The Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Hassan Abubakar, has attributed attributed the crash of an Air Force helicopter in Niger State to bad weather.
But a video released by bandits seems to show, and the bandits in a voice-over, claimed responsibility for the attack.
The Nigerian Air Force MI-171 helicopter that took off from Zungeru, Niger State heading for Kaduna State crashed on Tuesday. Initial reports said it was evacuating wounded soldiers for medical treatment in Kaduna.
According to Abubakar, seasonal weather challenges, which he said usually hamper officers’ striking capabilities, were also responsible for the crash.
The CAS spoke when Niger State Governor, Umar Bago, paid him a condolence visit over the death of pilots and some soldiers in the incident.
Abubakar said: “Going forward, we are striving to achieve zero incidents in all our operations. That challenge we’re addressing. We also have other challenges which are seasonal.
“For example, the rain has come and there is a route cloud. This hampers what we can see, especially in terms of our strike capabilities.
“Also, when the harmattan comes, it also has effects on our operations. These are challenges we live with and we hope that sometimes you understand when our operations are hampered or impeded by some of these challenges.”
The Air chief said as long as NAF aircraft operate and fly in order to degrade the enemies, incidents or accidents cannot be ruled out.
He added: “The fact is that as long as we operate, fly air planes, there would be incidents and accidents.
“In fact, the volume of incidents and accidents is directly proportional to the rate of operations.”
But the suspected notorious terrorist, Dogo Gide, and his men claimed responsibility for shooting down the helicopter near Chukuba Ward in Shiroro Local Government Area of Niger State.
The group released a video allegedly recorded at the site of Monday’s helicopter crash, claiming responsibility for it.
In the clip, the terrorists made unverifiable claims they killed soldiers.
The narrator in the video said: “These are bodies belonging to soldiers of the Nigerian Army who attacked us with the intention of causing us harm.
“They did this to see the downfall of Dogo Gyade and by God’s grace, he is still alive and won’t die. These are dozens of soldiers as you can see them. This is their air plane.
“Repent, we have no business with anyone except those who try to come for us. This is God’s work. We used an AK-47 to bring down this plane.
“Take a look at them. Let this be a lesson. You all should repent. It is not our intention to kill but for everyone to be enlightened and have the fear of God.
“Leaders who sent these soldiers our way to be killed by us should repent. We won’t surrender from pressure or even an aeroplane.
“Dogo Gyade, who is their target, won’t die now. He is still alive. These are the AK-47s we used to bring down this plane. We opened fire when we sighted them and they did the same.
“Repent and fear God. We pray for God’s mercy at all times. This is God’s work and not ours as you can see.”
In a statement on Tuesday, the Air Force neither refuted nor admitted that its aircraft was shot down by terrorists, even as clouds of doubt appeared in some quarters whether the terrorists could have achieved the feat they were claiming.
The air force spokesman, Edward Gabkwet, an Air Commodore, berated those helping terrorists spread their propaganda, while urging them to rethink the consequences of their actions on the morale of troops, families of deceased personnel as well as on Nigeria’s national security is imperative.
He hinted that investigations had been initiated to unravel the cause of the crash.
His words in the statement: “The attention of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has been drawn to a video circulating on social media platforms allegedly depicting the wreckage of the crashed MI-171 helicopter with bodies of victims at Chukuba Village in Shiroro Local Government Area of Niger State. While it is not in the character of the NAF to respond to such claims, particularly one peddled by terrorists, concerns expressed by well-meaning Nigerians on the need to address the propaganda becomes imperative.
“Like all military organizations involved in counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations, incidences of fatalities, mishaps and crashes are sometimes inevitable. For the NAF, the last 8 years has seen an increased level of air operations in efforts at checkmating the nefarious activities of terrorists and criminal elements in the country. With heightened levels of air operations, occasioned by an enhanced fleet, the likelihood of air mishaps and accidents at times become unavoidable and inevitable due to various reasons. Indeed, the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Hasan Abubakar said this much when he hosted Governor Umaru Bago of Niger State, yesterday 15 August 2023, at his office where he noted that the rates of aircraft accidents/incidences are directly proportional to the heightened level of air operations. While the NAF regrets such unfortunate incidents, especially as they involve the loss of lives of our colleagues, the Service will never shy away from unravelling the probable cause of the crash with a view to drawing lessons.
“For those aiding and abetting the propaganda tendencies of terrorists, deliberately or inadvertently, by spreading the videos of the alleged crash site with gory pictures of dead military personnel, the need to rethink the consequences of their actions on the morale of troops, families of deceased personnel as well as on Nigeria’s national security is imperative.
“For the NAF and indeed the entire members of the Armed Forces, our resolve and determination to bring the current security situation in Niger State and indeed all troubled spots in the country remains unshaken. Infact, if anything, we are determined more than ever before, to take on the enemy frontally until they are brought to their knees.
“While calling on all Nigerians to continue to support the Armed Forces of Nigerian and other security agencies as we all jointly confront our common enemies, the NAF wishes to appreciate the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, GCFR, for his message of condolence and words encouragement. Our appreciation also goes to other well-meaning Nigerians for their support.”