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IBB speaks on NAF plane crash

Posted by By MIKE AWOYINFA, DIMGBA IGWE, LOIUS ODION AND SHOLA OSHUNKEYE on 2006/10/04 | Views: 581 |

IBB speaks on NAF plane crash


Although he ascribes the tragedy to fate, former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, has faulted the decision of the Army to allow 10 Generals to fly in one plane.

...We shouldnít have put the generals in one plane


Although he ascribes the tragedy to fate, former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, has faulted the decision of the Army to allow 10 Generals to fly in one plane.

The former Head of State was a study in sadness as he appraised last monthís Dornier 228 military plane crash at Benue State, and said the decision to put some of the nationís best and brightest in one plane ran counter to the principle of tactical doctrine which is held sacrosanct by the military.

Babangida, who fielded questions from a top team of The Sun editors at his hilltop mansion, in Minna, the Niger State capital, upper Thursday, also spoke for the first time on insinuations that his government might have sabotaged the C130 Hercules plane that perished in the Ejigbo swamps with over 80 young military officers.
Below is the final part of the exclusive interview:

What went through your mind when the airplane that carried the Generals went down?
Exactly 14 years today, on the 26th of September 1992, I found myself in the position that the president found himself on the 18th of September, this year. September 1992 came back to me when I was sitting down there (at the National Cemetery , Abuja) looking at the caskets bearing the Generals. Mine was a crop of bright, young officers. And I did what I never did for a very long time that day. I shed tears. I wept. I never shed tears before then. Itís not part of me. I was standing there up till about 2a.m. till everybody paid his/her last respects to the fallen young men.

The first thing that got my attention (at that funeral of the C130 victims) was a young widow holding the hand of her young son. The son was about eight years old. He was in military uniform. My eyes just went straight to the chest of that boy and he had my middle name, Badamasi. He didnít strike me because of the name but here was a young boy whose father was just buried there. And my mind went straight to my own situation, my agonies when I was 14 and they had to bury my own father too.

The following day, I had to ask the Brigade Commander to bring the boy and the mother to my office. He brought them and I found the boy to be a very brilliant boy. I told him that Ďyes, you lost your father in the unfortunate accident but that should not be the end of your life.í I told him that when I was about his age, I lost my father, and I wanted him to know he had a life to live. He must go to school. He must study hard to surmount whatever obstacles might come his way. I talked to the mother too and she assured me she was going to give him the best education. So, when this tragedy (the Dornier 228 crash) happened, some of these feelings and emotions kept on coming. I knew these boys very well to such an extent that some of them barely missed coming under my tutelage when I was an instructor at the Nigerian Defence Academy. Then, gradually through work process, I had interacted with some of the boys. Like Bamali, he was my ADC. I got to work with them. Then, suddenly, they were no longer there.

(Adding all these up) I even told the president, ĎI know how you feel for you to come back and participate in this. I told him I knew how he felt because I was once in a similar situation. It is a very tragic thing. I was at the National Cemetery then. Here was I again, for the second time, to witness another tragedy of a gargantuan proportion. My prayer is that there would never be a repeat of this tragedy.

What does this tragedy say about the Nigerian Airforce planes?
It confirms the existence of God. Quite frankly, Iím not a fatalist but if you ask me, I will tell you that long before this happened, God knew there were going to be 10, 12, 14 Generals in Nigeria. And God knew who they were. God also knew they would have very good career and that this is how they are going to end up. Itís fate. And this gives us the courage to continue to hope.

What was the terrible thing they said during your time when the C130 accident happened?
The terrible thing is that I put a bomb there because I didnít like them. And I knocked the hell out of their lives. That was what they were saying.

The similarity or irony in this case is Ö
(Cuts inÖ) No, I just think people have all sorts of permutations about this. I will tell you a story. I was chatting with the late Ukpabi Asika one day, and he said they have an interesting tradition in Igboland. He said if a man, aged 87, dies and his wife is 82, 83, still, some people would say that his wife is a witch (roaring laughter). So, the average Nigerian would not accept that God did this but somebody did it.
Still talking about public reactions to the crash story, some of the widows said some unprintable things about you going to pray at Bamaliís graveside aloneÖ

You know, somehow I didnít believe it (the report) for this simple reason: When the actual burial was to take place, I didnít want to get there (to the graveside). I was very emotional because of what I went through. So, when the ceremony was finished, I just decided to go there (Bamaliís graveside). I believe that the prayer one said there was not just for one person. It was for all of them. You have to stand in a place. There is no way you can be with 13 caskets within that short period of time. So, that prayer was for all of them, including those who died and were buried there 14 years.

It was even said openly. We prayed for those who just died and those who died 14 years ago. My prayer was for the repose of the souls of all of them. But somebody said I went to pray for my ADC alone. But I can understand the feelings. I can understand the grief. But my emotion so touched me that I had no option but to pray for every person lying down there, about 200 of them.

When I was in TELL, and I anchored a story on the tragic C130 plane, we spoke to a retired Group Captain who was on the C130 fleet. He said two clear years before the C130 crash, he did a report on the state of the C130 fleet but that somebody somewhere sat on the report. In that report, he said he warned clearly that all the aircraft on that fleet were unserviceable.
Yes, the boy did.

And that if there were going to be any problem on any C130, everything would just go down. Why didnít you act? Or you didnít see the report?
We acted. In fact, he can also tell you that we took some of the C130 to Singapore to do all the necessary checks. What went wrong later is a different thing all together. But as a result of this report, we made concerted efforts to do what we were supposed to do. What I needed to do was for them to convince me. And once I was convinced, I provided the money.

Two questions in one: and still talking about the 2007 presidential race, Professor Jerry Gana is from Niger State. What do you make of his entry? Two, Nigeria has clocked 46 years of flag independence, what do you make of this too?

On you first question, I recall a funny scene: I was with Governor Orji Kalu at the Umuahia Airport and someone asked me: Arenít you tired? Arenít you getting old? You should allow our generation to contest. Fortunately, Orji was with me. I told him: look at Orji and me. We are brothers, he is contesting, I am contesting and I canít stop him. So, you canít stop me from contesting. If you like, you can go and work for Orji because you believe in this generational change thing. Let the people of my age also work for me. The same thing with Jerry Gana. Iím happy heís out.

He is a very bright chap. We went to the same school and I know him very well. So, itís not a matter of why should he. He has what it takes to be the president.
On the other aspect of the question, those of us who could tell what Nigeria was before 1960, and those of us who could tell what Nigeria has been since 1960, can conveniently come to one conclusion, and that is: we havenít done bad. We have really done very well because if you look around Africa, there are a lot of countries that got flag independence in the 1960s with Nigeria, and we have done much better than them. We have no cause to regret. Iím proud of what we have achieved.

Beyond this fatalistic feeling that what would be would be, people have questioned the wisdom behind allowing 10 of our Generals to fly in one airplane. They thought we ought to have learnt our lessons after the C130 tragedy. Whatís your opinion on this?
Well, itís not the best thing to do but then I can understand, maybe the circumstances. But I think, from our military training, we avoid putting all our eggs in one basket. So, I can only say that we defied one of the principles of tactical doctrine. They shouldnít have been put in one plane, I agree.

So, it was an avoidable mistake?
Yes, but then like I told you, I believe very, very strongly in fate. And I will tell you how it affected me. You remember the plane crash in Equatorial Guinea during President Shagariís regime. It carried some ministers, top military officers and so on. I was to be on the flight but I was changed 48 hours to that flight. And the only reason was that I had to go the United States because I was late on a course and the information didnít come. I was to go on board that plane. But I had to change and somebody had to replace me. Aikhomu was to go on that plane. Something happened in the Navy, they wanted him and he too was replaced. The same thing happened to another man in the Airforce. So, I could have been in that plane. Aikhomu could have been there. Even in this latest tragedy, I was told a man who was supposed to be the secretary was to be on the plane. But at the last minute, they dropped him and somebody was asked to take his place. He wasnít happy, but he was dropped. But this thing happened; now he is thanking his God. So, I have some spiritual feelings about these things.

Lastly, whatís your problem with Wole Soyinkaís memoirs?
I appreciate it. I really do. He gave me credit.

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Comments (3)

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Abieyuwa(Edo, Nigeria)says...

Otasowie means evening life is better than morning life. There is an error in your ‚Äúevening life is better than evening life‚ÄĚ?

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Naija g(Houston, Minnesota, US)says...

Sokari doesn’t mean joy. Joy is Biobela. Go to the village and ask the meaning of the name.

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Fay(Katy, Texas, US)says...

Actually translates to bravehearted.