Akhigbe was one of the first military officers to direct the rescue operation but even he had no walkie-talkie to communicate with either his superiors or other officers. And the jokers wanted to conduct a rescue operation on a military transport aircraft, how unserious and irresponsible can a government get? The military officers were saved by the hired local villagers who assisted them by using cutlasses and axes to hack down the visible parts of the aircraft. On the first day, three bodies of those who were believed to have bailed out of the aircraft were picked up a few meters from the submerged military transport plane. As the hacking continued, dismembered bodies were evacuated from the belly of the plane and loaded onto boats and canoes provided by the villagers and then ferried across the Isolo Canal into the waiting hands of the military officers who then packed them inside their trucks. Two of these trucks were marked NA 9111767 and NPF 7000A.

 After the bodies and parts were deposited inside the trucks, the corpses were then packed in a bag and airlifted by a hovering helicopter which then dropped them inside waiting ambulances. In order to decongest the traffic and facilitate movement, motorists on the major roads in Isolo, Ejigbo, Okota and the Apapa-Oworonshoki-Mile Two dual carriageway were told to give way for the ambulances and the armed forces vehicles. Nigerians, who wanted to watch the show and even reporters, were forbidden from reaching the scene.

  By the evening of the 28th, only 60 bodies had been recovered from the wreckage. But President Ibrahim Babangida promised on the 29th to devote all resources to the recovery efforts. The rescue operation continued all through the first week of October and by the second Friday of that month (9th), at least 130 bodies had been recovered. Torrential rains and the lack of the necessary equipment by the Nigerian Air Force slowed down the rescue operations and a private company, Julius Berger, had to be called in to assist with salvaging the aircraft. In order to prevent further decomposition, formalin was sprayed all over the site while two helicopters used ropes to evacuate bagged corpses.

Another version of the rescue effort by Nowa Omoigui went thus:

At about 8 pm, Lt. Colonel Kayode Are, one of the Directing Staff at the Command and Staff College in Jaji, placed a long distance call to his course mate in Lagos, Lt. Colonel Owoye Azazi, CO of the Intelligence Group at the Lagos Garrison to get information about the crash. Azazi had not heard anything. He then contacted some colleagues to find out if there was truth to rumors that a plane had gone down. None of these officers knew what was going on. Azazi, therefore, placed a call to Captain Al Mustapha, Chief Security Officer to Lt. General Sani Abacha, who was at that time Chief of Defence Staff. It was Mustapha that confirmed that a plane carrying students from the CSC at Jaji had indeed crashed “somewhere behind Festac”. However, no orders were forthcoming from Abacha on whether or how to respond and it was not even clear whether the C-in-C, General I Babangida was aware or if aware, had ordered anything done to respond.

Back in 1992 when I first investigated this story through some Air Force contacts, I was informed that Azazi initially assumed a “massive rescue operation” must be going on although it is not clear who he might have thought would be carrying it out. So he got dressed anyway and drove to the area around the Festac Village to see for himself. By now it was around 11 pm and pitch dark. There was no sign of activity. When he returned home, at about midnight, his Garrison Commander, Major Gen. Adisa had called, having just heard of it himself. Thus, he returned the call. Adisa ordered that they both take off the next morning by 5.30 am – 12 hours after the crash – to resume the search. It was around midnight that the first stirrings of a coordinated mid-level tri-service response were noticeable.

Therefore, early on Sunday morning, General Adisa, Commodore Akhigbe, Lt. Col Azazi and Captain Deinde Joseph set off for the Air Force base. There they were told that the plane crashed a few minutes after take off. They were also briefed that a fixed wing aircraft had taken off shortly before dark on reconnaissance, but could barely locate the site of the crash.

The group left the Air Force Base at Ikeja and headed first for Festac Village, but eventually found their way to the section of the Ejigbo canal closer to the Cantonment. As previously noted, some local inhabitants and air force personnel had already crossed the canal through the swamp to the crash site much earlier. The environment was difficult and investigators had to wade in it with muddy water up to their navels. From the appearance of things it seemed evident that the only hope for survival would have required immediate response. Unless rescue got there within the first hour with appropriate equipment, it didn’t seem likely that anyone had a chance. With the plane overloaded and only few using seat belts, most were crushed against one other, luggage and all sorts of metal objects. Some likely died from crush injuries, some certainly drowned, and others certainly suffocated, trapped inside the depressurized, airless hull. There were reports of scribbled notes by some of the survivors, indicating that they survived the initial impact. As the day progressed, some area boys arrived and tried to ransack and steal items from the dead. They were driven off.

On Sunday, the first day of recovery, access into body of the aircraft was very difficult. There were initial suggestions to use a chain saw but this was deferred out of fear of fire outbreak because of the proximity to aviation fuel. Gaining access was, therefore, fairly slow and crude, inch by inch. The first corpse out was of a civilian, whose body was herniating almost outside the main frame of the aircraft. For many more hours a lot of effort was made before recovery workers got into the mass of bodies, most of which were pushed towards the front of the aircraft deep inside water. That day only 27 bodies were recovered. They were pulled out, loaded into canoes two at a time, brought to the edge of the swamp, carried to the canal edge, ferried across in boats again and then carried to the vehicle park before being taken to the mortuary.

The horrendous experience of that first day provoked some feverish contacts in the Army hierarchy. On Monday, the Head of the Lagos Garrison Intelligence group reportedly spoke with the US Defence Attaché about the possibility of sending Chinook Helicopters to help. However, the rather curious response of the Nigerian Army High Command – as communicated by the Military Assistant to Lt. General Salihu Ibrahim, then Chief of Army Staff, was that for reasons of national pride a request for foreign help was not appropriate. In fact the Army HQ had to be talked out of immediately assembling another course for the Staff College. The details of how “national pride” became a reason to delay recovery of our fallen heroes at that stage are best explained by those involved – and those they were reporting to at higher levels i.e. Generals Abacha and Babangida.

Abacha is now dead and cannot defend himself but his relationship with Babangida when Abacha was the CDS was, to say the least, complex. There are accounts that money for defence needs was never guaranteed to arrive at operational levels when released by government through normal channels. I even read a newspaper story that Babangida at one point actually passed money directly to agitated unit commanders and peace-keeping troops instead of passing it through the Ministry of Defence. According to this report, the common joke amongst lower level officers back then, when talking about defence appropriations, was “Sani ya chi”. If true, then it might explain why a US government grant for the refurbishment of C-130s released in early 1992 may not have made it to the aircraft. All of this, in any case, was occurring in the setting of the deliberate deconstruction of the Air Force following the alleged involvement of some Air Force officers in the so-called Vatsa conspiracy of 1985.

Let’s go back to our story. A retired Air Force officer told this writer a few years ago that Brigadier General Akilu was also contacted about the need for foreign military heavy lift Chinook Helicopters. I have not spoken to Akilu to confirm, but this source says he graciously gave the go ahead for the Recovery Team to contact the CIA Station Chief as a backchannel. Along with General Adisa and Col. Azazi, the group allegedly took a ride in the CIA man’s boat from Victoria Island to Ejigbo. Further contacts obviously took place at a higher level but nothing eventually came of this initiative.

In one of his columns, a respected journalist, Remi Oyeyemi wrote that: “it is on record that less than an hour of the crash, the British government offered to rescue the victims and the offer was turned down by IBB. It is also on record that the U.S. government informed the IBB administration that they had a ship on the high seas very close to Nigeria that could be on the scene within few hours of the crash to help in the rescue effort. It was turned down by IBB.”

NB: If it is true that the Nigerian military government under Babangida turned down requests to help from foreign governments over one pointless national pride, then that was really a very disastrous decision. The same mistake would be made by the admirals of the Russian Navy when the Kursk, a nuclear-powered submarine, sank in the Barents Sea in 2000. The hot-headed Russian naval lords kept blowing lies to the Russian public and turned down all offers of help until the very last minute when all the 118 sailors were already dead. How can you be proud when you do not have the capability especially over an aircraft you did not make yourself? Of what use is pride in such a condition? Should pride be given a priority over human lives? If the child of the head of state was a trapped pilot in the C-130, would they have turned down offers of timely assistance?

THE INVESTIGATION

  Investigations showed that the C-130 air crash of 1992 was simply a disaster waiting to happen, for it was an avoidable tragedy. For two years, the NAF 911 C-130 Hercules was grounded as a disused plane, and in fact, it was revived in August 1992 only for it to crash the following month. But before its final doom, the pilots had been crying out to the authorities. Those who flew the aircraft protested that it was ‘sluggish and hardly responded to usual manipulations’.

   Few weeks before the disaster, Wing Commander Alaboson, then a Squadron Leader, complained that the aircraft still had problems. A team of Air Force engineers inspected and serviced the disused plane but Alabosun insisted that the aircraft was still problematic. Alabosun knew what he was saying because he had flown the C-130 Hercules more than most of his colleagues. Someone should have listened to him and his complaints should have been taken more seriously. But in a system where everything is messed up, that was not to be, and the system sent some its finest officers to their deaths. Talk of a mother cannibalizing her own children.

 Despite the fact that the aircraft was sick, it was overworked and after the August when it was resuscitated, it was taken to as far as Liberia. The morning of that same day that it crashed, it had been flown to Ilorin, Kwara State (where it had gone to deliver the body of a warrant officer who died in the Liberian civil war), then to Port Harcourt, Rivers State and then to Makurdi, Benue State and then back to Lagos. That morning in Lagos, Air Force technicians were ordered to report for duty at 8:00 am despite the environmental sanitation programme to work on the aircraft before it departed for Ilorin. It was not flown that morning by Alabosun then but by another pilot named Wing Commander Bamidele Adeniyi, who happened to be a friend and close colleague of Alabosun.

  By the time Adeniyi landed the aircraft in Lagos, he was visibly irritated and full of complaints about the aircraft. He also complained that the aircraft was sluggish in response hinting at a possible disaster if the needful was not done promptly. In fact, Adeniyi was so mad that he went for his crew rest and vowed never to touch the NAF 911 again until all the necessary repairs were done, only Adeniyi knew what he saw during flight for him to have taken that radical decision. I think someone must have stolen the money meant for the repairs thus endangering the lives of the officers who eventually plunged to their deaths at dusk in a swamp. It all boiled down to corruption, our country’s biggest menace.

 Anyway, after the crash, investigators made attempts to find the likely cause of the crash. Electrical faults were ruled out as there was no fire or explosion mid-air. They also said it could not have been an act of sabotage. They narrowed down the cause to what was described as an obvious mechanical fault in the two engines on one side. These two engines capitulated at the same time. According to an aircraft engineer who bared his mind on the matter:

  ‘It is either the engines failed and stalled off the propeller, thus reducing the airflow over the aileron, which is supposed to give the aircraft a proper lift.

The aileron is on the sharp edge of the front and back of the wings of the aircraft and it gives out air to control the degree of ascent or descent during flight. During take-off, the four engines are expected to be working properly and simultaneously but in a situation where one develops a fault, the C-130 has been designed in such a way that it can still sustain its balance in the air and make a manoeuvre back to its destination, to the base or land at the nearest air field if it cannot cope with the combined weight of the passengers and the fuel. What went wrong with the NAF-911 was that three out its four engines stopped working in mid-air, two on one side and one on the other side leading to a dangerous tilt of weight to the single engine that was working ensuing in a life-and-death manoeuvre.

 The aircraft was one of the first in the fleet and it was reportedly long overdue for major repairs and overhaul at the Lockheed Corporation in the United States. A C-130 is one of the most reliable and dependable transport planes on earth and for it to have crashed means something must have gone seriously wrong somewhere. There are three inspection routines for the aircraft:

  1. PRE-FLIGHT (PR): This is a flight preparedness check that is done before the first flight of the day. This involves checking the engine, electrical parts, tyres, fuselage and other systems so as to ensure that there are no defects of any kind that can potential lead to an accident or abort missions.
  2. BASIC POST-FLIGHT (BPO): This is done after the last flight of the period. This involves the checking the aircraft’s suitability for further flights. The PR and the BPO are done locally for the C-130H.
  3. PERIODIC DEPARTMENT MAINTENANCE (PDM): This is supposed to be done outside Nigeria at the Lockheed Corporation in the United States. Lockheed revealed that every component in the C-130H has a lifespan and that there are specific methods of determining when the components have expired. During the PDM, the parts are discovered to have expired during the inspection are replaced. The PDM is handled only by the aircraft manufacturers.

When the NAF 911 crashed, Lockheed Corporation was enraged and furious with the Nigerian authorities. It was reportedly the first of such crash in 25 years of the C-130H. Lockheed insisted on getting the black box as soon as it was found. The corporation also demanded a high-powered probe into the cause of a crash of such magnitude.

 For the investigation, the Nigerian government set up a board of inquiry in early October 1992. The board was made up of service chiefs and aviation experts. As at the time of the crash and even of now, the aircraft is considered very dependable and reliable as a military transport aircraft used worldwide. At the time of the disaster, Nigeria had six C-130H and three C-130 H30, a model with little variations, Egypt had 19, Algeria had 14, Morocco had 11, the Libyan Air Force had seven, same number with the South Africans while Sudan and Cameroon had five and three respectively.

   Designed to have a maximum payload of 21 tonnes (21,000 kg), the C-130 H has a troop-paratroop capacity of 150 men and can cover a maximum range of 1,850 kilometers while it can cover even more if the loads are less. The crash revealed the utter helplessness of the rot called the Nigerian Air Force as it could do nothing to pull out its aircraft. The Governor of Lagos State, the late Sir Michael Otedola had to call on Julius Berger to assist with pulling out the aircraft. Lockheed sent out a message that it was willing to do the pullout in less than 24 hours if Julius Berger’s efforts yielded no fruits.

  As mentioned earlier, the disaster was one that was simply waiting to happen. Since the ECOWAS Monitoring Group, ECOMOG, West Africa’s peacekeeping force in Liberia started in 1990 under General Ibrahim Babangida, every single aircraft in the Nigerian Air Force C-130H fleet had been grounded. The aircraft were in conditions so bad that the airlifting of troops was given out as contracts to private airlines as Kabo Air, one of whose planes carrying the ECOMOG soldiers back home crash-landed in Sokoto not long before the C-130 crash.

DAZED: Rear Admiral Preston Omatsola was the chief of naval staff. He was wondering what happened that day.

  The systematic neglect of the Nigerian Air Force was believed to have started in 1986 following the Major-General Mamman Vatsa’s abortive coup plot. By the time Air Marshal Nureini Yussuff (rtd) became the Chief of Air Staff, maintenance of aircraft of the NAF was virtually zero. Yussuff’s time as the CAS is considered by some analysts to be the worst period in the history of the NAF as far as aircraft maintenance is concerned.


Air Marshal Nureini Yussuff (rtd) became the Chief of Air Staff, and under him, the maintenance of aircraft of the NAF was virtually zero.

But if Yussuff’s reign as the CAS was a horrible one for the NAF, others believed that it should not have been the same under his predecessor, Air Vice Marshal Akin Dada, under whom the disaster was recorded. AVM Dada himself, alongside all the other CAS before him had flown the NAF 911. Dada was in fact, the Commander of the Air Transport Group and later the Air Officer Commanding of the Tactical Air Command in Makurdi, Benue State. Air Vice Marshal Akin Dada was expected based on his experience with military transport and by virtue of his position as the CAS, to know about the state of the C-130H fleet but when Dada addressed reporters over the crash, he insisted that the doomed plane was in top shape and was not due for any checks. Dada also shed tears over the incident. The NAF was more interested in controlling the information that got to the general public. The NAF Acting Director of Public Relations and Information then, Wing Commander Alex Usifo was worried that the reports emanating concerning the aircraft’s horrible condition were going to demoralize the families and even jeopardize investigations. He said:

An aircraft, a military aircraft for that matter, is not like a car that you can push around anyhow from one mechanic to the other. There are standards and controls which the public speculations may be totally unaware of.

   However, not everyone agreed with the NAF/CAS’ position that the aircraft was in very good shape. Sources within the NAF itself said that the air force had found it very difficult to overhaul its fleet owing to ‘lack of funds’, and that on scarce occasions when the funds trickled in, the NAF preferred overhauling the aircraft in either Germany or Singapore and that even the crashed NAF 911 was to be flown to Germany on the 27th of September for repairs. Although the NAF’s image makers tried to whitewash the whole thing, the Nigerian Air Force was in a mess. It was poorly-funded and was neck-deep in debt. A German company representative in Nigeria at the time of the disaster said the Nigerian government was owing them an outstanding sum of 500 million Deutsche mark (N6.6 billion) with the Nigerian Armed Forces alone, and that the NAF carried the bulk of that debt.  

Omoigui had said of the crash investigation:

When NAF 911 crashed, an investigating panel was reportedly set up under Rear-Admiral Elegbede. To this day, ten years later, its report has never been formally released to the public. In contrast, on November 25, 1996, the US Air Force publicly released the accident investigation report of the fatal crash on August 17, 1996 of a C-130 Hercules near Jackson Hole Airport, Wyoming. The C-130 was based at Dyess Air Force Base in Texas, and had been on a presidential support mission. The crash was caused by crew error – because they allegedly failed to monitor the aircraft’s position and flight path relative to the high terrain surrounding the Airport. At that time, while expressing condolence to the families and friends of those who died, USAF Chief of Staff Gen. Ronald R. Fogleman said, “We are committed to finding the root causes of all accidents and ensuring that our training, maintenance and flying procedures work together to prevent mishaps…” Similarly, the US Air Force released information on the cause of the crash of an HC-130P, call sign King 56, assigned to the 939th Rescue Wing, Portland, Oregon. It went down off the coast of California on Nov. 22, 1996. The plane’s engines stopped as a result of fuel starvation caused by improper fuel management by the crew.

TERRIBLE DAY FOR NIGERIAN JOURNALISTS

Madness descended on the scene with the arrival of a minister, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff and Chief of Defence Staff, General Sani Abacha who visited the scene the same day. The Chief of Air Staff, Air Vice Marshal Akin Dada and his counterpart from the Navy, Rear Admiral Preston Omatsola were also there. Abacha gave a nonsensical order that journalists be barred from the scene. This was how a journalist, Reginald Opara of African Concord reported the horror of that day:

They went in search of hazardous exclusives. Few got them, others got the beating. No thanks to their professional gadgets like pens, identity cards and zoom cameras found on them. From the outset, they knew their work was going to be tough. General Sani Abacha, chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff made it so.

Reporters and press photographers who sneaked into the Okota area of the Hercules C-130 crash site realized that General Abacha’s order that the national tragedy was not to be celebrated on the pages of newspapers was for real. Ask Sam Omatseye of the National Concord, Segun Olakitan, senior photographer with the African Concord, Dare Ibironke of the African Guardian, Sunday Tumo-Ojelabi of TimesWeek, Dipo Onabanjo of the Daily Times and Olufemi Kayode, another senior photographer with NewsWatch, the Okota assignment was almost as dangerous as the Hercules flight.

Reaching the exact spot where the huge plane plunged into the marshy waters was practically impossible for the purveyors of news. Omatseye got there but at a price. ‘…we got to the convenient spot to see the aircraft. It was a sorry sight, a large and magnificent aircraft, in its greenish majority, locked in the remotest part of the world’, he gave an eyewitness account.

Dipo Onabanjo, whose photographs on rescue operations were the best published by any daily had a fair share of the brutality. The photographer who was picked up at the scene was asked to remove his shirts and roll on the stinky marshy waters. His camera was seized and thrown into the creeks. African Concord learnt that about six cameras suffered the same fate. Onabanjo was asked to report at the logistics unit of the air force for further interrogations.

More photographers and reporters were picked up and detained. African Concord’s Olakitan was one. Tumo-Ojelabi of TimesWeek was another.

‘Trouble started for us (Dare and myself)’, Olakitan recounted, ‘from where we were hiding’, ‘when I pulled my camera from my bag to photograph a military helicopter packing up bodies. From nowhere, two airforce men pounced on us. They dragged us to a senior officer. The officer wanted to know who I was and what we were doing in the area.’

‘The officer inquired if we had taken any shots. I told him it was impossible from where we were picked up (about 500 metres from the rescue zone). He asked us to go away. The officer said that General Sani Abacha did not want the rescue operation covered by the press, that newsmen would be briefed after the operation. ’

Eager to get more shots, Olakitan and his colleague drifted from the officer to continue their work but they were again spotted by one of the men who initially picked them up and were driven to the Air Force Base at Ikeja where they were detained for three hours. They also met Ojelabi there.

 As the pressmen recounted their bitter experiences and Nigerians continue to mourn, the question the military authorities are yet to answer is: why did they not want the event reported? One editor said: ‘General Abacha should have known that the press is not part of his command. His no-coverage order was nonsense. In this business (journalism), disaster is big news and any newspaper or newsmagazine that does not report it copiously has no business remaining in the profession. Simply put, the crash thrust a cover on my table.’

The editor summarized: ‘General Abacha should follow the Pakistani example where journalists and photographers were allowed free access to the scene of a plane crash that occurred 24 hours after that of Nigeria. Journalists were conducted through emergency mortuaries constructed at the scene by the Pakistani authorities. ’

The military authorities in Nigeria however accomplished little success in the task of keeping pressmen out of the rescue operation zone.   

NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE

Of course, the entire nation was thrown into fits of mourning. Remember Nigerians were already living under the oppressive regime of General Babangida and another news of a plane crash was just too much to bear. It was crushing. President Ibrahim Babangida speedily cancelled all official engagements initially schedule for the week, including the national day celebration. On the 29th of September, he was accompanied by General Abacha (read all about General Sani Abacha HERE), Vice Admiral Murtala Nyako, the service chiefs and governors Michael Otedola and Olusegun Osoba of Lagos and Ogun states respectively. Babangida inspected the wreckage from the air in a Bristow helicopter and he described it as a national tragedy. He said:

It is just unfortunate. I am sad. A whole generation of officers…It is a pitiable thing. The whole country has lost and we should show a sense of sympathy for their relations, parents and families.

Olusegun Osoba, the governor of Ogun State could not comprehend the scale of the disaster.

From beyond the borders of Nigeria, messages of grief and condolence poured in. Queen Elizabeth of England said:

I was saddened to hear of the accident…the Duke of Edinburgh joins me in expressing our sincere condolences to you and the families of all those killed in this most unfortunate accident.

Dr. Salim Ahmed Salim, Secretary-General of the Organization of African Unity, enjoined President Babangida to convey the OAU Secretariat’s ‘deepest sympathy to the bereaved families.’ Messages of condolence also came from the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Chairman of the OAU, President Abdou Diouf of Senegal and the Presidency of the European Community. Countries such as Egypt, Russia, Japan, Canada, Israel, Yugoslavia, Tanzania, Guinea, Pakistan, Central African Republic, Chad, Saudi Arabia and Sudan also sent in their condolences. More messages to condole Nigeria were also received from ECOWAS, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

  Lockheed records show that NAF 911 was the 2041st C-130 built and the 232nd loss and the worst C-130 accident. At that time, it was the 2nd worst aviation accident in Nigeria and presently the 3rd worst.

THE BURIAL

Burial was initially planned for the 12th October, 1992, a Monday. ‘Classical’ caskets that cost N15,000 each as at that time were made of solid cedar wood by MIC Undertakers in Lagos for the fallen officers. Mr. Tunji Okunsanya, CEO of MIC Undertakers said:

…the government is giving the deceased the best resting place in caskets considered better than what the military normally use.

Order for the mass production of the caskets was placed on Tuesday, 29th September by the Defence Headquarters. For MIC Undertakers to be able to meet the deadline, Okusanya said their company factories in Lagos and Ogun were utilized. Samples of the glittering and shiny caskets showed colourful interiors of purple puff and ribbons. Some of them had the sign of a cross on top. An MIC official said they were making various types because of the differing religious backgrounds of the victims. Eventually on the 5th of October, 1992, their bodies were lowered into their graves in Abuja signaling the end of an entire generation of officers. Although they died in the most tragic circumstances, their nation buried them with all the pomp and pageantry.

CONCLUSION AND MATTERS ARISING

The Nigerian Air Force is still a joke. In fact, as I was still writing this piece, news reached my end that the Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari described the air force as ‘virtually non-existent’ in the fight against the Boko Haram insurgency, which is very true. Nigeria has a long way to go if we are to have a modern air force that will be a formidable fighting force. The country’s airspace is still in shambles, there is no radar coverage for the entire nation, either civilian or military, the navigational aids are the airports are still as faulty as ever, the same conditions that led to the crash of the C-130 23 years ago are still there. Some military officers still behave like beasts to the civilians whose taxes sustain their families. We have not improved but there is hope finally. We have to build a system that sees nothing but quality standards, merit and excellence instead of rabid sentiments and unalloyed praise of mediocrity.

In December 2012, Vanguard reported (PM News did same in September 2012) that 20 years after the crash, the families of the victims of the disaster remained abandoned. Nothing came out of the so-called probe set up by the government, conspiracy theories flying all over the place and the only thing that built to immortalize them was a cenotaph at the Senior Course Students’ Hostel at the Armed Forces Command and Staff College (AFCSC) at Jaji, Kaduna. All the promises General Abacha made that the government will assist the affected families were all crap. Nothing was done. For years, their families were left all alone and frustrated, so frustrated that the widows represented by Mrs. Hadiza Pindar, Doorshima Ada’a, Franca Odache and Nwanzo Eze-Ukagha had petitioned the Human Rights Violation Commission headed by the late Justice Chukwudifu Oputa for redress. You all know how the story normally ends.

This piece was written in memory and honour of all the fine souls that perished in the C-130 Hercules (NAF 911) of the Nigerian Air Force in September 1992 and as a wake-up call to a nation that forgets too soon. May their labours and efforts never go in vain.

THANKS FOR YOUR TIME.

ABIYAMO.

REFERENCES

  1. Death In The Swamp, African Concord, 12th October, 1992 (Demola Abimboye with Timothy Bonnet in Jaji, Peter Ishaka, Patience Akpan, Gbenga Amusan, Andrew Okeleke, Dele Morakinyo, Jaiyola Ajasa, Lasisi Ajayi, Dan Ede, Joke Hassan, John Obozuwa, Toyin Abiose and Yetunde Ogunbameru).
  2. 1992 Nigerian Air Force C-130 Crash
  3. Accident Description of the Crash, Aviation Safety Network 
  4. The Crash of NAF 911 on September 26, 1992 by Nowa Omoigu 
  5. Questions IBB Must Answer by Remi Oyeyemi 
  6. 163 Nigerians Dead As A Military Plane Crashes Near Lagos, The New York Times 
  7. 20 Years After: Families of victims of C-130 at Ejigbo abandoned
  8. Forgotten Ejigbo Military Plane Crash Victims, PM News, September 2012. 
  9. The Babangida in Our Imagination, by Seyi Oduyela 

 

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