Kingsley Nwezeh in Abuja
Grief-stricken Chief of Air Staff, Air Vice Marshal Oladayo Amao, wept yesterday at the burial of seven officers of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF), who died in the ill-fated aircraft, Beechcraft KingAir B350i (NAF 201) that crashed in Abuja last Sunday.
The officers, who died when the aircraft crashed a short distance from the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, after reporting engine failure, were buried at the National Cemetery, Lugbe, Airport Road, Abuja.
Amao sobbed intermittently as he read his speech, describing the death of the fallen officers as a huge loss the NAF and the nation.
The deceased personnel are Flight Lieutenant Haruna Gadzama, Flight Lieutenant Henry Piyo, Flying Officer Michael Okpara, Warrant Officer Bassey Etim, Flight Sergeant Olasunkanmi Olawunmi, Sergeant Ugochukwu Oluka, and Aircraftman Adewale Johnson.
The burial was attended by the Governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi; Minister of Defence, Major General Bashir Magashi (rtd); Chief of Defence Staff , Major General Lucky Irabor, service chiefs and senior military officers.
Also at the burial ceremony were Chairmen of the National Assembly Committees on Defence, Senator Bala Ibn Na’lla and Hon Shehu Diko; and Minister of Women Affairs, Mrs. Pauline Tallen and family members of deceased personnel.
The coffins of the officers were draped in Nigeria’s flag and sitting on each coffin were the shoes and caps of the deceased.
In her tribute, the elder sister of Olawunmi, Mrs. Sola Oluwasola said her brother was on leave when he was recalled by his superiors to participate in the operation that claimed his life.
She said the victim left behind three children, including a one-year -old son.
According to Oluwasola, the deceased had been taking care of the entire family members, particularly their aged mother
She also recalled that only two persons were shortlisted by the NAF in the entire Ekiti State when Olawunmi joined the force in 2001.
Also speaking in an emotion-laden voice, Amao said: “It is with a heavy heart and deep sense of loss that I stand here today, bearing my personal grief as well as that of the entire Nigerian Air Force, as we lay to rest the remains of our fallen colleagues.
“I must confess that even at this moment, the Nigerian Air Force is still in palpable shock and grieving very deeply upon this loss of our gallant and courageous heroes, in whom we had so much confidence with our expectations now suddenly and painfully cut short”, he lamented.
He said: “I salute the supreme sacrifice of these young men, whose lot it became to give their lives in the defence of the peace, which we all enjoy and often take for granted.
The air force boss said “these intelligent and disciplined young officers and airmen flew their quota of ongoing surveillance missions in the North-east, North-west and more recently in the North-central over Niger State and its environs in connection with the concerted efforts to secure the release of the staff and students abducted from the Government Science College Kagara, Niger State”.
He commiserated with the families of the deceased on the loss of their loved ones.
“To the families of our deceased brothers, our prayers are with you at this time, as also those of people from both within and outside the country. The overwhelming show of love, solidarity and support from in everyone is a clear indication that the nation, and indeed the entire globe, shares in this grief.
He said the loss of these confident, courageous and professional young officers and airmen must spur the rest of NAF officers and men not only to rededicate themselves to the service of the nation, but also to resolve that they shall relentlessly expose and fight all agents of destabilisation and extremism in the society.
He vowed that NAF must throw everything it has into this fight, to ensure that the departed officers did not die in vain.