The former Chief of Training and Operations at the headquarters of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF), Gbolahan Adekunle, (Rtd) has dismissed the claims of the bandits who said they were responsible for the crash of the military aircraft in Niger State.
On Monday, the NAF released a statement announcing the crash of the MI-171 helicopter, which was on a casualty evacuation mission, in the Shiroro Local Government Area of Niger State.
While meeting with the governor of Niger State in his office in Abuja, the Chief of Defence Staff, General Christopher Gwabin Musa, said that the incident’s probable cause was being investigated, also saying that the weather conditions may have contributed to the helicopter crash. However, bandits, who said they belong to the Dogo Gide group, claimed that they brought down the aircraft using an AK-47 rifle.
In an interview with ARISE NEWS on Thursday, Adekunle, in his reaction to the allegations of the bandits, said, “If we are to take the words of bandits and weigh them against the words of the chief of defence staff, who is responsible for overseeing operations, using tax money to ensure that officers and men go about their responsibilities to the nation in safety and combating safety, whose words should we take?
“Now I’ve seen the clip of what those bandits have put on air and I’ve even listened to what they said in Hausa language, telling Nigerians to fear us. Now a bunch of rag-tag people who will defile the corpses of dead individuals, are those the people whose words we should take seriously? These people will take advantage of every opportunity to create the impression that they are winning this war for the hearts and mind of Nigeria but the truth is they cannot win this war.”
When Adekunle was asked to speak on the likely causes of the crash, while he said that he was not sure of the specifics of the problem, he was certain it was not gunned down. He said, “To say that an AK47 brought down that helicopter seems a little far-fetched. I think they just happened to have stumbled on a situation and they’re just trying to capitalize on it. That’s my humble opinion on this issue. A lot of things could have been responsible for the aircraft going down. It could have been due to the weather.”
The former chief went on to say, “We are doing more flying in terms of intensity now that ever in the history of Nigerian Air Force. Let me rephrase that, Nigerian Airforce was established in 1964. Between 1964 and 5 years ago, we have done less flying that has been done in the last 5 years in an attempt to bring this insurgency to an end. And as long as the intensity of your operation increases, the likelihood of something going wrong increases. I mean, accidents happen everywhere”
“I want to assure the nation through your good selves that the Nigerian Airforce is on top of its game. They are doing the very best possible in very very difficult circumstances. Not just for the Nigerian Airforce, for the nation as a whole.”
“When you take off, you’re going to a destination you know that the people there you are going to meet are receptive to your coming. It’s a different thing when before you take off, you know you are going into hostile territory. You are flying in an environment where people who are not happy about your being there are going to be waiting for you with shoulder mounted packages and what have you. It’s not the same thing as everyday take off from point A to B, so it is hostile.”
Adekunle then said that Nigerians had to be more involved and help the government to ensure safety and security in the country by reporting unusual sightings. He said, “These people who are claiming that they are the ones who shot down this aeroplane, they probably have been operating in that environment for quite a while and they suddenly saw an aircraft go down and they went there and took advantage of it.
“Some people must have been seeing them. When you see something, say something. That’s the general maxim. Nigerians see unusual happenings in our environment and we just let it go…We need to get involved. We need to be supportive of our troops, we need to trust our government. We cannot elect people and then the moment they get there, they become our enemies.”