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NAF’s missing jet raises many questions

A second mishap in a matter of months involving a Nigerian Air Force craft has had many Nigerians asking what is going on, especially in…

A second mishap in a matter of months involving a Nigerian Air Force craft has had many Nigerians asking what is going on, especially in a time when insecurity is ravaging the country.

 

Since March 31, 2021, when a Nigerian Air Force (NAF) fighter jet on a mission to complement the fight against insurgency in the Northeast lost contact with radar in Borno State, many questions have been asked.

At about 6:00 am the day after, NAF Director of Public Relations and Information, Air Commodore Edward Gabkwet via a statement said the Alpha-Jet lost contact with radar at about 5:08 pm on 31 March 2021 while on an interdiction mission in support of ground troops.

This NAF Alpha Jet has been missing since March 31. It is thought to have crashed with Boko Haram showing footage of a wreckage that might have been of the plane

“Details of the whereabouts of the aircraft or likely cause of contact loss are still sketchy but will be relayed to the general public as soon as they become clear. Meanwhile, search and rescue efforts are ongoing,” he said.

A few hours later, the NAF official updated newsmen that the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Oladayo Amao had arrived in Maiduguri, the State capital, to lead search and rescue operations.

As of now, there has been no news of the missing jet or the two pilots, Flight Lieutenant John Abolarinwa and Flight Lieutenant Ebiakpo Chapele, onboard.

It is a disturbing development, considering that there had been a NAF aircraft crash earlier this year in Abuja.

Already, Boko Haram had released a video, claiming it shot down the fighter jet. Experts doubt the group can do this, especially considering the last position of the jet in relation to known Boko Haram positions.

However, in seven-minute-thirty-seconds footage, Boko Haram fighters were seen moving along a dusty road, in gun trucks and on motorbikes. The video showed that the aircraft exploded in the air before it crashed.

Towards the end of the footage, a masked insurgent climbs the wreckage of an aircraft and pointed his gun into the sky, saying “The Nigerian Air Force jet fighter with plate number 475 was sent to Sambisa to fight the Mujahideen.

“There’s no one that can fight God. This is the evidence of what God has done. There’s no way you will fight his people and this will not happen,” he said in English.

But the Nigerian Air Force maintained that its aircraft was not shot down as being circulated in the video on Social media.

The NAF spokesman said, “Although the video is still being thoroughly analysed, it is evident that most parts of the video were deliberately doctored to give a false impression that the aircraft was shot down.

“It is obvious that the Boko Haram Sect, in its characteristic manner of employing false propaganda, is seeking to claim credit for what was obviously an air accident that could have been caused by several other reasons; particularly at a time when the capability of the group to inflict mayhem has been significantly degraded by the Armed Forces of Nigeria.”

Even though it’s clear that parts of Boko Haram’s video was doctored but there are serious questions that the whole issue raised, which should be of great concern to the authorities.

“Is NAF 475 shown in the clip “the missing” jet? If so, how did Boko Haram know that it had crashed and traced it before our troops? Shouldn’t that worry us?” a Twitter user had said.

“This is the second time a NAF plane crashed this year. Why? Is there a problem with their training or the command and control or is there any fault with the planes? How can we ensure this doesn’t repeat itself?” he added.

Some commentators who spoke to Daily Trust were asked: How significant was the incident in the fight against terrorism? How damaging was it for the military’s reputation considering the fact that BH went first and collected all the wreckage and possibly prevented proper investigation?

Kabiru Adamu is a security expert. He said it is costly for the country to lose fighter jets at a time insecurity is ravaging the country.

Earlier, Hugo Kaaman, a Sweden-based security analyst, had accused the Boko Haram sect of taking a clip from a 2012 incident in Syria to claim responsibility for the missing jet of the NAF.

“Boko Haram just released a video claiming it shows a NAF jet shot down by the group. Looking at the video, it appears as if the jet exploded mid-air. However, this is not true. BH took a 2012 video showing a SyAAF helicopter exploding mid-air over Idlib and superimposed it. Weak

“Just to be clear, the jet really crashed. It’s unclear whether this was due to hostile fire or technical issues. The wreckage can be seen in the same Boko Haram video. This video merely highlights Boko Haram’s fake footage of the shootdown itself,” he said while comparing both videos.”

Assessing the questions raised, Adamu said, “Now, the general perception/belief is that this fighter jet crashed in Konduga Local government and this Konduga LG shares proximity with Maiduguri Metropolitan Council (MMC).

“If you will recall, not too long ago, Zambarmeri, where those farmers were killed is also just 70km or thereabout outside Maiduguri and it was not a security challenged area.

“Despite the fact that the military and other security agents are in control of most of the Local Government headquarters, the reality is that the moment you travel 30km or less outside the headquarters, you are likely to encounter any of the two groups.

“Even though I do not have the exact coordinate of where the plane crashed, however, information at my disposal is that that place is one of the security challenged environments. Now, two things may have happened.

“The reality is that the plane crashed. What caused the crash? We don’t know where it crashed.

“However, the prevailing information is that that location is likely to be under the control of Boko Haram, which explains why they might have reached that location earlier than our security forces.

Speaking on how to curb this incessant menace, the security expert noted that Nigeria needs total surveillance capabilities of our air space.

“Any country that is worth its onions in 2021, should have visual surveillance capability. That means, when the plane is in the air, we should have that capability of seeing it, not necessarily seeing the plane itself but seeing the heatwave it generates and other signals it is emitting likewise.

“If what we are hearing is true, a missile, whether a guided or not, was used to shoot the plane, we should have the capability of seeing when the missile left its launcher and the speed at which it left that launcher– that will mean we have the capability to warn an aircraft by saying look, something is coming from the ground towards you.

He also said the whole military needs to be better equipped with improved and secure communications channels and better coordination between ground troops and fighter pilots.

On the wreckage, he said, “The truth of it is that air mishap can happen in any military. Even the U.S., Russia, Syria and others have had their own mishaps. What is important is how that mishap is managed.

“I expect by now, a commission of enquiry, internal one by the Air Force or defence headquarters would have been commissioned to look into it and they should come out with a transparent report. We’ve had mishaps previously but we’ve never seen the report released transparently.

“If you speak to any spouse of the pilots, they will tell you in clear terms that they are worried about the conditions of our aircraft. Most of the spouses do pray fervently even before the plane takes off. That needs to be clarified because the morale of the soldiers too will be affected.”

When contacted on Monday, NAF spokesman told Daily Trust that the team in the rescue mission were still trying to locate the scene of the crash.

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