Nigerian Air Force (NAF)
The Armed Forces Command and Staff College (AFCSC), Jaji, recently unveiled a cenotaph in honour of the 166 military officers who died on the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) C-130 Plane that crashed at Ejigbo, Lagos, 20 years ago. John Shiklam writes
Twenty years after, a modern cenotaph has been constructed by the authorities of the Armed Forces Command and Staff College (AFCSC), Jaji near Kaduna to immortalize the 166 military officers who perished in the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) C-130 that crashed at Ejigbo, Lagos, on September 26, 1992.
The cenotaph was commissioned on September 26, 2012 by the Commandant of the AFCSC, Air vice Marshall Ahmed Tijjani Muazu to mark the 20th anniversary of a generation of intelligent and vibrant young military officers who were killed in the crash.
It was a disaster that shook the nation that fateful Saturday of September 26, 1992 during the administration of former military President, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida.
The officers were participants of the Senior Course 15 of the Command and Staff College, Jaji before they met their untimely death. They were mainly of the ranks of Lieutenant Colonels and Majors in the Army, Lieutenant Commanders in the Navy and Squadron Leaders in the Air Force as well as foreign military officers and some civilian staff of the college.
Their journey to eternity unknown them, began on 23 September 1992 when they left Jaji for Lagos for the usual operational visit to military formations, which is part of the curriculum of the senior course.
They were to return to Jaji on Friday 25 September but it was shifted to Saturday 26 September 1992 when the plane became faulty and had to be delayed for repairs.
Some of their colleagues who could not wait for the Airplane to be fixed decided to use other alternative means of transportation to Kaduna. Some of the officers who arrived at the airport late that fateful day missed the ill-fated plane and were sad that they missed the flight, but few minutes after take-off the plane crashed.
The Cenotaph of remembrance is now erected at the premises of the Senior Course Students’ Hostel called “September 26”. The hostel was given that name some years back to immortalise them.
It was a solemn occasion which was attended by the top echelon of the college. A few of the widows of the fallen military officers attended the occasion as well.
Emotions were high as the Commandant of the AFCSC Air Vice Marshal Ahmed Tijini Mu’azu unveiled the cenotaph with names of all the 166 victims of the disaster and their ranks engraved on it.
Senior officers one after the other and some relations of the deceased scrambled to read through the cenotaph, with some of them wearing gloomy long faces without uttering a word as they walked back to their seats.
But a retired Air Force Officer, simply called Wing Commander Gambo who was said to be the brain behind the idea of immortalising the officers by suggesting to the authorities that a modern cenotaph be constructed in memory of the fallen heroes could not control his emotion as he bursts into tears when he was called to give his remarks.
Gambo who retired from the service about 22 years ago said he was together with the officers at the Airport, adding that the plane crashed about 6 minutes after it took off.
“I was there when the Aircraft took off and within few minutes, the Air Craft plunged and that was the end. I am so happy now because for so many years, I was praying that the government should try and immortalise these people by erecting a cenotaph in their honour.
“By the grace of God, the present commandant of the AFCSC, AVM Mu’azu gave me the opportunity to erect the cenotaph to immortalise these friends of ours who died 20 years ago. I was in Lagos when the Air Craft took off and within 5 or 6 minutes, it plunged. I was there for their burial” the retired Air Force Officer told THISDAY in an interview shortly after the occasion.
Earlier in an emotion laden speech, the Commandant of the AFCSC, AVM Mu’azu said the occasion was to remember the fallen officers who died in the service of the nation.
“It is an occasion for us to solemnise and reflect. It is 20 years since we lost our brothers. There is nothing any of us can do for them. Only God knows why he took them at the time he took them. We grieved, no doubt...There is no doubt the families may have gone through a lot.
“We are fully aware of the travail that some of them face through the years, but we believe, that only the Almighty God that can console them and comfort them. We pray that God will continue to strengthen the families, may God bless their offspring of the departed souls. There is nothing that would be too great for these officers and their families” the commandant said.
He explained that the idea of having a cenotaph in the college was muted by the retired Air Force officer who left the service some 22 years ago and he thanked him for sharing such idea with the authorities of the college.
“We were toddlers in (Gambo’s) their hands (when he was serving) and he has always been an example to us. Nobody can ever pay him back for bringing this idea (of constructing a cenotaph), we pray that God will continue to give him wisdom”.Also commenting, the Commander of Infantry, Maj. Gen. Mohammed Isa said the cenotaph is a great honour to the departed officers.
“It is highly emotional and a great honour to them. I know nearly all of them. So many of them were my juniors, they met me in the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), Kaduna, some were my seniors and very few were my mates, so I virtually know all of them by their first names”, he said
Also speaking in an interview with THISDAY after the ceremony, one of the widows, Mrs. Khadija Pinda, wife of the late Major M.A Pinda commended the authorities of the AFCSC for remembering their husbands.
“My husband was the Late Major M. A. Pinda, we thought they have forgotten about their colleagues, it is a great honour and privilege that we are here today to witness this” she said.
She described the commandant of the college as a man with a large heart and prayed God to continue to give him long life and wisdom.
Mrs. Pinda who said she was just 24 years when the incident occurred, said since the demise of her husband, God has been taking care of her and her three children.
“God has been our strength because without God, we wouldn’t have been where we are today because it has not been easy. When it happened 20 years ago, I was a 24 year old girl with three children, but today I thank God, I am a grandmother. I have two grand children.
My three children are all graduates. I clinched unto God and God has been helping me.” she said.