NIGERIA experienced series of military air crashes between 2015 and 2023 under the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration.
Data garnered from media reports in the last seven years has shown that these devastating incidents resulted in the loss of 14 aircraft and claimed the lives of 35 people, including civilians and military personnel on board the 14 military air crashes.
The crashes have also imposed significant financial costs on the military and have diminished the number of operational aircraft in their fleet.
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While speaking to journalists shortly after a crash in April 2022, Nigerian Minister of Defence Bashir Magashi stated that the frequent “incident had depleted the human capital assets of the Air Force.”
Despite assurances from the Nigerian Air Force (NAF), the causes of these crashes have not been publicly disclosed. However, experts have attributed the mishaps primarily to inadequate aircraft maintenance.
In February 2023, the Air Force narrowly avoided a crash when one of its jets experienced a mid-air tire failure and executed an emergency belly landing at Lagos Airport.
Timeline For Crashes, Destroyed Aircrafts
- On February 22, 2021, seven NAF personnel perished in a plane crash shortly after takeoff from the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport. They were en route from Abuja to Minna, Niger State, to rescue abducted students and staff from Government Science College, Kagara.
- On March 31, 2021, Air Commodore Edward Gabkwet, former NAF spokesperson, confirmed another aircraft crash and expressed uncertainty regarding the fate of the two pilots involved.
- On May 21, 2021, a military Beachcraft 350 aircraft carrying 11 individuals, including the late Chief of Army Staff, Ibrahim Attahiru, tragically crashed, claiming the lives of all onboard at the Kaduna International Airport.
- On July 18, 2021, in Zamfara, where an Alpha Jet Aircraft was shot down by bandits. The pilot, Flight Lieutenant Abayomi Dairo, miraculously survived the crash.
- In April 2022, a trainer aircraft crashed in Kaduna, resulting in the deaths of two pilots.
- Other crashes include the August 29, 2015, Air Force plane crash in Kaduna, which claimed the lives of seven individuals, including four military personnel.
- Additionally, on November 15, 2016, an Augusta Westland 101 helicopter crashed in Makurdi, Benue State.
- On July 6, 2017, a NAF Agusta 109 Light Utility Helicopter crashed in Borno River, fortunately without any casualties.
- On August 2017, an F-7Nl jet crash resulted in one casualty.
- Two F-7Ni aircraft collided in mid-air around Katampe Hills in Abuja on September 28, 2018, during a rehearsal for Nigeria’s 58th independence anniversary celebration. Tragically, one person lost their life in this collision.
- On January 2, 2019, five crew members aboard an NAF Mi-35 were killed when the aircraft crashed near Damasak, Borno State.
- Another NAF helicopter crashed while landing in Katsina state on June 12, 2019, resulting in no fatalities.
- On October 10, 2015, an F-7Nl jet crashed in Kaduna, killing one person. The jet, which was part of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF), was on a training mission when it crashed into a residential area. The crash killed one person and injured several others.
Experts Blame Poor Maintenance, Call for Investigation into Nigeria’s Military Aviation Infrastructure
A security expert, Timothy Avele, emphasised that while military air crashes occur worldwide, the frequency and severity witnessed in Nigeria over the past eight years indicate deficiencies in international maintenance standards and quality control.
Avele further pointed out the prevalent poor maintenance culture in Nigeria, particularly within government agencies.
He also believed that the inadequate upkeep of military aircraft, including the procurement and installation of substandard spare parts, is believed to have played a significant role in the recurring accidents.
“Military air crashes occur in any military in the world even in the USA. However, losing over 30 personnel in over 12 crashes in a span of eight years shows either lack of international maintenance standards or lack of quality and airworthiness policy implementation,” he said.
“Generally, we have a poor maintenance culture in Nigeria, especially by government agencies. Another major factor that should be looked into is the issue of the quality of spare parts supplied to maintain these military aircraft.”
He added that the reliance on potentially subpar components could compromise the airworthiness and operational effectiveness of the aircraft, leading to catastrophic outcomes.
The expert also suggested that an assessment of the quality of spare parts supplied for maintenance is necessary.
An aviation safety consultant, Olufemi Adegbesan, believed that the recurring crashes indicate systemic issues within Nigeria’s military aviation infrastructure. He emphasized the need for a comprehensive investigation into the root causes of these accidents to identify and address the underlying factors contributing to the high number of fatalities.
According to Adegbesan, one possible factor was the lack of proper training and proficiency maintenance among pilots and maintenance personnel.
“The recurring military air crashes in Nigeria indicate systemic issues within the military aviation infrastructure that need to be thoroughly investigated,” he said.
“There is a pressing need to assess the root causes of these accidents and identify the underlying factors that contribute to the high number of fatalities.”
He highlighted the importance of continuous training programs and regular assessments to ensure that the skills and knowledge of aviation personnel remain up to date.
“Continuous training programs and regular assessments are crucial to ensure that aviation personnel possess up-to-date skills and knowledge.”
The aviation safety consultant further emphasized the significance of a robust safety management system within the Nigerian Air Force.
This system, according to him, should encompass rigorous maintenance procedures, effective oversight mechanisms, and a culture of reporting and addressing safety concerns.
He also stressed the need for enhanced collaboration between the Nigerian Air Force and external aviation safety organizations.
“Engaging international experts and organizations can provide valuable insights and assistance in improving safety standards and implementing best practices,” he said.