They knew death was inevitable, but they never knew the Grim Reaper would come this early for their loved ones. So, Thursday when the Air Force held a funeral for its fallen heroes, their women found the reality too hard to accept: they gnashed their teeth, they rolled on the floor, and they shed streams of tears. At least two of them were not satisfied with just crying and screaming on top their voices.
They grieved so close to the coffins as if ready to be interred with the remains of their loved ones— if only the authorities would allow them.
Death had snatched all seven of them on Sunday when their aircraft crashed close to the Abuja Airport, which they were returning to after its engines packed up. If tears could bring back these men who have now become history, their widows and other relatives would have cried enough to fill a river.
Flight Lt. Haruna Gadzama struggled to avoid crashing the Beechraft KingAir BB305i, near a residential area in Abuja last Sunday. He and six others on board were buried at the National Military Cemetery in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Other victims are: Flight Lt. Henry Piyo (Co-Pilot), Flying Officer Michael Okpara (Airborne Tactical Observation System [ATOS] Specialist) and Warrant Officer Bassey Etim (ATOS Specialist), Flight Sergeant Olasunkanmi Olawunmi (ATOS Specialist), Sergeant Ugochukwu Oluka (ATOS Specialist), and Aircraftman Adewale Johnson (Onboard Technician).
The bodies were lowered into the grave at 1p.m and accorded full military honours and the traditional 21-gunshot salute.
It was an emotional event for colleagues of the late officers, including the Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Air Vice Marshal Oladayo Amao, wives and family members of deceased.
Air Vice Marshal Amao described the deceased officers as courageous heroes in whom the NAF had so much confidence. He promised that the NAF would ensure that the deceased officers did not die in vain.
He said: “The loss of these confident, courageous and professional young officers and airmen must spur the rest of us not only to rededicate ourselves to the service of our nation, but also to resolve that we shall relentlessly expose and fight all agents of destabilisation and extremism in our society.
“We must throw everything that we have into this fight to ensure that our departed colleagues did not die in vain.”
He added: “The untimely death of these very promising gentlemen occurred on Sunday, February 21, 2021 in Abuja while they were on active duty in the service to our fatherland. I must confess that, even at this moment, the NAF is still in palpable shock, grieving very deeply upon this loss of our gallant and courageous heroes in whom we had so much confidence, with our expectations now suddenly and painfully cut short.
“We salute the supreme sacrifice of these young men, whose lot it became to give their lives in the defence of the peace, which we all enjoy and often take for granted. These intelligent and disciplined young officers and airmen flew their quota of ongoing surveillance missions in the Northeast, Northwest and, more recently, in the Northcentral over Niger State and its environs in connection with the concerted efforts to secure the release of the workers and students abducted from the Government Science College, Kagara, Niger State.”
Air Vice Marshal Amao, who gave in to emotions intermittently while reading the address, also said: “As we resolve to rededicate ourselves to the cause of defending our great nation, let me at this juncture restate our profound commitment and unalloyed loyalty to the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, as he continues to lead the nation’s collective effort at tackling the challenges bedevilling our national security.
“In addition to honouring the sacrifice and memory of our fallen comrades, this moment offers us all an opportunity for sober reflections as we pray for the eternal repose of the gentle souls of our departed heroes. Their death is a huge loss to the Nigerian Air Force family and indeed the entire nation. They will be greatly missed but fondly remembered for their invaluable services to the nation and humanity.
“Today, as our late colleagues go to their final resting place, may the Lord be with them forever and may they rest assured that the Nigerian Air Force and indeed the nation will remain ever grateful to them for their service and sacrifice.
“To the families of our deceased brothers, our prayers are with you at this time, as also those of people from everywhere, both within and outside the country. The overwhelming show of love, solidarity and support from everyone is a clear indication that the nation, and indeed the entire globe, shares in this grief with you.
“This was evident in the volume of condolence messages and visits from a wide range of personalities, including the President, Commander-in-Chief, leadership of the National Assembly, governors, ministers, members of the Diplomatic Corps as well as many other prominent Nigerians.
“I, therefore, encourage you to be consoled by the knowledge that the entire nation grieves with you on the loss of these shining, amiable and patriotic Nigerians who have laid down their lives in the service of their fatherland.”
The presiding priest and Director of NAF Chaplaincy, Reverend David Dogo Gani, described the death of the officers as a trying moment in the history of the country.
He prayed for the nation to have the grace to continue to look onto the Lord as the only succour in times of trouble.