From Molly Kilete, Abuja
Former Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Lieutenant-General Martin-Luther Agwai, yesterday said the greatest challenge in his entire military career, was burying 13 Generals who died in the ill-fated Nigerian Air Force plane crash of September, 17, 2006, in Benue State.
Agwai, who said their death created a huge vacuum in the army, noted that if they were to be alive today, perhaps most of the challenges facing the military in its counter insurgency operations in the Northeast would not have gotten this bad.
The deceased officers were on their way to Obudu cattle ranch, to attend a retreat on how to transform the Nigerian Army when the ill-fated plane, a Dornier 228-212, crashed at Oko village in Vandekiya Local Government Area of Benue State, killing 13 of them.
The deceased officers were members of a committee set up by the federal government to reposition the army. The 18-seater aircraft had 15 senior officers and three crew members onboard, but three people survived the crash with serious injuries.
Their death was the second major air disaster involving top Nigerian military officers after the Ejigbo air crash of September 26, 1992.
Agwai, relieved the sad experience when he spoke at an inter-faith memorial service organized by widows of the officers in Abuja. He described their death as a great blow to the Nigerian army.
“I can make bold to say that if they were around, may be some of the challenges that we are facing today wouldn’t have gotten to the level that they reached,” he said. Agwai, who was the Chief of Defence Staff at the time, said the news of the crash came to him as a rude shock because he had a personal relationship with the deceased and hand picked them to be members of the transformation committee.
“Their death up to their burial was one of the most trying, most difficult time I ever had in my career. And if you remember my military career, I have been involved in Sierra-Leone, Dafur, but all what I saw there did not traumatize me like what happened to these people because these were officers that I knew personally.
“Some of them I personally picked them and put them in the job because of their knowledge, professionalism and integrity. And then to wake up one day to find that that crop has disappeared is the most difficult thing,” he lamented
The former CDS, who was also the chairman of the inter-faith memorial service, said their death no doubt created a gap in the military.
“I will say a professional gap has been created in the military because our generation was fading out and those were the people that were linking our generation and the upcoming generation and they all disappeared. And it definitely created a missing link in the professionalization of the military,” Agwai explained.
He said even though he got the invitation to attend the programme in less than 24, hours, he had to call off all his other engagements to attend the occasion because of who the late officers were and their sacrifice for the country.
He commended the widows for keeping strong and extolling the virtues of their husbands and prayed God to continue to protect them.
The 13 army officers and Air Force officers who died in the crash include Major-Generals J.O. Adesunloye, SO Otubu, Agboola, SM Lemu, Nuhu Bamali, PM Haruna, JTU Amedu and Bitrus Duniya. Others were Brigadier-Generals Braimah, MB Bawa, Wing Commanders SS Balogun, EO Adekunle and Lieutenant-Colonel NA Mohammed.