Chiemelie Ezeobi writes that the echoes of the 2013 bombing of the Nigerian Air Force base in Maiduguri, Borno State, has necessitated the need for the military to protect their bases

It was Monday, December 1, 2013 that they struck. It was a well orchestrated attack that was well executed. Years after, its effect still lingers. The insurgents, who were at then a major threat to national security, had stormed Maiduguri and in a series of attacks launched an offensive against the town. It was apparently planned because as soon as the military, especially soldiers of the 79 Composite Group, of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) in Maiduguri, left to defend the city, the insurgents struck at their heart; their base.

Given that soldiers are supposed to protect their front and not leave their flank unprotected, it was certainly a morale damper for the soldiers when they were hit in their base. That was in 2013. Not anymore. The force has recently adopted a new strategy of base security known as the Base Defence Concept (BDC), which makes use of specialised vehicles as well as state-of-the-art information technology systems. These are all fed to the Base Defence Coordinator Centre (BDCC).

To actualise this BDC, 10 vehicles including 4x specialised Honker Scorpion vehicle with armoured windshield and six other vehicles with normal screens were procured by NAF with other
kits. With this in place, the force expressed optimism that it would not only significantly enhance their air defence system but also improve security at the designated bases.

It was in fulfillment of these objectives that the Air Officer Commanding (AOC), Logistics Command, Air Vice Marshal Sani Ahmed, recently played host to the Chief of Defence Staff and the Chief of Air Staff in Lagos, to inaugurate the equipment meant for the defence of Airforce bases especially in the North-east.

He said, “As the Nigerian Armed Forces and other security agencies continue to grapple with the daunting security challenges across the country, procurement of modern mobile patrol equipment that can strengthen our existing security measures cannot be at a better time than now.

“This singular act showcases the premium the CAS places on the security of air assets, key points and vulnerable points as provision of these Base Defence Vehicles would certainly develop the capacity of the elements of the NAF Base Defence teams and enhance their professional performance in line with the first jet driver of CAS vision which is human capacity development through robust and result-oriented training for enhanced professional performance.

“Since assumption of office, the CAS has undertaken a total of 153 laudable projects in Logistics Command out of which 45 are civil related projects. At present, 40 of these civil projects have been completed and inaugurated while five are still ongoing. We are highly graceful to CAS for these noble achievements for numerous similar ones in other NAF locations across the country. The base community in Lagos is indeed very happy with this gesture.

“Being a pragmatic leader, we know that the CAS will not relent on his efforts at ensuring that the standard of infrastructure is continually improved.
Let me use this opportunity to reassure the CAS about the commitment of Logistics Command towards provision of adequate logistics support to the NAF.”

A Dastardly Attack

The move to purchase these specialised protection vehicles are not misplaced owing to the dastardly attack of the NAF base in Maiduguri in 2013 by the insurgents. It was on a Monday when the Composite Group Air force Base in Maiduguri was attacked.
The siege which started at about 3am had shaken the town as sporadic gunshots and other rocket propelled grenade launchers were fired by the insurgents.

Using the element of surprise, the insurgents had infiltrated and bombed the base. Numbering over 100, the insurgents who were said to have stormed the air force base in trucks and a stolen armored personnel carrier at about 3am were said to have launched attack on the unsuspecting officers on duty.

In fact, the then Defence Spokesman, Brigadier General Chris Olukolade, had revealed that two helicopters and three decommissioned military aircraft were incapacitated during the attack. According to him, some army bases were targeted, while 24 insurgents were killed and two soldiers wounded.

Days later in an exclusive report, THISDAY had gathered from the then CAS, Air Marshal Alex Badeh, that the insurgents had exerted much damage to the base including on aircrafts and vehicles because they used anti-aircraft bombs.

Badeh who later became the CDS had stressed that due to the aerial nature of the force, its fighting prowess is often exhibited in the air and such, they were not fully equipped to fight on the ground. He said, “We don’t fight on the ground and because of our reach, we can go very far. From history, the force has never been deployed to the war front and Maiduguri is a war front. We should stay very far away and then deploy our bombs and come back. Because we have always operated from friendly territories, the Air Force the world over are involved in air fights.”

When asked how the insurgents penetrated the security area and unleashed mayhem he said, “The security we have on ground was to protect against intruders and petty thieves and not to go to war.
But somehow, we had to go to Maiduguri to fight a war and I know there was security around the airports but when you keep 20 people on ground for security and you have 300 armed persons coming at you, what do you do?”

Although the actual number of persons that died in the blast was difficult to ascertain, the military were however not able to make any arrests because most of the insurgents were killed in the resulting gunfire and jungle justice meted out by villagers.

A Thoughtful Initiative
Thus, the Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Sadiq Abubakar, recently thought it wise to protect their flanks. This decision culminated in the purchase of the 10 honker vehicles. At the inaguration in Lagos, he said, “The acquisition of these vehicles is in furtherance of our resolve to operationalise the new concept of securing our bases and other vital national assets in response to the changing nature of internal security threats. The NAF has adopted a new strategy known as the Base Defence Concept (BDC), which utilises kinetics (vehicles) in addition to the state-of-the-art information technology systems in a larger organic Base Defence Coordinator Centre (BDCC).

“This enables real time observation, reporting and response to activities around the area of interest. The BDCC as opposed to the previous concept of the use of guard posts, is proactive and allows for the use of initiatives in deterring, defending and protecting vital assets. The NAF and indeed the nation cannot afford to lose any viral asset through the activities of saboteurs, terrorists, or hoodlums in whatever guise they may be. It is against this backdrop that the NAF acquired these Honker specialised vehicles.

“The NAF on establishing the need for the vehicles about six months ago, embarked on a detailed and painstaking procurement process with the original equipment manufacturer in line with Federal Government policy directives on defence procurement.

“This has ensured that the equipment are manufactured according to our needs and specifications. The vehicles we are inaugurating today comprising 4x specialised Honker Scorpion vehicle with armoured windshield and another six with normal screens.

“This and other kits we have acquired in the last are intended to offer freedom of movement and more protection to the operators against small arms fire while going a long way in assisting our regiment personnel to conduct effective mobile patrols. It is further expected that the deployment of these specialised vehicles would significantly enhance our air defence system and improve security at the designated locations.

“I will like to place on record that our achievements so far would not have been possible without the unwavering snooker of President Muhammadu Buhari. We are sincerely appreciative of President’s support and reaffirm our alloyed loyalty to the Nigerian nation and the sustenance of democratic values in the country. The NAF remains committed to our collective struggle to keep Nigeria as one indivisible country under democratic governance.”

The CDS’ Seal of Approval
Clearly impressed, the special guest of honour at the inauguration, the Chief of Defence Staff, General Gabriel Olonisakin, said the vehicles were procured specifically for the purpose of enhancing security of the air assets within the area of their deployment, adding that the “equipment are certainly geared towards raising and maintaining the capability of the regiment troops as they contribute to our collective efforts to address the various security challenges confronting our nation.”

While commending the CAS for his strategic initiative of providing troops with adequate equipment and for undertaking numerous other projects which culminate into actualising his vision for the NAF, he said, “I will like to say that I am very impressed with CAS’ achievements within the short period of assumption of office.

“The procurement of these Honker Airfield Defence vehicles is a testimony of the importance the NAF attaches to protection of its critical assets and force protection. The vehicles were procured in line with the NAF’s new Base Defence Concept, to be a force multiplier. I employ you all to make good use of the vehicles and to reciprocate the gesture of the CAS by maintaining them appropriately.

“Let me commend all our Armed Forces personnel for the gallant performances in Operation Lafiya Dole, Operation Safe Haven, Operation Pulo Shield and other internal security operations in Nigeria. The gallant efforts of the NAF have contributed to the routing of the insurgents and the significant degrading of their capabilities.

“I acknowledge this pivotal role that the NAF has been playing in the ongoing Operations Lafiya Dole in the North-east and other ongoing operations.

“It is pertinent to state that President Muhammadu Buhari has assured us of his government’s commitment to the acquisition of new platforms and maintenance of existing ones to enhance our operational capacity.

“I therefore charge you all to ensure adequate maintenance of these new equipment and indeed all other equipment under your charge to derive maximum benefit from the country’s investment.
I also urge you all to rededicate yourselves to the service as we re-strategise to confront and liberate Nigeria from every form of insecurity.”

About the Base Defence Concept
According to NAF spokesperson, Group Captain Ayodele Famuyiwa, the BDC is part of efforts towards coping with the dynamism of emerging security threats, which influenced the adoption of a new concept of base defence to protect its air assets and critical installations.

He said aside reorganising, retraining and re-equipping the Regiment Specialty to effectively defend NAF Bases against attacks, the service has also employed the use of Closed Circuit Camera to provide surveillance around perimeter fences of NAF Bases while monitoring the entire base from the Base Defence Coordination Centre.

He added that under the new concept, efforts are geared towards expanding the Regiment Specialty to be able to take over all ground defence duties with a view to securing NAF Bases and critical assets. Thus, the recent acquisition of 10 specialised Honker Scorpion vehicles was in furtherance of this objective by providing guards with the capacity to respond quickly to security breaches.

Famuyiwa, who noted that the vehicles possess armoured capability thus offering additional level of protection to guards, said another major advantage of the Honker vehicles is that it helps to eliminate the system hitherto in place where guards were made stationary at their guard posts.

With the deployment of these 10 Honker vehicles to safeguard NAF bases, it is hoped that it will significantly enhance not just the BDC but also help its personnel to detect and respond to security breaches.