From Molly Kilete, Abuja
The bodies of the late Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lieutenant General Attahiru Ibrahim, who died in an ill-fated Nigerian Air Force aircraft crash in Kaduna on Friday, has been laid to rest. He was buried at exactly 4:45 pm local time Saturday.
Gen Attahiru died in the plane crash after the aircraft skidded off the runway after a successful landing at the Kaduna International Airport on Friday. He was in Kaduna to attend the Passing Out Parade (POP) of members of 80 Regular Intake at the Depot Nigerian Army, scheduled to take place on Saturday, when he and some of his principal officers met their untimely death.
He died along with three Brigadier Generals, two Majors, two Flight Lieutenants, two Sergeants and one Aircraft Man.
The deceased are Brigadier Generals Ahmed Kuliya, OL Olayinka and MI Abdulkadir, Majors N Hamza, LA Hayat, Sergeants O Adesina, Umar and Air Craft Man OM Oyedepo.
The last ceremony Gen Attahiru attended was the 57 years anniversary celebrations of the Nigerian Air Force, held at Makurdi, the Benue State Capital, to celebrate with the NAF, whose Chief happens to be his coursemate.
Gen Attahiru, who has been on tour of army formations across the country, was also at the 2nd Division Nigerian Army, Ibadan, before heading to Makurdi.
News about the death of the Army Chief began to filter in the news late Friday night.
A statement by the Media Adviser to the President, Femi Adesina, soon made a statement about the death of the COAS. After the statement from the Presidency, the Defence Headquarters and Army Headquarters issued a statement confirming their death late Friday night.
As soon as the Army confirmed the death of their COAS, it immediately mobilised members of the Nigerian Army Officers Wives Association(NAOWA) to the flag house to condole with his widow, who happens to the the national president.
The flag house, located at the Niger barracks, soon became a Mecca of sorts, as serving and retired military officers trooped in in large numbers to pay their condolences to Mrs Attahiru.
A similar crowd was witnessed at the homes of the other officers who died alongside the COAS in the crash, while arrangements to convey those not resident in Abuja were made to fly them in to witness and pay their last respects to their loved ones.
The burial ceremony started after the bodies of the deceased officers arrived at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in a C-130 aircraft, and were received by service chiefs and top military officers, from where they were conveyed to the church and mosque, respectively, for the Christian and Muslims deceased officers for funeral services and prayers.
The funeral service for the Christian officers was held at the Protestant Church at the NAF base, Abuja.
With the prayers over, the bodies were then moved to the National Military Cemetery.
Military officers in ceremonial dress with black band tied around their arms trooped into the cemetery to pay their last respects. Grave diggers arrived the cemetery as early as 6 am to dig the graves under the supervision of the Guards Brigade of the Nigerian Army, led by its commander, Brigadier General Takuti Usman.
Pall bearers who assembled at the cemetery as early as 6 am began to take their position for the ceremony at exactly 12:40 pm for a dress rehearsal awaiting the arrival of the bodies.
The pall bearers comprised eleven soldiers and eighteen members of the firing party from the Guards Brigade of the Nigerian Army.
The brial ceremony started with the arrival of very senior retired and serving officers, former Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Azubuike Ihejirika, Chief of Defence Staff General Lucky Irabor, Minister of Information Lai Mohammed, President of the Defence and Police Pfficers Wives Association (DEPOWA) NAFOWA president, NOWA president. Others are former Chief of Army Ataff Lieutenant General Dambazau, Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufal, Senate President Ahmed Lawan, Inspector General of Police, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief of Staff to the President Ibrahim Gambari, members of the diplomatic corps, among other top dignitaries.
President Mohammad Buhari was represented by the Minister of Defence, Major General Bashir Magashi (retd).
The bodies of the deceased officers were conveyed in eleven ambulance vehicles, with the staff vehicle of the late COAS decorated with three stars leading the convoy arriving at the cemetery at exactly 14:22 hours.
The ambulance bearing the body of Gen Attahiru was the first to be carried out of the ambulance when the ambulance drove into the burial site at exactly 14:40 hours, and pallbearers, mostly in the ranks of Major General, marched the body to the gravesite.
The Chief Imam of the Nigerian Army offered the burial prayers for the late Gen Attahiru, after which he made an appeal that the family would prefer a private burial.
The burial of the other officers started at about 16:30 hours, when senior officers in the ranks of Brigadier General marched in their bodies. Brigadier General JH Abdulasalam read the funeral oration for Brigadier Generals Ahmed Kuliya, OL Olayinka and MI Abdulkadir while Colonel AS Saleh, read the funeral oration of Majors N Hamza, LA Hayat, Sergeants O Adesina, Umar and Air Craft Man OM Oyedepo; while Flight lieutenant UV Edem and Flying Officer C Odili, read that of Flight Lieutenant LT Asaniyi and Olufade, respectively.
After the reading of the funeral oration, the next-of-kin for the deceased officers were then called upon for the presentation of the national flag to them, which was done by the Minister of Defence Bashir Magashi, who represented the President.
Chaplains and Imams of the Nigerian Air Force and Army offered prayers for the repose of the souls of the deceased officers.
In his address at the occasion, the Chief of Defence Staff General Lucky Irabor, who said the officers died as a result of their love for the country, said their deaths would not be in vain. General Irabor, who said he received the news of the death of the COAS and the eleven officers with shock, assured that the war on insecurity must be won and called on Nigerians to continue to pray for the Nigerian Armed Forces. He described the late COAS as not just a fine officer but one with passion, professionalism, love for the job and a very dependable colleague.
He said the death of the officers was painful but would last only for a moment as the Armed Forces would come out stronger.
He assured the families of the deceased that the Armed Forces, the Federal Government and the country as a whole would not abandon them.
Also speaking, the Minister of Magashi described the deaths as a huge blow to the country, but assured of the government’s continuing support for the military and their families.