By Bankole Sulaimon
President Mohammed Buhari’s anti-corruption crusade deserves our commendation and support especially with the prosecution of some perceived high and mighty in our society. The victims cut across all boundaries from the civil service, politicians and of recent senior military officers both serving and retired. Unfortunate, it is the crude and unethical style of the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) officials who prefer to embark on a trial by the media that may end up becoming its Achilles Heel. This trial by the press that has become the norm for the EFCC is not only unconstitutional and unethical, but is fact losing its appeal and credibility among well meaning Nigerians who have become disenfranchised and disenchanted with such below-the- belt approach and tactics.
In particular, the trial of Air Marshal Alex Badeh which the EFCC had initially thought has been fought and won on the pages of newspapers and tabloids is turning out to be the opposite as his legal team have so far been able to punch holes into virtually all the accusations levelled against the much decorated senior officer. It is now just a matter of time before we all realise that not only was Badeh not involved in any $2.1 Billion arms purchase, he made the best use of scarce resources available for the smooth operations of the Nigerian Air Force. As the EFCC commence the trial of yet another high flier from the stables of the Nigerian Air Force, it becomes pertinent to educate and inform Nigerians on the type of mantle these Nigerian Air Force Officers are made of. Air Marshal Mohammed Dikko Umar was appointed the 17th Chief of Air Staff on 8 September 2010 and stepped down on 4 November 2012 after a distinguished career spanning over 37 years.
Till date, he has been adjudged to be the best Chief of Air Staff the NAF has ever had, based on his monumental achievements that remain visible. As the EFCC open yet another chapter in its campaign of calumny via the media against this distinguished Nigerian, it becomes pertinent to use this medium to showcase some of Umar’s laudable achievements. On assumption of office, Air Marshal Mohammed Dikko Umar left no one in doubt that he was a man on a mission. With immediate effect, he visualised his NAF of the future as one that would be positioned for sustained employment of airpower to meet joint national defence imperatives as well as provide swift response capabilities for emergencies and internal security challenges. To actualise this vision while ensuring continuity in policy in the face of daunting challenges, he identified 5 key drivers which include mission-oriented force development, focused logistics support, qualitative training, personnel motivation and increased inter-service cooperation. To put into practical terms the actualisation of the vision, Umar took a number of bold initiatives and innovations. Some of these initiatives include the constitution of a Quick Deployment Force, a composite and self-supporting force possessing capabilities across the full spectrum of potential air operations aimed at drastically reducing NAF’s reaction time in national emergencies as well as NAF’s ability to project credible and balanced force in support of Nigeria’s national objectives. Today, members of this elite force have constituted a major force to be reckoned with in the current fight against insurgency.
Air Marshal Umar also took a decision to re-prioritize NAF needs so as to address the essence of the NAF. By so doing, efforts were concentrated on the high-value priority areas like platform acquisition and reactivation. His administration also adopted a new orientation in NAF budgeting preparation so as to ensure that the entire capital vote/appropriation paid more attention to NAF’s aircraft reactivation and acquisition obligations. The immediate benefit of this reprioritization was the renewed confidence shown by customers and vendors alike and consequent delivering of new platforms and resumption of rehabilitation of NAF aircraft fleets. In the area of self reliance, the Umar administration initiated measures to curtail waste and ensure the attainment of reasonable level of self-reliance. One of such is the insistence that major aircraft overhaul/maintenance must be carried-out in-country. The strategy adopted towards achieving this was not to procure any weapon platform or waste fund to retain any aircraft type for which in-country maintenance capability cannot be acquired within a reasonable time frame. The reason for this initiative is simple. For long, the NAF have depended on foreign specialists who turned out to be third party agents and profiteering middlemen to maintain some of our fleets. Worse still, the contract terms were unfavourable, at prohibitive costs and precluded NAF engineers and technicians from participating in the repairs. This situation promoted perpetual dependence and denial of the achievement of self-reliance in aviation/aerospace technology.
Still in line with the quest for self reliance, the NAF under Umar accelerated the transformation programme of the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) through affiliation with Cranfield University, United Kingdom. AFIT was established to generate, disseminate and apply knowledge through the utilization of innovative research findings and products for the enhancement of the capabilities of the NAF and other stakeholders in the aerospace/aeronautical industry. With emphasis on Research and Development, AFIT presented a dual advantage of enhancing military capability as well as national power. Umar also embarked on aggressive foreign air and ground crew training to eradicate the hitherto gross aircrew manpower deficiency and for the amelioration of aircrew generation gap which the NAF has grappled with for years. In line with this, was the domiciling of helicopter pilot training in Enugu through a public-private partnership through an agreement between the NAF and an indigenous company that contributed assets in term of manpower, platform, equipment and fund. The public-private partnership concept was adopted as a consequence of lack of resources for uninterrupted training. Beyond training of NAF helicopter pilots, the initiative was a huge income earner for the NAF and the Federal Government.
Other initiatives of the Umar led administration included the introduction of centralized e-payment system for aviation fuel aimed at ending the cumbersome bureaucratic bottleneck associated with regular supply of petroleum, oils and lubricants and elimination of impediments to air operation. A review of the NAF Establishment and Force Structure was also carried out by Umar to reposition the NAF to better fulfil its mandate taking into consideration the emerging threats and the induction of new and reactivated platforms into the Service. The reestablishment of the former Military Airlift Command (MAC) to Mobility Command in Yenagoa followed the induction of new aircraft and increase serviceability of old platforms coupled with the unwieldy span of control of Tactical Air Command, Makurdi (TAC). This was in keeping with the underlying NAF principle of matching organizational structure with available assets and assigned task. Air Marshal Umar explained the establishment and location of the HQ MC in Yenegoa, Bayelsa State during the commissioning of the Single Officers’ Quarters erected for the officers of 207 Special Mobility Group as follows, “In my calculation, for the overall national security and defence, I decided that the Nigerian Air Force needed to pay more attention to the Niger Delta region. The reason is simple, the Niger Delta Region is the goose that lays the golden egg and is deserving of a more pronounced presence of NAF. The nature of the Special Mobility Group is such that it will be capable of carrying out special complex missions like troop insertion and extraction from difficult terrain, medium helicopter transport, search and rescue operations, medical evacuation, land and maritime surveillance.” To compliment the efforts of the new Command, Air Marshal Umar went ahead to establish some other units such as the Executive Airlift Group 209 (209 EAG) Minna.
Originally based at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA) Abuja Abuja as the 481 Ministerial Squadron, the 209 EAG is tasked with providing light transport and liaison flights for leadership of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) and other top government functionaries as part of NAF statutory responsibilities. It was originally planned to be based at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA) Abuja like the 481 Ministerial Squadron but due to air traffic congestion at NAIA and insufficient space for its assets, it became increasingly difficult to operate the Group at NAIA as envisioned. The 235 Base Services Group (235 BSG) was also established to replace the erstwhile NAF Forward Operations Base (FOB), Yenagoa and charged with statutory responsibility to provide welfare, security, administrative and regimental services to HQ MC and all NAF units around Yenagoa. Umar also went ahead to establish the 61 NAF Detachment in Warri with the sole aim of providing logistics and administrative support to all Nigerian Air Force operations in the South-South region of the country. Other innovations under the Air Marshal Umar-led administration include the introduction of new NAF rank badges and camouflage. In July 2011 the Air Council approved the use of a new rank structure to be worn by officers of the Nigerian Air Force. The new rank, which is now worn on the working dress, replaced the old one worn by officers. It was the second restructuring of rank badges in the Nigerian Air Force since the establishment of the Service in 1964.
Umar also upgraded of NAF Detachment Maiduguri to 79 Composite Group to facilitate strategic dispersal of NAF counter air assets while meeting joint defence imperative in the North Eastern axis of the country. The establishment became necessary as a result of the increasing responsibilities and tasks of the unit following the additional helicopters and personnel deployed to Maiduguri in support of the joint efforts by the military to stem the tide of killings, rising insecurity, heightened rate of armed banditry and arms smuggling in the North Eastern axis of the country. Coupled with its designation as a Disaster Reaction Unit (DRU) to assist NEMA in disaster management operations, the 79 Composite Group infrastructure, equipment and personnel were inadequate to meet the obligations of its new status.
The Umar led administration also saw the need for the NAF to have an intellectual environment to drive efficient delivery of airpower in furtherance of Nigeria’s geostrategic aspirations in the face of emerging challenges in modern air combat and the new dimensions assumed by national security in recent years necessitated the establishment of the Air Warfare Centre located within the 99 Air Weapons School, Kainji. Additionally, Umar took a cursory review of emerging geostrategic environment which made it imperative for the NAF to establish presence in key parts of the country to enable her fulfil her constitutional role promptly. Accordingly, NAF Forward Operating Base (FOB) at Sokoto was reactivated to enhance effectiveness of NAF operations in North Western Sector of the Country while facilitating NAF’s capacity to deter and promptly engage external aggression from that axis. Under Umar, pilot enlistment through the Direct Short Service Course (DSSC) scheme was initiated due to dearth of pilots in the NAF. This initiative did boost the number of pilots in the NAF and also saw to the graduation of the first female pilot in the NAF. Umar was also an advocate of pilot training in the NAF. In 2007, 10 NAF student pilots left the country in 2007 to Belarus for training as fighter pilots. But after a period of over 2 years, the officers fell short of NAF expectations. They were sent to 303 Flying Training School in February 2010 and subsequently grouped into 2 batches for ease of instruction. This bold step returned huge dividends as student of the first batch of 4 graduated in December 2010 while the second batch of 10 graduated at the end of 2011. Five pilots also underwent re-currency and conversion training on the Do-228 aircraft, while 11 pilots successfully completed advance helicopter training at 97 Special Operations Group, Port Harcourt. In a bid to revive flying activities at 99 Air Combat Training Group, seven pilots were sent to the United States of America for instructor pilot re-currency and conversion training. At 81 Air Maritime Group, seven pilots also completed training on the ATR 42 aircraft while 12 Aviation Mission Specialists were also been trained.
A significant step towards the transformation of the NAF by the Umar-led administration was the establishment of the Directorate of NAF Transformation (DNT) under the Policy and Plans Branch in line with other Services and in the spirit of jointness as advocated by the Armed Forces of Nigeria transformation. Umar also scored high on welfare of personnel. After due observations on the exclusion of some personnel from the Air Crew Support allowances and its adverse effect on the morale, Umar saw the need to address the issue became imperative. Consequently, a Ration Allowance was approved for personnel in this category. Umar also established an Air Force Comprehensive Secondary School (AFCS), located in Kwa, on the outskirt of Kano, to cater for the educational needs of personnel’s children in particular and civilians in Kano community.
He also Upgraded the 303 Flying Training School Medical Centre to 349 Nigerian Air Force Hospital, Kano to cater for the medical needs of the student pilots and instructors as well as other staff and dependents of 303 FTS. With the envisaged increase in flying activities in Kano shortly, coupled with the establishment of Air Force Comprehensive School Kano, the population expected to be served by the Centre will further increase, this initiative became necessary to upgrade the medical centre to a NAF Hospital to be known as 349 NAF Hospital Kano with full complement of a NAF referral hospital. Umar achievements in the health sector were well recognised as he ensured that all NAF medical Centres received the desired attention the deserved. Perhaps it was in recognition of this that the Medical Laboratory Science Council of Nigeria awarded a 5-star status to the medical laboratory department of the 445 NAF Hospital Ikeja. The Nigerian Air Force Conference Centre and Suites was also an initiative of Air Marshal Umar who acquired the land and saw to its construction as the 17th Chief of Air Staff.