Solomon Odeniyi and Samuel Bolaji
President Bola Tinubu, on Tuesday, mourned the death of troops killed by bandits in an ambush in the Shiroro area of Niger State, as well as the crash of a Nigerian Air Force helicopter in the state on Monday.
The President, in a statement he personally signed on Tuesday, stated that the incidents brought him “immense sadness.”
He said, “These officers and men were answering the call of duty while on an evacuation mission. In their dedicated service to our beloved country, they paid the ultimate price.”
While commending the courage and devotion of the fallen soldiers, Tinubu said, “On behalf of a grateful nation, I extend my condolences to their families, the Chief of Defence Staff, the Chief of Air Staff, the Chief of Army Staff, the Chief of Naval Staff, and the entire Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
This was as the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Hassan Abubakar, vowed that the military would rid Niger State and other states of banditry and insurgency.
This is coming after bandits laid an ambush for troops and killed many in the Shiroro area of Niger State.
The Air Force also lost its aircraft while on a rescue mission in the state on Monday.
However, Abubakar noted that his service in collaboration with the land force would strengthen their operations.
He vowed that the military with its combat capabilities would completely eradicate the criminals.
Abubakar spoke when the Niger State governor, Umar Bago, paid him a condolence visit in Abuja on Tuesday.
He said, “As you are aware that Niger State and other states in this region are plagued by the menace of banditry, insurgency, and others, these challenges have continued to threaten the peace and security and well-being of the people.
“I want to assure you that the Nigerian Air Force and the Armed Forces of Nigeria remain committed, dedicated, and undaunted in our efforts at eradicating these security challenges being perpetrated by these non-state actors.
“Our approach now is to intensify our activities in tandem with the land forces to completely eradicate these criminal elements with our combat capabilities. Also, I believe in my philosophy, which is to transform the Air Force into an agile force capable of meeting all the air power demands of our national security in all operational environments.’’
The Air Chief attributed the Niger attack to increased onslaughts against the bandits.
He said, “Despite the efforts we have put in, we have a couple of issues and one of them is the air crash. The fact is that as long as we fly aircraft, there would be incidents of accidents.
“The volume of incidents and accidents are directly proportional to the operations. On our part, we are not folding our arms even with the challenges. The ideal is to strive for zero incidents and accidents in any operational environment. We are putting a lot of initiatives in place to check this.’’
He also said the weather conditions have posed a challenge to the service’s operations.
Abubakar said, “We have other seasonal challenges. The rains have come and there is a cloud, this hampers what we can see as well as our strike capabilities. Likewise, when the harmattan comes, it also has effects on our operations. These are challenges we live in. We hope that sometimes you understand when our operations are hampered or impeded by some of these challenges.”
He, however, urged the governor to embrace a whole of government approach to curb criminality in his state.
Speaking, the governor pleaded with the Air Chief to deploy more troops and fighter jets to the state.
He added that this was needed to guarantee the protection of lives and properties in the state.
“I have come here to say Minna airport was created as a backup for Abuja airport and we have the longest runways in Nigeria. We’re calling on you to please send some detachments and some fighter planes to Minna so that we can have more rapid responses when they are very close instead of flying from either Kainji or Kaduna.
“Let me at this juncture say thank you for giving us this time, and say that the Niger State government will support you anywhere you are. We are happy with what you’re doing and we’re behind you and we will support you,’’ the governor said.
“Our people have also asked me to tell you that we can give you accommodations if you can bring people. We will provide accommodations that are very close to the airport in Minna to come and stay in Minna because we need your protection.”
While condoling Abubakar, over the deaths of troops at Niger State, urged the military not to be discouraged.
“We also sympathise with the Nigerian military over the losses recorded in the ambush that happened in Wushishi which eventually brought about the evacuation by your chopper that crashed.
“ The Air Force has done so much for us as a people. You have supported Niger State in the fight against insurgency and banditry. I want to say don’t be tired. Thank you very much for what you’ve been doing,” the governor said.