Plane crash that killed Attahiru suspicious, Tinubu must probe it — Retired general

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Tuesday, 23 January 2024 06:32

Plane crash that killed Attahiru suspicious, Tinubu must probe it — Retired general

Danjuma Ali-Keffi, a former general officer commanding (GOC) of 1 division of the Nigerian Army, says Ibrahim Attahiru and 11 other senior military officers died in a “suspicious” air crash in Kaduna.

On May 21, 2021, Attahiru, then chief of army staff (COAS), and 11 other senior military officers died in a crash that involved a Nigerian Air Force (NAF) plane near Kaduna airport.

The former chief of army staff was heading to Kaduna from Abuja to attend the passing-out parade of army recruits

Speaking in an interview with THISDAY published on Monday, Ali-Keffi, a retired major general, asked President Bola Tinubu to probe the crash.

He alleged that the crash was linked to terror sponsors, adding that the full report of the investigation of the incident has not been made public.

Ali-Keffi said Attahiru developed a strategy to end terrorism, “part of which was the infiltration of terror groups and the instigation of crisis among their leaders, which culminated in the elimination of Boko Haram leader”.


THE UNANSWERED QUESTIONS

The retired major general was scheduled to receive the late army chief in Kaduna on the day of the incident.

Ali-Keffi questioned the sudden change of time for Attahiru’s trip to Kaduna, the change of airport of landing from the military airstrip to Kaduna airport, and the nature of the explosion.

He said there was no crater or impact on the crash area, and the bodies of the passengers were flung out of the aircraft.

He added that the bodies were beyond recognition long before the aircraft came down in flames

“About 2100 hours, on Thursday 20 May 2021, I spoke on phone with the Chief of Staff (COS) to the late COAS regarding their impending trip to Kaduna the following day,” he said.

“I had earlier spoken with General Attahiru on the same issue. We ended our conversation on the note that the late COAS and entourage would come by flight at about 1000 hrs the following day.

“About 0630hrs the following morning, I called the COS to the late COAS to confirm if their travel plan was as we discussed the night before, as I needed to make arrangements for the mosque that the COAS would attend Jummu’at (Friday) prayers.

“The COS informed me that there was a change of plan. He said after we finished speaking last night, they received a message that the late COAS was to attend a meeting either at the Honourable Minister of Defence (HMOD) office or at the Presidential Villa at about 1000 hrs on Friday 21 May 2021 and that the late COAS was to attend in person and not send a representative.

“It is important to note that the late COAS’ trip to Kaduna was part of his visit to Zaria to attend the Passing Out Parade at the Depot NA slated for Saturday 22 May 2021.

“It is worth noting that the movement of service chiefs out of station (Abuja) is with the prior knowledge of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), the Honourable Minister of Defence (HMOD), and the presidency.

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“So, why was a meeting scheduled for about the same time that the late COAS was to have departed for (or arrived) Kaduna and why the insistence that he (COAS) should not be represented?

“In any case, the COS informed me that in view of the meeting, they would depart the Flag House (official residence of the COAS) at about 1530 hrs (after attending the meeting and also after the Jummu’ at prayers) for the airport.

“They expected to arrive the airport at about 1600 hrs, board the aircraft at about 1610 – 1615 hours and depart for Kaduna.

“At about 1600 hours, I was informed that they had arrived the Presidential Wing of the Airport.

“I then set off from the Stallion House (official residence of the GOC) with my entourage in a convoy and arrived the Air Force Base at about 1615 hrs.

“For reasons that I cannot understand till today, the flight was delayed for over an hour and did not take off until 1730 hrs or so.

“The reason for the delay, as I was informed, was that there was an issue with the aircraft that was initially assigned for the mission (to convey the COAS and his entourage) and that it had to be changed.

The retired general wondered why the plane left Abuja despite an alert of a stormy weather condition in Kaduna.

“Meantime, there was a meteorological alert that Kaduna airspace was going to experience heavy rainfall accompanied with a storm (wind shear), and it was advised,” he added.

“Already, the cloud had formed in Kaduna, which was visible to us at the airport.

“As a matter of fact, the cloud was so thick, which was indicative of a massive storm. I began to nurse doubts about the flight.

“At some point, I voiced my doubts to Air Commodore Iyamu and Air Commodore Ilo, who were with me to receive the COAS.

“I even suggested that they should advise Abuja of the weather condition with a view to having the flight cancelled.

“At that point, I was informed that the aircraft was airborne (at about 1745 hrs). I became concerned as to whether the aircraft would be able to land at the airport in such a heavy rainfall, storm (the rain had started falling then).

“Thus, I was not surprised when Air Commodore Ilo informed me that we had to go to the Civil (International Airport) as the NAF runway was not long enough to enable the aircraft land under the atrocious weather condition.

“We then set off for the international airport but at a snail speed due to the heavy rainfall, which was accompanied with shale (ice particles).

“When we got to the vicinity of the airport, there was a thunderous sound, which I thought was the sound of thunder.

“We had earlier sighted what I believed was the aircraft descending to land on the runway.

“When we turned the bend to enter the tarmac, the thought in my mind was that the aircraft had touched down and was taxing to the parking area.

“I couldn’t see any aircraft on the runway. I frantically looked around and by the far side of the runway there was a fireball. It was the aircraft conveying General Attahiru!

“We got out of the vehicles, crossed the runway and approached the burning aircraft.

“Fire fighters were on the ground to put out the blaze. At some point, we had to pull back due to the fear of exploding cylinders.

“We later recovered the corpses of the 10 passengers on board the ill-fated plane far from where the plane wreckage was.

“Apparently, their bodies, which were on fire, were flung from the aircraft before it came down.

“Was the flight deliberately delayed in order to be caught up in the rainstorm? Was the aircraft sabotaged, which caused it to explode mid-air?

“Was the explosion caused by explosives? Was a bomb planted in the aircraft or contained in a parcel, which a passenger unknowingly (or knowingly) carried?”

Earlier, Ali-Keffi had written a letter to Tinubu over his arrest, detention, and compulsory retirement after the revelations of a presidential investigative taskforce that he headed.

The panel, constituted by former President Muhammadu Buhari, exposed the involvement of senior government officials, a top banker, and a senior military officer in terrorism financing.

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