Last week, the Nigerian Military suffered a major setback in the fight against insecurity, as the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) revealed that one of its aircraft crashed after an attack by bandits on the boundaries of Zamfara and Kaduna states.
NAF’s Director of Public Relations and Information, Air Commodore Edward Gabkwet, announced that the pilot on the flight had survived the crash, stating that “The gallant pilot of the aircraft, Flight Lieutenant Abayomi Dairo, successfully ejected from the aircraft. Using his survival instincts, the pilot, who came under intense ground fire from the bandits, was able to evade them and sought refuge in nearby settlements awaiting sunset.’’
The statement also added that the pilot was able to elude several bandits’ strongholds by using the cover of darkness and his phone set for navigation and manoeuvred his way to a Nigerian Army Unit, where he was finally rescued.
Setbacks so far for the Air Force
The Nigerian Airforce in 2021 is facing some of its worst technical setbacks in the fight against insecurity alone, losing assets worth millions of dollars and human lives. In April, the Airforce revealed that an aircraft on a routine mission in support of own troops at one of the Theatres of Operation in the Northern part of Nigeria lost radar contact. However, in an embarrassing turn of events, Boko Haram terrorists located the crash site before the Nigerian military, leading to a widely circulated propaganda video by the terrorist group parading the bodies of the deceased pilots.
The event forced the Air Force to release a statement disclosing that the missing NAF Alpha Jet aircraft was not shot down by Boko Haram after reports of Boko Haram’s claims to have shot down the aircraft surfaced in the media.
The Air Force added that the video clip failed to show the correlation between the sporadic shooting (which might have been doctored by Boko Haram for propaganda) which even from casual observation was obviously aimed at ground targets, and the sudden mid-air aircraft explosion, and urged Nigerians to ignore the contents of the videos making the rounds until all investigations as to how the aircraft crashed were completed.
In May, another setback hit the Air Force, this time more of a technical and maintenance issue than others, leading to the death of the Chief of Army Staff, Ibrahim Attahiru, and seven other military chiefs in a Military Beachcraft 350 aircraft crash in Kaduna; and on Sunday, February 21, 2021, seven NAF officers died onboard a Beechcraft KingAir B350i aircraft when the jet crashed in Abuja.
Basically, two crashes have happened due to technical faults, and two other aircraft have been lost in the theatre of battle. A setback this big means heads must roll if Nigeria is serious in the war against insecurity, as lives have been lost along with millions of dollars in taxpayers money expended in the fight against terrorism. In May, the Nigerian Air Force stated that it had constituted a committee of serving and retired senior officers to conduct a safety audit of all Nigerian Air Force (NAF) operational and engineering units. The committee, which was chaired by Air Vice Marshal Abraham Adole, the Deputy Theatre Commander, Operation HADIN KAI, was ordered to submit its report not later than 18 June 2021.
Joachim MacEbong, an analyst at geopolitical research firm SBM Intel told Nairametrics that the “perpetrators” of the downed aircraft should be called terrorists rather than “bandits.”
“Any group of people who have the ability to take down a fighter jet with general purpose or truck-mounted machine guns can no longer be called bandits, and should be called terrorists,” he said.
“The language we use to refer to those carrying out criminal activities in the North-West should reflect that,” he added.
Do bandits have the capacity to shoot down a commercial flight?
He said that concerning the implications for Nigerian aviation, passenger planes usually occupy higher altitudes and should be out of range for these machine guns.
“Having said that, who is to say that these same terrorists will not be able to acquire the necessary arms if that indeed is their aim?” he added.
What does Nigeria need to do to stop the flow of weapons to bandits in the Northeast?
“The proliferation of small arms and light weapons has been a growing concern and the government has set up a centre to monitor and disrupt the flow of these arms. However, these arms flows are facilitated by porous borders and corrupt officials, and any solution has to begin with addressing both,” he urged.
The growing rate of school kidnap for ransoms should be a troubling issue for the country, as the bandits fund their weapons acquisition through the kidnap industry in the Northwest. A recent report revealed that a total number of 2,371 persons were kidnapped and the sum of N10 billion was demanded in ransom in Nigeria in the first half of 2021.
This report by SBM Intelligence, in its 2021 half-year kidnap report highlighted that Niger, Katsina, and Kaduna States recorded the most cases of kidnap, and also happen to be states with a heavy presence of “bandits” as reported by the Military.
Nigeria cannot rest on the possibility that the bandits may not have access to even more sophisticated weapons from foreign actors as the porous borders are a clear and present danger that the government needs to give express attention to.