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A HERO’S burial awaits tomorrow, in Abuja, each of the 13 military officers who died in the Sunday plane crash in Benue State.
*Reps order audit of military equipment as Obasanjo seeks ban of tokunbo planes
ABUJA—A HERO’S burial awaits tomorrow, in Abuja, each of the 13 military officers who died in the Sunday plane crash in Benue State.
The House of Representatives yesterday suspended sitting in honour of the dead men and ordered an audit of all military equipment with a view to avoiding a repeat of the tragedy, while President Olusegun Obasanjo speaking on an aviation safety and security conference in Abuja called for a ban on second hand aircraft otherwise known as tokunboh following the crash.
Also yesterday, the immediate past Chief of Defence Staff, General Alexander Ogomudia, debunked speculations of sabotage in the crash.
Announcing the burial arrangement for the crash victims, the Director of Army Public Relations, Colonel Ayo Olaniya, said the interment would take place in Abuja because “these officers represent Nigeria in its widest sense."
Continuing, he said: “However, let me say that Edo State appears to have been worst hit in the sense that it lost four Generals; three Major Generals and one Brigadier General. They are Major-General J.T.U Ahmedu, Major-General S. O. Otubu, Major-General J. O. Adesunloye and Brig-General Y. J. Braimoh.
“Niger State was next with three officers, one Major General, one Brigadier General and one Lt. Colonel.”
Colonel Olaniyan said contrary to earlier reports that the bodies of the dead officers were brought to Abuja on Monday, “those the aircraft brought were five survivors, three Lt. Colonels, one technician and air hostess (Air Force).”
The corpses were taken to the Nigerian Air Force Base Hospital, Makurdi, while the five survivors are receiving treatment at the National Hospital. They are in stable condition. “For the burial proper, it will take place by 11 a.m. As you know, this is because of the national character it has assumed.
We expect the families of the fallen senior officers from various parts of this country to attend,” he said, adding: “For this purpose, reception centres have been established at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, and Scorpion Officers Mess, WU Bassey Barracks for ease of information gathering, movement and transportation. Army Headquarters Garrison and Brigade of Guards are fine-tuning details for the burial.”
The Army Corps of Engineer has commenced work on the graves for the burials of the victims.
Explaining how the accident happened, Olaniyan said: “The accident actually took place at a place called Mbakunu Village. The name of the hill is Ngokugh Hill. Weather conditions like many people are also saying is believed to have been responsible though investigations are on to ascertain the true position of things.”
Responding to a question, he said: “One of the victims of the crash actually made a phone call to the Chief of Army Staff to alert him of the crash. Immediately, the Chief dispatched us there: one Maj-General, an Air Vice Marshal and myself. We set out that Sunday, accompanied by local villagers to the place.
“Gentlemen, I will tell you that it took us three hours to get to the scene of the accident on top of the hill. It is one of the most suicidal missions I think I have had to take. We got there only to find out that the report we got was completely at variance with the reality because the aircraft was a wreck”
On the level of investigations and whether the black box had been located, he said: “Investigation is on-going. Right now a team from the Nigerian Air Force has already visited the scene of the crash which is 18 nautical miles from Bebi airstrip in Obudu.”
Reps order audit
The House of Representatives yesterday suspended sitting in honour of the victims of the air crash and ordered an audit of all military equipment and installations in the country with a view to avoiding a repeat.
Alhaji Aminu Masari, Speaker of the House of Representatives, who directed the House Committee Chairman on Air Force, Mr Setonji Koshedo, to initiate the audit, said it was necessary to help strengthen the military.
According to Masari, “in view of the sad occurrence of Sunday, it is proper that we honour them. On the audit, the Chairman, committee on Air Force and other relevant committees should take note.”
Shortly after the session, chairmen of the House Committee on Air Force, Army and Defence addressed a press conference, where they stated their preparedness to embark upon an audit of the military equipment.
Chairman of the Defence committee, Mr Wale Oke said, “there is need to audit our military aircraft to make sure that they comply with required standard. Parliament would take a look at the problems confronting various services, in terms of funding, putting in place sound equipment and others.
But while the Senate also joined the nation in mourning the death of the military officers, it was divided on the propriety of adjourning deliberations for the dead soldiers.
At the end of deliberations on the motion condoling the nation and families of the dead, the Senate voted not to adjourn its sittings on account of the national tragedy.
The motion authored by Senator Ben Obi (PDP, Anambra Central) but sponsored on the floor by Senator Fidelis Okoro (PDP, Enugu North) in his capacity as chairman of the Senate Committee on Army was seconded by Senator David Mark (PDP, Benue South), a former Army General.
Moving the motion under matters of urgent public importance by invoking Senate rules 42 and 52 respectively, Senator Okoro said the latest air disaster claimed the lives of some of the finest senior Nigerian Army officers including two General Officers, Commanding and another six Major-Generals who occupied strategic posts in the Nigerian Army.
He said air travel was very essential to the conduct of both military and civilian business, adding that the air mishap involved one of the few functional aircraft in the fleet of the Nigerian Air Force.
Besides condoling the families of the deceased, the Senate also resolved to send condolence message to the Commander-in-Chief of Armed Forces, President Olusegun Obasanjo, and also to the Minister of Defence.
Ogomudia dismisses sabotage
Former Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Alexander Ogumudia, yesterday in Lagos dismissed speculation of sabotage in the ill-fated Air Force plane. He spoke just as Governor Bola Tinubu of Lagos State called for an in-depth probe into the crash, saying, the loss was monumental.
Both General Ogomudia and Governor Tinubu spoke separately at the Festac town residence of one of the victims of the crash, Major-General Joseph Adesunloye, General Officer Commanding (GOC) 81 Division of Nigerian Army, shortly after a service of songs in his memory. According to the former CDS, the retreat for which the senior officers lost their lives was a necessary one aimed at brainstorming about the future of the military.
The aircraft in question, he further argued, was a well-maintained one and in good order and, therefore, the accident could not have been as a result of lack of maintenance. “The aircraft was in good order. It took me me to Ghana, Niger Republic and Senegal. I had travelled all over the country in the same aircraft and nothing happened. The situation is just unfortunate. The meeting of officers and of course, which was supposed to take place before the accident is normal. The meeting was meant to brainstorm on policies for the future of the country. The meeting was to produce policy decision for the country that is why the GOC was there.
He described the late Major General Adesunloye as a brother and colleague, stressing: “The relationship between us was like that of brothers. So, my coming here today (yesterday) is like coming to bury a younger brother.
Commiserating with the bereaved family, Governor Tinubu urged the widow, Mrs Victoria to bear the irreparable loss, adding: “As we mourn this monumental loss, we will ask God Almighty to give us the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss.”
Obasanjo wants ban
Meanwhile, President Obasanjo yesterday recommended a ban on tokunbo aircraft in Nigeria, following the latest air crash. President Obasanjo, speaking at an Aviation Safety and Security Conference in Abuja said: “European vendors of ‘fairly’ used planes to reconsider the trade, as both European and African citizens have been victims of air disasters, arising from obsolete planes and aviation facilities.”
According to him, “the African sky must be rid of old and accident prone equipment, as the aviation industry is unique. In the borderless landscape of aviation, the diarrhoea of the monkeys must be a legitimate concern of the baboons, if all must survive together.”
Obasanjo also condemned the ban of 62 African airlines by the European Union (EU) from flying European airspace, due to “unhealthy”conditions of the African planes.
He said the “lack of funds for financing upgrades must not be a reason for allowing the developed nations slam bans on African airlines from operating through their airspace and hence denying us of our share of aviation business in the global theatre.”
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