We Dare To Be Different.
Plane Crashes, Corruption, and the National Security of Nigeria
By Priye S. Torulagha
Indeed, life is unpredictable. No one is certainly sure of what will happen in the next minute or hour. The uncertainty is multiplied when a plane is involved since it is a machinery that defies gravity by flying like a bird, despite its heavy weight. Since it defies gravity, its chance of crashing down is very high compare to other modes of transportation. Therefore, it is always a great gamble when people fly from one destination to another through the air by planes. In this regard, once in a while, a plane will crash somewhere in the world. This was exactly what happened in Nigeria on Sunday, September 17, 2006 when a military plane crashed, killing about twelve of the country’s senior Army officers (Ajani, Ajayi, & Ighodaro, September 19, 2005).
As stated above, it is expected that a craft that operates by defying gravity is most likely to experience a high degree of crashes. When that happens, those aboard pay either with their lives or sustain severe physical injuries. Even if someone escapes the crash without any physical injury, the psychological impact can be devastating. This being the case, it is very easy to rationalize that the Dornier 228 military plane that crashed in Vandekiya local government area of Benue State was unfortunate to have crashed that day. Similarly, it is very easy to say that the victims were unfortunate that the plane crashed that day and leave the issue alone.
However, as much as one endeavors to rationalize that the plane crash was an unfortunate incident, there is a tempting desire to probe more, considering the caliber of the passengers and the frequent incidents of plane crashes in Nigeria. Consequently, this writer succumbs, if that is the right word to describe the feeling, to the temptation to probe more into the implications pertaining to the crash, even though, as stated above, it is expected that once in a while, a plane will crash somewhere.
In order to probe more, the following points are raised: (1) there seems to be more to the plane crash than meets the eye, (2) the deaths of senior army officers in the plane crash is indicative of the fact that Nigeria does not have a well-articulated national security plan, (3) frequent plane crashes in Nigeria is directly related to the high rate of corruption in the country, and (4) due to conflicting political interests emanating from the effects of corruption, it appears that President Olusegun Obasanjo is increasingly unsure about the war on corruption.
1. There is more to the plane crash than meets the eye
Although, there is a great possibility that the plane crashed due to poor weather conditions, however, one could detect a systemic pattern of plane crashes, particularly involving military officers. To a great extent, this crash reminds one of the Ejigbo plane crash which took place in or around Lagos when Gen. Ibrahim Babangida was in power in September 1992. It should be recalled that a group of military officers (mostly majors and Lt. Colonels) were aboard a plane taking off from the Murtala Mohammed Airport in Lagos when the plane crashed and killed about 190 people, mostly military officers (China Economic Net, September 19, 2006). They were supposed to either attend a training program or a conference. After the plane crashed, rumors spread that some of the officers were alive for sometime before they passed away due to lack of immediate search and rescue effort. The plane crashed at night and there was no major effort by the federal government to carry out rescue operations until the following day. Even the armed forces were not fully mobilized to conduct rescue operations that night. By the time the rescue operation began in full force the following day, almost all the military officers had died. Similarly, this crash too involved military officers that were going on a conference and were aboard a single plane, despite their high ranks.
Based on previous military plane crashes, as indicated above, this crash raises many questions. Why was it necessary for these top army officers to meet in Obudu when Abuja where most of them are stationed, would have been logistically much easier for all of them to meet without having to fly in the same plane? Was the crash purely an unfortunate incident or a premeditated one intended to eliminate them, perhaps, to reduce the chances of them carrying out a military coup? Had anyone had an axe to grind against the officers? Was the crash intended to reduce the number of senior army officers? Was the plane a used one and was it well maintained? Is Nigeria’s military aviation has porous as the nation’s civilian aviation, with lack of modern meteorological equipment to direct planes? Is corruption a factor in the purchasing of military aircrafts and equipments?
In all probability, Nigeria’s armed and police forces are not equipped at all to function effectively due to lack of concern emanating from corruption. Similarly, due to corruption, it seems that the aviation industry is severely under-equipped to detect weather conditions and redirect planes away from bad weather situations.
Indeed, it is very difficult to make sense about any event in Nigeria due to the poisonous effect of corruption. There are many Nigerians who believe that soldiers and police officers have become the cannon-fodder for those who want to be in power and embezzle as much as possible from the national treasury. For instance, one Mrs. Eze has alleged that her late husband, a sergeant, was sent on a secret mission to escort an oil barge in the Niger Delta and he opposed the idea. It should be recalled that during the Warri wars, the Ijaws repeatedly alleged that soldiers and naval personnel were engaged in escorting barges intended for oil bunkering. Due to the high level of uncertainty, it is not improper for some Nigerians to theorize or assume that there was more to the plane crash than meets the eye.
Moreover, since corruption reared its ugly head in a big way in the country, Nigeria has basically been ruled through manipulation. A manipulative leadership style generates great uncertainties as the leaders try to hide their secret financial deals. Therefore, the crash of a military plane carrying senior army officers raises all kinds of alarms.
2. The deaths of senior army officers in the plane crash is indicative of the fact that Nigeria does not have a well-articulated national security plan.
It is difficult to accept the fact that about twelve senior military officers were allowed to fly in the same plane. Any well-governed country with clearly identifiable national security policy goals would have made sure that a group of its most senior military officers are not allowed by policy to fly in the same plane even though they were going to the same destination. The fact that these high-level officers were allowed to fly in the same plane without anyone expressing concern about the national security risk showed a lack of national security consciousness among high level decisionmakers in the nation.
Due to their level of importance to the nation, each of the officers would have been transported to the Obudu Ranch in separate flights so as to ensure their safety and the national security of the nation. At most, not more than three senior military officers would have been allowed to fly in the same plane, considering the fact that a mishap can happen anytime. Thus, the army and airforce would have made every effort to transport the officers to their destination without putting all of them in one plane. Consequently, Gram Bolaji Osborne, a PDP’s presidential aspirant is right on target when he
“faulted the federal government over the recent air crash that claimed the lives of eight generals amongst others arguing that a policy preventing more than three commanding army officers from travelling in one aircraft should have been promulgated since the Ejigbo mishap many years ago” (This Day, September 29, 2006)
By failing to realize the danger of putting top leaders of the army in one plane, Nigeria lost tremendously. Even during actual combat, it is rare to have two or three top military generals killed in one encounter by an enemy force. Unfortunately, without any war, Nigeria assisted by default, the elimination of critical officers of the army, including Maj. Gen.S.O. Otubu, the Chief of Policy and Plans, Maj. Gen. J.O. Agboola, the Military Secretary, Maj. Gen. S.M. Lemu, Chief of Army Administration, Maj. Gen. J.T.U. Ahmedu, the Head of the Department of Standards and Evaluation, Maj. Gen. A.N. Bamali, the General Officer Commanding the 2nd Division, Maj. Gen. J.O. Adesunloye, the Chief of Staff of 81 Division, Maj. Gen. P.M. Haruna, Maj. Gen. B. Daniya. Brig. Gen. Y.J. Braimah, and Brig. M.B. Bawa. Other military officers included Lt. Col. N.A. Mohammed, Wing Commander E.O. Adekunle (Ajani, Ajayi & Ighodaro, September 19, 2006). This means that the country has a severe national security problem.
As a result of the incredulous manner in which Nigeria sacrificed the officers through reckless disregard for the nation’s security, some Nigerians are theorizing that the crash was intentionally staged to reduce the number of potential troublemakers who might plan or stage a military coup or interfere with the coming elections in 2007. One could also recall that some Nigerians had theorized that the officers who died in the Ejigbo plane crash during Gen. Babangida’s era were condemned to their fate by military leaders in an attempt to reduce the number of potential ‘coup plotters’ or ‘troublemakers in the army.’ PDP presidential aspirant, Mr. Osborne, alluded to this allegation when he said:
“allegation that Babangida was behind the accident of Ejibgo many years back
should be fully investigated and if it is true such people and their surrogates
should not be trusted with leadership” (This Day, September 29, 2006).
Although, there seems to be no iota of factual evidence to support the conspiratorial theory, yet, the pattern of plane crashes and the tendency to load a single plane with so many military officers seem to reinforce the perspective that such plane crashes are indeed tactical efforts by the government to eliminate potential ‘troublemakers.’
An interesting thing about military plane crashes in Nigeria is that the crashes tend to involve mostly groups of army officers. Additionally, the crashes tend to involve groups of officers who are being transported to some destination, either for training or a conference. This raises the conspiratorial meter to a very high level since most coups in the country have been staged by army officers. Moreover, as the country is badly governed, the danger of an unpredictable upheaval emanating from the armed forces, particularly the army, can be very worrisome to political leaders, hence, the believability of the conspiratorial theory.
Nigeria has many governmental organizations geared toward the gathering of intelligence. They include the State Security Service, the Directorate of Military Intelligence, the Criminal Investigation Department, and others. In addition, each armed and police service also has a unit designed to provide intelligence and security. It is mind boggling that none of these intelligence and security services warned or advised against putting the country’s top army leaders in one plane, especially, considering the fact that over 170 military officers had died in a plane crash in 1992.
Another possible reason for putting so many high ranking army officers in one plane could be that both the airforce and the army have a very limited number of aircrafts (planes and helicopters), following systematic lack of investment in such equipments. It could also be that they have many aircrafts but most are not airworthy due to lack of maintenance, arising from the embezzlement of maintenance funds.
3. Frequent plane crashes in Nigeria is directly related to the high rate of corruption in the country.
The most plausible reason for frequent plane crashes, whether involving military or civilian, is corruption. Corruption comes through lack of regulation of the aviation industry, the purchasing of old planes that others have condemned to the junk yard, and pilfering of funds that would have been used to buy new planes and maintain them. In Nigeria, it appears that the primary motive for many people wanting to be in government is to acquire personal wealth through embezzlement of public funds. In order to accumulate wealth, anyone could be sacrificed if he or she stands in the way, including military generals. Similarly, illegal wealth accumulation entails not building or rehabilitating roads, hospitals, schools, airports, and buying used planes, buses, equipments, medicines etc. It also means not equipping the army, airforce, navy, and the police with up to date equipments and not paying service men and women with livable wages.
Thank goodness, the ongoing “if you Obasanjo me I go Abubakar you” fight involving the president and the vice president has revealed the inner workings of the present administration, in terms of the management of the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF). As a result, Nigerians are being exposed to the irresponsible manner in which public funds are managed. While public funds are used irresponsibly to execute personal pet projects, government institutions and the state are starved of needed funds. The result is that the country is malnourished financially, economically, infrastructurally, socially, and spiritually. The army, airforce, navy, and the police are mirror images of their former selves. Nigeria’s airports are substandard by any modern standard of airport design and construction. The domestic airline industry is a dumping ground for reactivated old planes that the original owners had sent to the junk yard. Thus, flying in any plane, whether civilian or military in Nigeria, is a very risky proposition since one cannot be sure of its age.
Frustrated by the social cancer that has wrecked tremendous havoc on the Nigeria Police Force, the Inspector General of Police, Sunday Ehindero, courageously told the National Assembly that:
“the situation was so bad that the police had to make do with a caterpillar’s
tyre for its armoured vehicle because there were no spare tyres...Other problems
of the police he listed were: logistics problem, recruitment of criminals into the
organisation, refusal of his men to carry out orders which he called part of
logistics problems and the proliferation of arms in the country especially by
politicians” (Jamiu, September 19, 2006).
The Inspector General’s concern about the police was corroborated by a junior police officer who bemoaned:
“what prompted me to join the police? I am tired of this job, everyday, the
public will abuse you, the police will abuse you and at the end of the month your
salary is nothing to write home about...I have gone to the station to lodge a
complaint about how I was robbed of my two phones in my car in a holed-up at
9:30p.m. by some teenagers. After writing my statement, the Investigating Police
Officer told me if I see the boys who robbed me again, I should bring them to the station. I quietly left the station because I knew I was in the wrong place” (Ibid).
As can be seen, after more than forty years of independence, Nigeria still does not have an effective national meteorological service that can provide reliable weather information to both military and civilian aviation in the country. Likewise, it appears that neither the Airforce nor the Army has a functioning meteorological service that can guide military operations. Otherwise, the Dornier 228 military plane would have been diverted to another flight path.
Due to lack of technological wherewithal in the society at large and in the armed and police forces, in particular, as repeatedly revealed by ineffective search and rescue operations during crashes and boat accidents in the waterways, one wonders why Nigeria’s decision makers named their military units with names that signify technological sophistication when the forces are barely technologized?. For instance, the use of the term “mechanized” is deceitful since there is not much one can point to as a technological feat in the Nigerian armed forces. A military force that is indeed mechanized would have essential technological equipments or devices, including planes, helicopters, gun boats, cruisers, destroyers, mobile medical clinics, trucks, armed personnel carriers, tanks, communication tools, radar systems etc. in sufficient quantity and readily available spare parts to refurbish damaged equipments that would enable it to perform effectively. Similarly, its personnel would be sufficiently trained to operate various equipments without much problem. It is obvious that Nigeria’s armed forces are not mechanized in the true sense of the term since the forces are highly under-equipped in every level imaginable. The mere possession of some tanks and armoured personnel carriers is not enough to characterize a military force as “mechanized.” It creates a false sense of technological advancement. Moreover, most military equipments in Nigeria today are still imported, unlike in Israel or India or Brazil or China or even Iran. How can an army be mechanized when most equipments in its possession are imported from other countries?
If the army and airforce were mechanized, they would have in their possessions all kinds of technological gadgets to pinpoint location of plane crashes, rush in troops and secure the locations to conduct immediate search and rescue operations. If the Army and the Navy were mechanized, they would have been equipped to operate smoothly in the Niger Delta. It is obvious, they do not have the tools to do so, hence, are, increasingly relying on the assistance of United States and Britain to supply them boats to facilitate operations in the region. If the Police forces were well equipped, they would have been able to return fire for fire with armed robbers.
It is reasonable to say that the armed forces and the police are severely under-equipped due to massive corruption in the budget allocation system. Quite often, funds allocated for equipment purchase are insufficient to meet the technological needs of the forces. In addition, substantial parts of the budget allocations are privatized, thereby, ending in the pockets of those who are strategically placed to make purchasing decisions. During the trial of former Inspector General of the Police, Tafa Balogun, it was revealed that he used police funds for his personal investments. It could also be recalled that in the 1980s and 1990s, the Navy was ravaged by massive looting of its funds by those who were supposed to make purchasing decisions.
These facts indicate that while Nigerian leaders speak passionately about the security of the nation, their actions regarding the management of public funds and the equipping of the forces show that either they are hypocrites or have no understanding of what national security means. Otherwise, they would have been seriously committed to wiping out corruption, especially the embezzlement of public funds. It is obvious, as the “if you Obasanjo me I go Abubakar you” affair shows, Nigeria’s political leaders are mired in circumstances that bordered on corruption, hence, cannot fight corruption. The armed and police forces are victimized by corruption.
The only luck going for Nigeria, in terms of national security, is that Nigerian soldiers are some of the best fighting men and women in the world, despite the hardship placed on them by lack of attention, maintenance and equipment. Nigeria’s armed and police personnel work in very difficult, almost hostile environment. They are expected to give 100 percent of themselves without the money and the tools to do so effectively.
4. Due to conflicting political interests emanating from the effects of corruption, it appears that President Olusegun Obasanjo is increasingly unsure about the war on corruption.
First, President Olusegun Obasanjo deserves to be congratulated by every Nigerian for raising consciousness about corruption in the country. Second, he also deserves congratulations for setting the machinery through which the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission were set up to probe, indict, and prosecute Nigerians who are suspected to have embezzled public funds. Third, he deserves the appreciation of the Nigerian people for reducing the nation’s foreign debt. However, it seems that the president is not sure of what direction to follow in prosecuting the war against corruption. The following presidential posturing and actions create doubt as to his sincerity:
a. President Obasanjo seems to be very vengeful. He does not tolerate opposition or constructive criticism. He does not also forgive and forget. As a result, it appears that the war against corruption is being waged against his opponents while his friends and relatives are not or barely investigated. As soon as a prominent Nigerian is viewed as opposed to the president, the EFCC is directed to probe the person. Look at the effort the federal government is making to strip Vice President Atiku Abubakar of any dignity. The government is going so far as to document the indictment of the vice president in the national gazette even before the case is prosecuted. This means that the vice president is technically already considered to be guilty of the alleged crime. The documentation in the gazette is designed to prevent the vice president from contesting the 2007 presidential election. In this matter, Nigerians must be grateful that Atiku did not remain quiet like others. By releasing critical financial information about the Petroleum Technology Development Fund to the public, Nigerians now understand better what is going on. Due to the revelations, Dr. Ahmadu Ali, a chieftain of the PDP, returned the sum of N5 million which was donated to his “Ahmadu Ali Endowment Fund. Atiku’s revelations have resulted in the call for the probing of both the president and the vice president (Ogbodo & Ebiri, September 22, 2006). Chief Gani Fawehinmi wants the Code of Conduct Bureau to charge the president for violating the Code of Conduct of Public officials in his business dealings with the Trans-National Corporation (Transcorp) through the Obasanjo Holding Limited (OHL) (Akosile, October 05.2006).
b. Chief DSP Alamieyeseigha of Bayelsa State and Joshua Dariye of Plateau State are in the same legal category. Both were charged for money laundering. Both were caught in London, England. Both fled to Nigeria to escape facing prosecution in England. Yet, they are treated differently by the EFCC. The EFCC rushed in troops and the police to arrest Alamieyeseigha in Bayelsa State and removed him as the governor of the state. The EFCC immediately filed a case against him and have him detained while trying to prosecute him. The EFCC has not rushed troops to arrest Mr. Dariye. Instead, due process seems to be applied to in his case.
c. The manner in which the president reshuffles his cabinet reinforces his manipulative tendencies. In particular, the unceremonious removal of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Finance Minister, at a time in which her services are most needed as this administration begins to wind down its presence. She was one of those who spoke about corruption in the country. She was probably the first to mention that the IMF had submitted a report listing the names of Nigerians who had probably embezzled public funds. If there is one person that the president needs to have around as he begins to prepare his hand over, it is Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, yet, he sent her away without any explanation, thereby, fueling the conspiratorial theory that she was sent away because she probably knew too much about the financial operations of this administration. Indeed, as soon as she was transferred to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, she detected unexplainable financial transactions. Perhaps, frustrated by the system and the way the president does things, she quit.
d. The president’s commentary on the report which Mallam Ribadu, the Chairman of the EFCC, submitted to the National Assembly, created the impression that the president was not too pleased with the revelation that 31 governors were being investigated and many could face prosecution. As the leader who initiated the anticorruption war, he would have spoken in total support of the EFCC Report to the National Assembly, instead of creating doubt about the veracity of the evidence gathered against the public officials. His reaction threw mud at the EFCC effort, thereby, encouraging the public’s believability of Col. Abubakar Umar’s statement:
“Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s tenure is marked by an all-time high government
revenue earnings but a tenure, which coincides with an unprecedented destitution
among the broad masses. The minimum action a successor government would
take is to ask Chief Olusegun to proffer some explanations. So, presumably, it is
likely that the President would rather die in office than face the disgrace of justice
which his successor may have to dispense for his ineptitude and his many
transgressions” (Edomaruse, September 21, 2006).
e. Like Gen. Babangida, President Obasanjo rules through manipulation. This creates uncertainty and poison’s the democratic process. Consequently, his manipulative style adds fuel to the conspiratorial theory that the government was responsible for ‘doing something’ to end the officers lives, just as Babangida’s manipulative tactics added so much fuel to various conspiratorial theories.
f. It is sad that the president did not realize that used planes are dangerous to the safety of Nigerians until high ranking military officers paid with their lives in a plane crash. President Obasanjo and his advisers must have known that most planes flying in Nigeria are really not airworthy, yet, no effort was made either through legislation or policy to stop the practice of government officials and commercial airline owners buying junk planes.
To save Nigeria and boost its national security, it is imperative that corruption is eradicated or minimized. Therefore, if the president shows any wavering in his commitment to the war, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu should try to garner support from the Nigerian populace and those in the National Assembly who support the war against corruption to continue the war. Similarly, civil society organizations which have not been tainted must render their assistance to the EFCC in order to perpetuate the war against the social evil. Mallam Ribadu cannot afford to fail in the effort to rid Nigeria of the deadly social disease. If he fails, there will be no other constitutionally acceptable means of attacking the epidemic that has wrecked tremendous havoc on the country.
As the Buddhists would say, the law of proportion or kharma has catched up with Nigeria. Planes are crashing at an alarming rate and the lives of Nigerians are being lost by frequent plane crashes. The national security of the nation is filled with holes, hence, it was so easy to have eight or ten generals sacrificed without any major concern. More planes will continue to crash and more Nigerians will continue to die, unless the country is cleaned of corruption.
The fact that some of the surviving victims of the plane crash were flown to South Africa for medical treatment tells a lot about Nigeria. Why is it that Nigerian leaders find it exceedingly difficult to build modern hospitals in Nigeria? Why is it that some Nigerian leaders would build medical facilities in other countries even though Nigeria needs all the modern medical facilities it can get? Why is it that many of them prefer to invest in other countries rather than in Nigeria even though they are the national decision-makers and the governors of the states of Nigeria? Why do they send their children to study in other countries and allow Nigerian universities to die a slow death? Why is it that Nigerians no longer hear of the medical ingenuity of the country’s teaching hospitals, such as the University Teaching Hospital (Ibadan), Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH) again? In the 1960s and 1970s, these facilities performed wonders.
It is obvious that plane crashes, whether military or civilian, is directly related to corruption in the country since used planes are bought most of the times and their maintenance is always questionable. In an environment filled with corruption, a plane carrying groups of soldiers can crash either due to misfortune or premeditated to serve selfish interest of some people. Consequently, an effective national security system is not possible at the present moment in Nigeria. In this regard, a time may come when armed fighters in the country would be able to easily overwhelm the national forces in combat. Right now, if the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force, Oodua Peoples Congress, Movement for the Actualization of Sovereign States of Biafra, the Igbo Peoples Congress, Bakassi Boys, Arewa Peoples Congress, and other ethnic armed fighters were to join together to confront the Nigerian Army, the national force will crumble because many soldiers would choose to join the ethnic fighters against the national force. The members of the armed and police forces, it seems, are getting tired of being the sacrificial lambs for leaders who have no consideration for the national interest and are willing to sacrifice everyone else so that they can accumulate wealth by any means. Only in Nigeria can eight or ten army generals perish in a twinkling of an eye.
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