The repositioning of the Nigerian Air Force in securing the nation has elevated the force as a strategic partner and formidable ally in the nation’s defence infrastructure, writes Paul Obi
Within Nigeria’s defence and security circles, no one can dispute the current challenges facing the military. In all its flanks, the nation’s military and security agencies are somehow overstretched, serving the people and securing its territories. But within the last decade, internal strife, crime and arms conflicts have precipitated insecurity, stretching the military’s line of duty in various fronts.
Granted, the Nigerian Army remains in the forefront of military engagements across board. But as Boko Haram insurgency holds sway in the North-east, militancy in the Niger Delta, the role of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) in air power also becomes imminent. The drafting of the NAF into the nation’s warfare in recent times has gone far to tame both internal and foreign insecurities once threatening Nigeria’s existence.
Although, Boko Haram terrorism, militancy, tribal wars and other internal communal clashes have, to a certain degree derailed the duty line of the military defending Nigeria from external aggression and invasion, the show of strength, particularly by the Air Force lay credence to Nigeria’s military power. It is within this context, that NAF has continued to live up to its expectations in the face of daunting challenges.
In its new role, the Air Force has outlined innovation, creativity, engineering, maintenance, humanitarian services, collaboration with research institutes and universities and professionals as the bedrock of its operation. The focus then is to intervene in the nation’s national security within the scope of the above listed template.
According to NAFâ€™s Director of Public Relations and Information, Air Commodore Olatokunbo Adesanya, the Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Air Vice Marshal Sadique Abubakar has remained committed to pursuing Nigeria’s national security goals within the purview of modern military operations. Adesanya explained that this commitment by NAF top hierarchy has resulted in recent giant strides attained by the Nigerian Air Force.
Today, the Air Force is not only involved in the bombardment of Boko Haram terrorists, the force is also in defence of national assets like oil installations in the South-west and Niger Delta. The Air Force likewise carries out humanitarian services such as uplifting relief materials for flood victims in Benue and other parts of the North including free medical services for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps among others.
The strategic role by the NAF in ensuring that democracy is restored in Gambia and the winner of the presidential election, Adama Barrow was sworn-in cannot be forgotten in a haste. By joining the African Forces and preventing the former President, Yahya Jammeh who lost out in the presidential polls, NAF consciously expanded the democratic frontiers of the African continent.
Even in the midst of these lofty achievements, the Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Abubakar agreed that challenges still abound. According to him, “as you are aware, the Nigerian Air Force is faced with various various â€‹theatres of operations whether in the North-east, in the South-south or the North-west. We are no doubt on track with regards to the kind of structures we want for our Air Force, for better efficiency and effectiveness. Despite the challenges and few setbacks we have had in the last few weeks, I believe that we are on track in terms of making Nigeria a more secured country.
“Looking back from where we are coming from, I believe that I will be stating the obvious to say that we have made substantial progress and Nigeria today is more secured than before,” Abubakar stated. The Chief of Air Staff held that NAF is “equally on track with regards to capacity building. We have continued to train and retrain our pilots, engineers and technicians so that we can have a very effective service.
“We will continue to reevaluate our operations from time to time and we will not shy away from re-strategising if there is the need to do that. With what we had invested in the fight against terrorism, the helicopter gunships and from the 12 aircraft we helped reactivate to add to the fight and the number of pilots we have trained, as well as the number of air men and air women we have recruited, I believe that we are on track to making this country a better place.”
He said further: “We are equally on track in terms of reactivation of air planes. We are similarly on track in terms of providing for the welfare of our personnel. I want to urge you to continue to rededicate yourselves so that every Nigerian territory will be secured and so that every Nigerian will be secured.”
Attesting to these great feats by NAF, the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok Ete-Ibas, recently observed that without the deployment of air power by the Nigerian Air Force, the military would not have decimated the Boko Haram terrorists, taking over many of their occupied territories and blockading much of its operational activities in the North-east.
Ibas argued that the continual bombardment of Boko Haram through air power by NAF accelerated the defeat of the terrorists in many of the battle fronts. The CNS stated this at the Nigerian Air Force Headquarters, Abuja, while featuring as guest of honour, at the occasion of winging of 10 new young pilots of the Nigerian Air Force.
He maintained that the contributions of NAF was a key factor in the advancement attained so far in national security and stability of the country. “I dare say that the course of the counter insurgency operations would not have been as promising without the indispensable and ubiquitous air support,” he said.
Ibas also observed that “with profound appreciation to the impressive strides in the Nigerian Air Force’s human capacity development through focused and result-oriented training for enhanced professional performance.” The CNS also commended the Nigerian Air Force â€œfor its operations in supporting capacity building as against the various illegalities in the nationâ€™s maritime domain and participation in regional exercises.
“In this regard, I pay tribute to your contributions, which have been great enablers in the fight against such ills as piracy, crude oil theft and illegal bunkering, and your spectacular performance in Exercise Oban game, “he added. He also commended the Nigerian Air Force for its inspiring quest for an improved technical base to narrow the nation’s Armed Forces’ logistics gap, especially in the provision of hardware and weapon system.
He charged the newly inducted Nigerian Air Force pilots to appreciate their new status and expected role, saying it was instructive that their induction coincided with “a very challenging period where the Nigerian Air Force platforms were actively engaged in the combat air operations. You cannot but flow with the momentum established and stand ready for duty at all times. I therefore charge you to be courageous, hardworking and above all disciplined,â€ he said.
That said, NAF has had other challenges that tended to derail its performance. The Rann bombing where IDPs were killed comes in handy. Notwithstanding the exoneration of its officials, it is pertinent to avoid such catastrophe in the future. Good enough, the NAF out of shared discipline has commenced a self-cleansing approach, in ensuring that its operations and financial books are transparent. More need to be done in that regards.
Recent accusations labelled against CAS of lopsided recruitment in the force was really a bad omen and test for an institution like the Air Force. Having performed credibly well in the war against terrorism and other national security engagements, it is in the interest of NAF and Abubakar in particular to steer clear of such primordial controversies. The force should rather be to stay on top of its goals. The objective should be repositioning NAF for the better, continuing with its commitment to improving Nigeria’s national security apparatus. Complacency will be worst, and should not be contemplated.