By Pembi David-Stephen
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, vis; 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 force, 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.
The administration of Air Marshal Sadique has churned out a myriad of achievements since it came on board but only few can be mentioned here, one of which is the recent partnership between the Force and the Nigerian Institute of Quantity Surveyors (NIQS), to avail the Force the competencies of members of the institute in ensuring that construction projects are executed in line with international best practices.
Just a few days back, the NAF organised the ‘capping’ and ‘strapping’ of the pioneer set of student nurses of the College of Nursing at the NAF School of Medical and Aviation Medicine, (NAFSMSAM) Kaduna, established for the purpose of consolidating the rapid expansion and upgrade of the NAF Medical Services Branch by enhancing the capacity of NAF’s Medical Services personnel to meet contemporary health challenges.
With the embarrassing incidence of cattle-rustling and banditry in the Northwest came the need for the Force to intervene. Hence, It began its onslaught late in 2019 and since then, has killed more than 350 armed bandits, cattle rustlers and other criminal elements who have denied decent Nigerians sleep, peace and security in Katsina, Kaduna, Zamfara and Sokoto states through ‘Operation Hadarin Daji’. In the Northeast, the NAF has given insurgents a run for their money through ‘Operation Lafiya Dole’; chasing, destroying and killing hundreds of insurgents who have vowed that the people of the region will have no peace.
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.
While the Force has recorded successes in a number of endeavours, the welfare of its rank and file has not suffered at any point since the inception of its current administration. In 2018, 30 units of two-bedroom flats were commissioned at Sam Ethnan Air Force Base, Ikeja, while six blocks of three bedroom flats each was built to provide decent housing for married officers and their families in NAF barracks at Shasha. Another block of 30 x 1 well-furnished Airmen’s Studio Accommodation was also commissioned at NAF Base Shasha in the same year. Also unveiled was the refurbished tailoring factory at LEGICO barracks, a multipurpose hall at the NAF Secondary School as well as a Golf Course in Shasha. Apartments were also erected at the LEGICO Barracks to serve as transit accommodation for Airmen and Airwomen.
Furthermore in 2020, 2 newly-constructed blocks of 6 x 3 bedroom flats for married officers were commissioned at the Sam Ethnan Air Force Base Ikeja, Lagos. This was also followed by the commissioning of another batch of 4 newly remodeled/renovated blocks of 36 x single-bedroom flats for non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) at Sam Ethnan Air Force Base (SEAFB) Ikeja in 2020. The projects were all aimed at ensuring conducive living environment for the 144 benefiting personnel and their families as a motivation to enable them discharge their duties more effectively and efficiently
As part of its desire to boost its intellectual value, the Force has entered into laudable collaborations with some Nigerian universities and research institutions, in a bid to research into more ways to combat insecurity in the Country and enhance its tactical operations. To this effect, in 2019, it signed Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) with 14 universities and five Research institutes on capacity building and other mutual collaborations. These areas of collaboration covered in this regard are electronics and artificial intelligence, aircraft and aerospace technology, armament development, aircraft communication, robotics, remote sensing imaging, unmanned vehicles technology, interconnected machinery material science and cryptography.
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.
After the Nigerian Air Force Research and Development Policy which was formulated on October 24, 2017 and the Nigerian Air Force Research and Development Center established in 2015 for basic and applied aerospace research and development, all NAF personnel who had undergone various Post-graduate programmes in Aerospace Vehicle Design at different overseas universities, as well as those talented in the area of Aerospace Research and Development, were redeployed to the NAF Research and Development Centre in Kaduna with their various mandates to form the nucleus of NAF research activities. Accordingly, this move has resulted in several breakthroughs, further enhancing the efficiency of the Force. One significant breakthrough is the development of an operationalized Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) known as the ‘Tsaigumi’ on 5 February 2018 at the NAF Base Kaduna. Capable of day and night operations, the ‘Tsaigumi’ has an operational endurance in excess of 10 hours, a service ceiling of l5,000 feet and a mission radius of 100km. Also, it has a maximum take-off weight of 95kg and its payload is an electro-optic/infra-red camera system.
The modern trend in military aviation is the employment of UAVs in various missions and the NAF has refused to be left behind. Other products of NAF R&D efforts in partnership with various tertiary institutions and other local organisations include the production of an Mi-35 helicopter hydraulic accumulator diaphragm which has since been patented by the National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion (NOTAP), a parastatal under the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology. The NAF embarked on the production of this important component, in order to address the increasing difficulties faced in procuring the item from the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) overseas.
Other notable breakthroughs of the NAF’s R&D efforts include the design and construction of Mi-35P 30mm cannon loader, production of heat shield protective cones for the Alpha jet aircraft, production of anti-skid test bench for Alpha jet aircraft, production of brake pads and rivets for Alpha jet aircraft, repair of Augusta 109 helicopter multi-function display (MPD), replacement of electrolyte in battery of F-7Nl fighter aircraft as well as the combat configuration/weaponization of the Alpha jet – E-135 and L-ZA aircraft. Accordingly, the NAF, under its current leadership has defied all odds and the current economic downturns being experienced in the Country.
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.