The Nigerian Air Force (NAF), has been in the news recently for various inspiring reasons. As the world is caught in a still moment, isolated and yet deeply connected to one another by a bio threat every nation is grappling with, it is in moments like this that one appreciates the greatest responsibility of the NAF to the over 200 million Nigerians. When it is not supporting the indigent who are scattered all over the nation’s geopolitical zones with palliatives to cope with the Coronavirus pandemic, it is training its personnel to become better airmen and women, acquiring one combat helicopter or the other, commissioning infrastructural projects, smoking out bandits in the Northwestern Nigeria or engaging the Boko Haram insurgents in North East.
While this may have been so for a long time, it is not without reason to credit the new look of the Force to the subtlety, true interest and passion of its current administration, led by the Air Marshal Sadique Baba Abubakar, who upon assumption of office, promised to “…reposition the NAF into a highly professional and disciplined force through capacity building initiatives for effective, efficient and timely employment of air power in response to Nigeria’s national security imperatives”. He pointed out a couple of things he would do; transforming the NAF to a professional force, providing the right structure, right human capacity, right equipment holding and providing appropriate welfare packages to ensure personnel are properly motivated for effective service delivery. Everyone clapped. They’d heard that before. If only they had seen him coming.
A few years down the line, the Force has become a formidable one, a force for combat and a force against crime, putting it literally. Today, the NAF is in everyone’s face, courtesy of its Corporate Social Responsibility activities and credible performance in air power projection (within and outside the country). Before now, not many Nigerians on the street could tell what the everyday airman or woman looked like.
In 2017, the NAF trained 450 personnel to be a part of its Special Forces. They passed out after 10 weeks of grueling, intense training. Upon graduation, they were deployed to defend the NAF’s air assets and bases, as well as critical national infrastructure and assets. In 2019, 175 carefully-selected personnel were drafted in for the grueling regimental training and earlier in 2020, 117 personnel were selected and drafted into a 10-week intensive training.
Since Air Marshal Sadique assumed office, he has overseen the training of over 1300 SF personnel to safeguard the NAF’s assets as well as those of the Nation and to counter the incursion by insurgents. Also, his leadership has successfully winged over 114 pilots, among which are 5 females who are already undertaking various missions in different theaters of operation across the Country. In October 2019, the Force made history when it decorated its first female fighter pilot, Flying Officer Kafayat Sani and its first female combat helicopter pilot, Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile, with their wings in Abuja. Flying Officer Chinelo Nwokoye was also unveiled recently and has since joined others who have been deployed to various theatres of operation in the Country to contribute her own quota in the defence of her fatherland. This inclusion and support for women in the Force will help them develop a balanced mix of critical thinking, leadership skills and the right attitude in the long-run.
Knowing the challenge ahead, the NAF has never stopped stocking its stables with the desired aircraft and assault vehicles needed for the onslaught against criminal elements. It has stocked up with over 20 aircraft since the onslaught against insurgents and crime within the Nation took a different turn. With renewed motivation and back-to-back successes, the CAS has embarked on a site-by-site visit, to see how its personnel in the various commands are faring. In the last few weeks, the Air Marshal Saddique has been to Gusau, Katsina, Sokoto and Kaduna, building morale within the rank and file and helping the troops savour the victories which have come at no small cost.
In 2017, the Turkish Armed Forces government expressed the desire for its Air Force to form a collaboration with the Nigeria Air Force to aid aircraft acquisition, training, surveillance and radar technology in the fight against insurgency and other areas, disclosing that it would like to enhance capacity building for its (Nigerian) personnel and promote mutually beneficial collaboration between the militaries of both countries. In 2019, the Government of Argentina made the same proposition. The sustenance of these partnerships has continued to impact positively on aircraft serviceability in the NAF. This, in turn, has enhanced the ability of the NAF to project air power towards contributing not only to the resolution of Nigeria’s current internal security challenges but security challenges within the West African Sub-region.
Nigeria’s national symbol is the eagle and the strength of the eagle is in its sight and powerful wings. The NAF has proven to be a formidable part of the nation’s strength, bearing up and soaring high, with its sights and huge swaths of vision coming in handy in combating criminalities within the nation and beyond her boundaries.
•Pembi, a public affairs commentator, writes from Abuja.