Celebrating over Five Decades of Aerial Warfare

1

As the curtain closed on the 55th anniversary celebration of the Nigerian Air Force, Chiemelie Ezeobi reports that it was a plethora of activities including but not limited to research and development exhibition, ceremonial parade and aerial displays, which underscored how far the service has come over the years

For one week, the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) organised series of activities to mark its 55th anniversary. From the Research and Development (R&D) competition/exhibition to the lecture, Juma’at prayers, interdenominational church service, medical outreaches in different states, visit to a special needs home, ceremonial parade, aerial display and gala night, it was a purposeful week which truly underscored how far the service has gone from inception to now. 

To entire celebration was hinged on the theme “Building Capability for Defence of Nigeria’s Air Space While Responding to National Security Imperatives”, and it ended with a gala/reunion night.

History

According to the information gotten from the AirForce website, the idea of establishing an air force for Nigeria was first mooted in 1961 following the nation’s participation in peace-keeping operations in Congo and Tanganyika (now Tanzania). During these peace-keeping operations, foreign air forces aircraft were employed to airlift the Nigerian Army Regiment to and from the theatres of operation.

Early in 1962, the government agreed in principle that the NAF be established. This the Nigerian Parliament, therefore, approved the establishment of the NAF and recruitment of cadets commenced in June 1962. Consequently, the NAF was officially established by a statutory Act of Parliament in April 1964 to serve four main purposes namely to achieve a full complement of the military defence system of  Nigeria both in the air and on the ground, ensure a fast versatile mobility of the Armed Forces, provide close support for the ground-based and sea borne forces in all phases of operations and to ensure the territorial integrity of a united Nigeria and give the country the deserved prestige that is invaluable in international matters.

The first batch of 10 cadets was enlisted in 1962 to undergo training with the Ethiopian Air Force. The second set of 16 cadets was enlisted in February 1963 to undergo training with the Royal Canadian Air Force while six cadets were sent to the Indian Air Force. Consequently, several countries were approached but the lot fell on the German Air Force to provide technical assistance for the local training of NAF personnel and this materialised in 1963.

While the NAF was still at its infancy as a fighting force, the laudable plans made by the German Air Force Assistance Group were prematurely put to test barely three years after its establishment. The inexperienced Air Force assumed the role of a well established Air Force in order to prosecute the Nigerian civil war in close collaboration with sister services. At this stage of its existence, the NAF was only equipped with a few aircraft. As the war progressed, some fighter aircraft such as MIG 15 and 17 were acquired to help bring the war to a speedy end.

The Nigerian Civil War came to an end in 1970 and there was the need to re-organise the NAF and up-grade its equipment. In order to strengthen itself, the NAF between 1981 and 1990 acquired additional aircraft types of advanced technology.

Following the expansion of the NAF over time and the need to enforce all international laws and conventions relating to space activities in the Nigerian airspace, the Federal Government promulgated Decree 105 (Armed Forces Amendment Decree) of 23rd August 1994 which provided additional roles for the NAF.

These additional roles include enforcing and assisting in coordinating the enforcement of international law, conventions, practices and customs ascribed and acceded to by Nigeria relating to aerial or space activities in the Nigerian airspace, coordinating and enforcing all national and international air laws acceded or ascribed to by   Nigeria and de-lineating, demarcating and coordinating all aerial surveys and security zones of the Nigerian airspace.

Prayers for NAF at 55

As is the norm, NAF held both services for the Muslim and Christian faithfuls. First the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, on 26 April, joined other Muslim faithfuls for Juma’at Prayers at the NAF Base Central Mosque. After that was the interdenominational device held at the Saint Anthony of Padua Catholic Church, NAF Base, Bill Clinton Drive, Abuja.

R&D Exhibition 

As part of the celebration, NAF held a Research and Development competition and exhibition. Held at the Eagle Square in Abuja, the NAF was commended for its efforts at harnessing the available research and development potentials, especially in the military aviation sector.

The commendation was made by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr Boss Mustapha. While assuring of the Federal Government’s continued support to the AFN, the SGF stated that it was now more important than ever before to look inward with a view to gradually weaning the Nation of overdependence on foreign technology and becoming more innovative in the use of local resources.

He lauded the great strides attained in recent times by the NAF, especially the induction of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle nicknamed ‘TSAIGUMI’ as well as the efforts, in collaboration with other partners, to produce the first ever made in Nigeria aircraft at the Air Force Research and Development Center (AFRDC) in Kaduna.

The SGF specially commended the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, for his passion for  R&D, noting that there was need for the public and private sectors to hold more of such exhibitions that would promote innovation.

In his address, the CAS disclosed that the NAF R&D Competition/Exhibition was organised to motivate innovators and research outfits to explore the possibilities of identifying areas of potential partnership with the NAF in order to strengthen Nigeria’s technological base as a veritable tool for national development.

Bearing in mind the need for the NAF to be self reliant technologically, Abubakar who revealed that the service placed emphasis on R&D as a means of building indigenous technological capacity, pointed out that the NAF strategy was in line with the focus of the FG which prioritises the promotion of local content, homegrown technology and innovation as principal means of improving the nation’s foreign exchange earnings.

The highlight of the R&D Competition/Exhibition was the inspection of project stands by the SGF and other dignitaries present at the occasion.  Six NAF Commands and 9 Institutions participated in the R&D Competition/Exhibition. The 6 Commands are Tactical Air Command, Special Operations Command, Mobility Command, Air Training Command, Ground Training Command and Logistics Command. Other Institutions and agencies that showcased their products were Pen Resource Robotics Centre, Gombe, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi, Sheda Science and Technology, University of Maiduguri, Nigerian Army, the Nigerian Navy and the Air Force Institute of Technology, Kaduna.  The Air Force Research and Development Centre as well as 041 Communications Depot, Shasha, Lagos also participated.

Anniversary Lecture

In the same vein, as part of the activities marking the anniversary, a lecture was held at the NAF Officers’ Mess and Suites, Kado, Abuja. The topic of the Lecture was “Air to Ground Integration in the Armed Forces of Nigeria: Challenges and Prospects”. The lecture, which was delivered by AVM Christian Chukwu (retired), pooled the intellectual minds of experienced serving and retired senior officers from the Armed Forces, other security agencies and members of diplomatic corps to discuss ways of improving synergy between air and surface forces for more effective and efficient operations.

Medical Outreaches

As part of its desire to touch the lives of its host communities,  NAF took its medical outreaches to Abuja, Lagos, Benue, Kaduna, Enugu, Bauchi, and Bayelsa States. The outreach was conducted in continuation of efforts by the NAF to enhance civil-military relations with its host communities across the country.

In Abuja, the Basa community was treated to a one-day medical outreach, which catered for the medical needs of close to 4,000 persons, including women, children and the aged. Medical services provided during the outreach include medical consultations, counseling and screening as well as dental care, eye treatment and deworming of children. In addition, free prescription eye glasses and medications were distributed, as well as insecticide treated mosquito nets given to over 500 families.

Also, two other NAF Commands conducted medical outreaches in communities within their Areas of Responsibility (AORs). The Logistics Command (LC), with its headquarters in Lagos, conducted a medical outreach for residents of Lagos Island Community, Iya-Iduganran Isale Eko, Lagos State, while the Tactical Air Command (TAC) in Makurdi conducted an outreach for the Basu Angbaye community in Makurdi, Benue State.

The LC outreach, which catered to the medical needs of close to 300 persons was done by the Air Officer Commanding (AOC) LC Air Vice Marshal (AVM) OA Olabisi, while the TAC outreach, which held at the NKST Church Field in Basu Angbaye community in Makurdi for over 2000 people, was flagged-off by the representative of the AOC TAC, the Commander 161 NAF Hospital Makurdi, Air Commodore Okey Ezeanyagu.

In Sokoto, the Madorawa community to be precise, the 119 Composite Group conducted a medical outreach at Madorawa Community in Bodinga LGA for 500 families.

In Enugu and Bauchi States, over 4,000 persons  benefited from the two-day medical outreaches carried out by the NAF  at Gwallaga Community in Bauchi State and Ogbeke/Ukuruta Community in Agbani, Enugu State.

Golf Kitty

Also as part of activities marking the anniversary, NAF held a Golf Kitty at the Goodluck Ebele Jonathan Golf Course in Abuja. The categorised Golf Kitty saw a total of 70 entries, cutting across golfers from the NAF and different Golf Clubs in Abuja.

The CAS), represented by the Chief of Policy and Plans Headquarters NAF, Air Vice Marshal (AVM) Emmanuel Anebi, who performed the tee-off to flag-off the competition, restated the commitment of his administration towards promoting sporting activities that would not only enhance physical fitness of personnel but also engender civil-military cooperation.

The highlight of the event was the presentation of prizes to golfers who had excelled in the various categories of the Kitty. Air Commodore David Solomon won the Best Net Officer Category 1 while Flight Lieutenant Juliet Mimgba won the Best Net Lady Officer. Also, AVM Sunday Leks (retired) won the prize for the Best Net in the Veterans’ Category and AVM Ajibola Jekenu (retired) won the Best Net in the Retired Officers’ Category, while Master Warrant Officer Abdullahi Suleiman won the Best Net in the Airmen Category.

NAFOWA’s Donation 

Not left out was the School for the Handicapped in Kuje, Abuja. To share love with them, the Nigerian Air Force Officer Officers Wives Association (NAFOWA) donated 20 wheelchairs and 20 crutches in addition to 80 beds and mattresses along with appropriate beddings which they also  provided for the students. The NAFOWA Team also donated toiletries and food items, as well as medical supplies and medications to enhance the functioning of the School’s Sick bay.

In her remarks, the NAFOWA National President, Hajiya Hafsat Abubakar, reiterated the commitment of the association towards executing programmes and undertaking activities that would positively impact the lives of the less privileged.

Climatic Ceremonial Parade 

On April 29, all the activities came to a climax with the ceremonial parade, induction of two new Agusta 109 Power Helicopters into the service to boost the performance of the NAF’s constitutional roles of defending the territorial integrity of the country, especially the fight against insurgency and other forms of criminality across the country.

At the well-attended event, the K-9/Special Forces displayed  as well as a thrilling Order of Battle (ORBAT) Flypast and Aerial display by some of the platforms in the inventory of the NAF.

Speaking at the occasion, the Special Guest of Honour, President Muhammadu Buhari, who was represented by the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, lauded the CAS) for his commendable leadership of the NAF in the last four years. The president noted that in fulfilling his promise to end the Boko Haram insurgency and other forms of criminality in the country, he made professionalism and capacity building of the Armed Forces of Nigeria (AFN) a major security policy thrust of his administration.

The president emphasised that training and acquisition of brand new platforms as well as other support equipment for the AFN and other security agencies was intensified.

While appreciating the contributions of the NAF in addressing the security challenges of armed banditry/cattle rustling and kidnapping in the North-west, he said the efforts of the service, in conjunction with other security agencies, had started yielding positive results, thereby restoring Nigeria’s pride and honour amongst the comity of nations.

He affirmed that his administration would not relent until every spot within the territory of the country enjoys peace and order, adding that the NAF has been fulfilling its constitutional mandate of preserving Nigeria’s territorial integrity through the employment and projection of air power.

While delivering his welcome address, the CAS noted with nostalgia the 55 years of the existence of the NAF which had been very eventful. He said that the service had been confronted with a myriad of challenges and had surmounted them all, progressively maturing in the process. The CAS stated further that the NAF had grown in size, spread and equipment holding, all in a bid to fulfill its statutory obligation of protecting and defending the territorial integrity of Nigeria from the air.

According to him, “The growth of the NAF since the inception has been particularly outstanding. From having only a few trainers and transport aircraft in the early years, the Nigerian Air Force currently has an impressive ORRBAT comprising diverse aircraft with capabilities to perform a wide spectrum of missions.

“We have also continued to build upon the foundations laid by our noble predecessors by reactivating several aircraft that were hitherto grounded; acquired and inducted various platforms into service and increased the strength of  personnel by 7,500 airmen/airwomen and 400 officers. Additionally, two new commands and two staff branches were established to meet the evolving security challenges we are faced with.”

Gala/Reward Night 

To wind the activity filled week down, the anniversary closed with a colourful Dinner/Gala Night at the NAF Officers’ Mess and Suites, Kado, Abuja. The event, which featured cultural dances, comedy and live music, also served as a forum for the NAF to reward the gallantry of some its personnel, recognise outstanding performances of two deserving individuals as well as present prizes to the winners of the 2019 NAF R&D competition held on April 27.  The TAC clinched the first place, while the ATC and 041 Communications Depot, Shasha placed second and third, respectively.

One of the officers rewarded for gallantry was Flight Lieutenant (Flt Lt) Ilu Yusuf, who had flown over 785 combat hours on the Mi-35 Helicopter Gunship, playing very key roles during various operations in the Northeast (NE) Theatre of Operation, notably during Operation DEEP PUNCH that led to the capture of Camp Zero from the Boko Haram Terrorist group. The second award for gallantry went to Flt Lt Muadab Getso, a seasoned fighter pilot, who has logged over 1,000 combat flying hours on the Alpha Jet, participating in several operations in the NE.

The recipients of the awards for excellence were Flt Lt Efe Egbujiobi and Master Arotiba Seunara Peter, from Air Force Secondary School, Ikeja. Flt Lt Egbujiobi, while on United Nations (UN) Mission in Congo DRC. Master Arotiba Peter, on the other hand, got the award for emerging the best overall candidate in the 2018 May/June West African Senior School Certificate Examination in the whole of West Africa with nine‘A1s’ in Mathematics, English Language, Biology, Tourism, Further Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Civic Education and Economics, beating over 1.9 million other candidates who sat for the examination across the West Africa Subregion.

From all indications, the NAF has a lot to celebrate especially with the progresses it has recorded over the years. Asides capacity building and welfare boost personnel, they have not done badly in acquisition of weaponry. Under Abubakar’s watch and with support from the FG, the NAF has taken delivery of two Agusta 109P, as well as four Mi-35M Helicopters, 10 Super Mushshak trainer aircraft and two Bell-412 Helicopters, amongst other platforms, with a fleet of Super Tucano aircraft the government recently ordered and paid for.