• Laments absence of political will to implement past reports
• Bodies of ex-gov, Tsoho arrive in Kaduna, pilot buried
• Jonathan offers personal condolences, CAN backs probe
• Bayelsa holds valedictory session, community suspects foul play
A MIX of rage and grief held sway on the floor of the Senate Tuesday as senators deliberated on the aviation sector.
The debate was prompted by the crash last Saturday of a naval helicopter in which Governor of Kaduna State, Patrick Yakowa and former National Security Adviser (NSA), Gen. Andrew Owoye Azazi as well as their aides lost their lives.
After the debate, the Senate passed a motion that the Saturday crash and previous ones should be probed.
Tuesday too, amidst wailing among hundreds of sympathisers, the remains of Yakowa and those of his friend, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chieftain in the state, Mr. Dauda Tsoho arrived at the Kaduna Airport. Several top government functionaries received the bodies.
The bodies arrived at the airport aboard an air force cargo plane at about 2.45 p.m. from Bayelsa State. They were accompanied by the former Governor of Bayelsa State, Dieprieye Alamieyeseigha, current Deputy Governor of the State, Gboribiogba John Jonah and other officials.
At the Kaduna airport to receive the bodies were the newly sworn in Governor of Kaduna State, Mukhtar Ramalan Yero, Yakowa’s widow, Amina, Senator Danjuma Goje, Senator Bola Saraki, among others.
The Catholic Archbishop of Kaduna Catholic Archdiocese, Archbishop Matthew Man-oso Ndagoso, and Catholic Bishop of Zaria, Most Rev. George Jonathan Dodo took turns to pray over the two bodies shortly after the plane came to a halt on the tarmac.
The two bodies were later conveyed in an ambulance and driven in a convoy of sympathisers from the airport en-route Nnamdi Azikiwe Western bypass to St. Gerald Catholic Hospital where they were deposited in a mortuary.
The Senate President, David Mark along with his wife later joined the team of sympathisers at the hospital from where he went to the Government House to pay condolence to the Yakowa family.
The late governor is expected to be buried tomorrow in his home town, Fadan Kagoma in Jema’a Local Council area of the state.
Also, hundreds of family members and associates of the pilot of the ill-fated helicopter, Naval Commander Murtala Muhammed Daba, were in tears as he was buried yesterday.
Before the arrival of the body at the Aminu Kano International Airport exactly 1.00 p.m., hundreds of sympathisers among them wife of the Vice President Hajia Amina Namadi Sambo and several top political officers and military personnel gathered at the Gorond Dutse family house of the late naval officer.
The remains of Daba arrived at Isiaka Rabiu Central Mosque where Iman Halilu Na’maiaduwa led the funeral prayers 5.40 p.m.
The body was later moved to its final destination at Goron Dutse cemetery where it was buried at about 6.16 p.m.
Senator Chris Anyanwu (Imo East) had moved a motion titled: “Urgent need to investigate the recent crash of Naval Augusta 109 Helicopter in Bayelsa State.”
Leading the debate, Anyanwu recalled that last Saturday gave Nigerians yet another agony resulting from the aviation sector as some dignitaries who went for a funeral in Bayelsa State were killed in a helicopter crash.
Senator Ahmed Makarfi (Kaduna North), said it was time to take a holistic view of all the aircraft in the country and urged the executive to ensure a proper investigation.
According to Senator Clever Ikisikpo, Nigeria has the highest number of plane crashes in the world, pointing out that investigations had always been conducted without their outcomes being made public. He pleaded with his colleagues that this should not be allowed to go the way of other investigations in the past. “The investigation should be total; no soft spot for any individual,” he said.
Senator Heineken Lokpobiri (Bayelsa West) said it was clear to the lawmakers that death was inevitable “but it should not be by way of fire like this one.”
Senator Danjuma Goje (Gombe Central) said foreign experts should be engaged to handle the investigation since previous efforts had not yielded results.
According to Senator Barnabas Gemade (Benue North East), the presidential fleet is under the Nigerian Air Force because of the discipline in the military and regretted that the military had been starved of funds over the years resulting in falling standards of operation.
Senator Ganiyu Solomon (Lagos West) said investigative panels were not meant to raise the dead but the outcome should be able to help in preventing future occurrence.
Senator Abdul Ningi expressed concern over the arsenal of the nation’s military, asking whether they were bought from the right manufacturers with the right quality. He observed that military aircraft were being abused, stressing: “They are being used almost like taxis which should not be.” He added that the helicopter that crashed was meant for training yet it was used to convey people to the burial in Bayelsa State.
Senator Olubunmi Adetunmbi (Ekiti North) said the crash was a manifestation of the “deep-rooted rot.” He said in a nation where lives of “small people do not matter, those of the big people would also be in danger.” He added that the operation that led to the crash of the helicopter was not a military one yet a military training helicopter was used. He asked: “Who picked the bill of the shuttles? Is it the public or the beneficiary?”
Before putting the question to vote, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu said that Nigeria had lost over 50,000 people to plane crashes, road accidents and kidnappings in the last couple of years and it was time to halt the drift.
He put the questions and two separate committees headed by the Deputy Senate Leader, Abdul Ningi and Ganiyu Solomon were mandated to visit Bayelsa and Kaduna states in that order to commiserate with the governments and people of the areas.
However, an attempt to start debate on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) failed as senators insisted that the day be dedicated solely to the crash of the helicopter.
Also, President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday personally offered his “sincere condolences” to the families of the victims of last Saturday’s naval helicopter crash.
Describing their death as “tragic and unfortunate,” Jonathan said: “I want all the affected families to know that we share in their grief. May the Lord be with you and grant you strength and His unfailing Grace.”
At the formal launch of the 2013 Armed Forces Remembrance Day Emblem and Appeal Fund, the President stated that the strongest message Nigerians ought to heed now was the need for unity.
Jonathan paid tributes to “our distinguished men and women of the armed forces who have served and are serving our great country and indeed humanity as a whole,” saying that their sacrifice and patriotism “is a strong message of inspiration to the rest of us. And a lesson as well, particularly at this crucial moment in our lives, when we all need to stand firm as one.”
He said that in the spirit of the Armed Forces Remembrance Day celebrations, “Nigerians should acknowledge the gallantry and excellent participation of our military men and women in every effort to keep this country safe and secure and protect its sovereignty. The men and women that we remember today were drawn into national service from all parts of Nigeria. They served gallantly regardless of differences in religion, or ethnicity. They were united by the same purpose: To keep Nigeria secure. Their oneness of purpose and spirit reminds us of the significance of national cohesion. Together, we can achieve a lot.”
Jonathan told the array of top political and military leaders at the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja that “whatever may be our differences; religious, ethnic or personal, Nigeria is more important. We must be united in rising above our differences, and in promoting values that bind us together. We must refuse to be divided by those who impose ethnic and religious meanings on every national issue.
“Soon, it will be 100 years since Nigeria emerged as one country. It is a heritage that we all must be proud of; the legacy of our past heroes is something we must cherish as we strive together to leave an even worthier legacy for future generations.”
Noting that the launch kicked off the remembrance of fallen and living heroes of the Nigerian military who fought to keep the nation untied, Jonathan stated that “January 15th every year remains a special date in the annals of modern Nigeria as that is the date we have set aside to remember our fallen and living heroes. This annual event serves not only as a forum to remember the dead and celebrate the living, but also an opportunity to show gratitude to their beloved families. For those still serving, it is our way of assuring them that their services to the Fatherland will always be cherished. Today, we begin that process of remembrance. We cannot forget because we are a country of cherished ethics and values. Lest we forget, we have chosen to remember.”
Besides, officials of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) have expressed support for the decision of the Federal Government to investigate the helicopter crash.
On behalf of the CAN President, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, the Secretary General of the association, Rev. Musa Asake led a delegation on a condolence visit to the widow of Yakowa, Amina, in Kaduna Sate.
But he noted that “we have heard of panels of investigation being set up and reports submitted in the country. We hope and pray that the Federal Government release the report of this one and take action.
“The Federal Government should please this time around release the report of this very crash. It is not just setting up the panel, we want an outcome of the panel. So CAN is solidly behind the Federal Government in doing this and we are calling on the Federal Government that if the report is submitted, it should please act on the report.”
Tributes continued to pour in for the victims of the helicopter crash. At a special valedictory executive council session held in honour of Yakowa, and the five other persons that lost their lives, the Governor of Bayelsa State, Henry Seriake Dickson extolled the virtues of the former governor whom he described as a peacemaker and a bridge between the North and the South.
According to him, the late governor came visiting Bayelsa not only as a friend to the Douglas family but as a friend of the state and that by his death the state had truly lost a friend and ally, leader and compatriot who believed in the endless possibilities of the nation.
He assured the wife of the late governor that Bayelsa State would always remain a home for her and her family.
The former Governor of Bayelsa State, Chief Alamieyeseigha said the late governor had succeeded in bringing peace to Kaduna State.
Present at the special valedictory state executive council session were all the cabinet commissioners, the state chief judge, President of the state Customary Court of Appeal, all the service chiefs in the state and Mr. Oronto Dauglas, the Special Adviser to the President on Research and Documentation whose event took Yakowa and the others to Bayelsa State.
The Minister of Youth Development, Inuwa Abdul-kadir described the death of Yakowa as a big blow for the peace and reconciliatory initiatives being championed by the late governor during his lifetime.
The minister described Azazi as a gallant army officer who during his lifetime contributed to the enthronement of peace and security in Nigeria and the West Africa sub-region having served in various capacities.
Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State and Speaker of Imo House of Assembly, Chief Benjamin Uwajimogu, and a First Republic senator and a member of Board of Trustees (BoT) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Ben Obi also expressed their condolences.
And amid the pain of the loss of their son, elders of the Peretorugbene community in Ekeremor Local Council of Bayelsa State, where the late Azazi hailed from, have said that they suspected foul play in his death.
The Secretary of the Council of Chiefs of the community, Chief Orume Okoyen, told The Guardian that the circumstances of their son’s death were suspect.
Okoyen said: “Azazi’s death is suspicious. We are suspecting the circumstances surrounding his death and we want proper investigation into his death.
“We are deeply worried and mourning over his death. He died in a military plane. He was an army general not a naval officer. Why was he flown in a naval plane? What is the experience, competence level and what were ethnic origins of the pilots?
“In this country today there are problems all over… We don’t know the cause of his death but the whole community is greatly aggrieved.
“Even a governor from the North who is a Christian also died in the plane crash. I learnt the northern cabal said they don’t want to see any Muslim governor from the North at the burial, that is what we learnt.”
Koyen said the most annoying thing was that on July 3 this year, the community buried another general, Brig.-Gen. F. K. Enai, who died at the age of 65 shortly after getting a government appointment.
“This is someone whom the entire community depended on now he is gone. The worst thing is that he had a very old mother over 95 years old,” he said.
The Peretorugbene community chairman, Okponzo Pattens, told The Guardian that the Bayelsa State government had agreed to bear the entire cost of the burial of Azazi. The government met with members of the Azazi family in Bayelsa on Monday where the burial plans were concluded.
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